Coffee, Shopping, Murder, Love is an unconventional love story that covers all your favorite subjects: xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, money laundering, the opioid crisis, suffering a mid-life crisis, and growing up with disorganized attachment, which translates into anger, jealousy, envy, narcissism, low self-esteem, porn addiction, social media addiction, a penchant for designer furniture and expensive clothes, and, of course, murder. Several murders. Set in Los Angeles, California, during the Obama era.
I’m looking at Charlie’s texts, still labeled as unread on my iPhone. How’s your Sunday going, Jignesh? Any plans? Our date was last Monday, for God’s sake. If I haven’t responded to your texts in six days, I think, taking a rather pugnacious slurp from my Frappuccino, it must be pretty clear that my Sunday plans don’t include you, Charlie
Here comes another one. Let’s meet again soon…
I’m tempted to reply with a PLEASE STOP! but I’m afraid that will only make him text more… He knows I’m alive. I made the mistake of accepting his Facebook friend request a minute before meeting him in person, and now he can track all my movements. I’m tracking his at this very moment… Good God. The things he posts… A video of Geena Davis’s Oscar acceptance speech for The Accidental Tourist. He’s obsessed with the eighties… A meme mocking Romney’s attacks on PBS—I’ll share that, we cannot lose the 2012 election—then another one of praise to Malala… I mean, I’m a homosexual and, therefore, a confirmed feminist. And I’m Indian. I know what women and members of minorities go through. I know about the abuse, the rage, and the injustice. I know what it is like to be judged and ignored, but just look at those fucking eyebrows…
Charlie’s selling a freezer too. Almost new. Six hundred and fifty dollars. That’s not a bad price but I have no use for a freezer that size. I haven’t killed anyone yet, I giggle, taking another big slurp from my Frappuccino.
I thought I had fallen in love with the little white boy from Kentucky, I sigh, looking out the window. I honestly did. Charlie had a nice little ass framed in a miniature swimmer’s body. Blue eyes, a turned-up nose. I thought of putting him in my pocket, that cute he was—but his voice, dear Jesus! An ultra feminine southern drawl with an insufferable nasal timbre. Is Fran Drescher here? I turned around looking for the hidden camera. He starts really slow, but then gains speed and applies to his discourse a rather unsettling crescendo, with sudden highs and lows and gasping and cries and snorting that make him sound as if he were a drunken harpy. He’s aware of how bad he sounds and apologized a few times. As a matter of fact, he apologized every time he lifted his fork.
Anyway, that’s all in the past, I finish my Frappucino and toss the cup into the trash bin. Artists as sensible as I am have no time to lose online. I have decided to delete my profile from Grindr and remove myself indefinitely from the dating pool. Let’s be honest. Middle-age fatties such as me don’t attract the best examples of the male species. Therefore Charlie. Even he couldn’t hide a grimace of surprise when he saw me enter the restaurant instead of the 1996 airbrushed and much slimmer version of me I sent him… Now, winsome Celt women with a wispy mane of red hair like Princess Salmonella McFallog do. She’s the heroine of my latest fantasy novel: Catacombs of Shining Fear. I wrote the prolog last night and decided to come to the office this morning where I could write in peace the first chapter. Typical of every Sunday, my brother brought his horrible family home to visit my parents. One cannot write in a house full of gaudy Indians, especially a Highlands epic like Princess Salmonella’s… I’m so in love with her already. I reach for the cup I just tossed so I can chew the ice. Who wouldn’t be? Who wouldn’t love Salmonella? She smells of moss and wild berries. She rides horses, has awesome archery skills, a golden pistol that she received from a visitor from the future, and—
“What are you doing here?”
I turn around, instinctively taking a hand to my chest. Nina’s standing by the front door, downstairs, carrying an oversized backpack that makes her twig-like figure seem about to fracture, and she’s looking at me, sitting at my desk, on the mezzanine, as if she had just discovered a turd floating in a public toilet.
“What are you doing here?” I ask back. It is Sunday, for God’s sake. Nina’s internship ended on Friday. “I thought you had already left the city of Los Angeles. Forever.”
She had a farewell luncheon and all, the little bitch. Everyone brought her a present. Everyone including Mike,our stupid boss. Everyone commented how sad it was that our “best intern” was leaving. She said she would be going down to Baja for a couple of weeks before going back to Germany and everyone rushed to give her advice and warn her about how dangerous is Tijuana. Friday marked my eighth anniversary here as well. I am the Chief Financial Officer at this shitty property management and vacation rental company, for God’s sake. Well, more of a glorified bookkeeper and assistant to whatever fuckery Mike devises. Still, no one remembered.
“I came to print my train ticket,” Nina replies, dropping her bag on the floor.
“Don’t you have a printer at home?” I ask.
She shakes her head.
“Well, you are no longer an intern here,” I continue. “I’m afraid you cannot just come and use the company’s resources. Go to a Kinkos.”
She gives me the middle finger and walks under the mezzanine towards the end of the office.
The nerve. So much changed in four months. From attentive little helper to aggressive cunty witch.
“Print if you must,” I say, raising my voice, “but mind that I have important work to do too. Don’t interrupt me.”
Nina doesn’t answer. I hear her start a computer… So fucking distracting. I heave a sigh, then return to my writing.
Princess Salmonella looked at the Roman mercenary feeling a vivid rage run through her flawlessly boned spine all the way to her head crowned with the wavy red curls. She hated that man. That Roman soldier with thick and toned arms and incredibly dark eyebrows was the reason her father had lost his kingdom—
Now she turns on the printer… My God, it’s so vexing… Okay. Relax, Jignesh. Be divine. Don’t forget you’re a Jedi. She’ll be gone soon. You’re an artist.
‘I thought you were dead, Princess,’ said Claudius Julius taking a string of Salmonella’s hair. Salmonella pulled back, defiantly. Her eyes shone with the intensity of fire coming from a volcano…
A sudden snort interrupts me. What is that twat downstairs laughing about? Deep sigh. Keep on, Jignesh. Just ignore her.
‘You Roman pig,’ Salmonella spat on Claudius Julius face.
Oy. Is it too early to start with bodily fluids?
Another snort, from Nina.
“What’s so funny?” I ask, raising my voice.
No answer. What is she doing now? Ok, relax, Jignesh. Don’t let that German witch twitch your creativity… Every straight man in this office lost his head over Nina. I never thought she was that pretty. She’s only young, and who isn’t beautiful at that age? Here you may have been a young Claudia Schiffer, Frau Nina, but I bet you’ll be just another malnourished girl back in Des Deutschen Vaterland…
‘I’d rather die than let a Roman pig touch me!’ Salmonella pulled a silver dagger encrusted with blue emeralds that she kept hidden inside her tunic.
My, this is good! This is incredibly well written. I may need to raise the age group of my readers, however, because it is turning into fine erotica… Poor Salmonella! How can one hate and want a man at the same time so badly? For she’s falling in love with Claudius Julius, I can tell. I am, already. I’m clenching my legs. Oh, those Roman soldiers, smelling of yeast and olives and mozzarella, wearing miniskirts in the British Isles. In the middle of winter!
“I know what you’re doing.”
I turn around. Nina has come up to the mezzanine and is standing next to me with a sheaf of papers.
I cover the screen with my hands. “I beg your pardon?”
“You’ve been stealing company resources.”
“Pardon me?” I manage to turn off the monitor.
“I’m going to show this to Mike,” she holds up the sheaf of papers.
Oh, shit. What is she holding? What does she know? I must have left something in the printer. Something incriminating… Miguel Hildago’s receipts! Is that what she’s holding? He’s my little Mexican hero. An expensive handyman, but worth every penny. He fixes problems before they’re even reported. He fixes problems that never existed at all! Our homeowners love him. I love him too. He sends his invoices via email and gets paid whenever I have the time. If he existed, I’d marry him. He doesn’t. Therefore, it is me who has to cash all his checks…
Nina must have found the receipts. I must have left them in the printer’s queue, and they must have come up when she turned it on. I need a glass of water… I need air! Oh, fucketty-fuck. She knows I’ve been stealing!
“I don’t know what you mean,” I manage to calm myself and laugh, defiantly.
I’ve always been a wonderful actor. Living in Tinseltown, I suppose.
“You know what I mean, you Fatso. I’m showing this to Mike, and he’s not going to like it.”
It cannot be that much. Can it? Those receipts weren’t even a hundred dollars. But if Mike learns they’re fake, he may want to check all of the others… What do I worry? Mike doesn’t even know how to turn on a computer. Then again, he may ask the accountant to check… How much has it been this month? Six hundred? More like sixteen hundred. About eight thousand for the year so far. I got a little greedy…
“Gimme that!” I leap out of my chair and try to snatch the sheaf of papers.
“Nein!” Nina laughs, pulling back.
“Gimme that, you stupid twat! Gimme those fucking papers!”
Oh, she’s laughing now. She’s enjoying it. How can she be so beautiful and so heartless? I’ll go straight to jail if I get audited!
“Nina, give me those papers.”
She’s at the edge of the stairs. I could just push her… It wouldn’t be the worst thing I did to her in the last four months…
“Nina, I know we’ve had our differences, but let’s be civilized. Give those papers to me, please. They’re important.”
I throw my pencil cup at her. She acts all surprised. What did she expect? I won’t let her ruin me.
“Give me those fucking papers!” I roar in anger.
Nina runs downstairs. I sprint behind her. She trips in the last two steps and falls. I reach for the papers. She resists, but I’m at least a hundred pounds heavier than her and finally snatch them… They’re not receipts! They’re the first pages of Catacombs of Shining Fear. I forgot I had tried to print them earlier. I feel so silly.
“Princess Salmonella?” Nina asks from the floor. “Really?”
Did she read the first pages of my novel? I’m flattered… A reader! At last!
“Don’t you know that Salmonella is a disease?” She laughs.
“It’s a name too,” I reply.
It is, isn’t it? Why else if not would I have chosen it?
Nina tries to stand up, but she can’t. Her wrist hurts. Crap. I pushed the intern down the stairs… No, I didn’t push her. She fell… While I chased her. And she’s not an intern anymore. Can she sue us?
“Are you okay?” I ask.
“I hurt my wrist, you asshole.”
“I’m terribly sorry this happened.”
“You’re a paranoid idiot.”
“You threatened to show it to Mike.”
“So he learns that you’re wasting company’s paper.”
“You came to print personal stuff, too,” I remind her about her train ticket. “And besides, you shouldn’t have read what was obviously not meant for you.” I try to be nonchalant. “It’s a first draft. It must have a few typos.”
“A few typos?” She laughs. “This is Scheiße. Worse than Scheiße. It’s an abomination.”
“What do you know about first-class literature?”
“More than you do,” she laughs. “Justin lent me one of your books—”
Now I’m confused. Justin knows that I write? Justin, as in my worst enemy? Justin, the guy that refers to me as a “she,” the guy that photoshopped my face in a bukkake and posted it in the laundry room so that the cleaners could see it?
“—and it’s embarrassing.” Nina continues.
“What do you mean?”
“Your book was so bad, I almost felt sorry for you.”
“Justin bought one of my books?”
Three of my self-published novels are for sale on Amazon. Princess of a Lesser Kind, has sold seven copies in total.
“He bought all of them.”
All of them, she said? Including The Sky Beyond Tomorrow? My heart starts beating fast. I’m baffled. Justin? As in Justin Fuck-that-shit Kettler? I thought he hated me. He’s so arrogant and unpleasant… Could he be secretly in love with me? Oh, had I only known… Justin smells of that lemon cologne I like and looks as if the Marlboro Man had used moisturizer. Tall. White. Twenty-nine. He looks twenty-seven. Maybe he’s reconsidering the way he’s treated me. I must confess that Justin’s brown curls and his intriguing blue eyes inspired Julius Claudius. He inspired me to create Al’Kzum too, the rogue and sexy criminal from planet Argentaria in The Sky Beyond Tomorrow, Book 1 in the Beyond Tomorrow series… Justin inspired all the sexy and terribly mean villains in my books. Oh, and I am princess Salmonella!
“He never told me he liked my books.” I finally say, with a gasp. “I could have signed his copies.”
Nina starts laughing again. “He bought them as a joke!”
“What? Liar! He couldn’t have disliked them.”
“Mein Gott, Jignesh. How can you be so arrogant and so stupid? What you write is shit. Scheiße. Nobody in his right mind would like your writing. It’s fucking crap. You’re nothing but a pretentious elephant dreaming of becoming a princess. You’re a loser, Jignesh, that’s what you are. A morbidly obese and pretentious fucking loser.”
Okay. I may have been making Nina’s life miserable for the last four months, constantly breaking the coffee pot and forcing her to go buy coffees for everyone; never reimbursing her on time; messing up with the files she had been working on, and I may have led my beautiful Clara and that shoddy corn girl, Gabrielle, to believe that Nina had caught an STD that one time she called in sick. “Nothing too serious,” I said, “but she’s on antibiotics.” And probably it wasn’t too nice when I asked Nina to trim a ream of legal paper that I had bought “by mistake,” into letter size, and she had to use scissors because I hid the paper cutter, either. Still, she doesn’t need to be this cruel. I know I’m fat. I’ve been fat all of my life. How could I not know it, when I’m reminded every day by the continuous look of disapproval from random strangers; by the kind words of advice from baristas that recommend taking a fruit cup instead of a scone; by the men I dare to contact online, who aren’t kind at all, and by my parents and siblings, who think they’re doing me a favor when they say that no woman in her right mind will want to marry a man my size. As if. And I know I’m not popular. I’ve never been and I never will. Nina doesn’t need to call me names. I’ve got my fair share of shaming all through my childhood to remind me.
I know, however, that I’m a terrific writer. She cannot take that from me.
“You’re jealous,” I say, turning away to hide my tears. “You’re jealous because I write, and you don’t. You’re jealous because I have talent and imagination. You’re jealous because you’re a skinny German witch with no tits and bad taste, and I am a true artist. Justin must have liked my books. I’m sure he adored them.”
For a second silence. Then Nina starts laughing again. Not a forced, bitter laugh, not the one you would expect from a villain lying on the floor, defeated, but actual crystalline, girlie laughter, the innocent laughter of someone who’s still a child—and a goddess. Even I find this despicable German witch charming. Her eyes are so blue, the skin is so even. Nina could be a model for a Pre-Raphaelite painting. And I’m a fraud. I’m not an artist. I’m not a princess.
Nina is Queen Salmonella.
I sit on her face.
She beats me. I press harder. She kicks with her knees. She pinches my butt. She tries to bite me. I push harder. I stay on top of her, with my two-hundred and forty-five pounds of queer Indian fat, until she stops breathing.