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Chapter 1

I don’t know if your experience is the same as mine, but for me, trying to be a good sport is exhausting.  I imagine there are people who get a lot of practice at having to be good sports, what with one thing and another, but I’m not one of them.  As a matter of fact, now that I think about it, I have things my way most of the time.  So on those rare occasions when I find myself faced with the challenge of being a g s, I struggle.

This trip to Costa Rica I’m going to tell you about illustrates my point.

I had just survived the harrowing family holiday we Americans call Thanksgiving.  Originally, if I remember right, this holiday was called Thanksgiving because the Pilgrims were thankful they hadn’t starved to death yet or something in the harsh New England wilderness.

In my opinion, we continue to call it Thanksgiving because it’s an occasion when families gather in big churning masses for the turkey and cranberry sauce, and those hardy souls who are fortunate enough to emerge from all that forced togetherness with their faculties still intact are profoundly grateful.

I survived T still ambulatory and coherent, and almost before the leftovers had been made into hash, my best friend, Gloria Dalrymple, and my personal assistant, Fillmore, decided we all needed to go to Gloria’s house in Costa Rica for a few days.

Gloria wanted to go because the Stawicki brothers, a pair of pudgy, middle-aged identical twins who work as her houseboys at the Costa Rica casa, were in one of their bickering phases and their constant arguing was driving her chef, Asdrubal, out of his mind.

Her attempts to mediate via cell phone were unsuccessful.  Asdrubal was threatening to quit if something wasn’t done.  She decided it was going to be necessary for her to go to Costa Rica.

She wanted me to go with her for company, and she wanted Fillmore to go because Fillmore, with his uncanny understanding of human psychology, was sure to make quick work of resolving whatever was agitating the twins.

Fillmore wanted to go because, A, he’s fond of Gloria and he wanted to help;  second, he thought a little break from the wintry weather in Cleveland would be nice;  and C, he was eager to make a return visit to a place near Gloria’s Costa Rica estate called the Twoaday Stables.  Fillmore, apparently, can’t get enough of horses.


Oh, and also, Fillmore loves to fly first class and he doesn’t care where the plane happens to be going when he does it.

I did not want to go.  I’m not a big fan of travel in general, and just days earlier we (and when I say we, I mean Fillmore and I) had made the pilgrimage, if pilgrimage is the word I want, from my primary residence in Arizona to North Cliff, the family estate in Bratenahl, Ohio.  I felt that was enough traveling for the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday.  A person doesn’t need to go jamming trips to Costa Rica into the middle of it, is my point.

But the arguments advanced by Gloria and Fillmore were persuasive and, more importantly, I owed each of them for services rendered.  Gloria had provided the moral support necessary to get me through the recent family Thanksgiving, and Fillmore had pulled off a major miracle by enabling me to give my Aunt Iris the best birthday present ever.

In the end, they won and I lost.  Despite my opposition, we were going to Costa Rica.  As we loaded into Aunt Iris’s comfortable old Rolls for the ride to Cleveland Hopkins airport, I was faced with a choice.  Be a good sport, or not be a good sport.

Poor sports, and we all know at least one, are not popular people.  It’s unattractive to mope and pout, complain of headaches and what-not, and heave frequent deep sighs.  I didn’t want to be that girl.

So I was still making a conscious effort not to complain as Gloria and I began to settle in on the second leg of our trip – the connecting flight that would take us from Atlanta to San Jose (Fillmore had the seat across the aisle) and I realized I had parked myself on the seatbelt.  I felt around trying to find it without standing up and as I was doing so, Gloria elbowed me.

I thought I had jostled her so I said, “Oh.  Sorry.”

She gave me a funny look.  “What for?”

“Didn’t I elbow you?”

The funny look deepened.  Or intensified.  She looked at me funnier.  More funnily.

“No.  I elbowed you.”

I sighed.  If this inability to communicate was a harbinger, if harbinger is the word I want, of things to come, this trip was going to suck even worse than I thought.  “But . . . huh?”

She sighed.  “I elbowed you because I wanted to make a remark.”

“What’s stopping you?”

Another, deeper sigh.  “I wanted to know if you saw the kid.”

It took me a minute, but I quickly realized what she was talking about.  As we turned into our row, I, too, had noticed a young patent-leathered infantazoa squirming in the row behind us.  More specifically, in the seat behind me.

“I saw it,” I said darkly.

“It looks like trouble to me.”

And she was so right.  Just minutes after we reached cruising altitude I suddenly felt a jolt so sharp I thought something seriously catastrophic had happened.  I was so startled I sloshed my gin and tonic, but fortunately the overflow went onto the tray rather than into my lap.

I was just about to say, What was that? when I felt five more sharp jolts, but these were accompanied by a loud juvenile whine saying, “No.  I.  Don’t.  Want.  To,”  and I realized the source of the jolts was not, as I initially feared, crucial parts being wrenched from the undercarriage of the plane, but little infantazoa feet kicking the back of my seat.

That kid could kick.  I glanced Gloria’s way, intending to ask her if she felt it and saw without asking that she did.  She was scowling over her shoulder, which was pretty pointless, since her seat back blocked any attempt at non-verbal communication with the child or its clueless mother.

I whispered, “How long is this flight?” and hoped the kid would fall asleep at some point and the kicking would stop.  But it didn’t, and it didn’t.  By the time we landed at Juan Santamaría International Airport in San Jose, Fillmore still looked fresh as a daisy but I was pretty much wiped out.  I still hadn’t complained but the effort had about done me in.

Then we found out that all the puddle jumpers that fly people from San Jose across the mountains to Jaco and Quepos on the Pacific coast were socked in by heavy fog, and a car was coming from Gloria’s house to drive us via an extremely scary stretch of road to Gloria’s house  . . . a narrow road through mountains, just to put a fine point on it . . . even then I managed to bite my tongue.

Wait.  Hang on.  I see I’ve gotten slightly ahead of myself.  Let me back up a little.

We weren’t the only ones standing around the airport in San Jose wondering where all the puddle jumpers were.  In fact, there were numerous travelers milling around, waiting.  A painfully-thin, bespectacled, shaggy-haired young man about the same age as Gloria, Fillmore, and me, stood in our immediate vicinity, as did a brassy young woman with a cell phone growing out of her ear.

The brassy young woman was, shall we say, of solid build.  She wore too much jewelry and had giant platinum-blonde mall hair.  And she was angry with the unlucky person on the other end of the call for failing to see her off at JFK.

As she continued to expel X-rated verbal abuse into her cell phone, indirectly providing us with way TMI about the history of her relationship with the person on the receiving end, Fillmore remarked that the little plane that was to carry us to Quepos wasn’t sitting out on the tarmac where it ought to have been by that time.

He wondered aloud if there was some sort of problem and then he wandered off to find someone who could give him the 411.  Several minutes passed and I gradually became aware that the mall-hair girl’s phone conversation was growing even more heated.

Her back was to us and her shoulders were hunched.  She yelled into her phone, “You’ve always got a . . . ”

Oops.  I see I’m going to have a problem reporting what the mall-hair girl said, because she used an adjective that isn’t really fit for mixed company.  In fact, as her phone conversation continued, she used this same word a lot, and not only as an adjective.  She also modified it into other parts of speech including nouns, verbs, and adverbs.

It’s not really a word Melly Shrop (that’s me – Melly, or Melinda, but I prefer Melly – Shrop) has (in any of its forms) in her daily vocabulary, so I think I’ll just mark each spot where the word occurred by putting ibid in parentheses, and you can fill in the blank yourself if you feel you need to.

Okay?  Good.  Now where was I?  Oh, right.

She said loudly, “You’ve always got a (ibiding) excuse, don’t you?  It’s never your (ibiding) fault . . . ”

Are you following me with the ibids?  Are we cool?  Good.

Meanwhile, the skinny guy, having watched Fillmore go, used his pointer finger to push his glasses higher on his nose as he approached Gloria and me.  “Excuse me, b-but isn’t this where p-people are supposed to find the p-plane for Quepos?”

Gloria said, “It is, but the plane isn’t here.”

“Isn’t here y-yet, you mean.”  He had an odd speaking voice.  It was subdued, as if he were speaking underwater, or from a great distance, or something.

Gloria said, “Okay.”

“Isn’t here yet.”  He sniffed.

Gloria said, “Okay.”

Fillmore returned.

I said, “So what’s the hold-up?”

“It seems there’s a weather-related problem, Miss.  The plane is still in Quepos.”

Gloria said, “You mean it’s not coming?”

The skinny guy said, “Of c-course it’s coming.”

Fillmore turned to him.  “I’m sorry, sir, but the plane is not coming.”

The skinny guy said firmly, “It is c-coming.  M-Mother made the arrangements.”

Fillmore said, “Well, sir . . . ”

I’ve noticed, over the two-and-a-half years that Fillmore’s been my PA, that he often begins sentences with Well, Miss, or, in this case, Well, Sir, when his patience is being sorely tried.  I think it’s his way of counting to ten.  I think if he didn’t have this crutch of saying Well, Sir, or Well, Miss, he might blurt out, to use this conversation at the airport in San Jose as an example, Look, fathead, I don’t care what kind of arrangements your fatheaded mother made.  The plane’s not coming.

But he didn’t say that, of course.  What he did say was, “Well, Sir.  I beg your pardon.  I expect you’re correct in that the plane will most certainly come at some point after the heavy cloud bank along the Pacific coast has lifted.  I probably should have asseverated that the plane is not coming any time soon.”

The young man turned to me.  “D-d-does he always t-talk like that?”

I said, “Yes.”

Fillmore turned to Gloria.  “Your staff has been in touch with the airline, Miss Dalrymple, and, on learning of the problem, one of the twins set out to retrieve us with the car.”

The skinny guy turned to Gloria and gave his glasses a mighty shove up his nose.  “D-Dalrymple?”  He squinted at her.  “Hey. You’re s-somebody.”

His voice had risen in pitch, and that attracted the attention of the loud young woman.  She turned, stared at Gloria, stared at me, said into her phone, “Gotta go,” and flipped it closed.

Heiress Gloria Dalrymple,” she breathed, charging at us.  She turned to stare at me.  “And you’re . . . ”

“Not,” I said helpfully.

But she had turned her attention back to Gloria.  “What the (ibid) are you doing here?”

Gloria said, “We’re here for the big monkey festival.”

Well, of course, there’s no such thing as a big monkey festival.  It was Gloria’s subtle way of telling the brassy girl to move along and mind her own business.  I glanced at my lifelong friend.  There were faint telltale smudges under her eyes, and that meant she was tired.  For as long as I’ve known her, and I’ve known her since birth, those under-the-eye smudges have always been the early sign that Gloria is reaching the end of her rope.

The brassy girl said, “Vanessa Gonorría,” and stuck out her hand.  Gloria shook it.  The one handshake seemed to satisfy this Gonorría person, because she didn’t stick her hand out to me.

She said to Gloria, “I expect you’ve heard of me, too.”

Gloria, in her fakest fake celebrity voice, cried “Of course.”  Then she turned to me and rolled her eyes.

This Vanessa Gonorría looked around disdainfully.  “I gotta say, I didn’t expect San Juan to (ibiding) look like this.”

I said, “San Jose.”

The Gonorría fixed me with a cold stare.  “Huh?”

“You said San Juan.  This is San Jose.”

She frowned.  “Whatever.  I didn’t expect it to look like this.”

Meanwhile, Gloria had turned to Fillmore.  “Oh my God, Fillmore.  I just want to get home.  I can hardly stand up I’m so tired . . . ”

I looked at her more closely.  She did look wiped out.  Her black, shoulder length, razor cut hair had gone somewhat flat, she was pale, and she had an all-over sticky aura.  In short, she looked like I felt.

“ . . . and could it get any hotter in here?  I wonder what time the car left the house.”

“It left some time ago, Miss.  In fact, it may already be waiting for us.  If I may, I suggest we go down . . . ”

“Yeah.  Okay.  Let’s go.”

The AC on the upper level of the terminal wasn’t anything to write home about, and the temperature rose dramatically, as it always does, as we rode the escalator down to the lower level.

Stepping outside onto the sidewalk was like diving into hot soup.  The heat and humidity were  smothering, the carbon monoxide hung so heavily in the air I felt like I was drinking it, and there was the usual hubbub of humanity all along the building.  Families and tourists and vendors milled about on the sidewalk and cars and buses and every other sort of vehicle you can imagine were jammed together along the drive.

I was following Fillmore and Gloria as they threaded their way through the crowd when I heard a voice shout, “Gloria.  Over here.”

And there was one of the Stawicki twins waving his hands in the air.  He began to cross behind the limo and was nearly pinned there by a bus.  We hurried toward him.


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