They chatted politely for the duration of their meal. Oscar liked the snappy attitude of Jasmine Bond. She was smart and sassy, two traits he greatly admired in a woman.
“When you’re ready, I’ll lead you over to the office.”
“That would be great. I have to run up to the room and grab my stuff. You’re cool with about ten minutes?”
“Not a problem, Mr. Friedman.”
“Oscar,” she repeated, blushing slightly. “I’ll wait for you down here.”
He headed up to his room and she made a call to her boss.
“What’s the scoop with Friedman?” He asked her moments after saying hello.
“He’s a nice guy, Don. Genuinely so. I can’t imagine he’s involved in anything weird. He’s an author here on a tour. I’m bringing him by the office in a few minutes.”
“Great,” but the older man didn’t sound enthusiastic at all. “Bring him by and we’ll see what we can do. All I need is for some out-of-town author to give us a bad rep. Who knows who he’ll tell! You try and sweet talk him when he’s here.”
“I’ll do my best, Don. He’s coming off the elevator now.”
“You know what I want from you now?”
“Yes, Don. I’m on it.” She hung up and waited with a smile while Oscar made his way to her across the lobby.
He was carrying a box of books under one arm and had a laptop on his shoulder. He had changed into tan brushed corduroy pants and jacket with a plaid shirt and coordinating tie. He looked more like an author in her eyes than he had before. He was newly shaved and smelled like shaving cream.
“Yeah. I appreciate your help.”
“Doing my job, Oscar.” She walked him to his car, fanning herself in the humidity. “I’ll pull around and wait for you. I’m parked over there.” She pointed to the other side of the lot. By the time you get your stuff stowed, I’ll be here.”
Jasmine Bond led Oscar to the car rental place. Her boss, Don Hickman, came out the greet them.
“What can I do for you, Mr. Friedman?”
Oscar told him the problem with the car. The agent inspected the car, but aside from the smudge on the hood, there was nothing to show what it had been through. By the time he had finished, they were on a first name basis.
“I’d really like a different car, Don. I don’t think this car is me.”
“I don’t have anything else available with GPS, Oscar. You said you needed that feature to get around. The other cars are all out for the weekend. I won’t have anything coming in for at least three days.”
“You mean I’m stuck with this hunk of junk?” He wanted to beat the car until it begged for mercy.
“It’s not junk, Oscar. It’s a well crafted machine.”
“It’s crap, Don! I venture to say that the car is a lemon. Probably getting struck by lightning is the most fortuitous thing that could have happened to it. This car defines insanity. I don’t need this in my life, Don. I really do not.”
“Oscar, I’d like to help you, but I can’t do it. I might have something come in this afternoon, but the client said he may need the car a couple more days. I make no promises.”
“Meanwhile, I’m stuck. Are there any branch offices in town?”
“I already checked. They’re already booked solid. I even called our competition. You picked a busy weekend to arrive.”
Sighing heavily, Oscar looked at the sooty white Prius with disgust. “Okay. I guess I’m stuck with you,” he said to the car. “Be gentle with me.”
Don gave him a funny look while Jasmine laughed behind her hand. Oscar appealed to her helplessly. “Help me feed the address into the GPS? That would be the biggest help.”
“That I can do.” She loaded the information for him. “Call me if you need anything. I’ll be happy to do what I can.”
“Thanks, Jasmine. You’ve been wonderful.”
She shrugged. “Not that it helped much, but you’re welcome. I’ll call you later and check up on you, okay?”
“Thanks.” He shook her hand, wanting to kiss her instead. Resisting the impulse, he got in the car and drove off.
The drive to his first venue wasn’t going well. Each time he thought he was going the right way, the GPS reset, giving him the verbal message “Calculating route.” With each recalculation, it seemed the neutral, female voice held more of a reprimand.
“I turned where you told me,” he said aloud. Feeling rather foolish, he found his way back to the road and tried again, making another wrong turn. “This can’t be right. I just went that direction and you told me to get back on this road. What’s going on?”
Nervously, he swung the car around yet again, making a legal U-turn. A few seconds later, the voice spoke. “Calculating route.”
“Oh, come on! Dammit!”
He pulled into a gas station. Canceling the current route, he keyed in the address once more, choosing ‘fastest time’ as his filter. He remembered that Jasmine had chosen ‘shortest distance’. The GPS spoke again, the voice sounded colder, more irritated. “Calculating route.”
Oscar got back on the road, following the arrows when the voice spoke once more.
“At earliest opportunity, make a legal U-turn. Followed by a legal U-turn.”
“What?” Oscar pounded on the dashboard. “Dammit to hell!” He pulled back into the gas station, stopping the car. “This isn’t happening. I’ve stepped into a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode.”
Pulling out his phone, he called Jasmine. “I’m sorry to be a bother,” he began. “But the I think the lightning damaged the GPS. It’s sending me in circles.”
“Got a piece of paper and a pen? I’ll give you directions.”
“Sure, thanks. Sorry to be….”
“It’s no bother, Oscar.” There was laughter in her voice. “I hate most electronic devises and I argue with the GPS all the time. Don’t worry about it.”
He copied the directions and got back on the road. Jasmine’s instructions were clear and easy to follow. He got to his first venue with several minutes to spare. As he pulled into the parking lot, the GPS piped up, “You have arrived.” Was it his imagination, or did the voice sound both haughty and smug?