Unmanned

By: Lois Greiman
To Ruth, my absolute favorite daughter-in-law, who is everything a woman should be. Thanks for being brave enough to join our family.





1

A woman needs a man like a tuba needs a cucumber.

—Chrissy McMullen, tenth grade marching band aficionada—astute but jaded at the tender age of fifteen

“McMULLEN,” RIVERA SAID. I was juggling half an apple fritter, a cell phone, and ten million irate commuters when he called—an average Tuesday morning in L.A.

“Yes?” I steered with my elbow and set the fritter daintily on the napkin covering my just-above-the-knee silk skirt. It was the color of pomegranates, complemented to dazzling perfection by my delicately pleated carnation pink blouse, and absolutely spot free. I’m nothing if not classy.

“Sorry about last night.” He had said he would drop by after his shift, but he hadn’t shown. Which was just as well. The respite had given me plenty of time to steam my ensemble and moisturize my knees, which I often used to drive so I could finish off my breakfast. The remainder of the fritter waited demurely in its little paper bag on the passenger seat.

“You needn’t be,” I said coolly, ignoring the fritter’s siren song. “I had a myriad of things to do.”

There was a pause, then, “A myriad?” Rivera’s tone sounded vaguely amused.

“Listen, it’s good of you to take the time out of your busy schedule to call,” I said, “but I’m afraid I have a good deal of work to do this—”

“You’re pissed,” he interrupted.

“I’m a licensed psychologist, Lieutenant. I don’t get—”

“I said I was sorry.”

“Well, you don’t sound sorry. You sound—” I stopped.

I had told myself a slew of times that Lieutenant Jack Rivera was no good for my quiet, inner self—or my body mass index. If I had a nugget of sense the size of a germ cell I would have drop-kicked our so-called relationship into the distant-memory bin long ago, but Rivera’s got an inexplicable appeal. Something I can never quite put my finger on. It could be his little-boy love for stray dogs or his enigmatic smile, but sometimes I’ve got a bad feeling it might be something a little less cerebral and a little more…well…hormonal, like the way he fills out his jeans. Let’s face it, every therapist worth her insurance-funded paycheck knows that despite flawless breeding and costly matriculation, we are, under it all, still instinctual beings—and I’m not dead yet, despite the obvious intentions of the cosmos at large and a good part of the L.A. community.

There had been two attempts on my life in the past six months. Those attempts had taught me some valuable lessons. Specifically, to keep my security system manned, and to stop at Yum Yum Donuts every morning before work. Life is short. I may not make the return trip.

A truck driver laid on his horn as I merged into the middle lane.

“Where are you? Are you talking on your cell while driving again?” Rivera asked.

A little spark of leftover guilt shot through me. I was raised Catholic by a mother who believed shame was the number one component in healthy child-rearing. “What?” I asked.

“Jesus, McMullen, are you trying to get yourself killed?”

I gritted my teeth and zipped into the right lane. My borrowed car was going to need fuel soon. It was a Porsche Turbo Cabriolet, and though it beat my little Saturn all to hell in the sexy department, it couldn’t come close in the miles per gallon arena. “While I very much appreciate your concern, Lieutenant, I don’t believe I need your lectures at this precise moment,” I said.

“Are you on the interstate?”

“No,” I said, and gunned the little roadster onto the exit ramp.

“You’re lying, aren’t you?”

“And this from a man who can’t be bothered to fulfill his slightest commitments,” I countered.

“It couldn’t be helped.” Rivera sounded irritable and a little distracted.

“Another fiancée emergency?” I asked, and knew immediately that I should have kept my mouth shut. Intelligent silence isn’t a new idea…just an underrated one.

The phone went quiet for a moment, then, “You still jealous, McMullen?”

“Please,” I said, and accidentally snorted a little. Must have been because my nasal passages were closing up. Classy women with Ph.D.s do not snort unless under grave physical duress.

He laughed.

“Listen, Rivera,” I said, tone brimming with education and good solid bonhomie. “It’s kind of you to call, but I really must get to work or—”

“I’ll stop by tonight.”

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