Teaser 013: What Defcon Level Did I Hit?

What followed was a series of muffled discussion over the next half-minute or so. Finally, a frustrated voice shouted, “John!” I had succeeded in throwing a monkey wrench into the well-oiled security apparatus of the Serena Dominguez ranch house. Let the amusement commence.

A minute or two later, dead silence at both ends of the speaker system as I waited patiently with a half-smile trying to discover the camera surely installed somewhere at the gate, a familiar voice calmly asked, “Gregory?”

“John, so good to hear from you. Did I upset the apple cart?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes.”

“Are there guns drawn and pointed at my head at this precise moment?” I smiled where I thought I spotted the camera.

“All over the hills as a matter of fact.”

“Yes, but have they been tested recently?”

“Get in here.” Suddenly the gate opened and drew back and when the clearance was complete, I slipped the Sentra into drive and motored along the path, around a turn, then another turn, a third turn, over a hill, and there was the house. Holy crap, what a house! It sprawled everywhere, wings this way and that, multi-levels here, and over there. I thought, I'll bet there's thirty rooms because I can't even see the back. As I approached the house, driving at a reasonable snail's pace, the dirt and gravel yielded to asphalt and a circle drive to the house entrance, and opened expansively to the left, curling around behind a house prominence to what I suspected was a garage, though I couldn't see it from the driveway and caught only a glimpse from the hill. I had another thought as I motored up to the entrance. I'll bet most of those rooms are rarely used. That's my definition of too much house!

I couldn't see the door with a promenade of walls and plants, but people were filing out through the promenade and onto the driveway as I reached it. John was third and pointed to the open area to my left and I steered the Sentra in that direction, stopping close to the house with plenty of open space in the circle to clear me should anyone else arrive. I shoved the stick in park, turned the ignition off, opened the door, stepped out and up and walked slowly to the growing contingent. Before I could reach anyone they were all there to greet me, the group I would call “the boys,” and Serena, who, of course, I would never consider one of “the boys.” She would, nevertheless, serve as a producer too. Heck, I would end up as a producer. What I immediately noticed was that everyone—except a burly man wearing a jacket which didn't fall straight on one side due to, I suspected, a firearm of some type hidden—were all wearing bemused expressions. Bemusement begets bemusement so I wore my bemused expression too.

Serena walked slowly past everyone, her face displaying her big smile of pure radiance. She greeted me, “I have to wait an extra day and you can't even say 'Gregory Hess' into my speaker?”

Her smile caused my face to open into a huge grin. “I'm so sorry, Senora. What defcon level did I hit? Two? One?

There was laughter from the contingent, except from burly man, who was not amused. Serena offered her right hand as she neared. “Welcome to my house, Gregory, and, please, call me Serena.”

I stopped and glanced at her right hand. “I'm so pleased to finally meet you, Serena, but would it be out of bounds if I suggested a hug instead? It is, after all, more European.”

Her smile grew even wider. “Not at all,” she responded in a deep and deliberately sultry manner. As she came closer her arms extended and I felt her hands rest on the sides of my waist. I opened my arms around her arms and across her back, closed them tightly and squeezed her hard. In seconds she exclaimed, “Oh! That feels good!” Her hands slipped around and over my back and she squeezed my back, though not as hard. Still, I could feel her body against mine. I love to hug.

After about a half minute, what felt like a heavenly eternity, we released and separated. “I prefer a hug to a handshake because when I hug someone, they know they've been hugged.”

Serena smiled again. “No argument here!” She turned slightly to the others, resting her left hand gently on my right arm near my shoulder. “Let me introduce you to everyone.”

Before we could move burly man interjected. “Excuse me, Senora Dominguez, but, if I may, I'd like to advise our newest guest about procedures, which is my job.”

“Of course, Ray. I'm sorry, Gregory. We do have a few procedures.”

“Thank you, Senora.” At a respectful distance of about six feet, Ray turned to address me. “Mister Hess, we have security here for a reason.”

“Wait!” I flashed my “innocent thoughtfulness” look. “Because you're insecure?”

A smattering of laughter could be heard, though all made an attempt to suppress it. Ray was unfazed. “It helps everyone when you follow directions. They are not demanding and are only delivered to ensure everyone's safety.”

“I'm in deep shit because I didn't follow orders, right?”

“It helps ensure everyone's safety.”

“I'm sorry, General,” I said with a half-hearted salute. “It'll never happen again. I suppose I'll have to report for KP duty now. 'Private Hess, all those potatoes are to be peeled before chow time.'” A brief pause as I looked to my left and up, way up. “Wow! That's a lot of starch. What else are we having for chow tonight?”

“Believe it or not, Mister Hess, humor doesn't bother me. Not following directions does.”

“Hey, I'm sorry.” Ray's only doing his job. The crazies are everywhere nowadays. “Do I address you as 'burly man,' 'Ray,' or do you prefer 'General?'”

“Ray will suffice.”

“I suppose you would prefer a handshake, Ray? I'll give you a hug if you want one.”

“His hug is outstanding, Ray,” Serena advised, flashing him a bemused smile.

Ray stood before me. I think he was considering it. “Perhaps another time.” Ray slowly reached out with his right hand.

I quickly grabbed his with mine and squeezed it hard. “A hug deferred is a hug saved! I'll be holding one for you when you're ready.”

Our hands separated and Ray leaned to Serena and whispered something to which Serena laughed and replied, “I don't think it will be necessary, Ray, but be ready in case it does.” Ray stepped back and glanced at me smugly as he walked back to the promenade.

John spoke up. “What was that about, Serena?”

“Oh, John, Ray suggested he could shoot Gregory, just wing him, and it would probably shut him up.”

“Not likely!”

“And only briefly! The pain would dull eventually!”

- Just Desserts, Segment TwoDog Grooming” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021

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