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Mother of Three

By Nicky FranklyPublished 5 months ago Updated 5 months ago 9 min read
Runner-Up in the Whodunit Challenge
Photo by Tatyana Vega on Unsplash

Her son was in the back of the minivan, naked in his booster seat. On their way home from the beach, he was too sandy for comfort. Her daughter was buckled in beside him, still playing with her new seashells.

“Take my phone, baby,” Fabiola said to her daughter. “You can watch some of those videos you like. Mommy will be back in five minutes.” She handed her new iPhone to the savvy seven-year-old for entertainment. “You guys are locked in. Remember, don’t open the door for nobody, and keep your brother covered up.” Her daughter’s sweet smile was assurance enough. “Honk the horn if you get scared. I’ll be right back.”

Ernesto saw the whole thing. The parking lot of the nightclub where she bartended butted up against his backyard where he was doing his midday yoga practice.

“Tommy’s got cameras back there,” he yelled from warrior pose. “Don’t worry, Fabi, they’re safe.”

Nosy old man, she thought, waving to him. She wasn’t worried.

After working there for four years, she knew every inch of the space and every face who came through the doors. Monday through Friday, she was a regular warehouse worker in central Florida, but from Thursday night until Sunday morning, she ran the Mambo Café.

Lucas, her teenage son, was inside sweeping up, getting ready for the Saturday night crowd.

“Hi, baby,” she kissed him. “You almost finished?”

“Yeah, I’ll catch a ride home before the band starts.”

Diego Vargas was playing that night.

“Good,” she said. “It’s gonna be packed. Is Tommy in the office?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

She hustled across the dance floor, disappeared into Tommy’s office by the back bar, and was greeted with a silencing forefinger held up in the air. Tommy owned the place. It was his life, and Fabiola was his top girl.

He sat counting a stack of cash, pausing to lick his thumb every few bills. “Sold a lotta tickets for tonight,” he said. “Wear something tight.” He slid the cash into a slim billfold and tucked it inside his jacket pocket, swapping it with his little black book. After jotting down some numbers, he tossed it to her.

“I know how to dress, Tommy,” she tucked the book into the back waistband of her cut-off jean shorts, hidden beneath her tank top, pressing against the morning’s sandy sunburn. “I dressed you, for God’s sake!” On Saturday nights when a band played at the club, Tommy wore his favorite suit like armor. It was her Christmas present to him last year, and it perfectly concealed the handgun, which he assured her was part of the performer’s contract.

“Find me when Diego’s gone,” Tommy said. “I’ll get the book back from you and give you your cut. ‘Til then, protect it with your life.”

“I always do,” she promised.

Some nights, on the drive home, she dreamed of quitting the Mambo Café and getting a single job that direct-deposited a fat, biweekly paycheck into her account like a normal person, but there was no money like bar money, especially Tommy’s. Three kids didn’t pay for themselves, but his trust in her did.

Loyal dogs kept the best secrets.

She had peeked inside his little book but never told a soul the names, numbers, or debts owed to him for whatever he sold. Drugs, judging by the way people stormed in on the hunt and breezed out high as a kite. All she knew was that Saturday night was collection night, and she crossed their names off when they paid.

Some made their way into Tommy’s office and paid him directly, but if met with unanswered knocks, they found her at the bar. Sometimes they handed her envelopes and said, “Tell Tommy, ‘Happy Birthday’ from me,” or some other story. Other times it was a simple, “Give this to Tommy,” and a wad of sweaty bills. When no one was looking, she stuffed it all into her signature thigh-high boots. At the end of the night, she emptied those loyal dogs out in his office.

Tommy tested her reliability all the time. Trust was hard, but she always proved herself. If he used her for anything, it was this exchange, this filtering through the hands of good.

She knew that. She knew him and how he governed himself in his world. She knew the context of his life and the confines of his mind and the framework he had constructed for himself. She knew that he had told himself for his whole life that this was what he would do. This. Run drugs out of a club, or whatever he did. His mind said, “This is what I’ll do,” and he believed it and did it. The process itself was neutral and shaped a person into a saint or a criminal, depending on what they told themselves.

Tommy took a call, and she jetted out of his office. On her way back across the dance floor, she kissed Lucas goodbye. “Make sure Tommy pays you,” she said, pirouetting into the flood of daylight that burst through the doors as they opened. There stood Juan, Tommy’s number one security guy. He was a reformed criminal with the body of a superhero who could make anyone feel safe. Eyes locked on Fabiola with magnetic force, he held the door for her with the smile his parents paid for in his youth.

“Thank you,” she said, trying not to flirt in front of Lucas. Juan reached to graze her thigh as she passed, but she swatted him away. “Not here,” she said through a clenched smile. He would have married her right then and adopted her kids if she let him, but she didn’t need anybody for her kids. Juan was just for her. The last face she saw at the end of the night, and the only one she ever followed home.

The band’s van pulled into the parking lot as Ernesto watched from his backyard yoga.

“See you tonight!” she waved, hurrying to her kids, still safe in the minivan. “Mommy’s here. Did you miss me?” she reached back and squeezed her daughter’s little hand. “I wish there were two of me, baby,” Fabiola said, “so I could be with you and do what I gotta do.”

“Are you working tonight, Mommy?” her daughter asked.

“Yes, baby. Lucas is watching you tonight.”

They lived in a community with cops on either side of the house. Her friends teased her that she was the safest person around, but Fabiola thought differently. She didn’t feel safer, she felt surrounded by people who feared crime and needed to believe they were protected from criminals. Rightly so, either way. Crime rates rose right along with fear rates in an endless game of chicken or egg.

Crime was neither good nor bad, just something that shouldn’t happen but did. Something that needed to be addressed and corrected so people felt safe. Most people were blind to the society that prepared both the crime and the criminal who committed it. They wanted retribution and punishment, but criminals were punished enough in the real world. She met a lot of guys like Juan at the club who had done their crime and their time, usually for dealing drugs or small-time scams, and the world just wouldn’t accept them afterward. Wouldn’t hire them, wouldn’t forgive them. Criminals needed forgiveness more than anything. Forgiveness for the conditions that shaped their behavior so that crime would stop squatting in their soul uninvited.

Crime, too, needed forgiveness for its existence across time, for past errors signaling the true source of injustice that perpetuated its manifestation.

When she arrived at the club for work that night, Ernesto was sitting in a lawn chair on his back patio, ready to listen to the band for free. He waved her over.

She tucked the minivan keys on top of the back tire, so she didn’t have to carry anything inside. In her thigh-high black leather boots and ruched style emerald green dress, looking as fluted and fresh as a ripple of dollar bills, she met Ernesto at the back of the parking lot.

“You’re too good to be working here, Fabi,” he said in a whisper. “I worry about you getting in trouble. They’re harder on women who commit crimes. You all should know better.”

“Thanks, Ernesto,” she laughed, “but don’t worry about me. I’m innocent. Enjoy the band!”

Juan stood resolute at the door, emotionless. Pretending not to notice him, Fabiola brushed past, but his whisper stopped her dead.

“Don’t fuck with anybody in here tonight, okay?”

“You think everyone wants to fuck me?” she asked playfully.

“Yeah, I do, but that’s not–”

“Yeah, I know you do.”

His smile made her smile. “You’re not my type,” he said, letting a sparkle into his eyes that he saved for when they were alone. She knew she’d see it again later that night, or the next morning. Sometimes, they watered when he talked about wanting to be the man he talked about being and worrying he could never give her what she wanted, even though he already was. She believed him, though, and that was enough to make her trust him.

The blaring volume in the club on band nights was intolerable. She wore earplugs to help her keep focused. She could read lips that spoke English, Spanish, and some Portuguese. It wasn’t rocket science. They wanted drinks. They wanted to dance and lose themselves in basslines and rhythms. She knew what country they were from by the way they moved and what drink they were on by the way their lips lagged.

Between making mojitos and crossing off names in the book, she loaded her boots with cash. Tommy was his usual busybody self, making sure Diego and the band had everything they needed, checking in with her to see if she needed more help, and verifying the updated blacklist with Juan to solidify who was forbidden to enter.

The regulars were there, plus the groupies, and then Linea came in. She was a hot mess of a woman, wearing the same dress as Fabiola, except it looked like a crumpled old stage curtain on Linea. She was there for Tommy, but not to pay him. Her desperation reeked of advertisement for the very thing Tommy tried like hell to keep discreet.

He did not do business on Saturday nights.

Fabiola tried to catch Juan’s eye to check with him about letting Linea into the club. Tommy wasn’t gonna like it. The back bar was packed, and she couldn’t step away to intercede.

It happened so fast.

Diego Vargas started in with his number one hit, and the crowd swarmed every inch of that dance floor to life. She grabbed a barback to cover the bar for a minute then headed to find Juan. The door was unguarded, and he was walking straight toward her.

Grabbing onto his biceps, she leaned in close, skin to skin, and went to remove her earplugs to ask about Linea, but he stopped her, dead.

“Go,” Juan mouthed. “Now.” His eyes were black steel.

A full-body shiver coursed her away from him and straight out the door.

A time bomb ticked in her chest. Fumbling, she found the keys on the tire.

Ernesto was yelling, but she couldn’t hear him, and she didn’t look up or try. It didn’t matter.

As she started the engine, six law enforcement vehicles sped into the lot and the police officers exited with spiderlike advance. Two of them blocked her from driving away and another motioned for her to step back outside of the van.

Tottering on legs of tremor, fear released from her adrenals as panic status was reached.

Juan’s voice came over their radio. “It’s in her dress,” he said.

The receiving officer held his hand out to her. “Give it to me,” he said, waiting.

She reached up her tiny green dress and delivered Tommy’s little black book from the garter she wore high at her thigh. The cop looked her up and down and then peeked around back for more.

“Juan was right about you,” he said. With a nod, he let her go.

The cops stormed Mambo Café in a raid. Two gunshots pierced the night silence as she drove away, for good.

Please, God, let it be Tommy, said her merciless thigh-high boots.


About the Creator

Nicky Frankly

I love writing !

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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Comments (5)

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  • D.K. Shepard5 months ago

    Back again to say congrats! Well deserved!

  • Babs Iverson5 months ago

    Congratulations on the runner up win!!!

  • Test5 months ago

    Well-deserved congratulations for your work—keep it up!

  • Davina Zinn McKee5 months ago

    This was incredible storytelling. I usually don’t read this type of thing, but I was so pulled into the story by the strong characterization. Fabiola felt so real.

  • D.K. Shepard5 months ago

    I got pulled in so quickly! Masterfully crafted story with intriguing characters!

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