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