By John Adams
I straighten my bowtie, brush lint from my favorite seersucker suit, and coo into Ms. Velasquez’s boudoir mirror. “You’re one handsome man, Coco.”
Beaumont lounges behind me, the grin from our mornin' indiscretions still cobbled onto his face. He may be in Ms. Velasquez's bed. But he's my Beaumont.
On TV, celebrity genius Sufia Alvi (“Public Television’s Smartest Woman”) holds court from her taxpayer-funded pedestal. She asks each of her star-struck guests three yes-or-no questions before proudly deducin’ their deepest secrets. But I don’t need to watch Sufia Alvi’s sleuthin’ on some knock-off Samsung. Not when I can bring her my own mystery.
I sing Beaumont a tender “trah-lah-lah," tap Daddy’s goat-head cane against Ms. Velasquez’s floor, and mosey along.
The Paulson Valley Community College parkin’ lot is full. I park my lime-green Cadillac in the aisle, boxin’ in Widow Jorgenson’s shoebox sedan. (By the time that molasses-slow turtle waddles out, I’ll be back cuddlin’ Beaumont.) Cane in one hand, goody basket in the other, I prance into the lecture hall.
On the dais, Ms. Velasquez grandstands an introduction for the visitin’ speaker. “Blah-blah-blah... The celebrity genius you see every Sunday on Public Television’s Smartest Woman... Blah-blah-blah... Brought her to town on my own dime... Blah-blah-blah... ‘Cause I’m perfect Gloriana Velasquez... Blah-blah-blah.” (Or somethin’ ridiculous like that.)
“Sorry for interruptin’,” I call out in my finest Hollywood voice.
Everyone always turns.
Ms. Velasquez wrinkles her slobberin’ lips but continues. I allow her to belch out three more blah-blah-blahs before resumin': “I’m tardy due to my late-mornin' excursions! Apologies, Mayor Velasquez!”
Mayor Velasquez. That cursed honorific.
Eight years ago, Ms. Velasquez plopped into town and opened Gloriana’s Gifts on Main Street. I was initially overjoyed to have an artistic neighbor for my chocolatier emporium. We bonded over my famous goody baskets, promenadin’ around like the King and Queen of Paulson Valley, her with her knittin' needles, me with my bonbons. “Gloriana!” I’d cry. “If I bent toward ladies and you wasn’t hideous, we’d have us some indiscretions!”
But that was before Ms. Velazquez betrayed my mayoral campaign, stealin’ top spot for herself and leavin’ me a fourth-place humiliation.
Before she impeached me from bein’ president of the Paulson Valley Chamber of Commerce for the simple accountin’ mistake that funded my lime-green Cadillac.
Before she snared my naïve and not-quite-forgiven Beaumont into her boudoir while I was distracted diddlin’ Deputy Samuels.
In the years since we said trah-lah-lah to our friendship, her mischief has bordered on criminal. Tattlin’ to Grocer Svenson when I poured jars of stewed tomatoes over her head in Aisle 3. Wavin’ her restrainin’ order in my face when I made a small doody on the hood of her Nisan Sentra. Shootin’ me in my good foot when I snuck down her chimney last Christmas Eve.
But not today.
I find the perfect front-row seat. (Dr. Mahoney’s already sittin’ there, so I swat that old queen with his toupee until he trah-lah-lahs to another row.)
Ms. Velasquez presents a hand-knitted afghan to the guest speaker and thankfully surrenders the microphone. Sufia Alvi speaks in her assured, motherly tone, weavin’ tales about her childhood in Iraq. About knowin’ she was a celebrity genius from age four. About deducin’ folks’ secrets by focusin’ not just on words, but on body language. Facial expressions.
Her delightful demonstrations uncover the secrets of Paulson Valley’s “best and brightest” (sans moi). In three questions, she identifies Grocer Svenson’s biggest regret. (Motherhood!) In three questions, she reveals the color of Deputy Samuels’s underpants. (Huckleberry-purple!) In three questions, she uncovers Midwife DeMarco’s maiden name. (Trick question; she’s unmarried!)
When Sufia Alvi finally invites audience participation, I jam down my cane and pounce to my feet. “Cochran Colemichael, Jr., of Coco’s Cocoa and Co.,” I declare. “And these—” I hoist up the goody basket “—are the tastiest chocolates in Paulson Valley.” I tap a Mason jar with the goat head of my cane. “I cold-pressed this cacao powder myself. Bake fudge with it, or mix it with ginger and warm milk for extra-savory cocoa.”
Sufia Alvi accepts my gift with that awkward head tilt so many give me upon first meetin’. I’m amused to see a celebrity genius so perplexed. “Thank you...” she hazards. “You... have a secret for me to deduce...?”
“Indeed.” (Dramatic pause. I’m a dramatic man.) “Sufia Alvi, what horrible thing did I do today?”
Paulson Valley collectively gasps. Ms. Velasquez buries her head in her hands and takes our lord and savior’s name in vain.
“You... did something horrible?” Sufia Alvi stammers.
“Indeed. I won't count that as one of your three questions, Sufia Alvi. I repeat: what horrible thing did I do today?”
She looks at the goody basket, then back at me. “Did you... poison the cacao powder?”
I chuckle. “I’m ornery. But I'd never poison a celebrity genius.”
Sufia Alvi purses her lips. “Fine,” she says, showin’ what Daddy called “game face.” “I’ll play. There's one person you’ve glared at throughout my entire presentation. Your demeanor—and hers—suggests relationship entanglements. My second question: does your secret involve someone’s romantic life?”
Sufia Alvi nods. “My final question: did you have indiscretions with Mayor Velasquez’s partner?”
“Indeed!” I squeal. “Ding-ding-ding! Just three questions! You really are Public Television’s Smartest Woman, Sufia Alvi!”
More gasps from the crowd. (Widow Jorgenson faints.)
I wag Daddy’s goat-head cane at the dais. “And trah-lah-lah to you, too, Msssssssssss. Velasquez!”
Chin high, I parade out of the Paulson Valley Community College Lecture Hall.
Back in Ms. Velazquez’s boudoir, I hurriedly gush to Beaumont. “She deduced one of my secrets in just three questions! Amazin’!”
Outside, Ms. Velazquez pounds at her door.
Outside, Deputy Samuels’ sirens wail.
In here, Beaumont grins at me silently. Lovingly. I've finally earned his devotion again. All it took was jammin’ Ms. Velazquez’s knittin’ needles deep into his ears followin’ our mornin’ indiscretions.
I cuddle my Beaumont for whatever time we have left before I have to trah-lah-lah.
John Adams (he/him/his) writes about teenage detectives, robo-butlers, and cursed cowboys in a genre he’s coined “absurdist speculative melodrama” – meaning “monsters being monstrous, aliens being alien, and humans being all too painfully human.” His short stories have been published by Australian Writers’ Centre, Dream of Shadows, Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, Intrinsick, Metaphorosis, Paper Butterfly, and Wyldblood. His plays have been selected for productions and readings by the William Inge Theater Festival, Whim Productions, the Barn Players, and the Midwest Dramatists Conference. He performs across the U.S. with That’s No Movie, a multi-genre improv team. He can be found on the web and on Twitter.