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The Ticket
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-639-4
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Romance/Fiction/Adventure
eBook Length: 56 Pages
Published: January 2009



From inside the flap

Jack Parker was successful if making money was the measure of success. Among the glitter and extremes of Las Vegas, he had become very wealthy. He had everything and nothing. This he would learn from a chance encounter with a young woman who had lost her way in the lights of the city. He paid the price for her redemption and in doing so found his own.

Their meeting would change both of their lives. For Victoria Carter, the encounter would correct a decision that would have lead to her destruction and for Jack Parker, he would discover purpose in his life.

The Ticket is a story about love and renewal of the human soul. It follows the lives of two very different people drawn together by a special love that transforms them and forges a bond that would last beyond life itself.

The Ticket (Excerpt)


REUNION OF OLD FRIENDS

The woman stood before the headstone. Her thoughts were a mixture of emotions and resolution. Had all these years really passed? In some ways she felt only a few months separated this day from her first encounter with Jack Parker. What had begun as a paid relationship had turned into much more and he had saved her life. She owed everything to the man memorialized by this place. His single act of kindness to a stranger had freed her from a grievous decision and had given her a life of love and fulfillment.

She touched the headstone, feeling that special closeness only people who have shared their souls with one another can feel.

The words on the headstone read:

In memory of Jack Parker

Savior and friend of little birds

Victoria closed her eyes and remembered where it all began.


SALVATION

Jack Parker adjusted his tie for the sixth time as his cell phone rang. Even without the unique tone he knew it was his business partner, Carl Roberts. It was time for Carl to call and remind him of the appreciation dinner for Commissioner Walker.

"Yes, Carl," stated Parker as he flipped open the phone. He pressed the speaker button and placed the phone on the counter.

"Jack, is that you?" the other man questioned.

"Who else would it be?" Parker responded.

If Roberts detected the note of sarcasm he failed to indicate it. "Iím calling to remind you of the commissionerís dinner."

"I remember," dryly, Parker responded.

Once again Roberts failed to note the obvious annoyance of the other. It was one of the things that happen when two people have worked together as long as Parker and Roberts; one learns to ignore those things which bother the other. He began a list of requirements. "Have you sent your driver to pick up your date?"

"Yes."

"And youíve made sure the proper congratulations have been sent to Commissioner Walker?"

"Yes, Iíve sent him a gift."

The other paused. "Itís not a gift; itís an acknowledgement of his work."

A small smile came to Parkerís face. He knew he had just pressed one of his partnerís "hot buttons." A gift was fine to send as long as it was called an acknowledgement, but to call it a gift might intimate it as being a bribe.

"Be on time and Iíll meet you in the foyer." As if he could see Parker fiddling with his tie, Roberts added, "And leave your tie alone. Itís fine."

Taking his hands away from the item, Parker picked up the phone and stared at it. "You sound like a mother, no, like a wife."

"Well I wouldnít have to do this if you had one, wife that is. See you there."

Closing the phone and dropping it in his pocket, Parker once again smiled. In many ways his business partner had assumed the role of a wife, in that he made sure Parker dressed appropriately, didnít forget important events, and had a proper escort when necessary.

This last item was always a subject of contention between the two. Jack Parker was forty-nine and had never married. He liked the company of women but never found the time to establish a long-term relationship with a member of the so-called opposite sex.

Like everything else, Roberts attempted to fix this problem, as he called it, but in the end gave up and made sure his business partner was supplied with a proper escort from Las Vegasí finer services.

While understanding the need, Parker regarded his dates as little more than high-priced hookers. For an additional fee they would spend the night and in his mind this placed them in that category known as the "working girl." It wasnít that he condemned or judged them for he had, on occasion, taken some up on the offer of additional services. To him it was a matter of not confusing what they were with the spouses and proper dates found at these functions.

Checking his watch, he realized his driver would have returned by now and he should be leaving. He pulled on his coat and headed for the door. The elevator attendant greeted him in his usual cheerful tone and soon they were headed for the lobby.

As Parker watched the elevator drop through the various floors, he wondered about his date. Carl made sure the service always sent him a classy companion and he found the young lady who had joined him on the last three outings as perfect. She was pretty, knew when to smile, and most importantly, how to remain quiet and to respond only when necessary. The service had informed him that particular lady had a prior appointment and a different female would be supplied for this occasion. Parker didnít like surprises and hoped this one understood the rules; the last thing he wanted was some bimbo who thought she had been invited and not purchased.

The elevator door opened and he thanked the attendant, stepping toward the entrance. The front door attendant pushed open the door and with a practiced smile, said, "Good evening, Mister Parker. I hope you have a pleasant evening."

"Thank you, Robert." He mused what thoughts were really behind that smile and greeting. Parker wondered if the thoughts were something like, I hate this job and hate smiling at you assholes that think you deserve having your doors opened for you.

The smile faded as his attention turned to his driver. The man stood by the rear door of the car and at the proper moment opened it wide.

Parker stopped and asked, "Is the lady aboard?" The question was more automatic than inquiring. He could see the lower body of the person seated within from his vantage point.

"Yes, Mister Parker," responded the driver. "Her name is Victoria Carter."

"Victoria Carter," repeated Parker. He wondered if that was her real name or some pseudonym she had taken.

One of the things Parker hated about Las Vegas was its faÁade of reality. Nothing about the city or its people was real and aliases were just another form of the phoniness of the city. He had acquired a fortune as a developer and Parker guessed that made him a chief of fakes.

He was possessed by that thought as he slipped into the car and viewed the woman seated before him.

With a smile, the young lady extended her hand and said, "Hello Iím Victoria Carter, Mister Parker."

He took the hand and in a formal tone responded, "For tonight, you will call me Jack."

Her face flushed a little at his formality and she slowly withdrew her hand. "Yes it will be Jack and what will you call me?"

He had never been asked that particular question and he paused before replying. "I guess Miss Carter would be my preference." As an afterthought he added, "I may use Victoria. It all depends."

The question bothered Parker. He felt that somehow he had been put in his place and yet he couldnít be sure. The pleasant smile remained and the tone was amiable, but he felt at some level, the question established a set of yet unknown ground rules, different from those with which he usually worked. He hoped this one would not be trouble.

As the driver maneuvered toward their destination, Parker began to instruct his escort on the eveningís activities. "This is a dinner for Commissioner T. Walker. He is important and decides who gets what contracts with the city. Being in attendance and giving the right impression is important."

She interrupted him by adding, "So I am to smile, speak only when spoken to, and keep my responses short and vague."

He nodded. He thought she understood her role well and his apprehension began to subside.

For the first time he took a moment to study the woman before him. She had dark hair and by the light filtering in from the street, Parker guessed it was either brown or black. This was a change for him. In the past, all of his dates were blond either by birth or bottle.

She struck him as pretty but not as beautiful and this thought made him ponder if he really knew what beauty was any more. The standard of beauty was set by the culture around him and maybe like other things, it was just imagery.

Perhaps his application of the quality of beauty didnít correctly apply to Miss Carter. He reasoned that appropriately she should be called natural and in conclusion he realized she must be a new arrival to the city; not yet converted to its standards. This thought somehow made him angry. He couldnít quite put his finger on why but he was angry. He decided then and there he wasnít going to like Miss Victoria Carter and he would make it clear to the service to strike her from the list of potential escorts for him.

He didnít care if this could cause adverse consequences for her. There was something about her that made him angry and thatís unacceptable. She was an intruder to his sensibilities and had to pay the price for it.

His internal tirade ended as the limousine pulled up in front of the Grand Hotel. Within moments his driver was out and had the door open. Parker slid out and waited as the woman exited. He took her arm in his as they strolled toward the entrance to the hotel.

"My partner, Carl Roberts and his wife Jennifer will join us in the lobby," he announced. "Try to remember their names."

"I will be sure to," the woman responded.

As certain as day follows night, Roberts stood waiting for them. Jennifer rose at their appearance as her husband took Parkerís hand.

"Well I see you made it on time."

"How could I have done anything else with you taking care of me?" Parker gave Jennifer a hug and with a smile, said, "You are lovely. I still donít understand what you see in him."

Roberts pumped his chest out. "She knows a good thing when she sees one."

Victoria Carter stood patiently waiting to be introduced. She knew her place and her purpose and would play the role as required.

Parker now turned his attention to the young woman. "This is my date, Victoria Carter."

Roberts spoke first. "Nice to meet you." He extended his hand and shook hers.

"Thank you, Mister Roberts."

"Carl, please call me Carl." He turned to his wife. "And this is my wife, Jennifer." The women greeted each other and Roberts pointed toward the hallway that would take them to the ballroom.

The hall was full of people attending the function and their progression down its length was slow, as they made many stops to greet this person and that one. Finally they reached the threshold to the ballroom and Roberts indicated the direction to their table.

The ladies walked a little ahead, joined in light conversation while Parker and Roberts followed a couple of steps behind.

"Quite a looker," whispered Roberts, indicating the young woman.

"I really donít like her," was the only reply the Jack gave.

The round table had place settings for eight with a name card in front of each setting. On hers Victoria found inscribed: ESCORT-JACK PARKER. As he held the chair for her, she took her seat.

Besides the four of them, there were also two other couples. Another developer named Phil Causey and his wife Doris and a representative of the planning office, James Holmes and his wife Linda.

After introductions were made it was obvious to Victoria that Jack and Phil knew each other and they mixed like water and oil. Phil Causey was a bully and took pleasure in trying to antagonize Parker. On the other hand Parker was a master at deflecting the Causeyís efforts.

"Well, Parker, where did you find such a beautiful date? You must have had to order her," pressed Causey, ending his statement with a laugh that was loud and callous.

In a tone that was both light and sharp, Parker responded, "You know itís interesting you would say that. I always figured Doris to be a saint; her charity work with you should negate any sins she committed in this lifetime." He let the conversation die and the table became silent until Causey exploded into laughter.

Dinner was served and the conversation shifted to many subjects but always returned to work. Causey fished constantly for Holmes to share some secret tidbit of information regarding future planning opportunities. While Causey pressed for answers, Roberts blunted the impact by reminding Causey that they were there to honor the commissioner and not to put their table mate to the inquisition.

Though neither Parker nor Roberts liked Causey, they had maneuvered to have him at their table. His forcefulness would work to their advantage with a thankful Holmes and the man would be willing to assist them in winning contracts ahead of Causey.

True to her purpose Victoria remained quiet, smiling when appropriate and speaking when spoken to. She and the other ladies conversed as the men conducted their verbal sparing.

As the mayor prepared to speak, Causey announced to his tablemates, "As I believe Ben Franklyn once said, íItís a hard road that leads a man to become great.í That applies to the commissioner." The man strutted as if he had expounded some great words of wisdom.

Leaning forward, Victoria responded, "Actually it was Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the Younger; a Roman philosopher born 4 BC. What he said was, íIt is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.í"

The man was stunned by being deflated by this young woman. He quickly recovered. "Well now, Jack, I didnít know she was both smart and beautiful. You must tell me where you got her."

Parker could see the flush on Victoriaís face and responded, "She is part of our brain trust. How do you think weíre able to outmaneuver you on bids?" He gave a quick look and wink at the young woman letting her know her break in protocol was okay.

The eveningís festivities continued and Victoria remained silent except for those times when one of the other ladies or their table guests would ask her a question. She always smiled and gave polite and reasonable answers.

Parker was very impressed with his escortís ability to blend into the company. Even though the lady who usually joined him for such gatherings knew most of the people, she never completely fit into the conversations as well as this young woman. He considered whether he had been too harsh in his judgment of her and he decided she would be his first choice for future outings.

The eveningís festivities began to wind down and Parker began to say his goodbyes to his table mates and as he rose to leave, he extended his hand to the young woman and helped her from her chair.

Causey rose and moved close to Victoria. He bent slightly and said, "Maybe some time you can be my escort." He looked at Parker as though he had attained a victory in some contest.

Without a momentís hesitation, Victoria responded, "I donít think so. I donít know if you can meet my standards."

The man seemed to stagger as he attempted to regain his professional footing. He acted as if he was going to respond and then decided the comment was better left alone.

Parker took Victoria by the arm and led her from the hall. Upon seeing them exit the building, his driver moved the car forward. By the time they had reached the bottom of the stairs, the driver was out and moving quickly around to the rear door.

As his employer reached the limousine, the door was open and Victoria slid to the far side of the seat. Parker gave the driver a quick nod and dropped into the seat.

Looking at Victoria, he stated, "Weíve still got some time. Would you like to do something?" The woman first looked surprised and then disappointed. It took Parker a moment to understand and he clarified, "I didnít mean anything like," he waved his hands lightly, "I mean would you like to go for a ride or is there something in the city you would like to see? My carriage doesnít turn into a pumpkin until midnight."

She seemed to relax and responded, "Maybe we could just go for a ride. In the few weeks Iíve been here, I really havenít seen much of the city."

"Well you have seen what the city is really all about, but if you would like, there is a place which you might find interesting."

"What is that?"

"There is a place where you can see most of the city. At night, the lights are almost hypnotic."

She shook her head and said, "Okay, letís go."

Parker instructed his driver where to go and he sat back and watched as they pulled away from the convention center. Looking once more at the young woman, he inquired, "That thing you said at the table, is it true?"

Victoria looked at him puzzled. "What thing?"

"You know, that thing about a hard road that leads a man to greatness?"

She smiled and responded, "íItís a hard road that leads a man to become greatí is how it is stated, and yes itís true."

"How is it you knew that?"

She raised her head with pride and said, "Because, Mister Parker, I have a masterís degree from the University of North Carolina in classical history."

Parkerís eyes broadened and then returned to normal. He studied his escort for some time before responding. "Masterís degree in classical history?"

"That is correct."

"What are you doing here?"

It was now Victoriaís turn to study the other. "Are you asking why Iím in Las Vegas or how I became an escort?"

"Yes, no, I mean, well yes thatís what I asking. Both questions. I guess I am asking both questions."

Victoria looked directly at the man. "You purchased my time, you didnít buy my life history."

The statement caught Parker off-guard and he attempted to recover. "I donít mean to pry into your personal business, but from the moment you entered this car Iíve recognized that you are totally out of place in this setting. I have seen every type of person that can be drawn to this city and you donít fit any of them."

"Iíll take that as a compliment, but youíre not an expert at personalities, are you? Iím here because I wanted to be here. That is all."

Parker usually allowed his brain to control his speech but this time he spoke without thought, or perhaps for one of the few times in recent years, he spoke the truth. "This place eats the life out of people like you. Iíve seen people come to this town thinking itís going to bring them some measure of happiness and every time Iíve seen it crush their souls leaving only a broken shell."

With a tone of defiance, Victoria responded, "Mister Parker, tonight youíre my employer but understand, that does not give you special privileges."

The man considered her words and with the same defiant tone, he offered, "Donít you understand that the people youíre working for are nothing more than a bunch of high-priced pimps and within a couple weeks theyíll have you turning tricks in the back of some rich old manís limousine?"

Whether she had ever considered the possibility before, Victoria understood the manís meaning perfectly. As though someone had struck her with a club she fell back in the seat and slumped. Bringing her right hand to her cheek she rubbed. Then she reached to slap him.

Parker was quick and caught her hand in his. He looked into her eyes and could see in them the realization of his words. With all her knowledge, Victoria was naÔve when it came to understanding how cruel people could be.

Tears began to stream down her cheeks and he allowed her these moments to protect what dignity she still had.

Speaking in a low and even manner, she began to explain. "I came here to be a part of a show. One of girls at the Golden Palace went to the university with me. She wrote and said there were openings and she was certain she would be able to get me a job.

"This was my opportunity to see some of the world." She dropped her head slightly, before continuing. "Well, you probably know the story, there wasnít a job, I was out of money, and someone told me about the escort service."

She locked her fingers together as though it helped her maintain focus. "They promised me that all I would be required to do is escort businessman to various functions. I was told I would never be asked to do anything more."

Parker interrupted, "And now you are beginning to realize thatís not necessarily true."

Once more tears began to form in Victoriaís eyes. She carefully brushed them away before responding, "I wonít allow that to happen."

Parkerís anger began to grow. The womanís response was in conflict with the facts and she had to know it. She may be inexperienced with life here but sheís not stupid, Parker thought. He knew it was none of his business but she didnít belong in her present occupation and that fueled his anger at her as well as at the coming compromises that would destroy her innocence.

"Let me ask you a question. That dress youíre wearing, how did you come by it?"

Victoria looked at the gown. "The agency purchased it and Iím to pay them back."

Raising his voice, Parker explained, "Thatís how it begins. Youíll never be able to pay for the dresses or room and board which these people will provide. In the end, youíll be so indebted to them that youíll have no other choice than to become one of their prostitutes."

"Why do you even care? Iím nothing to you, just a body to make up for your inability to get a date on your own. Why donít you just take me back to the hotel?"

"I could do that." Parker looked in the direction they were traveling and then back at the young woman. In a point of fact tone, he added, "I told you Iíd take you to a place where you could see the whole city and that is exactly what Iím going to do."

They rode in silence until reaching a small rise at the edge of the city. It was deserted and the contrast from the bright lights to near darkness made it seem like something from another world. The driver stopped the car and quickly opened the rear door.

Parker quickly climbed from the vehicle and reached his hand back to help Victoria. She declined it but did so in a manner not to offer any offense and the man stood aside as the woman moved to the edge of the rise. >From their vantage point, the lights of the city shone clear and bright. The casino area flashed with neon while the residential areas were bathed in the soft glow of amber streetlights.

Parker observed the woman. She seemed to care little for the view and he began to feel that coming here was just another insult. He offered, "Well maybe itís time to get back." He turned and began walking toward the car.

The woman likewise began returning to the vehicle but suddenly she stopped and looked into the night sky. Pointing outward, she exclaimed, "Look! Thereís the Big Dipper and if you follow the line of the outer two stars, you come to the North Star, which points to the constellation Cassiopeia." Turning, she once more pointed into the night sky. "Thereís Orion." She moved her finger upward and said, "There is Taurus the Bull." She moved once more and pointed. "I can see the Seven Sisters also."

Parker marveled at Victoriaís ease as she identified various objects in the sky. He personally had given little thought to stars and somehow this added to his opinion that the woman did not belong in this place. "You know a lot about the night sky, donít you?"

Victoria looked at him and smiled slightly. "Yes, I guess I do. Where I come from the night sky is always this clear. Itís a way for me to keep my bearings. No matter where Iíve been I have always turned to the night sky for direction. The stars always pointed the way home." She dropped her head. "Since Iíve been in Las Vegas, I havenít been able to see the stars. I felt lost and maybe I have been."

Parker eyed his escort. He could tell, even in the near darkness, that she was crying. She made no sound but he knew she was crying. Trying to think of something to say, he asked, "Where are you from?"

Lifting her head, she managed a slight smile. "Iím from a little town in upper North Carolina called River Falls. Itís not much of a place. In all about five hundred people, one traffic light, a drugstore, a hardware store, and a half a dozen other businesses. Itís one of those places where people come from but few go to settle. Most of the young folks look forward to the day when they can grow up and move to one or larger cities like Raleigh or Charlotte."

"So is that how you ended up here? You wanted to get away from home?"

"No, I had always planned to live in River Falls. Never had any desire to leave, my father was the postmaster until his death and my mother head librarian. I plan to teach school." She once more dropped her head. "Iím not sure why I came here. I thought I needed to see something of the world."

"So why donít you go back?" challenged Parker.

With a look that told him that she didnít have a clear answer, she once more looked into the night sky. "I donít know. Donít think I can."

"Why canít you? Why canít you just go home?"

The young woman stood in silence and turned slowly in a circle. She took a deep breath of air as she rotated. It was as if she was tasting freedom, freedom she had surrendered to those who were now her masters. Raising her right hand, she pointed east.

It took Parker a moment to discern the significance of the act. She was pointing toward her home and the act somehow pierced his heart. Any anger or malice he may have felt for the woman was gone. He remembered how he had felt as a boy when he found a young bird that had fallen from its nest. It was lost and somehow it told him that he alone could save it. Placing the bird in an open pocket, he climbed the tree and returned it to its nest. Once again he was faced with a lost bird and it was left to him to see that it was returned to the nest.

"You still havenít answered me, why donít you go home?"

Victoriaís expression showed fear. "I will as soon as I have enough money to buy a ticket."

Parkerís indignant tone returned. "Then youíll never go home. Your employers will always keep you indebted to them. There will always be something. If not clothing or housing, they will find a way to keep you under their control and when they use you up, theyíll just cast you aside. The streets and alleys are full of burnt-out druggies. Youíll just be another one of them. By then, youíll no longer want to go home. No one there will recognize the thing youíve become and thereíll be enough memories left in you that you will not desire to allow them to see what you have become.

"And one day youíll be found dead in some alley of an drug overdose, or AIDS or murdered for what little you still possess. Thatís the future which waits for you here."

Victoria turned fully toward him. He could see that the front of her dress was wet with her tears. "Mister Parker, are you finding pleasure in hurting me so?"

He rubbed his forehead before offering a response. "No, thereís no pleasure for me in this. I just want you to understand what awaits you in this place. Today you still have a choice. You can choose to stay and face the future Iíve described or you can decide to go back to your little town in North Carolina."

"I canít go back. I spent all the money I had trying to get a job with the shows. My employer hasnít paid me anything yet and until they do, I donít have the money to buy a bus ticket."

His mind was made up. He was going to help this bird return to its nest. "Iíll pay for it."

Victoria looked at him puzzled. "Pay for what?"

"The ticket. Iíll pay for your ticket."

Suspiciously the young woman studied him. She might be inexperienced but shw was not naÔve. She knew in this town, no one did anything for anyone for nothing. She considered what his price might be. "And what do you expect in return?" Victoria challenged.

Parker shook his head slowly. "Nothing, I donít want anything."

"Youíve only known me for couple of hours and youíre willing to buy me a ticket back to North Carolina for nothing?"

"Thatís correct, I donít expect anything."

She walked from his left side to his right never taking her eyes from his. Slowly she turned and faced east. Without turning back to face him, she said, "Home." She stood facing the same direction for some time before once more turning to face him.

She moved again so the light fell upon Parkerís face. She studied it closely. Parker felt she was looking inside him. He felt she could read his thoughts and he became uncomfortable.

"Look! You said you wanted to go home. Iíll buy you a ticket. Do you want it or not?"

His question caused her to relax. She knew he truly expected nothing in return. "Youíll do that for me? A stranger? You would buy me a ticket home?"

"Yes, I will buy you a ticket home but you must promise me one thing."

She became tense once more. "What is it?"

"Youíre not to return to the place where you been living. Youíll never come back to this town again. Weíll go directly to the airport and Iíll get you a ticket on the first flight to Raleigh, agreed?"

"I need to return this dress and change into some traveling clothes."

"You got anything of value back there?"

She thought for a moment. "No, not really, nothing thatís important."

"Then youíre not going back there. Your employers probably have a stoolie to keep an eye on their property. The moment you show up and they figure out youíre leaving, thereís going to be trouble. Iíll see that theyíre compensated for their loss."

She nodded and said, "Okay, if you think thatís best."

"Oh yes, I know their type and they can get ugly when they lose an investment."

She looked at him with concern. "How about you? Will you be okay? They wonít do anything to you for helping me, will they?"

"I can take care of myself. Iíve dealt with their kind before so donít worry about me. Letís get you taken care of."

Parker removed his cell phone and pressed one of its buttons. After a moment he said, "Diane, sorry for calling you at this hour, but will you book a one-way ticket to Raleigh, North Carolina in the name of Victoria Carter on the first available flight?" He listened for a moment and then replied, "Sure, I can hold while you look it up."

It took only a minute for his assistant to respond. Victoria listened as he repeated the information. "So letís make sure I got this right. You found a red-eye flight leaving at twelve thirty for Dallas arriving in Dallas two forty a.m. their time with a flight leaving at five thirty tomorrow morning for Raleigh."

Parker took a quick look at Victoria and continued, "Book it." He looked once more at Victoria and said, "Youíll be sitting in the Dallas airport for a couple of hours. I hope thatís okay?"

Trying to control her excitement, Victoria responded, "Yes, thatís okay. How can I even think of complaining?"

"Weíll have to hurry, but I think thereís time to swing by a Wal-Mart and get you a change of clothes."

Victoria looked at Parker smiled and said, "Okay, whatever you say."