GORDITA CONSPIRACY

Chapter 1 Prologue: STRANGER ON A PLANE


Virgin flight 442 from Frankfurt Germany was on final approach to San Francisco International Airport, and, up in first class, the flight attendant, a beautiful and shapely brunette named Amber, was making her final walk-through of the cabin. She checked to make sure that everyone was properly buckled in, but she saved her last stop for her new favorite passenger. His name was Klaus, and he was romance novel cover hot with his chiseled jaw, shaggy blond hair, and muscular frame. He was also particularly charming, and he and Amber had been flirting with each other since the very first moment he walked in to the first class compartment. She smiled as she arrived at his seat, and he, of course, smiled back at her as he pointed down at his seat belt buckle.

     “Am I properly buckled in?” he asked, his English excellent though clearly flavored by his German accent.

     “I’d better check.”

     She leaned over and purposefully dangled her enticing cleavage in front of his eyes as she reached down and checked the buckle before moving her hand past it and giving his groin a playful squeeze. Klaus was already sporting a semi, and Amber appeared to be fairly impressed.

     “Oh, well now! Everything seems to be just fine here,” she said, before looking around the cabin to make sure none of the other flight attendants were nearby.

     At that point she lowered her voice and leaned in close to Klaus.

     “So, when you finish up with your business, let’s go out for that drink,” Amber said, with a flirtatious smile.

     Klaus found himself feeling pretty damn excited by Amber’s spicy comment, though, strangely, it was her rather outgoing nature, not her beauty, that he found to be her most alluring quality.

     “Yeah, though I might be running a little late depending on how things go,” he said.

     “Better late than never, and, in case you need a little motivation, you’ll have this,” Amber said, as she picked up his iPhone, activated the camera, then knelt down out of view of the other passengers.

     Klaus was curious what she had in mind and couldn’t believe his eyes when she undid her two top buttons, slid her shirt open to reveal one of her breasts, then smiled and snapped a quick selfie. Finished, she put his phone down, buttoned up her shirt, and leaned in and gave him a quick kiss.

     “I’ll see you tonight,” she said, as she stood up.

     “Or perhaps even sooner,” he responded.

     She headed back towards the front of the plane, and Klaus couldn’t help but watch her every step, as her tight fitting uniform made quite a show of her stunning figure. Sure, Klaus tended to garner more than his fair amount of female attention, but his busy work schedule and frequent travel made it nearly impossible for him to meet someone as charming and alluring as Amber. He was, therefore, definitely going to do his best to finish up his business and make it out for a drink with her tonight.

     Once she disappeared from view, he turned his gaze out the window and saw that the weather was clear and sunny, and it was looking to be a lovely day in the San Francisco Bay Area. As the large jet descended, he heard and felt the thump of the landing gear being deployed, and, not long after that, the nose of the jet flared up, and they dropped smoothly onto the runway. They taxied to the terminal and, when the jet came to rest, all of the passengers prepared to disembark. Klaus reached up and grabbed his carry-on bag from the overhead compartment then joined the slow procession for the exit door. There, he came across Amber and the other flight attendant, who were both making sure to personally say goodbye to each and every one of the first class passengers.

     “Until tonight,” he said, as he nodded and smiled.

     She smiled back and gave him a little wink, which inspired him to pick up his pace and pass the other people ahead of him as he made his way up the jetway. Now, that he had some enticing plans for the evening, he was even more determined to finish his work in a timely manner. He arrived at customs and flashed his diplomatic passport, and it allowed him to bypass the usual security checkpoint, and he was soon at baggage claim. His suitcase came onto the carousel, and he grabbed it and texted the person who was picking him up to tell him that he was headed outside to wait at the curb. A minute later, a white Audi S4 pulled over in front of him, and the driver, a well dressed, clean cut Arabic looking man, popped the trunk release. Klaus went to the back of the car and placed his luggage beside a black leather attaché case then closed the trunk and walked around and slid into the passenger seat.

     “Welcome to San Francisco, Klaus,” the man said, with an obvious British accent as he held out his hand to shake.

     “Good to see you, Gareth,” he said, as they completed the gesture.

     “How was your flight?” Gareth asked.

     “Excellent, as I managed to score a date with a lovely flight attendant.”

     “Bloody hell, mate! I had to spend at least a month is this city before I met an eligible woman, and you fucking met one before you even put your feet on the ground.”

     “Perhaps you should go to the gym more often.”

     “I don’t think they have a machine that will make me look like you.”

     “Yeah, they do, it’s called a bench press.”

     The two of them shared a laugh as Gareth turned onto the access road that skirted the airport and led to the location of many of the support businesses such as catering, air freight, and aircraft maintenance. Traffic was unusually light, and it wasn’t long before Gareth turned in to the parking lot of an unmarked warehouse and parked beside a silver BMW M4.

     “All right, mate, this is where I get off,” Gareth said.

     “Yeah, but, unfortunately, I won’t be getting off until later,” Klaus said, as he pulled out his phone and brought up the picture of Amber.

     It was an obvious attempt to rub it in his friend’s face, and it worked exactly as planned.

     “You bloody ass! Does she happen to have a twin sister?”

     “If she does, I’ll call you and tell you how it went—with both of them.”

     The two of them shared another laugh, then they stepped out of the car and walked around to the back.

     “All right then, my friend, everything you need is in the attaché case, and I obviously don’t need to tell you that it will be a lot easier for everyone involved if it happens to look like an accident.”

     “Yes, I understand.”

     “Good, then I’ll be going and let you get to it, so you can finish up and get to that date tonight. Cheers,” he said, as they shook hands.

     “Cheers,” he said, with a smile.

     Gareth pulled a key fob out of his pocket, hit the unlock button, and went over and took a seat in the BMW M4. It started with a deep throaty grumble, then he gave a final wave as he headed out of the parking lot. Klaus waved back then popped the trunk of the Audi and opened the attaché case to see there was a silenced 9mm Glock pistol and four magazines. He picked up the Glock, slid in a magazine and chambered a round, then placed it back in the case and closed the trunk. It was time to get to work, so he casually strolled around and slid in behind the wheel then pulled out his phone, made a call, and patiently waited for three rings for the person on the other end to answer.

     “Hello, Klaus, I take it you’ve arrived,” the person said.

     “Yes, so everything is in motion,” he responded.

     “Excellent, and I would say good luck, but I know you don’t believe in that kind of thing,” he said, with a chuckle.

     Klaus was notorious for his very German-like belief that success always depended upon proper planning and execution.

     “No, I definitely do not,” Klaus said, also chuckling.

     “Well then, call me when it’s done.”

     “I will,” he said, just before ending the call.

     He opened the picture app on his phone and had another look at Amber, and couldn’t help but get excited at the thought of seeing her later tonight. Unfortunately, he had a job to do first, so he swiped his finger back to the left to reveal a picture of the man he would soon see in person. He’d, of course, already memorized his face and various details, but Klaus was a perfectionist and thought it wise to have yet another look. Satisfied he would be completely able to recognize him, he closed the app and placed the phone down in the car’s center console. He instinctively had a look around his surroundings and, seeing no suspicious persons or vehicles in the vicinity, started the car and drove out of the parking lot. He left the frontage road and merged onto the 101 freeway heading north towards San Francisco, though his final destination would be on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, specifically the beautiful little town of Sausalito, where he had one simple objective: kill Tag Finn.



Chapter 2: A SORT OF HOMECOMING



It was nine fifteen on a Saturday morning when I arrived home and entered my houseboat for the first time in almost a month. I had forgotten to take out the garbage before departing on my last job, and my place smelled faintly of the last meal I had cooked. I believe it was a breakfast consisting of eggs and chicken apple sausages, and it certainly smelled better then than now. Still, it was nice to be home, but I was missing the warm weather of the Caribbean and the excitement and female companionship I’d had on my European adventure. Oh well, life moves on I suppose. I put my things down at the foot of the stairs and strolled into the kitchen and made a pot of coffee. While it brewed, I took out the garbage, opened some windows, and soon the heavenly aroma of coffee was wafting across the kitchen on the bay breeze. The brew cycle finished, and it was time to walk over and pour myself a cup. Unfortunately, the half and half had soured, so I had to open up a carton of almond milk that I kept around for just these kinds of emergencies. It wasn’t as good as my usual cup, but it would do the job and get my morning moving, so that I could make the most of the twenty-four hours before I started my next job.

     The first and most important chore was to unpack the case of Soft Taco Island premium rum I had acquired during my travels. Each precious bottle was carefully encased in bubble wrap and stored in a wooden case, and it took a good five minutes before I could free all the bottles and move them behind my bar. With the alcohol stashed in its new home, I strolled back to the kitchen to sort through the pile of mail that my neighbor had left on the breakfast table. As usual, I discovered only bills, but at least I could afford to pay them for once, as the last month of work had been particularly lucrative. Speaking of which, I needed to go to my bank and make a deposit that was going to make my banker shit his pants when he saw the amount. When I had left three plus weeks ago, I was in dire jeopardy of losing my home, but now I was worth in excess of a hundred and fifty million dollars. Money may not buy happiness, but it sure as hell made misery more bearable. Of course, I wasn’t exactly miserable at the moment, quite the opposite, in fact, though my recent wealth came with a lot of strings attached and a hell of a new client and requisite back story.

     It all started with an exciting adventure in the Caribbean, where I rescued a damsel in distress and went up against a French arms dealer in order to sabotage the largest terrorist attack since nine eleven. The arms dealer got away in the end, and my next job entailed chasing him down in Europe and bringing him back into the loving arms of the Central Intelligence Agency—the caveat being I was paid more than a hundred and fifty million dollars in valuable gems left over from the failed arms deal. I got my man, but, things were far more complicated than I could have ever imagined and the entire affair, from start to finish, had been cleverly orchestrated by a secret society. Unlike the Illuminati, who had a cool and menacing name, my puppeteers were simply called the Topless Agenda. They were a collection of some of the most powerful people across the globe, and their esteemed ranks included politicians, wealthy industrialists, royal families, and of course lots of old money. They might have a silly name, but they were a very serious group of people with very serious plans, and everything thus far was just a prelude to the real prize—a new and exciting assignment whose success lay solely in my humble hands.

     Five years ago I went on my last assignment for the CIA’s Special Activities Division. The mission had entailed smuggling a brilliant scientist out of Iran. His name was Farid Ardeshir, and he was the head of their rapidly growing nuclear program, but he desperately wanted to escape to a better life in America, and America, in turn, was more than happy to take him into their loving arms. As is the case with most special operations, things didn’t go exactly according to plan, and, when Iranian agents showed up in Istanbul, the mission orders changed for the worse. Rather than risk the scientist falling back into enemy hands, the people in charge of the operation ordered me to kill the scientist and send his body to the bottom of the Aegean Sea in an old fishing boat. As far as the official record was concerned, I completed my mission then, completely disenchanted with government work, resigned from the Agency and returned home to Northern California and became a private investigator.

Somehow, the Topless Agenda knew the real story—that the supposedly dead scientist was, in fact, currently alive and living large under a new identity in the United Arab Emirates, and, more importantly, had discovered the Holy Grail of the modern age—the secret to making cold fusion work. Cold fusion had been the bugaboo of the scientific community since electrochemists Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons believed they had discovered it back in 1989. Unfortunately, further research showed that they were incapable of replicating their findings, and cold fusion, or low energy nuclear reaction, was believed to be technically impossible. If Farid could indeed make it work, then it would become the biggest energy boom since crude oil, and the Topless Agenda believed, rightly so, that his discovery was going to forever change energy production, and in turn, the fate of the entire world. Thus, they desperately wanted to bring him back to the west, but, they needed me because I was the only person in the world Ardeshir would theoretically trust after the whole CIA debacle.

     So, there I sat at my breakfast table, my mind spinning as I pondered the thought that I was about to head halfway across the world on yet another exciting job. It was certainly hard to believe that a month ago I was an underpaid private investigator, yet now held the solution to world’s energy problems in my very existence. The immortal words of Ferris Bueller suddenly came to mind: life moves pretty fast, and, if you don’t stop and take a look once in a while, you might miss it. Well, I had been missing it and living a bit like Ferris’s best friend Cameron, though my hiding place wasn’t my bed, but rather my daily mundane existence. Those times were over, however, and I certainly wasn’t missing anything anymore.

I took another sip of coffee and felt that familiar pressure in my lower abdomen and realized that my favorite morning beverage was doing its job. Ah—to be home and alone with my porcelain mistress. I missed her simple lines, comfortable white plastic seat, and I longed for her gentle embrace. I refilled my cup, grabbed my book from my bag, and entered the greatest, though least appreciated, sanctuary of humankind. There, I sat upon the porcelain throne, put my cup on the sink beside me, and opened my book to the folded piece of toilet paper that served as my bookmark—an item that told the story of where I obviously did most of my reading. I took another sip of coffee and was about to initiate the release sequence when I remembered that my iPhone was in my pants pocket. Shit. With my luck, every friend, relative, telemarketer, and scam artist would start calling in the next five seconds. I reached down, dug my iPhone out of my pants pocket, then set it on the sink next to my coffee and gave it a stern warning.

     “OK, fucker, right now I need some alone time, and you are my filter to keep out the world. Do me this little favor, and I’ll get you that new ballistic glass screen protector we’ve been talking about,” I said, aloud.

     I took another sip, opened my book, then felt the gentle release of my bowels. It was almost bittersweet as I said goodbye to my most recent meal of pork chops, broccoli, and scalloped potatoes. It had been delicious and served me well, so now, I sincerely hoped it would enjoy its new existence at the waste processing plant at the other end of Sausalito. Parting was such sweet sorrow yet a necessary evil of the cycle of life. I took another sip of coffee then turned my attention back to my book and skimmed the pages until finding the spot where I had left off. I started reading, but only made it to the next page when my phone rang.

     “Goddammit! You promised!”

     Who the hell would be calling now? I looked at the number and saw that it was from the 510 area code. That was the East Bay, and I only knew a couple people over there, and none of their names had popped up on the screen.

     “Oh shit!” I said, just before hitting the answer button.

     “Hello, Tag Finn Investigations.”

     “Yeah hello, it’s me—Estelle. Is it a good time to talk? You’re not taking a shit or anything are you?”

     Estelle. Wow. I hadn’t seen or talked to her since our time together on Soft Taco Island three weeks ago. She was the chief purser on a mega yacht that I’d traveled on in the Caribbean, and we’d had a short though amazing relationship. Unfortunately, we parted ways when I flew off to Europe to chase down the French arms dealer Babineux, and she had left for a visit home and apparently hooked up with her ex-fiancée and was re-engaged.

     “Of course not.”

     “You sure? Because I thought I heard an echo.”

     “I’m in the kitchen.”

     “You don’t have to lie. Remember, we talked about all this. Going to the bathroom is a completely natural part of life. I really thought you had made some progress.”

     “I don’t want to talk about it.”

     She laughed.

     “I imagine you didn’t call just to talk about my bathroom issues.”

     “No, I wanted to tell you what I’m up to.”

     “I heard about you and the ex. I guess I should say congratulations.”

     “Thanks, but I was hoping we could get together for coffee and talk in person.”

     “Sure, but I leave tomorrow on a new job.”

     “With Lux?”

     She was of course referring to Lux Vonde, the woman I had rescued back on Soft Taco Island. I had also cheated on Estelle by engaging in some amazing nostalgic beach sex with Lux. It wasn’t exactly textbook adultery, however, because Estelle and I had only been together a couple days, and Lux and I had been past lovers who were never actually able to make love and, therefore, felt that we needed to do so in order to have proper closure.

     “No, I’m a lone wolf on this one. When do you want to meet?”

     “How about right now? I’m outside your place.”

     Not again! She had to be fucking with me. The last time I took a call on the crapper, it had been from the woman who hired me for the Soft Taco Island job. She too had been outside on my front porch, and unfortunately for me, I had told Estelle about that little incident, so it appeared she was doing her own cruel reenactment.

     “You’re not serious are you?”

     “Yep, I’m here on the South Forty Pier. You gave me your address—remember?”

     “OK fine, I’m taking a shit. I’ll let you in when I’m finished Goddammit.”

     “No hurry, take your time. It’s a beautiful morning.”

     I finished up, washed my hands, gave a little spritz of air freshener, then nervously walked to the door. It seemed as though a lifetime had passed since I’d last seen Estelle, and I was feeling this reunion might be a little—awkward. When we had first met, I’d had sex with two women in two days, and she had called me a man-whore. In the week since parting ways, that number had more than doubled, so I suppose I really was a bit of a man-whore now, though I hadn’t been before the entire Soft Taco Island adventure began. I could only imagine that the gods of sexual intercourse had decided to reward me with dubious amounts of female companionship because my cheating ex-girlfriend had inadvertently ushered in several months of abstinence.

     I opened the door, and there stood Estelle looking even more beautiful than I remembered, and it was a little painful to think that she was officially off the market. She smiled and hugged me, and, with her lovely breasts pressing against my chest and the scent of her hair tugging at my olfactory receptors, blood was starting to flood into my gentleman region. She brought her head around and kissed me, and, while she didn’t throw in any tongue action, it was still very friendly and not doing much to deter my emerging semi.

     “Goddammit. You’re just as beautiful as I remembered.”

     “Were you hoping I had gotten uglier?”

     “Kind of—when I heard you were engaged.”

     She laughed.

     “Are you going to invite me in?”

     “Yeah, sorry, come on in to chez man-whore.”

     She stepped inside, and I closed the door and motioned for her to head towards the kitchen, which was on the other side of the house. She was a few steps ahead, and I noticed that she was wearing some rather lovely black stretch pants. They were extremely flattering to her figure, but then she probably could have made a brown paper bag look good. Interestingly, I had only ever seen her in four outfits: a white sailor uniform, exercise clothes, a bikini, and a stunning red dress. Apparently, she looked amazing in everything—though I wish I could add my bed to the top of that list.

     “Coffee?”

     “Love some,” she said.

     I poured her a cup and added some almond milk, and we sat at the counter.

     “So, what’s your new and exciting case?” she asked.

     “Sorry can’t give out any details, but I can say it’s a big deal.”

     “Are you working for the CIA again?”

     “Not exactly. It’s almost worse if you can believe it.”

     “Ah, the exciting life of a private investigator.”

     “If only. Do you know that up until a month ago, my cases were all adultery and lost pets.”

     “Bullshit.”

     “Seriously.”

     “Well, I suppose there’s nothing wrong with finding someone’s lost pet. It’s actually kind of sweet.”

     “Yeah—but adultery is definitely not.”

     “How ironic. Coming from a man-whore that is.”

     “I see being engaged hasn’t killed your sense of humor.”

     “Or my hunger. Do you want to get a late breakfast?”

     “Sure.”

     We decided to go to my local diner, so I took a quick shower, and we left my houseboat and headed up to the parking lot, where I hit the unlock button on my key fob. The lights of my beloved Subaru WRX STi flashed twice, and Estelle paused in mid stride and appeared to be a little taken aback, for she gave me a questioning smile.

     “What? You’re not impressed by the Silver Hornet?” I asked.

     “Did you add the spoiler and hood scoop?”

     “Fuck no, this motherfucker came that way!”

     “So, what’s with the nickname?”

     It’s an homage to Inspector Clouseau’s car in the movie The Revenge of the Pink Panther, but, unlike his car, which was a pice of shit, this is a fucking sweet ass ride!”

     “It looks like something out of the Fast and Furious franchise.”

     “Yeah, because it is, though sadly it goes rather unappreciated by my smug fellow Marin residents, who prefer name brand cars such as Audi,           Porsche, Mercedes, and BMW. Unlike their overpriced fancy pants rides, this beast is Japanese and has a whopping three hundred and five horsepower and two hundred and ninety pounds of torque.”

     “I think I could live with the enormous spoiler and hood scoop with those numbers.”

     “Indeed you could, now climb aboard m’lady.”

     We reached the restaurant to find it was fairly crowded, but we soon got a booth along the side wall, and Nancy, the owner, who was also my favorite waitress, stopped by to take our order. She was a lovely thirty something who I’d helped out with an ugly divorce a few years back, and we’d been good friends ever since. I introduced Estelle then ordered a Denver omelet with cheese. Estelle ordered some girly vegetable omelet with a side of fruit instead of hash browns, which was a typical chick maneuver, but it was probably decisions like that which accounted for the fact that women generally outlived men. Nancy returned with our coffee and a couple of waters and looked a little uncomfortable.

     “What’s up? Difficult customers? Do you need me to kill them?”

     “Not exactly. It’s your ex, Melanie. She’s out on the patio with Yacht Club Guy.”

     “No way.”

     “Way.”

     Melanie had dumped me for a wealthy yacht club guy—right after getting together with him on his yacht, and sadly, the following months had been particularly devoid of female companionship. Then, three weeks ago, I was hired for the Soft Taco Island job by a stunningly beautiful woman named Bridgette Vandenberg, and we had the incredible luck of running into Melanie while we were out shopping in Sausalito. Needless to say, Melanie was not thrilled to meet Bridgette, and today she would see me with Estelle! That’s two beautiful women in less than a month—awesome! While it might seem petty to revel over such trivial matters, anyone who has ever been dumped knows the effect it has on your self-esteem, and why any subsequent revenge brings so much joy. Now, three weeks and five incredible women later, my life was finally on a dramatic upswing.

     “What’s the big deal with your ex?” Estelle asked.

     “She’s a fucking bitch,” Nancy said.

     “Fucking being the operative word. She had sex with the new guy on his yacht then called me right afterward to break up.”

     “That’s cold, and I can only imagine that event precipitated you turning into a man-whore.”

     “Man-whore? Tag? No way,” Nancy said, looking a little surprised.

     “I’m not really a man-whore—I’ve just had a sudden run of good luck with the ladies.”

     “More than luck,” Estelle said.

     Nancy eyed me suspiciously before leaving and returning a few minutes later with our food. She mumbled man-whore and laughed to herself as she left to check on one of her other tables.

     “Thanks for sharing my nickname. Now, I’ll never hear the end of it.”

     “You reap what you sew.”

     “And apparently sew all I see.”

     She frowned and grumbled as she finished the last strawberry in her fruit bowl. Soon thereafter, Nancy dropped off the check, and, just as I put down my card, Melanie and Yacht Club Guy came walking by on their way out of the restaurant. She froze when she saw me with Estelle, and the shocked look on her face brought me more joy than any night of lovemaking I had endured with the cheating bitch.

     “Hello, Melanie.”

     “Um, hello, Tag.”

     “I’m Estelle, Tag’s fiancé,” Estelle said, holding up her hand with the engagement ring clearly visible in front of Melanie's face.

     Melanie shook her hand timidly, as though she were touching a leper.

     “Nice to meet you, and might I say that’s a beautiful ring,” Melanie said, in a surprised tone.

     “Thanks, it’s Tiffany!” Estelle said.

     “Yeah—I noticed.”

     Even I knew about the significance of having a Tiffany ring. It was expensive and an obvious measure of how much a man cared for a woman—or at least how much he was willing to spend. Melanie, therefore, was officially in abject shock as she pondered how in the hell I may have purchased something so expensive and, better still, believed that I was engaged. Fucking awesome. Life could be so good at times. Yacht Club Guy cleared his throat and dug into the front pocket of his Dockers for his key fob, which was obviously his signal to Melanie that he was ready to leave. She gave a halfhearted smile then said goodbye as she followed her smug paramour out the door.

     “Thanks! That was awesome!” I said.

     “It’s the least I could do considering she turned you into a man-whore.”

     We left the restaurant, and Estelle asked for a little tour of Marin County, as she had inexplicably rarely travelled here in her time growing up across the bay. I decided to start with coffee in Mill Valley, a quaint little town which was nestled in a redwood forest at the base of nearby Mount Tamalpais. It was once the fabled home of musicians, artists, and writers, but now was populated by accountants, attorneys, and doctors, all of whom were there for its scenic tree-lined streets, lack of crime, and top tier public school system. We arrived in the little downtown to find it bustling with locals and tourists, and we had to head off onto a little side street to find a parking space.

     “Where to?” Estelle asked, as we exited the car and stepped onto the sidewalk.

     “Corporate coffee chain, local coffee chain, or local coffee shop totally unassociated with any kind of chain?” I asked.

     “Which is the best?”

     “They’re all good.”

     “OK, let’s go with the middle.”

     “Equator it is!”

     We walked downtown and entered Equator to find a fairly long line, but it went quickly, and soon we were out enjoying our java and walking around town. We did a loop of the square then walked up past the theater before circling the block and heading back down to the car.

     “This place is beautiful. I can’t believe I never came over here,” she said.

     “Yeah, but our next stop is going to be the top of Mount Tamalpais, and you’re going to shit your pants when you see the view.”

     “Is it as good as the view we had from the parasailing rig?”

     Estelle and I had made a dramatic exit from Soft Taco Island in a parasailing rig and ended up having the best airborne makeout session of all time.

     “Yeah, but I doubt it’ll be as much fun.”

     “You never know.”

     Hearing Estelle utter those words now felt as though she were shooting an arrow straight up my ass and right through my heart, so I tried to ignore them for the moment. Instead, I focused on navigating the winding road that took us up past a bevy of spectacular homes and to the official beginning of the Mount Tamalpais State Park. From there on out, our journey was even more treacherous, as we had an endless parade of extreme curves populated by bicyclists, tourists, and the occasional bus.

We finally reached the west peak parking lot and found a space and began the short trek to the very top of the majestic mountain. It was one of the tallest peaks in Marin County and afforded a spectacular three hundred and sixty degree view of the bay area that included everything from Point Reyes and Sonoma to the Farallon Islands and hills of the East Bay and Santa Cruz. We arrived at the fire watch station then ventured down a small path to the southernmost patch of rock and sat arm in arm—the experience making me feel unusually sentimental for the time we had spent together in the Caribbean. It also made me think about her fiancé, who I imagined was, in all likelihood, better marriage material than me considering the crazy and rapidly evolving state of my love life at the moment. Still, I secretly hoped the fucker was boring as all hell and had a beer belly and bad facial hair. Was that petty? Absolutely, but a coping mechanism was for coping after all.

     We continued to sit and enjoy the view and each other’s company until the sound of footsteps somewhere off behind us interrupted the usual quiet that existed around sunset on the mountain. I looked west over my shoulder towards the setting sun and spied a blond man using his phone to take pictures from the other side of the peak. We were between him and a pretty spectacular view, so it made sense we happened to be in his foreground. I turned back around and continued to enjoy the view with Estelle, when, on a whim, I decided to turn back around to take another look, but the man had apparently disappeared. Strange. People usually stayed up here until sunset, but perhaps he was German and had to keep to an especially efficient pre-planned travel itinerary. Vacation for me was about not having a schedule, so I could never understand people who spent hours planning how they were going to relax. Maybe they should have spent that time relaxing so that they would have enough energy left over for their busy vacation.

     Soon, the sun dipped down behind the other side of the mountain, and the temperature dropped dramatically. Estelle said she was cold, so we got up and started walking towards the car. The path wound around the mountain and back into the warm rays of the remaining sunlight, and it gave us a spectacular view of the ridgeline to the north. The fog was rolling in from the ocean, but it could go no further than the mountain, and it made it look as though we were standing at the edge of the world. It was at times like this that I really appreciated how lucky I was to live in Northern California.

     “I can’t believe I’ve never been up here before,” she said.

     “In high school, we used to come up here every Friday.”

     “You’re lucky. In the East Bay, we used to go down to People’s Park to watch hippies have sex in the bushes.”

     “I think I’d take the mountain over that.”

     “Me too.”

     We continued on and reached the parking lot to find out that we were the last remaining car and therefore had the mountain to ourselves. If this had been Soft Taco Island, we would have downed some rum and probably had an impromptu hump session on the little ledge that bordered the parking lot. Instead, we got in the car and headed back along the ridge road. At the intersection, a car turned in behind us that had come from the other part of the mountain where they filmed all the car commercials. Apparently, tourists and car companies all loved the same scenic stretch of highway. The car in question turned out to be a white Audi S4, which was about as common in Marin County as a Ford F-150 pickup was in the American heartland. I looked at the driver in my rearview mirror and saw that he was blond and might very well have been the same guy who had been taking pictures back on the peak, though that would have been one hell of a coincidence. I decided to have a little fun and go a little faster than usual, but the Audi managed to stay right on my bumper. Perhaps he was indeed German, as they took driving very seriously and tended to be fairly competent behind the wheel. I upped the ante a bit more and hit the gas, and, once again, my new friend managed to stay within a few car lengths. It appeared that we were pretty closely matched in driving skill, and our cars were also pretty similar—both had comparable performance and all wheel drive. The biggest difference between the two was that my Subaru definitely lacked the amenities of its German counterpart, though it cost about forty thousand dollars less. We continued on for nearly a mile and had a pretty fun drive down the mountain until my Audi friend had his fill and slowed down and fell back out of view. Up ahead was a major intersection known as Four Corners, and I suddenly had an excellent idea.

     “What are you doing for dinner?”

     “I don’t know. Where are you taking me?”

     “I’ve got just the place.”


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