"O corsen, ya won't," said the wizened old man next to her. "Ya gotta turn to face th' DOOR t' see th' way out!" His cackle turned into a full throated laugh, which turned into a deep, wheezing cough that racked up from some place deep in his chest, and he doubled over, letting the phlegm come out. The bartender came over and clapped the old man on the back, leading him off of the stool and behind the counter, somewhere out of sight.
Tania pressed her lips in a tight line, embarassed. She had not realized she'd spoken out loud.
The drink was on the bar in front of her, a bead of sweat running down the side, cool, inviting. Alcohol might not solve her problems, she knew. But she longed for the comfort it would bring, however fleeting.
She picked up her martini and took a sip.
Okay, she thought, being sure not to speak out loud, time to take stock of what I've got. Two dollars cash. Whatever phone numbers I can remember, which aren't any good if I can't get to a phone. The clothes on my back. And…
And a one-of-a-kind cashmere fur teddy boar, the whole reason she was in this mess. It sat on the bar next to her, looking doleful with glossy plastic eyes.
She took another sip, shaking her head. Teddy boar. Another one of Wil's creations. It had been his dream to start this stuffed animal business; ever since they were kids, he'd had an unusual interest in fabric and sewing that got him picked on by the other boys in the neighborhood. Even more unusually, he'd been really good at it. And his interest didn't abate as he grew older.
Tania hadn't been interested in such things--she was content with her books growing up. But both of them eventually had grown up, and when Wil was ready to start a business making one of a kind teddy bears to order from exotic materials, he'd needed a business manager.
"See, Tania, I can come up with the designs, and sew and do all the work. But I need help dealing with people--selling, delivering, being the person people deal with. I need a manager." Wil shrugged. "Why not my older sister?"
Why not, indeed. She'd bossed him around most of their lives; she may as well do it some more. In any case, the two business courses she'd taken in college had never been put to use.
Thus had she become the COO of "Bearish Enterprises," makers of fine stuffed animals for people with, as she privately thought of their customers, too much money and too many kids to throw it away on. They would ask for unusual things (like a stuffed purple platypus) made from unusual materials (like woven moose hair), and he would figure out how to make it. Then once it was complete, she would hand deliver it to the customer, anywhere in the world.
You might think this would be an unsustainable business model, but you also wouldn't believe the prices people would pay for a stuffed animal. Enough that including the cost of the plane ticket to hand deliver the finished product was a mere pittance.
Wil was good at his work. Even now, Tania had to admire his ingenuity at creating a 'teddy boar': a cross between a teddy bear and a wild boar. It had the body of a standard stuffed bear, but it had a swinish nose, and little stuffed tusks, and a tuft of wiry black hair on its head. It was, improbably, cute.
It was also worth more than her entire bank account, if only she could find the person who was supposed to pay for it.
Tania was supposed to meet the customer in New York, at a bench in Central Park at noon. She had been bumped to another flight, though: she lost almost a full day. Unable to reach the customer by phone, she had gotten a cab from LaGuardia, hoping she could make it on time. And she might have, if only, dragging her purse and luggage, she hadn't gotten mugged.
He'd approached her with a knife. He'd left carrying her purse and cell phone, leaving her with nothing but the teddy boar.
He'd had no idea what this thing is worth.
Of course, to her it was worthless now, too. Who would pay her what the thing was supposed to be worth?
Without any money, she couldn't make a phone call. And if she couldn't make a phone call, she couldn't get out of this mess. And if she couldn't get out of this mess…
Tania's train of thought was interrupted by a shout from a nearby table.
There were five men, all with varrying amounts of gray hair, shouting and pounding the table happily, rattling something in their fingers on the table. Dominoes, she realized, they're playing dominoes. And as she listened, she recognized the oddly musical gutteral soup of their language: Polish.
It had been a long time since she'd spoken it with Gran'fa. She could barely understand what they were saying. When she was young, Gran'fa had tried to teach her the language as they sat on the patio in summer, at the same time he taught her to play dominoes.
She'd only learned a passable amount of Polish. But she'd gotten very, very good at dominoes.
Finishing her martini, she made a choice. She pulled a chair to the table, straddling it. The men looked up in surprise.
[Gentlemen, I want to make a wager. If any of you have a cell phone, I need to use it for ten minutes. But I don't want charity. I will play to win. And here is what I have to wager.]
She put the teddy boar in the middle of the table.
Another total improv piece: I didn't know what I was going to write when I set down the first line. Enjoy!