One Downtown San Diego
BETWEEN THE HOURS of eight and nine PM on a Thursday evening, a black Nissan Altima traveled through light traffic, heading southbound on Interstate 5 toward downtown San Diego. Overhead, a US Airways commercial airplane zoomed down toward San Diego International Airport, less than a mile west of the highway. And as the sun continued to make its descent across the far west side of the Pacific Ocean, the night lights of San Diego’s downtown skyline began to flicker into an evening glow.
Inside the fairly clean two-year-old Altima was dead silence. The driver was not in the mood for music at the moment; too much else was on his mind.
He checked the clock on the dashboard for the fifth time to make sure he was still on schedule for his date at Hooters on Fourth Avenue. He wasn’t particularly in the mood for flirty young women serving drinks, burgers, chicken wings, and fries in skimpy orange shorts with white tank tops. But a commitment was a commitment, so he continued on his way.
Exiting the highway on Second Avenue, the black Altima traveled southbound toward Horton Plaza, a downtown shopping center with a multilevel parking garage. When he arrived at the garage entrance, the driver stopped and rolled down his window to receive a ticket at the gate. He then accelerated past the rows of parked cars to find an open space.
Once he had found a parking spot on the third level of the garage, the driver checked the time for a final countdown. It was 8:43 PM.
“Right on time,” he mumbled. He climbed out of the car and straightened out his button-up shirt of light blue pinstripes. His pants were dark blue denim, and his shoes were soft brown leather. He had dressed down on purpose for a casual date.
At 8:47, Ivan David strolled out of the parking garage exit. He was a light brown black man of medium build and medium height, with light brown hair and multicolored eyes. Some people described his eyes as rainbows, with rings of color from blue to light brown to green.
He looked around for a second to peruse his surroundings and sniff the downtown air. The nighttime temperature was at seventy degrees. Perfect. As soon he stepped out into the street to cross it, a yellow Ferrari Spider raced around the corner from his left and forced him to freeze.
Shit! Do I move forward or backward? Ivan asked himself. He had already made it halfway across the street. Move back, he decided.
As soon as he stepped out of the way, the yellow Ferrari sped past him with a California license plate that read TOO SLOW.
Ivan got the message and grinned. “Maybe I am,” he grunted before continuing across.
Hooters was two blocks away. Ivan proceeded to enjoy his evening stroll past the young and old couples who walked in and out of the restaurants that populated San Diego’s downtown strip.
“I’ll have a glass of Chardonnay,” a gray-haired businessman ordered at his outside table at Buenos Días Café. His young-as-a-daughter date sat across their small table with a controlled smile.
Ivan looked into her calculating green eyes and wondered whether she loved her older man or his older money.
The dirty-blond beauty looked up at him momentarily, as if to read his skepticism. Then she looked away, unconcerned by it.
Ivan chuckled to himself as he passed them by, outside the waist-high black iron gate that separated their table from the sidewalk. All he could think about was the numbers game: a fifty-two-year-old man, earning a mid to high six figures, and a twenty-eight-year-old date, earning a low five figures.
“I gotta stop thinking like an accountant,” he reminded himself as he walked.
When he arrived at Hooters and stepped inside, he blinked and readjusted his eyes. Damn. The bright orange was enough to blind a man.
“Hey, Ivan, over here.”
He turned to his left and spotted Catherine Boone, an old friend and fling from his undergrad days at San Diego State. She wore a lime-green dress, full of cleavage and curves, with matching lime-green heels. Her hair was shoulder length and straight, ideal for no-nonsense business. Her medium brown skin remained flawless.
As she stood up from her chair and table to greet him with an open hug, Ivan could see and feel that she had put on a good ten to twenty pounds of maturity.
“Whoa, you’re filling out a little bit,” he told her.
She smiled. “And?”
He hesitated. “And, what?”
“And, what does that mean?”
Women were finicky about their appearance. So Ivan remained coy.
“I don’t know. You tell me,” he responded.
Catherine broke away. “Ivan, is it a good thing or a bad thing? Because I like my new weight. I always thought I was too skinny in college.”
“You thought you were skinny?”
“Yeah, you didn’t think so?”
Catherine sat back down. Ivan sat in the chair across the table from her.
He shook his head and answered, “No, not really. Your weight was always fine to me.”
Catherine grinned at him. “It’s good to see that you’re still the same Ivan. You’re as vague and as noncommittal as ever. And no new girlfriend yet, right?”
Ivan smiled back. “I like keeping my concentration.”
Catherine grinned even harder. “Are we that bad, Ivan? I mean, really?”
She got all serious and stopped smiling. She wanted a sincere answer from him. A Hooters waitress broke them out of their groove before Ivan could grant her wish.
“Welcome to Hooters, my name is Claudia.” She immediately wrote her name down on a Hooters napkin in front of them. She was a breezy brunette in the bright white and orange uniform.
“Are you guys ready to order yet?”
The Hooters menu sat out in front of them on the tabletop.
Ivan frowned and squinted his eyes. “Ahh…I really didn’t get a chance to look at the menu yet.”
“I’ll have a beer and some fries,” Catherine ordered overtop of him.
“Okay,” the brunette perked. She wrote it down on her order pad. Then she looked back at Ivan. “I’ll be right back in a minute,” she promised him.
Ivan nodded. “All right.”
As soon as the waitress left them, Catherine changed her tone and reached her gentle hands across the table to place over Ivan’s. “I’m sorry to hear about your mother,” she told him. She had compassion in her dark brown eyes. She had heard about his mother’s funeral in Los Angeles through mutual friends. But her apology caught Ivan off guard. He froze for a second and daydreamed in her direction, before he shook it off and looked away.
He grunted, “It was gonna happen sooner or later.” He looked back into her eyes to finish his statement. “When you got any form of cancer, you’re fighting it to win or fighting it to lose.”
Catherine squeezed his hands tighter. “I know how much she meant to you.”
“Yeah,” Ivan grumbled. Then he forced himself to perk up. He said, “But the good thing she told me was to go ahead and live my life now, you know. I mean, I had been holding on for so long…”
“I know,” Catherine responded. She remembered it through their college years. Ivan’s mother had begged him several times each semester to stay away from home in South Central L.A. to finish his schooling in San Diego. She knew that her illness would be too much of a strain on him at home. And when he was offered an accounting job at the firm of Hutch & Mitchell in North Clairemont, his mother advised him to take it and stay there.
Now Ivan felt guilty about everything. Although returning home may not have changed the end result, he would have at least been able to see his mother more before she was confined to her deathbed.
Finally, he pulled his hands away from Catherine at the table.
“Look, we’re not here to talk about that. So, what’s up with this new job you got?” he asked her, changing the subject.
Catherine nodded and followed his lead. She wanted to make sure she got her empathy out of the way early. She had other plans for them that evening.
“Well, I may be moving back to the San Diego area if everything goes right,” she told him. She was originally from Sacramento. She said, “I had my interview this morning in Oceanside, but I made sure they put me up in a downtown San Diego hotel instead of all the way out there.”
Then she giggled. “I can get my way when I want it.”
Ivan sat back in his chair and smiled. “Yeah, I know it already.”
Catherine was a whiner, beggar, wheeler-dealer, or whatever else it took to get her way. She had worked her magic all throughout college as a business management major. And she was always in the middle of things.
Before she could get another word out, her conversation with Ivan was interrupted again.
“Hey, Ivan David. What’s going on, man?”
Ivan turned to his right and looked up. He’d recognize the Spanish-American accent with the rapid-fire tongue anywhere. It was Emilio Alvarez, an excitable rookie shortstop for the San Diego Padres.
“Hey, what’s going on, E.A.?” Ivan addressed him with an outstretched hand.
They had met a few months ago at the accounting firm offices. Emilio was a new Hutch & Mitchell client of Dominican descent from Texas. He was as brown as Catherine, with jet-black wavy hair. A happy-faced date stood attached to his right arm. She was as light as Ivan, with straight brown hair, and was Mexican.
“Hey, you tell me, I.D.,” Emilio responded. He had to pull his date loose to shake Ivan’s hand with his right.
Ivan joked, “You’re out here just walking around with no bodyguards? You could get mobbed.”
Emilio frowned. “Mobbed? Man, I’m just a young rookie trying to make a good name for myself. Nobody really knows me yet.”
As soon as he said it, the Hooters waitresses began to smile all around him.
“We know who you are, E.A.,” Claudia teased him. She spotted the rookie baseball player as soon as he walked in. She returned to the table with Catherine’s mug of beer and set it down in front of her.
Once Claudia spoke to Emilio, a few of the other waitresses breezed by.
“Yeah, rookies are still impressionable,” a bold blonde flirted, and laughed.
Emilio’s date didn’t look too pleased about that statement. But at least the blonde didn’t stick around long.
Emilio laughed it all off. He said, “Hey, Ivan, you know we have a big party down here tonight. You guys should come hang out with us. Big Deke is throwing it. So we’re gonna grab something to eat on Fifth Ave., then I can get you guys in VIP as my guests.”
Catherine listened as she sipped from her mug of beer. She immediately shook her head before Ivan could respond to him.
Ivan caught her response to the invitation and agreed to turn it down.
“Maybe another night, man. We’re just old friends over here catching up. But thanks for inviting us.”
“Oh, no problem. Anytime,” Emilio told him.
“Make sure you give me and my girls a few autographs before you leave,” Claudia commented to the rookie.
Emilio looked confused. “Ahhh…okay.”
His date said nothing the whole time, but her face said everything. She was just getting to know Emilio and had no idea how to respond to anything around them yet.
“Hey, rookie! What are you doing in here?” someone yelled from the doorway. The place was so bright that anyone could look straight through the glass windows and see everyone inside, just as Emilio had done to spot Ivan.
Ivan looked up again and recognized “Butch” Clayborne, a third baseman in his fifth year with the Padres. Butch had just signed a new multimillion-dollar contract earlier that year. He was a big, strong black man with two women: one white and one black. They were both proud to be his giddy companions for the night. And once the waitresses spotted Clayborne yelling through the doorway, several of them lost their cool.
“Oh, my God! Butch, are you coming in? Are you coming in?” they asked him with the double-talk of excitement.
He waved them off. “Nah, we don’t have time for that. Maybe another time.”
His two dates were already on their way in before he grabbed them back out.
“Hey, come on, let’s go,” he told them. Then he yelled back at Emilio, “Let’s go, rookie!”
The two women stumbled back out to join him awkwardly.
“Damn, my heel,” the black companion complained at the door.
The white companion laughed at her. In a flash, they were out of the doorway and headed up the street for Fifth Avenue.
Emilio looked back at Ivan and shook his head with a grin. “You see what I mean? I’m just a rookie this year. I got a long way to go to get to where he’s at. I’m just lucky he’s taking me under his wing.”
When Emilio left with his date, the Hooters establishment returned to its normal chatter. The surprise visit from the Padres’ baseball players had added a spark of insanity to the place. But as quickly as they had entered, they were gone.
“So, how do you know Emilio?” Claudia asked Ivan at the table. She had yet to receive an order from him. And she could see that the Padres rookie had a lot of respect for him. He had made it his personal mission to walk inside and say hi. He even invited Ivan and his date to a Padres party.
Ivan was still confused by all of it. “Ahh…”
Was it any of her business how he knew Emilio? How was he to respond to that?
Catherine was still shaking her head across the table with her beer. Things were getting a bit out of hand, from what she could see. Everyone was losing their focus.
She asked the waitress, “Are my french fries on the way out?”
Claudia caught her cold drift and got back to business.
“Oh, yeah, let me go get those for you.”
When the waitress left them alone again, Catherine said, “Now, that was just crazy. Did you see how they started to act in here? They act as if they never saw a baseball player before.”
Ivan smiled it off. “Yeah, but Butch Clayborne is more than just a regular player. He’s one of their bona fide stars now.”
The hype was no big deal to Ivan. He had been around plenty of wealthy and famous people. It was part of his job to go out and find new clients who had money. And they were all human. But what he didn’t understand was why Catherine wanted to meet him at Hooters in the first place. They would never have any privacy there.
“You wanna go somewhere else?” he asked her.
Catherine’s dress code surely didn’t fit Hooters. Her lime-green dress was more than casual.
She took a deep breath and calmed her nerves. She asked him, “How do you think my body compares to theirs?”
Ivan stared across the table to make sure that he had heard her right.
“You heard me. How does my body compare to theirs?”
She bobbed her head to the left in reference to the Hooters waitresses, who were scampering around the tables, filling orders, and cleaning up.
Ivan couldn’t believe it. He shook his head and smiled. He said, “So that’s why you wanted to meet me here, to do a body check against Hooters waitresses? Are you kidding me?” He was halfway laughing. He said, “If you really wanna do a body check, then let’s go to this Padres party and do it for real. I mean, come on, none of these girls wanna wear the stuff they have to wear in here. It’s just a job.”
Catherine grinned back at him. She said, “I have my reasons.”
Ivan blew it off. “Anyway…next question.”
It was no competition in his book. He was embarrassed to even look at the waitresses. And Catherine was pleased to know it.
“Thank you,” she told him. A nod of confidence meant the world to a woman.
BY THE TIME they had left the place, it was well after ten o’clock, and Catherine was good and tipsy. It became obvious that Ivan would need to help her walk to wherever they were off to next.
“So, what hotel they got you up in?” he asked her.
Catherine was secure in his arms as they walked down Fourth Avenue.
“We’re almost there,” she told him. “And it’s a surprise.”
As they walked, a white stretch Hummer passed them by in the street and turned left down Fifth Avenue.
Catherine watched it and grunted. “Hmmph, I bet you think that’s more of your baseball players, don’t you? But if the Chargers were throwing a party, that would be a real party. I would have been interested in going to that.”
She added, “But it’s only, like, four or five black players on the whole Padres team. And I don’t count the Spanish guys. They’re not really down with us. But on the Chargers, more than half the team is black.”
Ivan only listened to her, amused by it all. He was slightly embarrassed by their night so far. What was her purpose for the evening; to get drunk while comparing her body to Hooters girls? That didn’t make any sense.
The next thing he knew, Catherine had him walking her along Harbor Drive.
Ivan said, “I could have gotten my car if I would have known we were walking this far.”
“It’s not far,” she told him. “All we have to do is cross the street and we’re almost there.”
Ivan looked across the street in the direction where they were headed and spotted the twin towers of the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel. The towers were set on prime real estate, right off the San Diego Bay. It was an immaculate hotel from the outside alone. Ivan had no idea what it looked like on the inside. He had never had any reason to stay there. But he could imagine it.
“Oh, shit, don’t tell me they got you staying here,” he responded.
Catherine giggled and said, “Yup. I told you I can get what I want when I want it. I couldn’t wait to show you this. But…”
She stopped herself momentarily before she mumbled, “You really wanna know why I took you through that whole Hooters thing?”
Ivan didn’t care. It was all trivial in his opinion. He decided to hear her out anyway.
“Yeah, what was up with that?” he asked as he continued to help her walk.
She said, “Okay. When I was back home in Sacramento, I found out that my ex was crazy about a girl who worked there. And he actually left me for her. And I was like…why?”
Ivan started to chuckle and couldn’t help himself. Women! Their insecurities were amazing.
Catherine promptly stopped them from walking. “I don’t see why that’s so funny, Ivan. My feelings were very hurt by that. Very hurt,” she told him.
“I’m college educated. He’s college educated. I’m a professional. He’s a professional. I’m good looking. He’s good looking. And still, he picked a Hooters girl over me? Why?”
Ivan said, “Trust me, Catherine, it’s not about the restaurant, it’s all about the girl.”
She said, “But why do guys like to see young women dressed so…provocatively? I mean, it’s so tasteless.”
Ivan didn’t feel like dealing with any of that. It was all meaningless. He thought more about seeing what the inside of the hotel looked like. So he ignored her question.
As they neared the front entrance, Catherine made sure to straighten herself up to walk in on her own. She didn’t want the hotel staff and guests to consider her tasteless.
“Good to have you back this evening,” the uniformed valet greeted Catherine from the hotel drive-through.
“Thank you,” Catherine told him.
Ivan only nodded to him. They then nodded to the uniformed bellman as they entered the grand lobby.
For Ivan, a modest penny-pincher from South Central L.A., the Manchester Grand Hyatt was immaculate. Top-of-the-line hotels allowed the imagination to run wild, with marble floors, rich carpet, giant chandeliers, crown molding, artwork, candles, exotic wood, interior plants, soft music, and tall ceilings. It was all there. The difference between a five-star hotel and an off-the-road inn was like the difference between heaven and hell.
“They actually put you in here just for an interview?” Ivan asked as they wandered through the lobby. “Which building are you in?”
“The Seaport.” She grabbed him by the hand to lead him in the right direction. She said, “It has the better view. And it’s the newer building.”
As they strolled toward the Seaport building elevators, Ivan looked more like an amazed gawker than a guest.
Catherine read his wide, colorful eyes taking it all in. She yanked his arm for a dose of reality. “Come on, you know they’re getting corporate rates. They’re not paying what we would have to pay for this. They never do. So I told myself, ‘Take advantage of it from the company now. Because I may not get another chance to.’”
Ivan nodded and agreed with her. “You’re right. This is another tax write-off.”
When they stepped into the elevator, another display of first-grade hotel quality, Ivan was inspired enough to go for broke.
He said, “Hell, why not just stay up in here for a night or two like it’s a vacation? You only live once, right? I got a thousand dollars in the bank for a vacation, don’t you?”
Catherine looked at her old college man as if she no longer recognized him.
“What, and this coming from the cheapest man I knew on San Diego State’s campus?” She said, “I remember you used to sneak out of line with your food at the cafeteria to save six dollars.”
Ivan laughed hard. He said, “That’s when I was holding down the fort. I had to do what I had to do. I was working a full-time job, going to school, and still sending money back home to my mom. But…like she said…I can live now.”
Ivan felt guilty even saying it. He could hardly get the words out of his mouth. But he did. The reality of the hotel had smacked him in the face with a cold hard hand of what he had been missing all of his life, an opportunity for luxury.
The elevator doors opened to the hallway on the fourteenth floor.
“Here we are.” Catherine spoke up with a chuckle. “Wait till you see the view I have from the room.”
Ivan said, “We should have had our dinner date over here. They got restaurants downstairs, don’t they?”
Catherine looked at him, amused. “And you would have paid the prices for the restaurants in this hotel? And then turned around and tipped the waiters? Because this is not fries and chicken and burgers over here.”
Ivan smiled broadly, knowing better. He said, “You would have paid for it. Corporate rates. They got you in here, right? And you gotta eat.”
“Yeah, and I’m sure they’re looking to see exactly how expensive I can be, too,” she commented. “I don’t have this job yet, and I’m not a fool like that. So if we need to bring Chinese takeout back to this hotel, then that’s what we’ll do.”
They shared a laugh as they reached the room. As soon as they walked into the king-sized suite, Ivan walked straight over to the window view of the bay and just stood there. He could see clear across to Coronado Island to his left, or view the boats, piers, smaller islands, and seafood restaurants to his right.
“They call this the corner room,” Catherine told him.
Ivan looked out at a lone boat in the middle of the bay and wondered if it was the yacht of a rich man out on a private date. What a life that would be. He stood there stunned by the infinite possibilities of real wealth.
Catherine joined him at the window. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it? The windows even open up so you can smell the air.”
She unlatched the large window and pushed it open for him to see. But Ivan remained speechless. The calculations were all running through his mind again as he idled there at the window. How could he afford to remain there at the hotel? How could he afford his own boat, property, leisure, travel, and custom designs?
Catherine moved to wrap herself within Ivan’s arms, as if they were still an on-fire college couple.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked him.
Ivan heard her question in his mind and ran with it. Problem was, he was thinking about too many things at once. So he settled on the most recent idea as his mind slowed down and came to a rest to answer her.
“I’m thinking about that Padres party.” He wondered what it was like and who all would be there to link up with. Maybe Emilio would introduce him to more of the major players on the team.
Catherine broke away, irritated by his answer. How could he still be thinking about a party when he had her all alone in a five-star hotel bedroom, with a dynamite view, wearing a dynamite dress, and horny to boot with alcohol in her system? What the hell was wrong with him?
“You really wanna go to that party that much, Ivan?” she snapped at him.
Ivan was surprised by her outburst. He hadn’t been paying her physical attractions much attention. He’d had a lot on his mind, with the thoughts of his mother passing away, before they had even met up that night. Now he had even more on his mind concerning how he planned to live out the rest of his life.
“I mean, I don’t have to go to this party, but…”
He stopped and thought about his dilemma. How exactly could he tell Catherine that she was old news, and that the party seemed more interesting to him at the moment? He wanted to get up close and personal with the people who could really afford to live. And he had been invited to do so.
Catherine looked into Ivan’s eyes, flickering in the moonlight from the window, and she decided to do something desperate to pique his interest. She wanted him to sleep over that night and give her his full attention without any distractions. So she massaged his crotch, kicked off her heels, and sank to her knees in front of him at the window.
She looked up and asked him, “Would this be your fantasy?”
Ivan could not deny that her spontaneous exuberance excited him. His manhood would surely respond to a blow job. But then he thought about their past. Catherine was a credit card woman. Whatever you spent with her, you would be forced to pay back later, and with interest. So Ivan shook his head and backed away from the purchase.
He told her, “Nah, I’m not really…”
He stopped and looked into Catherine’s determined face. Ivan knew who she was, and there were no surprises to her.
“I just know how you are,” he concluded. “And I’m not trying to go there.”
She ignored him and reached to unzip his pants zipper anyway.
Ivan stepped farther away and continued to deny her. He even put his hands in front of his pants to protect himself. “Yo—”
Catherine was incensed. “Just let me do what I want to do, Ivan. It may be my fantasy. And I promise not to hold you to anything.”
She was saying this from her knees, and the irony did not pass Ivan by. So he continued to shake his head.
“Look at this, Cat,” he commented, referring to her college nickname. “This ain’t a good picture,” he told her. “I mean, just look at you.”
Catherine heard him out, took a deep breath, and climbed back to her feet. Then she couldn’t even face him.
She sat on the edge of the king-sized bed and mumbled with her head down, “You’re still the same old Ivan…won’t break for nobody.”
Ivan didn’t respond. But she was right. He was a man who stuck by his principles.
She added, “I was hoping that you had changed a little bit.”
He didn’t have a response to that, either. The truth was, he hadn’t changed. He was still as strong willed as ever.
After another minute, the silence of the room increased the awkwardness for both of them.
Catherine finally decided to let the fish off the hook and send him back into the water.
“Well…if you wanna go to that party so much…”
Ivan jumped at his chance to leave with no shame. “Are you still gonna be up?” He knew he had to at least make his exit sound good.
Catherine looked at him and asked, “What, after the party? No.” She didn’t care about a consolation prize. She had lost him.
“I mean, just to call you up and make sure everything is all right,” he told her.
“Ivan, I’m a grown fucking woman, okay?” she snapped at him. “So you go do what you need to do and don’t worry about me.”
Ouch! He should have quit while he was ahead. Now he felt awkward again. Instead of saying anything else, he nodded and headed for the door.
“I’ll call you,” he said on the way out.
When the door closed behind him, Catherine took another deep breath and dropped her head even lower. All of her plans were out the window, falling fourteen stories down.
“Shit,” she grumbled into her lap. “I would have been better off at the fucking Days Inn…and could have saved them a bunch of money.”
IVAN WAS OUT of the hotel in a flash to hustle his way back to the action on Fifth Avenue.
“You’re leaving us already?” It was the same valet who had greeted Catherine when she and Ivan had entered the hotel.
Ivan faced him and answered, “I’ll be back.” He added, “Not tonight, but I’ll be back, though, for sure.” He planned on it. Then he laughed as he made his way back up Harbor Drive.
He felt like a college student again, rushing to make his way to the clubs. And on a Thursday night, he was sure that the Padres party would have few competitors.
When he arrived back in the Gaslamp Quarter, what San Diego referred to as its main restaurant and nightclub district, the stretch limos, luxury sedans, and exotic sports cars that lined the valet parking spaces outside the Market Street Hotel told him exactly where the party was.
The long line along the outside wall of the hotel made the party look more like a Saturday. But on a Thursday night, only the able people partied: those who didn’t have to clock in in the morning, those who didn’t care, and those who planned to work it all out.
Ivan fit the last group. He would definitely make it to work in the morning. He would just have less sleep to count on. But he was too curious that evening to let the opportunity of the Padres party pass by.
“Come on, just let us in, it’s only the two of us,” a pair of long-legged twins, wearing revealing dresses, begged the doormen at the front. The time was fast approaching midnight.
“In a minute,” the husky doorman responded to them. He stretched out his thick right arm in front of them, wearing the same professional black suit as the rest of the men who worked the party. Their orchestrated job looked like the set of a Men in Black movie. It was a doorman’s extra duty to deal with the begging types. So Ivan studied the scene to see how he would plead his own case. He definitely wasn’t planning on walking to the back of the long line and paying. However, he figured he at least needed to know what the cost would be.
“Hey, what’s the price to get in?”
The doormen looked him up and down before anyone answered. Who was he? Was he dressed correctly? Was he coming in? Or was he staying out?
Once they all established that Ivan David was a nobody, they gave him the price of general admission.
“Cover charge is twenty-five dollars. The line is that way,” one of the men piped up to him, and pointed. They continued to guard the entrance without missing a beat.
All right, here I go, Ivan told himself as he prepared to address the doormen with more information. He noticed that they marked off a guest list held just inside the doorway.
I hope Emilio has a list of names, he thought. From there, he would have to work it out himself.
“Actually, I’m here as a guest of Emilio Alvarez, the rookie shortstop. Tell him Ivan David is here.”
Ivan spoke with such presence and authority that the two brown-haired twins turned to look him over for themselves. A few of the other anxious line-waiters looked in Ivan’s direction as well. Who the hell was he?
“What’s your name again?” the first doorman asked him. He continued to hold the twins at bay in front of him.
“Ivan David?” the doorman repeated in confusion. “You got two first names?”
Ivan grinned. “Yeah.”
The doorman cracked his first smile. “Okay. Hey, check the list for Ivan David.”
Ivan stood there knowing that his name wouldn’t be on the list. He wished he had told Emilio to look out for him just in case he swung past the party later. But he planned to argue his point to the doormen anyway. All he needed was someone to go inside and find E.A. for him.
As he waited there on the sidewalk for the inevitable, the valet staff sprinted to the curb, where another stretch limo was pulling up.
The crowd got excited in anticipation. Even Ivan watched to see who it was. Was Big Deke Walker, the superstar slugger, at the party yet? He was never known to attend a party early.
But when the valet guys opened the limo doors and let out its passengers, there were only sexy women inside. They climbed out one at a time and stood on the sidewalk until the last one had joined them. There were seven of them in all, the perfect number to pack inside their stretch limo. And they were all of different races: white, black, Latina, Filipina, and exotic mixtures in between.
Were they a cheerleading squad or models? No one was sure until their leader stepped out last and was immediately recognized by the doormen.
“Lucina,” one of the doormen said to her.
“Hey, Matt, how’s it going?” she addressed him with a light hand to his arm.
“You know the party don’t get started until you arrive,” he teased her.
“Stop it,” she told him, and laughed. “Then again, don’t stop,” she teased.
Ivan heard a slight accent in her voice, but it didn’t sound Mexican or Filipina. It had more of a Mediterranean swagger to it. Maybe Italian or Greek.
“That’s Lucina Gallo,” he overheard one the twins comment from behind him.
Ivan stared at this Lucina Gallo woman up close and was impressed with her immediately. She wore a thin silky dress of a dark blue and baby-blue mix that stood out from the mostly solid colors of the other girls. Her sparkling purse, necklace, bracelet, watch, anklet, and heels all glittered in the night, like a live advertisement for a glamorous fashion magazine. And her height mixed in well with the others’. She was not the tallest or the shortest, but she definitely had the most presence. She looked no older than he was, twenty-eight. However, Ivan only gave her that because she was in a position of authority. Otherwise, she looked a spoiled twenty-two, a rich man’s college-aged daughter.
Then she looked in Ivan’s direction to survey the crowd. When she did, he noticed that her eyes twinkled with a multicolored hue of their own. Her eyes were in contrast with her moody, olive-toned skin and thick, dark, two-toned brown hair.
Ivan was frozen stiff just from looking at her.
Damn, she bad!
Lucina looked right through him and into the crowd behind him as if he were the clear glass window of a department store.
“Nice line,” she said to herself with a nod. Then she turned back to her girls. “Let’s go inside.”
Ivan watched them all walk into the hotel party past the doormen, and he missed them already, especially Lucina. As he continued to stand there on the sidewalk, he felt as cold as a lone man at the North Pole.
“Shit,” he mumbled to himself. He thought again about what it would take to become an insider with the movers and shakers of San Diego. The doormen then snapped him out of his daydream.
“There’s no Ivan David on the list.”
Ivan said, “Well, can one of you go get Emilio and let him know that I’m here?”
The lead doorman shook his head. “That’s not our job. Call him up on his cell phone.” He was finally ready to let the twins in. “Okay, you can go,” he told them.
Ivan watched the girls pay their twenty-five dollars inside the doorway, and he realized the only way he was getting into the party free was if Emilio happened to walk outside for some reason. But why would he do that in the middle of a jam-packed party?
Ivan looked to the back of the line again. It had grown longer since the last time he looked. The doormen didn’t pay him any more attention. His case was closed. They had jobs to do. So Ivan shook it off and accepted his defeat.
Let me get the hell out of here, he told himself. He figured that going through too much hassle to get in would kill his excitement at being there.
Just as he began to walk away, the lead doorman called out his name again in jest. “All right, Ivan David. You make sure you make that list next time.”
A few of the other doormen laughed, but Ivan didn’t find it funny. The joke registered in his mind as a challenge. So he responded to it that way.
“All right. You can count on that.”