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Oscar Friedman’s Freakish Occurrence – Part 3

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.”

“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.

“All set?”

“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.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

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.”

“Thanks.”

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?

Oscar Friedman’s Freakish Occurrence – Part 2

That night, the skies opened, pouring down more rain in an hour than the city had seen all year. Oscar woke twice during the night, lying awake as the rain pounded against his tenth story window relentlessly. Unable to sleep after the second time, he lay in the dark, watching the streetlights cast eerie orange ripples across his walls and ceiling. He was just drifting back to sleep when a vividly bright light filled the room, followed by a tremendous clap of thunder.

Oscar sat bolt upright in his bed, blankets and pillows scattered like fallen leaves. Every car alarm in the hotel parking lot shrilled into the dark night. Phones all over the hotel rang until bleary, angry guests woke up enough to answer them. Even Oscar’s phone rang. He picked it up, wondering why.

“Yes?”

“Mr. Friedman?” The young woman sounded terrified.

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, sir.”

“What’s wrong? Did my car get hit by lightning or something?”

There was a prolonged silence followed by a nervous clearing of the throat. “How did you know?”

Oscar started to laugh. The young lady did not join in. His mirth tapered off and another uncomfortable silence ensued.

“You’re kidding. Aren’t you?”

“No, sir. That’s why I called.”

“Um….”

“The manager said to tell you that the hotel is not responsible for damage of this kind. It’s considered an act of nature.”

“I see. I guess I’d better call the company and get a different car.”

“That’s the odd thing. The car appears to be undamaged.”

“What? How’s that even possible?”

“I don’t know, Mr. Friedman. I haven’t seen it myself.”

“I’ll be right down. Thank you.”

He dressed rapidly and took the elevator to the lobby. A huge crowd had gathered around the lobby entrance, most of them in their pajamas holding car alarm remotes. The rain was pouring just as steadily, but they couldn’t seem to make themselves go inside. A clutch of people stood around his car. The doorman handed him an umbrella and he wandered over to the front of the lot. The group parted ranks as he arrived. He recognized the manager in the center, talking animatedly with a police officer and a fireman.

“Here is the owner now,” he said, pulling Oscar forward.

“It’s a rental,” Oscar replied before he got blamed for anything. “I just picked it up this afternoon.”

“So it doesn’t belong to you personally?” The police officer flipped open his notepad.

“No. It’s a hunk of junk and I was going to return it in the morning to get something else. The GPS is borked and the alarm went off when I hadn’t even set it.”

“He’s right about that,” the manager interjected. “We’ve had to turn it off seven times during the evening. He left the keys at the front desk for us.”

“You’ll need to contact the rental company in the morning,” the cop told him. “They need to know what happened and assess damages.”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, officer,” the fireman said calmly. “I used to work as a mechanic. From what I can see, there’s nothing wrong. It didn’t even damage the paint.”

“That’s weird as shit,” the cop said.

“But damn fortunate,” the fireman added. “Specially on a rental. They’ll get you six ways to Sunday on those otherwise.”

They stood around nodding agreement as Oscar checked his rented car. Aside from a little soot on the hood, there seemed to be nothing wrong with the car. Sighing heavily, he went back to his room determined to sleep more, but his rest refused to come. Instead, he lay awake with visions of the car’s demise playing in his head over and over. He finally fell asleep around four in the morning. He woke to a phone call from the hotel manager at around ten o’clock.

“Mr. Friedman, so sorry to wake you, sir.”

“Yeah?” Oscar sat up, rubbing his eyes.

“We took the liberty of contacting the rental company for you. The representative is here at the moment and would like to speak to you.”

“Thanks. Give me a couple minutes to wake up. I’ll be down.”

“The representative I on the way up and should be there any minute.”

“Shit.”

Cursing, he hung up and dressed quickly. He was just starting the coffee pot when there was a knock on his door. Oscar answered, anticipating a fat, balding man. Instead, an attractive woman in her early forties was standing there in a navy blue suit. Her skirt was flared and just above knees, revealing a shapely lower leg. Strawberry blonde hair curled below her ears, brushing the top of her collar. Knowing blue eyes held his for a moment before she spoke.

“May I come in, Mr. Friedman?”

“Sure. Knock yourself out.” He held the door for her to walk through.

He finished setting up the coffee and waited for her to speak. Standing with his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his faded blue jeans, he looked rather lost and alone. The woman gave him a thorough examination before speaking. Her voice was sultry and low, flavored with a delightful accent of some kind. Oscar couldn’t place it right away, so he stopped trying.

“Mr. Friedman, the company sent me over as a courtesy to you, sir. Although I’m not overly sure what they expect me to do.”

“Neither do I, Miss ….?”

“Bond. Jasmine Bond.”

Oscar laughed rather derisively. When the woman didn’t join him, he stopped rather abruptly.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Bond. I thought you were kidding. I apologize. I imagine you get that a lot.”

“Unfortunately, my parents were way too creative with their naming. Be that as it may,

I’m curious as to what you want from the company.”

“Obviously, I want a different car. That one has been problematic since I got it. The GPS seems to be faulty as well as the car alarm. I didn’t even set it and it went off eight times last night. I figured I’d go talk to the agency today and ask for a different car. I’m going to be here all week, I need a reliable car.”

“What brings you to town?”

“Business. I’m an author. I’m here for a book signing tour. I’ve got three venues in four days, rotating with other authors under the same publisher. Would you like to see our itinerary?”

“Yes, thanks.”

He dug through his bag, handing her a crumpled sheet listing his appointed times per venue. Some were scratched through and changed.

“One of the authors got sick at the last minute, so we’re covering her times as well. So you see why I need transportation.”

“Interesting choices. Who set this up?”

“The publisher.”

“Well, the most I can do for you is examine the car and take you to the office so you can see about a new one. I wouldn’t hold my breath. Memorial Day is a busy weekend. I’m surprised we had one at all.”

“I made the reservation several months ago. Even if it’s a different kind of car, I don’t care. I need something to go from point A to point B and not get me lost in the meantime.”

She smiled, tossing her hair with a laugh. “I understand. Well, when you’re ready, we can go together and talk to Don. I’m sure he’ll help all he can.”

“Thanks. I’d like that. Um, have you had breakfast?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Breakfast. Coffee, Danish, scrambled eggs? My treat. I hear this hotel has a nice breakfast buffet.”

Jasmine Bond was about to refuse when her stomach growled. She’d gotten the call to come by here on her way to work and hadn’t had time to stop and get her breakfast. Sighing, she shrugged.

“Sure, why not?”

Oscar Friedman’s Freakish Occurrence – Part 1

Oscar Friedman sat in the hot, humid, stuffy car gazing at the dashboard with chagrin. The rented Prius had the most complicated layout of any automobile he’d ever seen. When he’d told the agent that he wanted a gas efficient model, he hadn’t envisioned a hybrid. The agent, even now, was trying to give him a lesson on how to start the car. Unfortunately, it made very little sense. He tried it himself and, with lots of intervention, felt relatively competent.

“Ever used a GPS?” The young man, who looked about twelve, asked him.

Oscar felt each of his forty-seven years as he gazed into the vacuous blue eyes. “No.”

With a patient smile, the young man explained its use. He typed in the address of the hotel where Oscar was registered. “It will give you directions there and tell you when you’ve arrived,” he said with a happy grin.

“It talks to me?”

“Yes. And it has a map so you can see exactly where you’re going and where you are. If you make a wrong turn, it helps you get back on track.”

“Great, a machine that’s smarter than I am.”

“Not exactly. It’s part of a satellite tracking system….”

“I know what it is,” Oscar said slowly. “Just because I’ve never used one – and I’m twice your age, doesn’t mean I don’t know what GPS stands for. “

“Gotcha. You’re technologically illiterate, Pops, that’s all.”

Oscar took great offense to that statement. “Not illiterate, inexperienced. In my day, you got a map or asked directions. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked.”

“Yeah, well this works better.” Pursing his lips, he frowned at Oscar. “Have a great trip.” He didn’t sound like he meant it at all.

“Thanks, you’ve been a peach.” Neither did Oscar.

Shutting the door, Oscar began the complicated process of starting the car. Determined to do it without further assistance, he fumbled around, hitting upon the correct sequence entirely by accident. Putting the car in gear, he pulled out of the parking lot, following the directions of the GPS.

At first the navigation was easy. As he progressed, he found the directions more difficult, the turns more frequent. When he finally got to his hotel, which the agent had assured him was only five minutes away, fifty-five minutes later, he was furious. The hotel loomed on the horizon, but the GPS didn’t tell him that he’d arrived. He drove past it, cursing loudly.

“It’s right there!” He yelled, pointing at the hotel.

A block later, the GPS made the announcement, “You have arrived.”

“I haven’t! I have to get back to the hotel, you stupid electrical fiend!”

Trying to turn right and make a block, he saw the street was one way going the opposite direction.

“Dammit!”

In desperation, he stopped at a corner gas station and asked directions. The clerk spoke very little English, but a helpful patron got him back on the right road. Arriving far later than he’d hoped, he walked into the lobby sweating and angry after his trip. The clerk wrinkled her nose as he checked in, giving him a baleful eye as he picked up his bags and headed to his room. The cold, darkened room felt wonderful as he stripped off his sweaty clothing. Dropping it on the floor, he wandered into the bathroom for a long, hot shower. The phone was ringing when he got out of the shower. Grabbing it up angrily, he answered.

“Yes?”

“Mr. Friedman, front desk. So sorry to bother you, sir. Your car alarm is going off and has been for several minutes. The manager asks if you’d please come down and shut it off.”

“Car alarm? I didn’t even know it had one. I don’t remember setting it. Right now I’m wet and naked. I just got out of the shower. I’ll be right down.”

“Thank you, Mr. Friedman. I’m so sorry to bother you.”

“Sorry to be a nuisance. Damn car is making my life hell.”

He dried off and dressed rapidly. Grabbing his car keys and the room card, he ran to the elevator and headed to the parking lot. His car alarm was indeed going off loudly and persistently. A crowd had gathered around it. Some of the men were talking about lifting it in order to shut the alarm off.

I saw it in ‘Twins’”, one man said loudly. “You lift it at a specific angle, it shuts off. I saw Arnold lift the car.”

What angle? I’ll hurt my back I lift it too far,” his companion said.

The men stood there scratching their heads as more people gathered.

What idiot doesn’t know his car alarm is doing off?” An older lady complained. “What a moron!”

Surely the hotel called him,” her equally elderly companion added.

Excuse me, ladies.” Oscar squeezed between them. “Sorry.” He clicked the button and the alarm shut off. “I didn’t even set the dumb thing. I don’t know how that happened. Damn rentals.” He kicked the tire and the alarm screamed again, making everyone cover their ears and complain. Unfortunately, this time, the button didn’t work right away. It took three tries before it was silent once more.

The crowd dispersed, making rude comments to him as they did. With a final invective directed at the car in particular and the manufacturer in general, he went back into the hotel ready for another shower.

I’m terribly sorry,” he told the girl at the desk. “Honestly, I didn’t set it. Can I leave the remote down here? Then if the damn thing goes off again, someone from the hotel can shut it off.”

I’d hate to be responsible for that, Mr. Friedman. It is your car, after all.”

“It’s a damn rental. It’s insured. If it gets stolen, so what? Please. If it goes off at two A.M., do you want to be the one who has to call me?”

She most emphatically did not. With the manager’s permission, she placed his car keys in the pigeonhole for his room.

“Just ask for them when you leave.” She tried to smile, but it was forced.

“Thanks. I apologize for being a bother. I wish the damn thing would get stolen or struck by lightning,” he mumbled. “Then I wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore.”