Thursday, September 15, 2011

Author of the Week: Cara Bertoia

This week I will be focusing the lense on Cara Bertoia
the author of
Cruise Quarters

A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships

Cara's book is the number 1 cruise ship novel on Amazon. So, Cara, tell us a bit about yourself and how writing your book came about:

The road to my novel, Cruise Quarters – A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships, is a long journey with lots of twist and turns much like a good story. But to know that it is the number one cruise ship novel at Amazon makes it all worthwhile. After I graduated college I got a job teaching high school in North Carolina. On a summer break I drove across country with two friends and we all got jobs in a casino in Lake Tahoe. Tahoe was a beautiful place and casino jobs were the best ones to have, especially dealing. Well they all soon went home but I stayed. I worked at Caesars Palace for a few years but then I moved to the North Shore of the Lake. The place I worked at was an “old school” casino, it had been a rat pack hangout in the old days and even now autographed photos of movie stars still adorn the walls. The casino overlooked the lake and as I dealt I would look out at a beautiful view of the crystal blue water.  The border between Nevada and California runs down through the middle of the casino.

The owner was a plumbing contractor from Fresno. The head of security was an ex-Mossad officer and every few weeks we would be strapped down and given lie detector tests. They let porn movies be filmed in the casino and there were rumors that he rigged the slot machines. I’m not sure if that was all true but he did manage to get his casino closed down by the Nevada gaming commission, no small feat. One day a sports agent with Hollywood connections played on my game and encouraged me to write down all my great casino stories. That was the day I became a writer, well my script got as far as HBO where it was eventually rejected but that didn’t matter to me. I was a writer.

A year later I went back to the real world and became a systems analyst by day, writer by night. I lived in Boston, the home of perpetual students and so I was able to take writing classes, join critique groups and improve. After a few years I began working on an MA in writing at Emerson because it had connections in Hollywood. Well, just before I was scheduled to intern in Los Angeles as a script reader I got the opportunity to join Princess Cruises as a croupier. My choice was spend my dwindling savings on an internship or get paid to see the world. I wasn’t scared of going - only staying. The Germans have a word for it torschlusskpanik, the fear of missing the boat.

I stayed at sea for five years and I would like to say that I wrote everyday but I didn’t. I spent those years soaking up all the history I could. The ship was my home and the crew bar was my living room and the nights I spent there were research since I planned to tell the story of all my crewmates someday. And then on my last contract I met Ray and my novel became a love story and that surprised me more than anyone else.
We settled in Palm Springs and I began my book. I had written most of it when I decided to test it out by taking a novel writing class at UCLA. One of the exercises in the class was to try out five opening lines, well the whole class voted for my current opener. My professor liked it so much she became my first editor. I started it in first person, but when I decided to include Ray we switched to third person. Ray’s adventures dealing around the world were just too good to leave out, and I really wanted to include the male point of view.

The goal of our book was to tell our story in a realistic way. After so many ridiculous casino movies like The Cooler, I had had enough.  I am the cynic and Ray is the happy chappy but we both wanted a book that rang true. We wrote down all our ship and casino stories in a book and then built a novel around them.
I casually handed our manuscript to one of my ship friends and asked her to read it. The next day she called me raving about our book. In fact she had already run off three copies for her co-workers. Then I knew that we had nailed it. My biggest beef with the books I had been reading for the last few years were that they all sounded alike. Especially the love stories, I didn’t need to dress ours up it was exciting enough.

I was always afraid of showing my friends my book but they turned out to be my best readers offering great criticism. I don’t know why I hesitated, dealers are avid readers, with a break every hour they always have book on the go. Recently my book was chosen Read of the Week at The New York Post called Tripatini Facebook for travelers. To have the travel industry validate my novel was very exciting. You might also want to check out our blog, where we offer gambling advice and stories for free.

Description of my novel:
Cruise Quarters - A novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships is a fun, fast paced tale of working in the casino aboard a Regal Cruises cruise-ship.

The crew of the Regal Star resemble a mini United Nations, hiring people from all over the world. But unlike the UN, Regal Cruise's employees present a united front above decks as they attend to their passenger's every need. Below decks though, that is a different story.

Sarah Seldon is a croupier on the luxury liner. After many unhappy endings, and burnt out on shipboard romance, she is determined to forget about men and concentrate on becoming a casino manager. On land women face a dearth of GOOD men but on a ship giving up men would take willpower. The mostly male crew exists to serve her every need. Handsome Italian waiters bring her food, the Filipino steward cleans her room, English officers play poker with her and the Welsh plumber fixes her sink. She leads a cushy life, sleeping 'til noon, eating gourmet food, and the topper - she gets to wake up in beautiful new place everyday. All because she works in a casino, a place so bad it has SIN in the middle. Please feel free to read my sample chapter and link to Amazon to read all my reviews.

Below is an extract from Cara's book:

Regal Queen Crew Pass Name
Sarah Seldon


When people sat down at Sarah Seldon’s blackjack game, they always wanted to talk about The Book.
 “Should I double down? Should I hit? Dealer, I know you’re a gambler; you could let me win if you wanted to. What does the book say?”
She had never read this book, this mythical Bible for gamblers. The truth is there are 2256 books, each teaching its own foolproof winning system. But Sarah had been in the casino business long enough to think with a gambler’s mind. Gamblers knew they could follow all the rules of basic strategy, utilize money management and still lose if they weren’t dealt the right cards. The allure and curse of gambling was that there were no sure things. In the end it all came down to luck; gamblers prayed that Lady Luck would show up and that she would stick around for awhile.
On that particular day, Sarah perched on a chair to get a better view through her salt-stained porthole onto the dock, filled with people busying themselves with the activities necessary to supply a huge cruise ship. Port activities in Hong Kong demonstrated a model of modern efficiency. Even though the ship had been docked for under an hour, already the crew had begun to perform the necessary safety checks. At the same time operators steered forklifts, moving wooden pallets filled with provisions into the hold. Like a patient hooked up to life support, long, fat hoses attached to the side of the ship fed water and gas into tanks, providing nutrients for the upcoming voyage.
Through all this mayhem, she hoped to catch a last glance of Adam. In a few hours he would be leaving on a plane, flying home to Wales. Goodbyes on a cruise ship were always frantic, with people leaving for all parts of the world. In her five years of working as a croupier for Regal Cruises she must have said goodbye to hundreds of people, always fearing that she would never see those people again. With twelve ships in the fleet, it was a very good possibility. But before today she hadn’t been in love with any of them, and that changed everything.
The vessel was beautiful, a holdover from the grand old days of sailing. The floors covered with the finest carpets; the walls paneled in mahogany, millions of dollars of artwork hanging from them, some of it a little too abstract for her taste. It all added up to the illusion of wealth. For one week, anyone could buy that illusion.
It was also her illusion, as long as she stayed in the passengers' area. Upstairs she convinced herself that she lived in an oceanfront condo, but down here in crew quarters, her ten by twelve foot cabin located in the bowels of the ship, she could conjure up no grandeur. Industrial carpet covered the floor. Metal bunk beds were attached to one wall, a sink to the other. Everything painted grey, battleship grey. Every inch of space covered with essential appliances - scattered everywhere - hair dryers, a microwave, television-video combination, and laptop. 
She glanced at pictures of Adam tacked all over the wall. Adam, of the piercing blue eyes, Adam, whose prematurely gray hair had the sheen of the finest silver. Handsome Adam, she needed his face to be the first thing visitors saw when they walked in the room. She was besotted.
Adam’s collection of Hard Rock glasses lined the desk. He had been nutty about The Hard Rock Café. Sarah found it hard to believe, with all the great spots in the world, that he only wanted to go to the Hard Rock. Forget Raffle’s bar in Singapore; they ate at the Hard Rock. In fact, collecting pins from the Hard Rock was a hobby shared by many of the crew. It seemed bizarre to her, collecting tacky souvenirs, but finally she got it. When they got home, the small metallic pins shaped like guitars proudly displayed on their worn denim jackets proved that they had really been to faraway places.
Did she hear a knock on the door? She turned around. Adam walked in the room wearing his Hard Rock London leather jacket. She had been so focused on searching for him on the dock that his physical presence in the cabin startled her. Standing up, she pressed firmly against him, trying to memorize the way his body, sculpted by his work as a plumber, felt. No exercise regimen worked better than manual labor.
“Oh Adam, you haven’t left yet!”
“Before I go, I wanted you to have this.” His melodic voice with a Welsh accent exuded sex.
She gazed into his piercing blue eyes as he handed her a white industrial jumpsuit. “You can wear it when you do the drop.” He smiled. Every week the casino staff crawled on their knees and unlocked the cabinets under the slot machines to count the coins the passengers had lost.
Holding the jumpsuit to her nose, she breathed it in. “I could never. I’ll sleep in it. It smells like you.” When you’re in love, even dirty laundry is sexy.
A loudspeaker attached to the wall of the cabin announced, “Last call for all crew going ashore.”
“Gotta run.” Adam kissed her.
“Just remember - be home on my birthday. I’m going to call you from New Zealand. It would just ruin my day if I didn’t get to talk to you,” she pleaded. We each have our own personal vision of Hell. Sarah’s would be replaying her horrible birthdays.
“Oh I’ll be there. Just remember, Sarah, we don’t just love each other.” He dropped his voice even lower, which always sent a chill through her. “WE LOVE EACH OTHER.”
Sounded good, didn't it: a man willing -- not afraid -- to say the “love” word? Six months of solid devotion, with never so much as a telltale glance in another woman's direction. He kissed her one last time, and left for the airport.
A few hours later, she met the casino staff for lunch at one of the city’s massive dim sum halls, the ultimate dining experience, meals on wheels, a lazy-man’s buffet, the food came to you. She loved all food, but Chinese was her favorite. All across the room, petite women wearing aprons pushed steaming carts filled with tasty delights. They stopped by each table, trying to entice the customers to try their dishes. But when her favorite--fluffy steamed dumplings made with delicate bits of shrimp nestled between chewy homemade noodles--passed by, she felt so distraught she could barely raise her index finger to point to them.
Adam should be here instead of on his way to Wales. Soon, she would be sailing to New Zealand; they would be lovers moving to opposite ends of the earth. 
The cruise south passed slowly. Sarah filled her days writing long, romantic love letters. At night, she lulled herself to sleep playing back the movie of their romance. Lying in her bunk, under the covers, she pulled Adam’s jumpsuit from under her pillow and breathed him in. She always dreamt about the same amazing day, her first day with Adam, just six short months ago and a half a world away. 
She closed her eyes recalling that day, in St. Mark’s Square. Drifting off, reliving the excitement she had felt over her first season in the Mediterranean. It had taken her a long time to earn a place on the Regal Queen. The second the ship had cleared Customs, she had rushed off the gangway; anxious not to miss anything. There are few things that can compare to waking up in a new port. But as a traveler, Sarah also realized that few places lived up to their hype. Venice not only lived up to the hype, it exceeded all her expectations.  
Leaning against a fountain, alone, surrounded by thousands of other tourists in the Square, Sarah caught snatches of many languages floating by. Beside her stood two Japanese schoolgirls dressed like Goths, their faces painted white and their lips painted black, desperately trying to pretend they weren’t on vacation with their parents. A guide holding a banner identifying her group summoned her strays. Even without understanding the language, Sarah knew the guide was scolding the girls for wandering away from the group.
Instead of feeling like the town was overrun by tourists, Sarah savored the anonymity of being just one more tourist among thousands. She stood still, trying to take in all the activity. She wondered if she blended in with the locals, or was American written all over her face. 
Like her, almost all the women wore modest skirts, covering their knees, the proper dress for entering a church in Italy. The waning afternoon sun bathed the Doge’s Palace in gold. Sarah melted into a group of Spanish tourists and followed them through the Basilica, only understanding bits and pieces of the commentary, but still awed by the massive amount of gilt blanketing the nave.
Upon leaving the church she walked over to the crowd gathering under the clock tower. On the stroke of three, everyone looked up, and watched statues of two men striking the bell. The statues cast in bronze were nicknamed the Moors, because the figures resembled the Moors that ruled Southern Europe for centuries.
From behind her she heard, “Mystical, isn’t it?” He spoke in English, so she guessed the comment was directed at her. Turning her head, she found herself staring into sky-blue eyes. A string quartet began to play in the distance. She recognized Adam; they had joined the ship the same day and listened to the same captain’s welcome speech. It wasn’t really such a coincidence that he was here. The tender that traveled from the ship deposited everyone at the dock for St. Mark’s Square.
“It looks better than the postcards,” she replied.
“I would love to explore Venice, but I wouldn’t know where to start.” He smiled.
He waited patiently, fishing for an invitation, but she didn't mind. “I know where to go. I’m on my way to the Gallery Dell'Accademia. It's the largest museum in Venice. If you'd like, you could join me. The rest of the casino staff flaked out on me.” On a ship, there wasn’t a lot of time at each port. “I came prepared with a map and a plan,” and now she had a man. Could this day get any better?
Welsh Wizards. They had been around for years, arriving at a ship in groups of two to four, repairing things that required their technical expertise. They never hung around that long; they fixed what needed to be fixed and were gone. Their positions were so temporary, they even lived in passenger cabins. She figured she was relatively safe with Adam, probably safer than touring around Venice by herself.
Strolling through narrow streets, bordered by shops and courtyards, they passed purple sheets drying on a clothesline stretched over a canal. The line connected to the third stories of the narrow houses on either side of the water. The sight of laundry swaying in the breeze reminded her that Venice wasn’t just a theme park, people actually lived here. It took a while before she realized that there weren't any cars. A romantic mood prevailed, created by the silence of a city. “Listen,” she said. “No motors.”
She snuck glances at his handsome profile. He walked, hands in his pockets, slouched over like a bad British schoolboy. The heels of his leather boots clicked as they hit the sidewalk. His long hair flicked up at the ends where it touched the collar of his crisp white cotton shirt. 
“Trust me, the real Venice tops the Venetian in Vegas,” she joked. Adam didn’t talk much, but he seemed enthralled as she told him the history of the city. “Venice has been a city-state for a thousand years, the most advanced city in the world at one time.”
In the museum, they studied intricately-detailed paintings illustrating Venice in the fifteenth century. Each picture was the size of an entire wall, larger than life, documenting the everyday scene. Magicians and jugglers wandered the streets in colorful costumes. As they stepped back to admire the paintings from a distance Adam commented, “I think I saw him today.”
“You’re right.” Earlier in the day they had stopped to watch buskers dressed in medieval costumes playing in the square.
“The city has changed so little since then; it makes me feel the past,” she added.
“I feel something,” he replied.
She blushed because he wasn’t looking at the painting, he was studying her. She was glad that she had carefully chosen her clothes that day. The pretty dress she wore, with a cinched waist and a gathered skirt, flounced when she walked, making her feel feminine. She felt like twirling when she put it on.
After they finished browsing through the museum, Adam suggested, “Fancy some grub? All of this culture is making my eyes bleary. We could grab some dinner, maybe at a Hard Rock?”
She spotted a woman behind an information desk. “Manga?” Sarah inquired, using one of the few Italian words she knew. “Hard Rock?”
The woman had never heard of the Hard Rock. Sarah asked her if she could suggest another restaurant. With much hand-waving and explaining, the woman scribbled directions to a small square on a scrap of paper.
Their noses informed them they had found the right spot when they turned a corner into a small cobblestoned square and were greeted by the aroma of pizza baking. At the cafe, they ate pasta marinara accompanied by crusty bread and drank red wine from a jug on the table.
She was careful not to ask him any personal questions; it would only spoil the mood if he mentioned a wife or girlfriend. For one night she wanted to pretend that the handsome man sitting across the table belonged to her. “What kind of music do you enjoy?”
“I love the classics,” his face lit up. “In England there’s this fab Manor House all plastered with gargoyles and turrets. All the greats play at The Knebworth Fayre. I saw Queen perform their last gig there.” That explained his love of the Hard Rock, all the memorabilia.
“Imagine: a summer night, a million stars, Clapton,” he paused. “Then it starts pissing down rain, a bloody mess but a cracking good time.”
“Only you Brits could enjoy getting soaked in the rain.” She supposed it was because it rained every day there.
“We’re hardy people. If we let a little rain stop us we would never get anything done. If you fancy it, next year I’ll take you down on my bike. Maybe change your opinion of the rain.” It amused her, how casually he dangled the implied future before her. Just like a man to talk about next year, when he couldn’t commit to next week.
Maybe to show he was serious, he placed her hand in his. Her fingers glided over the calluses on his palms. She liked the way his hand felt, it felt strong.
From Venice, the ship meandered across the Med. Adam and Sarah couldn’t get enough of each other; they climbed the hills of Athens, stopping to eat moussaka in The Plaka. In Santorini, they held their breath as they rode donkeys up the sheer cliffs overlooking the sea. One misstep would send them crashing into the churning water.
Midpoint in the cruise, a visit to the French Riviera. The ship tendered in Cannes. Sarah put on a mini-skirt, piled her hair on top of her head, covered it with a wide-brimmed straw hat and bought a pair of oversized knockoff Dior sunglasses from a street vendor. On the beachfront promenade she tried on haughty poses, pretending to be a movie star in town for the film festival, while Adam snapped photos of her.
On to Rome; at the Vatican they walked under Michelangelo’s magnificent frescoes. Words fail to describe the beauty of Botticelli’s Venus Rising, at the Uffizi in Florence. Women never forget that Venus, the most beautiful woman in the world, had a belly.
Finally, the ship arrived in Barcelona, where restaurants didn’t even open until , with streets as crowded at as they were at . Seven ports in ten days, Adam and Sarah explored them all. The ship stayed the night while it took on new passengers before turning around and repeating the journey, in reverse order.
On the return trip to Venice, they made love for the first time. When they woke up in the morning Adam whispered, “I love you, Sarah Seldon.”
“No silly, you’re not in love with me, it’s just the Med. We’re two people on a very big yacht, living on siesta time.”  She couldn’t really believe him; after working on ships for a while she had learned that only a fool pinned her hopes on a shipboard romance. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy the hours spent making love on their afternoon breaks while they traveled to the world’s most beautiful and alive cities. Every day she woke up exhilarated by the incredible sightseeing and every night she fell into bed exhausted from working until the wee hours of the morning.
Their time together could only be temporary; one day soon, Adam would fix whatever it was he was working on and then be gone. Only the memory of a romantic summer in the Med would remain. The precariousness of the situation only added to the drama. Every night, he would report that he had found something else to fix, because he wanted to stay with her. He didn’t have to search very hard; the Regal Queen was a very old ship. Things were always breaking down.
Summer turned into fall, the time for repositioning. The ship left the Med, crossed the Atlantic, and traveled through the Panama Canal in order to reach the South Pacific where it would spend the winter. Adam remained on board, still declaring his love. Around Tahiti, against her better judgment, she began to believe him; maybe he really did love her, the way that she loved him. Because any day could be their last together, they started to plan their future, in the real world, on land. The ship traveled on to Singapore and then the cruise line finalized a deal to sell the Regal Queen. Abruptly, the investment in expensive repairs stopped, and the next morning Adam was booted off. A dramatic ending to the movie she played of their romance, and if in the privacy of her head she took poetic license with the dialogue, enhanced the scenery or added special effects, who could blame her? She was besotted.
At that point in the story reality set in. She woke up alone in her bunk, somewhere in the Pacific, missing Adam. Finally, after eight mind-numbingly boring days at sea, the ship reached land.
Through the haze, she made out the faint outline of Russell, New Zealand, a small picturesque fishing village usually shrouded in fog, as was most of the country. Brightly-colored Victorian houses lined the streets of one of its first settlements, founded about one hundred and fifty years ago, which in New Zealand qualified as historic. She couldn't wait to call Adam, and hear him tell her how much he missed her, hopefully as much as she missed him. When you live on a ship you can't just pick up a phone and make a call -- ship to shore calls are very expensive, and it cost a couple of hundred a month to rent a worldwide cell phone. Left to the mercies of whatever phone system she encountered, New Zealand was particularly irritating because her AT&T credit card wouldn't work. She knew she would have to buy a phone card.
She entered the post office, heaving this morning with locals and the ship's crew lining up to send money, packages, and letters back home. She had dragged her friend Jerry from his warm bunk to stand in line with her. 
Jerry turned to her. “Could you please stand still?”
Being nervous and excited made standing still not an option. She tapped her toes and curled her hair with her fingers. Finally Jerry, a very patient man, snapped. “I sure hope you get to talk to Adam soon, because you’ve been a real pain in the butt these last eight days.”
“Jerry, I know, I know. I’m sorry. You know how it is, date someone for six straight months, and one week alone seems like eternity. I’m just one phone card away from speaking to Adam. Hearing his voice will get this birthday off to a great start. Could this line move any slower? I’ll make it up to you. I’ll meet you at the Russell Inn just as soon as I make that call, and you can buy me a big birthday lunch.”
After buying the phone card, she made her way to the most deserted phone booth on the island. A girl in the mood to whisper sweet nothings must have her privacy.  Feeling very beneficent because she had the power to change Adam’s life for the better, she almost skipped. Once she talked to Adam, and they finalized their plans, she would hand in her notice. A few weeks from now, they would meet in America. She only worried about how Jerry would take her news.
A cloud blocked the sun; she shivered and scolded herself for not wearing a sweater, since New Zealand always felt a little chilly. As she removed her address book, her hands shook. She hadn’t gotten over her mother telling her that a nice girl should never call a guy. Slowly, she placed her phone card in the slot and dialed the operator.
“Operator, could you please dial this number in Wales for me? It is 333-567.”
In anticipation, Sarah pictured Adam pleasantly asleep upstairs in his bed on a cold winter night, waiting for her call. Snow blankets the streets of Cardiff. Thriftily, he has turned off the heat to save money. The phone rings in the living room. Adam, clad only in his underwear, walks into the room, switches on the light and picks up the phone. “Hello.”
“May I please speak to Adam?”
“There is no Adam here,” a man snapped.
The picture of Adam in her head dissolved. “But there has to be. Maybe I dialed the number wrong; is this 333-567?”
“That is the number and there is no frigging Adam here. It is late, so if you don't bloody mind, I'm going back to bed!” He slammed down the phone.
Her stomach turned queasy, but she bravely dialed the operator again. “Could you please connect me to information in Wales?” Tightly gripping the phone, barely breathing, she thought, this can't be happening.
Shortly, a woman sounding around her own age picked up her call at a service center in Wales. “Noswaith dda,” followed by the English translation, “Good evening. How can I help you?” the operator inquired.
“I need to check on a listing for Adam Gregson. Is that listing 333-567?”
“We have a listing for an Adam Gregson but it’s not 333-567.” She could hear the pity in her voice.
“So could you give me the number?”
“Well, I’d love to, dearie but that number is ex-directory. Men are bloody worthless aren’t they?” At least they had something in common.
“But he was a Welsh Wizard,” Sarah said, defending him. Probably more like defending herself.
“Are those the blokes from Cardiff that go to work on ships?” She knew what he did. Well, Wales was a small country, and Cardiff was THE city.
“Yes, they can fix anything.”
“Well he sure fixed you, didn’t he dearie.”
A sensation of heat spread through Sarah’s body, a sharp pain tore across her heart while a thousand pin pricks exploded in her head. Her connection to Adam suddenly snapped, and a new connection began to grow. She felt a connection with the elderly woman that a slick con man swindled out of her savings, the bride who married a man in one state only to find out that he had wives in the other forty-nine, the mother who gave her daughter rent money only to have it gambled away. She was now permanently joined to all the other losers on the planet.
Grief stricken, slowly she made her way back to her cabin. For the next few hours, she just stared out into space, and wondered why Lady Luck liked to play practical jokes on her. The movie in her head morphed from a romantic comedy to a film noir where the patsy realizes that she has been double-crossed as they are leading her off to jail. She searched her memory for the tell, the clue, that should have let her know that Adam had been bluffing.
Aha, at that moment she realized how Adam had played her like a rube. There is an old poker saying, “If you don’t see the fish at the table, it’s probably you.” When new players sat down at a table, a professional would let them win a few hands, compliment them on their game, until they began to feel confident; then he would raise the stakes, go in for the kill. Because Adam had made her feel like the funniest, smartest woman on earth she had never bothered to look for a tell. She had been so blinded by her own brilliance that she hadn’t realized that she was the fish.
A familiar announcement boomed thru the loudspeaker attached to the wall of her cabin. “All ashore that are going ashore. The Regal Queen will be sailing to Sydney Australia in fifteen minutes.” There was a knock on the cabin door. She ignored it, knowing she would soon have to share her humiliation. Nothing stopped Jerry; he just walked in.
“Sarah, why didn't you show up for lunch? I waited a long time for you, at least until that cute server turned up.” He laughed, but then he really looked at her. “Sarah, what's wrong?”
“He gave me the wrong phone number. Adam gave me the wrong phone number.”
“Well, I always thought that a grown man who collected things from a restaurant came off as a bit suspect.”
“Hey, at least the Hard Rock has good food. Sometimes after three months at sea, all a person really craves is a pulled-pork-pig sandwich.”
 “You really want to talk to him?” Jerry said with a malicious tone in his voice.
“I know, and he has to know that I know, that he lied. But I already tried the operator in Wales. His number is conveniently unlisted.”
Jerry, always one to use his position as casino manager to his best advantage, devised a plan. “You live on a ship, and on a ship all crew members must leave an emergency number with the crew purser. Since said purser is dying to leave her little hole of an office and move upstairs to the casino, there isn’t much she won’t do for me, and even less I won’t ask.”  
“You will not, I repeat, not, tell Liz that Adam gave me a wrong number. That would give her too much pleasure!”
“Oh I'm much too clever for that.” He picked up the phone and dialed the number. The Regal Queen still had rotary phones. “Oh Liz, just wondering if you could do a little favor for me? You see, it is Sarah's birthday and she misplaced her address book. She promised she'd call Adam, so, if you could just give me his number? It would be my birthday present to her.” He listened for a while. “I promise I won't tell anyone.”
Jerry motioned for Sarah to get a pen and paper, by writing in the air.
She handed Jerry a pen and her address book opened to Adam’s fake number and probably fake address. Oh my gawd, the letters, she had sent the letters to that address. The vision of Adam reading her amorous meanderings horrified her. Please let
189 Bromley Lane
be a fake address, she prayed.
Jerry struck the old number out and wrote the correct number in. “Thanks, Liz, let’s keep this our little secret.” He hung up the phone.
Jerry handed the book back to her with a warning. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“He bluffed me. Now it’s my time to raise his bluff. You can dump me; just don’t lie to me. I kept thinking it must be some weird mistake, like he just misplaced a few numbers. But look at this number; it’s nothing like the one he gave me. Well, he did give me the correct country code for Wales.”
She dialed the PBX office. “I would like to make a ship to shore call; the number is 336-828-562.” It would cost a fortune, but she had to release her anger, now.
The phone rang. Amazingly, Adam picked it up.  “Hello.” She almost dropped the phone.
“Hi, Adam.” With supreme effort, she got these words out of her mouth. “Just wanted to call you so that you could wish me a happy birthday. Sorry, I’m a little late.”
She detected panic in his voice as he whispered, “Oh Sarah. This is Sarah, isn’t it? Happy birthday.”
“You seem surprised to hear from me,” she said. “Don’t you love me anymore?”
“Sarah, how did you get this number?” He obviously wanted this conversation to end. His tone grew menacing. “If Liz gave you that number, I promise, she’ll be sacked.”
Finally, her chance to Gaslight him, just like in that Ingrid Bergman movie, “Don’t be silly, love. Remember, you gave it to me.”
At that point, a woman picked up another phone. “Love, who is it? I was worried, the phone ringing so late.”
“Oh it’s no one,” Adam replied.
Rage seethed through Sarah’s body. “No one, just his fiancée!” She got the last word out before he slammed his receiver down.
Jerry tried logic. “Are you sure you had no idea, not even an inkling? As Dr. Laura would say, ‘you knew’.”
In the past they had been devotees of Dr. Laura's Ten Stupid Things, until they found out that she was also anti-gay. “Liz tried to warn me. She told me they called them Wizards because they do a great disappearing act. He accused her of being a jealous crone, and swore to me that he was divorced. He said working at sea had ruined his marriage. That was why he had wanted us to go to America, where he would open up Wizard's Plumbing.”
“A plausible story,” Jerry admitted.
“Based on a lie. Then he played his ace in the hole. He said that he had to leave ships because of his asthma. That working in the boiler room would kill him. Daily, he complained that the officer in charge picked on him, assigning him the most dangerous tasks. That’s why he always carried an inhaler with him, terrified of an attack. I saw it for myself, one day I found him sitting on the floor outside the boiler room, after an attack. He held his inhaler in his hand. Stupid me, I believed he needed me to save his life.”
“A matter of life and death. Working in a steamy, hot boiler room could kill someone with asthma. Say the word, I make a phone call to the captain, he gets his wish. He never works in a boiler room again.” He started to pick up the phone.
“Don’t bother. Right now, I would prefer that he drop dead. He seemed like the answer to my prayers. Why did he lie to me? Was all that just to get me into bed? I’m not a pushover but he didn’t have to work that hard.”
“Maybe that's how he gets his kicks.” Jerry replied, pragmatic as always. “Maybe he didn't get a thrill unless you fell in love with him. But I do know this – if you're going to tell a whopper, it helps to have 12,000 miles between you and your victim. But since it's clear he's never coming back, let's just pretend he met with an unfortunate accident on the way back to Wales. Like this.”
Jerry picked up one of Adam’s precious Hard Rock hurricane glasses. He studied it, “Where is this from? Hm, Singapore. Brutal police machine.” He threw the glass against the wall, smashing it. “Just because I can’t smash Adam.”
“Why does my life always hover between a sitcom and soap opera? It seems the exact moment I place my faith in someone is the exact moment they decide to break my heart.” She had expressed this sentiment way too many times. “I’ve been dating for twenty years, if the next twenty are more of the same, just shoot me now.” Placing a glass from the San Juan Hard Rock on the floor, she stomped on it hard, crunching it into little pieces. She was surprised at how cathartic she found her act of destruction.
“Remember,” Jerry decided to put things in perspective, “Twelve hundred people died on the Titanic, but this is the worst thing that has ever happened. Five hundred people back home die of gunshot wounds every week, but this is the worst thing that has ever happened.” Whenever he played this little game, he was careful never to mention the real worse thing that happened long ago, on that night in Tahoe. 
Life had taught her that she had two choices, she could laugh or cry. That's when she began to laugh somewhat hysterically. “You won't ever let me wallow in self-pity, will you?”
“If you wallow in self-pity you’ll end up like a character from one of those Tennessee Williams plays we studied in college. You’ll become nervous and excitable, aimlessly wandering the decks. Until one day I won’t be able to find you, leaving only a ship legend about the woman who jumped over the rail, because a Welsh Wizard gave her the wrong number. Is that how you want to be remembered? Where is the Sarah I know? You’ve gotten even, now get over it.” She knew he was just kidding, but his blunt assessment of the situation did sting.
After they had cleaned up the mess, Jerry said, “Honestly, if you aren’t up to it, take the night off.”
The thought of staying in this cabin alone, reliving the day over and over, gave her the blues. “Nah, work would be better. It's not like you have an extra body to take my place, anyhow. I'm not sick, just stupid. It is pretty hard to be lonely when you're pumping out seven hands of cards nonstop all night long.”
There you have it: a humiliation of international proportions.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Marita,
    Thanks for featuring me today. I hope everyone enjoys the read.
    Cara Bertoia