Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Today is my birthday - here's a free chapter for you! And please download my new ebook. Thanks for making 48 great! (OK, tolerable.)

Free! Chapter 1 House of Cards by Kim Stagliano

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Chapter 1

The cloying smell of a caramel apple wrapped in candy floss announced that Janelle Goldman from accounting lurked near my cube. I don’t know when perfumers decided to drop the millennia-old floral concept and replace it with the scents of food groups favored by small children (like vanilla, strawberry and the ouch-my-teeth-ache sugary aroma of Janelle’s so-called “perfume”). If I wanted to smell like candy all day, I’d let the damn M&M’s melt in my hands, not in my mouth. She was looking for my time sheet, and I was nowhere near finishing it. As usual.

I turned to my computer, pretending to get down to the drudgery of writing press releases for the planet’s most boring company, in the hopes that Janelle would see a busy little bee and leave me alone. Or at least toddle off to report to my boss, Margaret, that I was hard at work. Janelle is such a boss’s pet. Two weeks ago, I’d been summonsed into the corner office for a dressing-down over late projects, unbilled hours, and an unfortunate difference of opinion on what constitutes a full work-day. Janelle didn’t bother to hide her glee that I’d been put on probation.

There’s no good way (or time) to lose your job. From this I know. About eighteen months ago, I earned an “early retirement” from a competing PR firm for late projects, unbilled hours and—well, you get the point.

I wasn’t looking forward to another pink slip.

As Miss Hostess Snowball and her saccharine bouquet drifted off, I breathed a sigh of relief and got back to business: my own. I logged onto online banking. Checking accounts are similar to the press releases I write, in that red ink on the screen means “you need to change this.” Only I couldn’t edit my checkbook into the black. My car payment had bounced by $7.32. Close, but Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp. was not going to cut me any slack. The rent had cleared. Thank God I’d paid it as soon as direct deposit hit my account. The Maxima was too small to live in, and I loved my house.

The paltry $65 in my wallet had to last until the next pay day, which was (I clicked to my calendar) eleven days off. I transferred $200 from my dwindling savings account into my checking to cover the car payment and my cell phone bill, again breaking my promise to my parents that I’d tidy up my finances.

Oh, well. I always managed to land on my feet and walk away whistling. This month’s worries would work themselves out too.

My name is Kat Cavicchio, and I’m the youngest in a family of four kids. I call my sisters and brother “good, better and best.” You can see where that leaves me. I’m the only female in two generations to have been divorced. I had split with my college sweetheart at age twenty-eight after three “un” years with him. Unhappy. Unfaithful. Unreproductive (thank God.) I dumped every reminder of him possible, including his ludicrous last name—Sprenkle. What the hell was I thinking when I married him anyway? Kat Sprenkle. It sounded like a brand of kitty litter.

Despite her liberal bent, my mother lived in fear that I’d never find another husband and would end up lonely and poor. You can take the Italian out of the old country, but blah, blah, blah.

My constant money woes troubled my father, who had never made a fortune as a college professor but had taken appropriate care of his finances, allowing us kids to have a happy childhood, and him and Mom a comfortable pre-retirement. I had a tendency to eat more meals in his kitchen than my own, which was all the proof he needed of my near-insolvency. He was concerned that I’d hit up my 401K money once my savings were gone. I was about six months shy of calling Fidelity. I’d have to put off quitting my job until another day, or decade, unless my next interview panned out.

With any luck (except my own), my days of writing press releases for Acme were coming to an end. No more writing sentences like: “Acme Computer Systems seamlessly integrates high-level platforms, software, and services into high-value, low-risk information infrastructure solutions that help organizations maximize the value of their information assets and automate more of their overall infrastructure.” Can anyone actually read a sentence like that without drifting into the ozone?

I was actively looking for a new job. How long can a girl dream up gobbledygook for dry-as-toast clients? In Boston, where I was born and raised, a huge chunk of the available biz was in the medical, biotech or software industries.

I wanted to work for a consumer-goods company. You know—write about a product I could actually use and understand. But there weren’t any tanning-bed companies in Massachusetts. By the grace of God, and, I’d just spotted the perfect job opening at a toy company that had relocated its sales and marketing staff from Providence, Rhode Island to a new office complex, minutes from my house in Newton, a suburb west of the city.

The mere thought of not having to ride the lumbering 502 bus from Newton Corner into Copley Square every day made me smile. The bus itself wasn’t so bad, thanks to my Sirius app, but the 15-minute walk from Adams Terrace up to the bus stop in rain and snow was tedious.

The prospect of free toys was also appealing. Most of my friends were popping out babies with alarming regularity, and my sisters each had two of their own. Every month, it seemed there was a birth, birthday, Hanukah or Christmas, all requiring a gift from old Auntie Kat. Plus, the salary at the toy company was $17,000 more than I was making on the agency side. That’s a lot of toys. And black coffee for me.

I packed up my bag and headed into the lobby to sneak out for my interview, hoping to avoid my boss. My luck held until the elevator doors opened, revealing a heavy-set older woman in a khaki-colored pashmina that encircled her bulging torso like a boa constrictor.

“Kat! Off for an early lunch?”

“Er, hi, Margaret. No, I have a dentist appointment today. I sent you an email, and I have my laptop, so I can work on the Pettengill new product release from home.”

“Of course. Goodness, your teeth have been bothering you lately, haven’t they?”

BUSTED. Think fast.

“It’s my wisdom teeth. I might have to have them pulled. The dentist referred me to an oral surgeon, so I’ve had a couple of appointments. I’ll call you later.”

As the doors closed, I sighed. I needed another story to cover my interviews. By now I could have had a full set of dentures.

Once I escaped my office, I walked to the parking garage on St. James, enjoying the crisp fall air. Since the 502 non-stop bus only runs at rush hour, I had to drive in and park on interview days. I grabbed a twenty-dollar bill from my purse to cover the exorbitant daily parking fee. “Hi, Gus,” I said to my beloved, white Nissan Maxima. Gus was four years old, and I still had another year’s worth of payments. I needed the job at Child’s Eye Toy Company.

The sky was bright blue and the temp hovered around 50 degrees, a perfect late-autumn morning. We’d be peeling off layers by 2 PM., as Indian summer warmed the final days before winter started encasing us in freezing gloom. Cruising out the Mass Turnpike west, toward the hotel over the highway that marked my exit, I groped for my Bluetooth in my purse to call my pal Connie Waldstrup.

“Hi, Kat, what’s up? I’m between meetings for a few minutes.” Connie was a lawyer with one the biggest firms in Boston.

“I’m on my way home for my interview and thought I’d check in. I’m a little nervous.”

Connie laughed. “With your interview track record you ought to be. You need to relax and just be yourself. Or maybe just be a quieter version of yourself. You tend to ramble, Kat. You’d die a thousand deaths in a courtroom.”

“That’s why I didn’t go to law school, but thanks for the Dear Abby moment, Miss Smarty Pants. And listen to you—you haven’t had to interview since Harvard. Trust me, it sucks. I get flustered and my mouth takes over my brain. Damn!”

“What’s up? Traffic?

“No, there’s a car in my spot. I’m home. I’ll catch up with you after my interview.”

“Good luck, Kat.”

Adams Terrace was a dead end, with two duplexes on it. Since college, I’d lived happily in one half of the first duplex. It was a tight squeeze when I was married; my ex-husband Jeff took up far too much space just by standing in a room. The house was perfect for a single, not-so-tall gal like me, with five rooms, including a cozy master bedroom (especially since I was the master) and a slant-roofed, third-floor aerie.

My mother’s grandparents had lived in this very house as newlyweds, when they first came to Boston from New York back in 1916. Their marriage had stood the test of time a hell of a lot better than mine. Then again, the lifespan of the fruit fly was longer than my marriage. How they had seven kids in the tiny duplex was beyond me. My great-grandfather found a job in a knitting mill in Fall River, and they moved out of Newton shortly after my grandfather, Augustus Romano, turned six. Mr. D’Alessandro, my landlord, who lived in the duplex next door, had been Papa’s playmate back when there was a chicken coop and coal bin in the yard. Mr. D, as we called him, was a lifer in “The Lake,” which is what people called Nonantum, the Italian section of Newton.

The other half of my duplex was inhabited by interchangeable college kids, who came and went with the semesters. Once I’d crossed thirty a couple of birthdays ago, even the good-looking guys became less interesting to me, and I’d become invisible to them.

Mr. D., a nonagenarian widower whose fading memory meant I could pay my rent a few days late when necessary, was leaning against the railing on the stoop of his house just a car’s width away from mine.

“Hi, Mr. D., how are you today?”

“Not too good, Katharina. Not too good. My son is here…” That explained the car. Rocco, the jerk, was in from New York. Rocco was like a velvet Elvis painting come to life. He wore a jet-black toupee, a Diamonique stud in one ear, and a gold chain that could have tethered the QEII to a dock. He was in his early sixties and claimed to have made his money in produce. Only if they sold oranges at the Belmont Park race track, I figured. I had to go through Rocco to get anything fixed in my house. Rocco thought I’d repay him for his work in warm, soft currency.

Like the time right after my ex-husband moved out, when my dishwasher broke, and Rocco schlepped up from New York to confirm that I wasn’t just angling for the thrill of a new Kitchen Aid before he authorized the repair.

“Hi, Rocco,” I’d said. “Come on in. Mind the puddle on the floor.”

“Usually the puddle is there after I’m done,” he answered with a creepy leer.

I shot him a dirty look and went back to washing the dishes in the sink. I thought he’d just open the dishwasher, pronounce it dead and go back to his dad’s.

“I think I can fix this, Kat. Just let me reach under the sink here to…”

“Get your freaking hands out from between my legs, Rocco!”

The guy had a double-digit cringe factor. But his Dad was a nice old man and we considered him family. Rocco? Not so much.

Mr. D’Alessandro’s reedy voice trailed off, and he raised his hand to stop himself from saying any more. “OK, Mr. D., I’ll talk to you soon.” I smiled at him and darted into my house to freshen up for my interview.

My closet was crammed with clothes, half on hangers, half shoved on shelves. Why line up the clothes perfectly if you’re just going to pull them down in a few days? Let’s see, what’s the best choice to wear to a toy-company interview? I opted for a navy dress with matching swing jacket and added knee-high boots with a medium heel to up the funk factor. The jacket hid the fact that the dress was loose on me. I’d lost a few pounds off my 5’3” frame, dropping to 111 pounds, and I’m not bragging. I have uncooperative curly brown hair that’s only revered in New Jersey malls, circa 1988, and my feet are an ungainly size 8. When I get too skinny, I resemble a Q-tip with feet.

Twenty minutes later, I skipped out to my car only to find I’d been partially blocked in by a gleaming Lexus SUV. The driveway hadn’t seen that much traffic since Mr. D’Alessandro had set his pot of linguine on fire two months ago, and half the Newton fire department showed up. I squeezed past the SUV, aware that it cost more than I made in a year. I caught sight of the license plate which read, “ISEL4U.” A realtor? Plus the greedy son and the failing landlord who occasionally thought I was Katherine Hepburn? Uh oh…


House of Cards 200 pixelsKim Stagliano is Managing Editor of Age of Autism. Her new novel, House of Cards; A All I Can Handle 50 pixel Kat Cavicchio romantic suspense is available from Amazon in all e-formats now. Her memoir, All I Can Handle I'm No Mother Teresa is available in hardcover, paperback and e-book.


Marisa said...

I like Kat already! I cannot wait to read and laugh some more!! :)

Kim Rossi Stagliano said...

Thanks - I think you'll like the book. It's a fast funny read - I do that on purpose - nothing heavy from me, even my heavy stuff is lighter which makes it less heavy though not quite light. Oh dear.... :)

Heather said...

Hi, my name is Heather! Please email me when you can, I have a question about your blog!


Kim Rossi Stagliano said...

Heather my email is Thanks.