Author Katie Mettner

Chapter One ~ Moon Beach Mayhem ~ Natasha Alexander





Chapter 1

SAL KICKED OPEN the door to his tiny apartment. His stomach groaned in heady anticipation. It was 3:55. Just enough time for him to make a salami sandwich before he saw Doreen.

He squirted olive oil on two slabs of bread, then piled salami on one and a thick slice of onion on the other. Ordinarily he’d take the time to stick the sandwich in his George Forman grill, the one piece of kitchen equipment he’d allowed himself to have in this cramped furnished apartment.

But the stovetop clock read 3:58 and Doreen would be on at 4:00. He didn’t want to miss a single minute. He poured himself a glass of limoncello and hurried across the room to the lounge chair in front of the little TV. He wanted to see the introduction, when she walked into the camera’s view and just started talking to him.

Like this: “Hello, everyone! Welcome to The Cake Lady Show! I’m your Cake Lady, Doreen Loftus, and I’m here today for you.”

Sal loved the way she said “your cake lady” and looked straight at him while she talked. When he looked back at her and waved, he could swear she was smiling directly at him.

Doreen was wearing a bright flowered sundress and she was outdoors. Palm trees swayed in the background, and blue and green canopy tents lined the street behind her. So much prettier than here on the dirty edges of the Big Apple.

Sal sat on the edge of his chair when Doreen started talking. “Today we’re here in Moon Beach, one of the lovely little towns dotting the Southeastern coast. We’re following around some of the many talented cooks and bakers at a local street fair. Come along with me and let’s meet some of them, shall we?” She beckoned Sal with a wave of her hand and turned toward the canopy tents.

Sal liked Doreen’s new dress and the outdoor format of today’s show. He wanted to call the station later to tell her. Usually they had a call-in time at the end of the show, but by the time he got up his courage to call, it was always too late. He was jealous of the people who did get to speak with Doreen. She answered them with a lot of class, he thought, and he hoped he could be suave enough, cool enough when he called in that she’d remember him.

Doreen sashayed from table to table at the fair, talking to everyone and sampling a huge assortment of foods. Sal shoved his salami and onion sandwich into the trash. It paled in comparison to the crabmeat avocado salad and the grouper tacos with mango he watched Doreen eat as she walked around. The people who made them looked like they were having fun, too. Certainly more fun than Sal was having.

“Did y’all save room for dessert?” Doreen asked him. “Because we’ve got some delicious key lime cannoli coming right up. Follow me.” The camera followed her to the last tent and zoomed in to the table, where a dark-haired man was squirting pastry crème into a hand-rolled cannoli shell. The crème, dotted with flecks of lime, looked delicious and Sal almost forgot about Doreen for an instant.

The camera panned out so Doreen and the man stood next to each other. Sal was relieved to see how tiny Doreen looked next to cannoli guy. He’d like it if Doreen were short enough to be able to look up at him. She’d have to be pretty short, he knew, for that to happen.

Sal shook his head. Geez, he felt like he was already in Moon Beach schmoozing with the locals and hanging with Doreen. Even the cannoli guy looked like an old buddy or something.

Doreen was wrapping it up now. “The weather is beautiful, y’all, so come on down. I’ll be here for another week and I’d love to see you. Until then, this is The Cake Lady Show and I’m your cake lady, Doreen Loftus. Bye now!”

Sal blew her a kiss and kept staring at the screen even after a talking cow tried to sell the audience some new kind of yogurt. He switched off the TV just as the news came on, with yet another blond newscaster in a tight dress standing in front of yet another yellow-taped crime scene.

Sal’s phone rang. That would be Angelo, or maybe that little weasel Bull. For twenty years they’d barked orders at him and he’d done whatever they demanded because that’s what they expected him to do. And for what? No respect, and barely enough money to live on. He waited for the phone to stop ringing.

Sal’s brain started working, slowly at first and then, as he caught momentum, faster than he could process. He needed a change. Hadn’t Doreen looked him straight in the eye and invited him to come on down? What was he waiting for?

He looked around the cheesy apartment. The rent was already overdue. He could either pay it or buy gas and go look for a good reason for living.

It took him less than five minutes to shove some clothes and his tooth brush into a duffel bag. He glanced at his image in the bathroom mirror and smoothed a couple of strands of hair over the sheen of his bald spot.

He grabbed George Forman and the bottle of limoncello and closed the door on his old life. Sal Capelli was on his way.

Twenty miles down the highway, Sal started to breathe more easily. The sky, the median strip, his mind. Everything looked and felt less gray. Only as the sun began to set did he realize he didn’t really know what he was doing. Being in charge of moving forward on his own was a totally new concept to him, and it scared him. He was used to having someone else tell him what to do.

But who the hell wants to spend his entire life working for a bunch of thugs still worshipping the memory of someone named Tony the Meathook? It was way past time for Sal to move on. He switched gears and thought about the real possibility of meeting Doreen and his spirits were buoyed. His fingers danced across the steering wheel in time to what the local radio station considered its greatest hits.

Sal wasn’t a complete fool. He’d heard you could sleep in your car at Walmart, that their parking lots were like big campgrounds. So he had a place to stay, rent-free. And hadn’t he been smart enough to grab his copy of the Cake Lady’s monthly newsletter from the TV table, the newsletter that told all her loyal fans when and where she’d be taping her shows? You bet he had.

That newsletter was his roadmap, along with a little help from a Rand McNally atlas. He might even splurge on a GPS eventually. In two days, he’d be at the Cake Lady’s next video shoot at the Fisherman’s Folly Restaurant, surrounded by palm trees and whatever else grew where it was warm.

He pulled into the next Walmart and picked his campsite.

Copyright Natasha Alexander

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Natasha Alexander lives, writes, and makes things up on the North Carolina coast. The fictional town of Moon Beach, home to an eccentric cast of characters and the setting for Moon Beach Magic and Moon Beach Mayhem, is based on her travels through every funky coastal town from North Carolina to the Texas/Mexico border.
Before turning to fiction, Natasha spent more than twenty years conducting ethnographic research, where she learned to shut up and listen to people. These skills have been crucial for creating memorable characters and telling their stories in Moon Beach. She eavesdrops at the grocery store and gym, chats up strangers at the brewery or bluegrass jam, and pets every dog she meets while walking along the beach.

She believes in the power of laughter and live music.

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