Love at the Wheel By Laura P. Decamara Dedicated in loving memory to my friend Erin R. Faralan Chapter 1 Sunday morning Sam, the landlord, knocked at Steve’s door to inspect his apartment. He wanted to see if it was clean, a...
Love at the Wheel
By Laura P. Decamara
Dedicated in loving memory to my friend Erin R. Faralan
Sunday morning Sam, the landlord, knocked at Steve’s door to inspect his apartment. He wanted to see if it was clean, and also to get his past due rent.
The tenant Steve opened the door still wearing his pajamas. The landlord’s mouth dropped open at the sight in the living room: countless beer bottles and carpet stains, crumbs, newspapers, magazines, clothes, and candy.
He walked into the bathroom where trails of ants feasted on dried vomit all over the wall and sink. He figured it was from the Saturday night before.
Sam then went into Steve's bedroom to find, along with socks, candy wrappers, boxers, clothes and shirts scattered all over the floor. There was even an old condom that was so sticky it would not come off the carpet when Sam tried to move it with his foot.
The last area he checked was the kitchen: the sink was full of dirty dishes that had to have been there for weeks. There was a film of dried soda and beer on the counter and a broken coffee cup on the floor.
“OK, that's it!” Sam shouted, “I’m evicting you! You’re out of here. You haven't paid rent for 3 months!”
Steve’s panic woke him from his hangover.
“Look, give me another month. I'll pay you all the rent, I promise!”
“No way Steve. Your apartment is a mess, the place is pig sty! Get out or I will call the cops on you!”
An hour later Steve was showered, his bags packed. Once outside he started searching for a bus that was going to be stopping by the church next to the apartment complex. Steve’s only plan was to meet a young single woman who was shy so he could take advantage of her vulnerability. He had learned this in his past investment scams.
The bus, not a public transport but a tour bus, approached. He popped a mint into his mouth to freshen up his breath and then put on sun glasses to cover his bloodshot eyes.
The tour bus was scheduled to depart after the Good Shepard of England church mass ended at 9:00am. After the service, out walked Miss Charlotte White, her thin and slim figure appearing frail, yet very beautiful in her white top and black pants, which accented her sparkling blue eyes and shining black hair, long tresses drifting about her petite shoulders, framing a gentle face with slim lips and pale skin.
Charlotte’s parents owned and managed the tours since their only child was five years old, proud to add her to the management schedules so she could learn the family business.
Charlotte noticed a very handsome and tall, tan man in a suit without tie, holding expensive custom luggage, wearing Ralph Lauren sunglasses. She thought to herself: He must have gotten off the bus too early.
“Sir what are you doing standing here? This isn't the final stop you know. The bus will be leaving; you should get back on…”
Steve turned and smiled at her.
“Why thank you miss. Ladies first.” and he gestured to the bus door. “I really need a map of London; it's much larger than New York.” Charlotte blushed, she instantly liked this man.
Steve followed her onto the bus
“Ticket please sir.” said the bus driver. Charlotte turned around.
“Robert, he is with me.”
“Oh, OK Miss Charlotte.” he closed the bus door behind her and then signaled to pull back into traffic.
Once Steve was seated, Charlotte put on her microphone from the dash board and attached it to her lapel. She was standing at the front of the bus next to the driver’s seat to speak to the passengers.
“Welcome everyone, and thank you for choosing White Tours. My name is Charlotte, and I will be your guide in the wonderful city of London. I hope you have as much fun as I do.”
“On your right side is the Water Fountain of Youth. Some people say if you make a wish you will stay young forever.” All the tourist were smiling and commenting how they should go so they would never became old and gray.
Robert looked in his rear view mirror and saw Steve smiling and winking at Charlotte to get her attention. He felt very jealous that this man was flirting with the woman that he was secretly in love with. Robert never admitted to it Charlotte because if she found out she may reject him, then he would be in an awkward position to continue as her employee and her as the owner/manager.
After everyone took pictures the bus continued to the next location.
She continued: “The Museum of Art just acquired an exhibit of Leonardo Da Vinci. It was imported here on loan from Italy two months ago.” The bus parked and everyone got out for the museum tour.
Charlotte walked among the crowd into the first display room and started explaining the display.
“Here is the first piece by Leonardo de Vinci, the art he is most famous for painting: the Mona Lisa. His other paintings are The Last Supper and Madonna and Child.”
Steve raised his hand, acknowledged by Charlotte:
“Yes what is your question?”
“Do you have any favorite paintings or statues that you like?”
“Why yes I do, in fact it is the next and the last one before we go”
Robert thought, Yes, a real piece of work called Steve, who just wants to get you alone without the other tourists around.
Charlotte guided the tourists towards another art gallery and then turned to explain:
“Here is one of my favorites. It is called Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth. I can relate to the young woman alone in the field, looking back at her farm home, seeing it differently from afar.”
Steve was wishing that she would have asked the other tourists to look around on their own for a while.
She noticed Robert with the rest of the tourists. He usually waited on the bus. She made a mental note top ask him why he joined the walking part of the tour this time, if he enjoyed artwork.
After the tour was over, and everyone left for their rental cars and hotels, Robert remained sitting impatiently in the driver seat, watching through the rear view mirror as Steve chatted with Charlotte.
An hour later they were still chatting and worse, hadn’t even noticed Robert watching them. He finally turned around:
“Excuse me Miss Charlotte but it’s getting late and I need to clean the bus.”
“Oh!” She realized for the first time he was there, and then glancing at Steve she blushed. She stood up quickly and walked down the aisle towards the front of the bus, avoiding looking at Robert.
“Sorry to hold you up, see you tomorrow.” She ran off towards the house.
Steve slowly got up, making no effort to catch up with her as he was tired of keeping her entertained. He wished there was an easier way to reel her in but he felt it had to be handled carefully.
Steve climbed down from the bus onto the pavement. The sun was setting and the parking lot lights were flickering to life as darkness covered the sky.
Robert decided it was time to act.
“Steve can I have a word with you please.” He wanted to start cordially, after all the man was a customer.
“What’s up driver?” Steve was curt with Robert; he just wanted to go so he could get a hotel room for the night.
“Please don’t take up too much of Miss Charlotte’s time, she is very busy, but is too polite to cut a conversation short. Don’t misunderstand her…courtesy…to other customers too.”
Steve smiled. He picked up on Robert’s feelings instantly: protective, with a touch of jealousy perhaps. Then he quickly realized she had wanted to get away from an embarrassing situation with the driver. If there were any feelings between them he had to squash it quickly, eliminate the competition. No bus driver was going to keep him from an easy meal ticket.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to take her time, it is just that I never met someone like her before, she is such an interesting woman and very attractive.”
Steve tried to use his words very carefully about Charlotte so he would not give away that he was only interested in her because of the money.
“Oh, well….yes she is. But anyway, she is a very busy woman, and well, try to keep that in mind. Besides I am sure this is just one of many more entertaining items on your touring agenda.”
“It was but now I think I will come back tomorrow. This is becoming very entertaining.” Steve couldn’t help baiting poor Robert.
“She won’t be here tomorrow, she will be….She has other demands on her time tomorrow and will be gone.”
“Then I will wait. She is worth the wait.” Steve turned around and left.
Robert had to nod to himself. He couldn’t argue with that, waiting was what he had been doing for a long time…
During dinner Charlotte’s parents noticed that their daughter was silent. Normally she describes her day, so they thought something was up.
“Why are you so quiet tonight?” asked Ryan White.
“I have a lot on my mind dad.”
Elizabeth White interrogated their daughter next.
“What sort of things dear?”
“Well… I met this guy on my bus route.”
Dad and Mom glanced at each other. Dad grinned.
“What’s his name?”
“His name is Steve, he is tall with blonde hair with hazel eyes.” said Charlotte with a soft light smile.
Mom approved. “He sounds like a good catch, and you should get to know him. I think it is time for a break from work for your personal life, like dating.”
Charlotte decided not to tell her parents that he was an American because they have seen them on their touring bus as rude and loud with few manners and social etiquette, and often inconsiderate.
Charlotte liked her mother’s idea.
“OK. How about if I invite him for dinner tomorrow night?”
Her mother clapped, “Oh yes my dear! That would be wonderful!”
When she retired for the night Charlotte lay in her bed and thought maybe the suggestion was a bad idea: they would learn he was an American.
The following morning Charlotte woke up to the sounds of her favorite Christian radio station playing. She climbed out of bed to get dressed for work. Mother was cooking breakfast downstairs; the kitchen aroma of pancakes and eggs was in the air.
Charlotte looked out her window to see the garden, to see how beautiful it was and noticed Robert talking to James, the gardener. She stared at this only briefly and then went downstairs to breakfast.
“No, can’t say I have seen any strangers around lately, but I’ll let you know.”
“Thanks James. Have a good day.” Robert turned towards the garage with relief. So Steve had not made an appearance. Good. He hoped Steve would never show up. Still, he wouldn’t think Charlotte was safe from Steve’s advances until he knew the American had left the country. He imagined Steve’s cruise ship sinking, or his plane crashing into the ocean.
“Why wear a frown on such a beautiful day Robert?”
Charlotte’s question brought Robert back into the present. He hadn’t noticed her approach, so deep he had been in a daydream.
“Oh, Miss Charlotte!” Robert blushed and then tried to hide it.
“Just thinking about… bus number 2, it is making a new noise and it may need some repairs; if only I can figure it out, that’s all.” He put on his best smile for her.
“Well, it’s only a job, don’t let it get you down!” and she patted his cheek, looking at him with a smile. Robert blushed again and looked down, then turned to make his escape to the garage.
Charlotte wondered at Robert’s embarrassment as he left. Her woman’s intuition told her Robert was hiding something, but then she remembered Steve was coming today and dismissed the thought as she left for the day’s business.
“I thought you were not going to be here today.” said Steve.
“Why would you get an idea like that?” she said surprised as she touched his sleeve.
“Robert told me that you weren’t coming.” As Steve rolled his eyes thinking He tricked me. I will teach him a lesson one of these days not to mess with me.
Charlotte was silent for a moment at this comment. Why, she thought, would Robert tell that to Steve? Her instinct began to whisper to her that there was something about Robert. Could…could it be that he is jealous of Steve for liking me? Robert and I have been childhood friends since elementary school.
Charlotte returned to the present and just smiled at Steve. He smiled back and thought since she touched his sleeve that now was the time to act. Suddenly, he took her chin in his hand tilting her head up and leaned forward and kissed her! She blushed, taken by surprise. But this didn’t happen very often in her lonely life, and she did not want to pass up the opportunity, so she closed her eyes and began to enjoy his kiss.
Charlotte had not been looking for romance, she had been preoccupied with learning to take over her family business, but now she was in heaven as she was walked with Steve in the garden of her family estate. Birds were singing, the morning sun was shinning the sky was blue, and she was holding Steve’s arm as she pointed out various flowers.
“And these are day lilies, planted in 1913 by my great-grandmother Ann.”
“What is so funny? Why are you laughing at me?”
Steve patted her arm and reassured her.
“Here it is your day off and you are still giving me a guided tour.”
She looked up at Steve and smiled. This time she demanded the kiss, leaning toward Steve on her tip toes.
It was at this moment that Robert was driving past the family estate. He looked over the grounds and then his heart leapt into his mouth: he saw them kissing!
While distracted by his secret love and Steve’s embrace he hadn’t seen the trash can by the curb and ran over it! Charlotte broke from the kiss and turned around to see her bus driver running over a garbage can. She ran to the street with Steve behind her. Steve saw who the driver was and smiled.
“Dear lord” he exclaimed “what kind of person is driving your customers around?”
Robert stopped the bus and opened the door to see Charlotte and Steve approaching.
“Oh! Miss Charlotte! Sorry, so sorry! I…I…” Robert realized he could not say he saw them kissing. He looked back at the crumpled trash can.
Steve took advantage of Robert’s embarrassment.
“Have you been drinking?”
Robert whirled around angry:
“Certainly not! Charlotte, please, it was just an accident, no one is on the bus!”
“Robert! How could you? And our new bus too!”
Steve went in for the kill:
“You could have cost so much more than trouble if there were any passengers injured, or if the trash can had been a child!”
Robert had enough “I would never run over anyone!” Robert turned to Charlotte again.
“Miss Charlotte, please: to be honest I saw you with this… this man and thought he was assaulting you! And that is why I was distracted!”
“Assaulting! Ha! You are just a jealous bus driver. Come Charlotte, let’s leave this man to his lies and discuss hiring a replacement.”
That did it. Robert jumped on Steve, grabbed him by the shoulders and threw him into the flowerbed of day lilies. He jumped on top of Steve with a loud yell. However Steve was experienced at having fights in many bars, and rolled over shoving Robert’s shoulder’s to the muddy ground.
Charlotte watched with an open mouth as her great grandmother’s flowers were completely destroyed. Mud, leaves and petals were flying everywhere. She could not believe that a moment ago she had been enjoying a kiss, and now two men were fighting over her!
Charlotte was shocked, eyes wide and mouth open as she watched two men who she thought were civilized fighting in the dirt like two dogs. That gave her an idea to break up the fight: she ran for the garden hose and turned it on full blast on the two wrestling men. But now mud was everywhere!
The two men stopped and stood up. The water worked. Charlotte turned off the water.
“Look at you! I am ashamed of you both!”
Robert recovered first.
“Miss Charlotte, I am sorry but his lies just made me so mad!”
Steve shot back “Don’t try to cover up that you attacked a customer!” and he threw a handful of mud at Robert.
“Steve! Robert! Stop it.” Charlotte didn’t want to use the hose again.
“Robert. Go home now! I will talk to you tomorrow about this!”
“Yes. Yes Miss Charlotte. I’m sorry.” He turned and left.
Once they were alone Charlotte turned around to see all the damage done to the flowers and started picking up the mess with Steve holding a garbage bag in his hand.
“Steve… why do men fight over a woman?”
“Because each wants to be her boyfriend.”
“But they don’t have to hit or throw things at each other, do they?”
“Well, it’s not that easy to resist, it’s instinctive. Every male does this, even animals and birds do to win the female and mate with her. I watched this on the discovery Channel the other night.”
Steve watched her face as he said this last thing.
Doubt showed in her face as she began asking herself I wonder what my parents will think of him now that this happened. Are they going to have a positive attitude towards him?
After thinking for a while she put her head up to face him.
“Steve I am really upset about this right now, would you please leave now?”
“Of course Charlotte. I hope I can see you tomorrow if you allow it.”
Steve walked down the driveway, in a matter of minutes he was gone out of sight.
The following morning Robert drove to the first tourist stop. Charlotte was sitting on her driveway waiting for the day’s work to begin when he opened the door and stepped outside towards her.
She spoke first:
“Robert what were you thinking when you did that yesterday?”
“Charlotte I was trying to protect you because I think that Steve may have the wrong… intentions.”
“He is very considerate, polite, kind and loving, he seems fine to me.” she blushed but kept her arms crossed.
“That is what you think but you can not see him for what he is: he comes out of nowhere, suddenly likes you and then tries to get on your good side, when we…I mean you….don’t know anything about him, where he comes from, his family or friends.”
“Stop Robert. I don’t want to talk to you until I figure out what to do with you.” She needed to discuss this first with mom and dad.
“ Miss Charlotte, he will hurt you someday, please…be careful with him.”
“Don’t be so sure of yourself.”
Then the tourists began to arrive and assemble, so they stopped talking for the time being.
“Steve, are you busy tonight?
“No, not at all. Why?”
“Would you mind coming over to my house for dinner tonight to meet mom and dad?”
“I would love to meet your mom and dad! It would be an honor. What time should I come?”
“7:15 PM, no later.”
“I’ll be there!” He hugged her.
Steve had a few hours before dinner at, so he felt comfortable. What a most convenient twist of fate that she helped speed up his plans by inviting him for dinner that night! Charlotte will not have any clue when he poisons Mother and Father, and she would naturally go to him for comfort, cementing her bond to him! He smiled to himself. Now, which poison should he use…?
Marshall, would you get the door please?”
“Of course Miss Charlotte” Marshall didn’t need to be told, but he appreciated her courtesy to the family butler. No wonder Robert loved her and asked him to keep an eye on her when she was going to have a visit from this American guy Steve
He opened the huge, double door entry.
“Good Evening. I am here for dinner with Charlotte White?”
“Of course sir. I am Marshall, the butler, please come in.” Marshall tried not to notice Steve’s black eye.
Steve stepped inside the foyer and handed Marshal a large bottle of wine, and his coat.
“This way to the library sir.”
As Steve walked down the hallways he looked up and admired the mansion. He really looked forward to “inheriting” this place.
“Please make yourself comfortable here in the library.”
“Thank you Marshall.”
Charlotte came in with a smile.
“Hi Steve!” she hugged him and he kissed her briefly.
“Hello my dear. You must give me a tour of your magnificent home!”
“Sure, come this way.”
As they walked from the library to the stairs, Steve became anxious.
“My dear, before you show me the upstairs, why don’t you show me the kitchen? I would love to see it, especially while dinner is being prepared. I am something of a connoisseur you know.”
“Oh, ok! Right this way.”
They walked through the dining room and towards the kitchen double doors. Steve could see the wine glasses were already on the table with the table formally set. The setting must have been complete, as there was no help in the room. Good.
He allowed Charlotte to introduce him to the chef, who proudly explained the Duck a l’Orange was being prepared for the entree.
“Oh my, I am afraid I brought a blackcurrant liqueur called Kir. It won’t work with Duck a l’Orange.”
“Ah, don’t worry good sir, it will actually complement it quite well! A good match if I may say so.”
“Do you really think so? Marshall has the bottle, please take a look and make sure it’s ok will you? Thanks!”
They left the kitchen. Steve could not help but smile. Things were going better than he expected! Since the chef would open the wine and sample it no doubt, and be ok, Steve could then poison it afterwards, but before it was served, and thus the chef would be blamed as the suspect! Only the chef’s fingerprints on the bottle! Excellent!
“It seems the staff likes you Steve! I am so glad you came tonight.”
“Me too my dear, me too…”
Charlotte and Steve returned to the library, to meet her parents. Steve could smell cigar smoke. Sure enough he entered to see her father seated in an oversized leather chair, smoking a cigar.
“Father, mother, this is Steve. Steve, my parents.”
“It is an honor to meet you both. Thank you for inviting me.”
“How do you do.” Charlotte’s father extended his hand but was not warm in his greeting, he saw Steve’s black eye and immediately had doubts, and further, noticed his American accent.
Then Steve turned to Charlotte’s mother.
“Charmed to make your acquaintance.” and he took her hand to offer a faux kiss. Mother seemed immune to his chivalry; apparently she didn’t like the black eye either.
“Welcome. Please have a seat. What happened to your eye?”
Steve saw this as the opportunity to turn the poor spotlight from himself onto his competition.
“I wanted to talk to you about that, although I was hoping to discuss it later. I do not want to cause anyone…indigestion?”
Her parents looked at each other. Charlotte wasn’t sure she liked what Steve was about to say, but she was also thrilled to have a man take charge. She liked Steve as a confident, take charge man.
“Your… bus driver, Robert, accosted Charlotte and I as we were admiring your garden, and he assaulted me. I was forced to defend myself, and honestly, I think he was intoxicated as just before he attacked me he had run over a trash can in the street with the bus. Unfortunately I was not versed well enough in fisticuffs to avoid a black eye.”
“My goodness! Our Robert did that?” Mother was in disbelief.
“Good Heavens!” Father put the cigar down. “I trust you were not seriously injured? Charlotte, were you aware of this?”
“Yes father. I saw it happen. It is as he said. But I thought he defended himself quite well.” And she got close to Steve and put her arm around his arm.
“If you don’t mind, I must excuse myself for a moment. Where is the washroom?”
“Just down the hall and to the right. I’ll show you.”
“Charlotte, stay here with us. Your mother and I would like to discuss this with you in detail.”
She sat down. Steve tried to restrain his joy, this was working better than he could have hoped for. He left the library, and went past the washroom back to the dining room. Peeking in, he saw the chef just as he was leaving to return to the kitchen, and he had left the wine open to “breathe”. Excellent!
Quickly, he took out the envelope and poured its contents into the wine bottle. Strychnine was an excellent choice as it didn’t lose toxicity in alcohol. He picked up the bottle with a napkin and swirled the contents to dissolve it, then setting it down, he returned to the library. He smiled!
But Marshall saw Steve leaving the dining room. Odd. He was unaccompanied. What had he been doing? Now he began to believe what Robert meant by “something not right” about the man. He went to the home office to use the phone. He called Robert, spoke a few words then hung up.
“Dinner is served.” The chef smiled broadly and bowed.
Once seated, Mr. and Mrs. White began discussing what to do with Robert.
“It is not like him to do that to someone, don’t you think honey?”
“Yes my dear, quite out of character for the man.”
“But some people change you know.”
“Mom and Dad, do you think he is over worked?”
“No, his scheduled driving has remained unchanged since he began working for us. If the schedule was overworking him it would have become obvious long ago.”
Charlotte’s intuition whispered to her again. Something must have made him angry. Jealousy…?
Steve was worried that Charlotte’s taking the conversation down this path may lead to a vindication of Robert, and bring focus to himself. He better change the subject. He interrupted.
“Alcohol brings out the worst in some people you know, especially if they don’t know when to quit. They become unpredictable and unreliable. But really, all this talk is not the way to enjoy a good meal eh? After all we know when to stop, so let us all sample my bottle of Kir, I hope you enjoy it!”
And he picked up the bottle, and poured everyone a glass, including himself. He intended of course not to drink a drop but to merely raise the glass to his lips, tightly sealed.
All of a sudden Marshall walked into the dining room.
“How is your food tonight?
Everyone answered with affirmative nods and smiles. Mr.White looked around and answered for everyone.
“The food is excellent Marshall, we will thank the chef ourselves after dinner.”
He nodded “Very good. Should you need anything I will in the hallway.”
He walked over to Charlotte and whispered in her ear that Robert was in the house. Steve over heard him.
“That drunkard who assaulted me is here? Let me take care of this once in for all.” With a angry tone in his voice.
“Steve! Please try not to break anything in our house, please!” her mother said nervously remembering her flower bed.
“This will only take me a minute.” He replied, putting his napkin over his drink.
After he left Marshal picked up everyone’s cups and changed it to a new one but forget Steve’s.
When Steve came back a few minutes later he sat down and picked up his napkin and started drinking the wine with the poison inside!
“Oh dear I thought I removed the entire glass cups of everyone.”
“Why would you do that?” Steve’s face began to pale with fear as he slowly remembered, his confrontation with Robert made him forget!
“Because Charlotte’s parents do not like dirty silverware or Champaign glass when guest are around. “
He couldn’t think what to do, his plan had backfired, and he didn’t want to die. He stood up and faced Marshall.
“You poisoned me!” And for once in his recent life he wasn’t acting. The pain was starting to make him bend over, his stomach was cramping and his mind was becoming more and more confused.
“What did you say?” Answered Charlotte, her and her parents had shocked expressions on their faces.
“What do you mean poisoned? And how?” Father looked at Marshall but could not believe their trusted help could be blamed.
“Never mind that,” Steve choked, “someone call 911.” Mother screamed as Steve fell to the floor.
The paramedics strapped Steve tightly in the gurney after he appeared to respond well to the antidote. They nodded to the police who took out their handcuffs.
Charlotte watched it all in disbelief.
“How could you do this to my parents Steve? Even think about it? What were you thinking?”
Steve stared at Charlotte seeing the disappointment in her face as the police put hand cuffs on his wrists
“Charlotte, it wasn’t me, it must have been Marshall or Robert!”
“There no excuses for what you tried to do.”
Reality set in as the police climbed into the ambulance with him as his gurney was loaded. It began raining.
“I am sorry please forgive me.”
The policeman closed the ambulance door. Charlotte followed a few steps as it left with the siren on. She couldn’t help the tears in her eyes.
Robert came outside the house with a raincoat for her, and an understanding look on his face which made Charlotte a little uncomfortable. She felt guilty for trusting Steve when Robert had been right all along, and now thought he would tell her “I told you so.”
The two of them stood there on the sidewalk in the rain, facing each other without any words to say.
Suddenly Robert spoke.
“Charlotte I know you don’t want to admit that you were wrong.”
“Oh sure rub it in Robert.”
“No Charlotte I am not.”
“Then what are you trying to do”
“I going to try and say something I should have told you.”
“Like what?” She looked up at him, puzzled.
“I…I have loved you…” he gently held her arms “…ever since I saw you.”
“Oh Robert!” With a tear of joy and surprise on her face she knew she was forgiven, and more importantly, loved for real this time!
In the background thunder sounded and then rain begin to fall harder as Robert pulled out a black umbrella to cover them.
Robert slowly wrapped his arms around Charlotte, and this time, she made the first move, kissing Robert, completely expected!
Update love at the wheel 2 and 3 in working progress right now