Thursday, December 19, 2013

Valerie's Retreat by Joseph Rinaldo: Spotlight and Excerpt



Valerie, a 40-ish Head Teller at a bank, has met Franco, 16 years younger and studying for a doctorate in archaeology. He is stunned yet eager to begin a relationship with this attractive "cougar", and they become lovers. Their lives begin to unravel when Valerie's female bisexual boss makes advances (and threats) toward Valerie and Franco is accused of the theft of an Incan artifact from a museum where he has been working part-time. Frustrated, under surveillance by the FBI, and seeing no way out of their dilemma, they decide to steal money from Valerie's bank and flee the country. They go to Peru to start a new life, but they find there the same type of corruption and threats. How can they escape their nightmares and make their dreams come true?




Chapter One 
"Let me tell you something," the well-tanned, but otherwise average looking man in a business suit, Branch Manager John Todd began, "If I catch you goofing off again, I’ll- I’m going to, well, I’m just not sure what I’ll do!"
His Head Teller, Valerie Fortson, sat fuming. Her attractive face hid her anger and concealed her age so well that amusement park age-guessers never got close to her actual age of forty-one.
"That’s all, Valerie," she stood. John continued; "We can’t have you setting that kind of example.  The District Manager is breathing down my neck for this bank branch to generate more loans, more checking accounts, more C.D.s, more savings acc-"
"I get it, John!" Valerie abruptly cut off her boss.  "I enjoy selling all those things but walking up to people in a grocery store is not the way to do it."
In his most condescending voice, John replied, "We work at an ‘in-store’ bank branch.  That means that our bank’s inside of another store. In our particular case, if you haven’t noticed, we’re in a grocery store. To get more business for this branch, we have to solicit the grocery store’s customers. If they’re pinching a cantaloupe, you go tell them about the bank. If they’re buying milk, you tell them about the bank. You should know that by now."
Valerie tried to be equally abrasive. "No one wants somebody selling bank accounts to come up to them while they shop for groceries, in case you hadn’t noticed. Wait, I bet you haven’t noticed," her voice got progressively louder. "That’s right. You couldn’t have noticed because you never walk around the grocery store trying to sell anything. In fact, while we’re on the subject of who should set an example, you’re the Branch Manager. Why don’t you show me how to do these walk-arounds? In fact, let’s go right now," Valerie pointed to the door leading from the Manager’s office into Food Kingdom Grocery.
The two tellers, at their stations only a few feet from the office door that opened from the Manager’s office in the extremely cramped branch, heard the last half of Valerie’s tirade. They immediately began counting the one dollar bills in their cash drawers to keep their eyes focused on something.
"I’d love to do a walk-around with you, but I have a meeting I have to get to right now." John dramatically picked up his date book sitting by a recently purchased meat tray on his desk. "Let’s schedule a time when we can do a walk-around together."
"You pick the date and time.  I’m always here."
"We’ll play it by ear, then.  Someday, when I’m free, we’ll go on a walk-around.  That won’t be any time soon," He flipped through his date book, shaking his head.
"That’s pretty much what I thought.  Selling is my job; you’re too busy," Valerie walked back to her place on the teller line.  The door gently sprung shut behind her.
Moments later, John walked out his office door that opened into the grocery store carrying the meat tray and looking at his watch.
"What happened in there!?" teller Karen Griggs excitedly asked.  "We could hear you practically yelling at him. What happened?" being a youthful nineteen-year-old, Karen failed to realize that the argument between her boss Valerie and the Branch Manager was none of her business.
At that moment a customer walked up to make a deposit, so the conversation was put on hold.  The other teller, Heather Tate, handled the transaction.
The instant the customer moved out of earshot, Karen doggedly inquired again, "What happened between you and John?  You were so red coming out of his office, I thought you might explode."
"He made me mad, that’s all," Valerie spoke slightly slower than normal. She wanted to speak carefully since Karen would undoubtedly retell this story to the other tellers and the Assistant Manager, Rhonda Bohanon.
"He caught me reading a magazine while I was supposed to be doing a walk-around. He, of course, was shopping for a meat tray to take to his monthly Managers’ meeting with the District Manager. He certainly wasn’t out there soliciting any business from grocery shoppers. If I asked him if I could skip a walk-around to buy food for my monthly Head Teller meeting, I bet he’d say no," Valerie sighed. "Oh well, I’ve been working at Community First since before he could drive.  I’ve seen brown-nosers like him come and go.  I’ll be here long after he’s gone."
"How long have you been here?" Heather asked.
"Ten years." Valerie looked up at the ceiling. "Yup, ten years. I like it; I really do."
"You must," Heather observed. Two years at the bank made Heather the most senior teller in time of service, and the oldest at twenty-two.  "I don’t think I could stand having to put up with all the grief you do."
"Well, Heather, you won’t have to, now that you’ve just graduated and have your nursing degree." Valerie turned toward Karen. "In a few years you’ll have your degree, too.  Working here means constantly training. New managers flow in and out based on the tides of sales. Tellers get outta here once they find real jobs."
"I heard you point out that John never does his walk-arounds," Karen noted, trying to get more information.
"I’ve never seen a Community First National Bank manager perform a single walk-around at any Food Kingdom, and I’ve worked at all three in-stores that Community has here in Louisville." Valerie shook her head.
"How do you get to be a manager?" Heather asked in all seriousness.
"I really don’t know," Valerie replied. "I do know that not having a degree keeps you stuck as a Head Teller with no chance to move up the ladder." Looking at her watch she added, "At four o’clock, I’ll have forty-five hours in this week, which is the most John allows me. I’m outta here in twenty minutes."
Valerie walked into her modest, nicely kept, one-bedroom apartment; a ten-minute drive from where she worked. Caesar immediately greeted her just inside the door.  She hoisted him up. "You’re the fattest kitty in the whole world." The tiger striped tabby cat came from the Animal Shelter and resembled anything but a kitten. "You’re also the best kitty in the whole world."
She began to change her clothes and pulled her cell phone out of her purse. The blinking red light indicated a message.
"Hey, Val! It’s Janet. You promised to come to the singles dance at Saint John the Baptist tonight. I’ll be by to pick you up at six-thirty unless you want to get a bite to eat before we go? I get home a little after five, so call me at home after five-fifteen or call me at work before five or on my cell phone between five and five-fif-" Valerie smiled, wondering when Janet would learn that the voicemail would, in fact, cut her off, regardless of the topic. Janet Knead pulled double-duty as Valerie’s best friend and Social Director.
She deleted the first message, and the second one played. "That cranky little mailbox of yours cut me off! I think you probably got the message of when and where to call me, so I’m going to hang up before your mailbox cuts me off again, and I have to call back to show that little spoiled piece of electronic whodads just who’s boss. Call me."
Valerie looked at Caesar, who had laid across her right foot while she listened to the messages.  "I’d rather stay home with you, but I promised I’d go." She reached down to rub his head.  As her fingertips approached, he rolled onto his back and stretched, exposing his belly.  "That’s my cute cuddly fat kitty."
Still only halfway out of the dress she wore to work, she grabbed the phone and went to her bedroom. She hit speed dial as she unzipped the back of the dress.  Janet answered on the first ring.
They exchanged greetings, and then Valerie asked, "Would you be disappointed if I didn’t go to that dance with you tonight?"
"I definitely would be disappointed! You need to get out of the apartment and do something fun," Janet chided.
"I know, but I had a really bad day at work, and I just don’t feel like it."
"What time is it?" Janet asked rhetorically, checking the digital clock on her office phone.
"Four twenty, you sure do keep banker’s hours."
Valerie laughed. "Yeah, working from ten till eight almost every day, including Saturdays, I might add, not to mention working one to five most Sundays, those are great hours.  Seriously, this working at an in-store branch is getting old."
"It’s great for the customers though. I get my banking and grocery shopping done all in one stop. Maybe I should write commercials for Community First National Bank!?" In her best radio voice Janet said, "Community First, where service and convenience aren’t in our name, but they’re in our heart."
"Wow! You should keep your day job," Valerie suggested.
"I will," Janet sighed. "Being an administrative assistant is my life. Well, anyway, I’ll pick you up for dinner, and we can discuss whether we’ll go to the dance or not."
Valerie laughed again. "If you’re driving, I know where we’ll end up."
"I’ll be there at five-thirty or six or abo-"
"Or whenever you get here," Valerie interjected for her unpunctual friend.
"Be dressed appropriately."
"Tight jeans with a shape-showing top?"
"That’s my plan!"
"Janet, that’s what you wear to work, to dance, to workout-"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, just be ready when I get there."
At the dance Janet looked around the large, open room with the DJ lights and stereo equipment lining one wall. The vacant tile floor serving as the dance floor stretched from the DJ’s area to the beginning of several neat rows of tables and chairs. "Why is he playing fast songs to start with? He needs to be playing a few slow songs to get everyone up and moving."
"Go tell him Janet. I think he’s new," Valerie prodded her friend. Janet had yet to miss a dance and considered herself Director of Music at this weekly gathering.
"I will; he needs my help." Janet went behind the stereo equipment and spoke into the DJ’s ear loudly over the music.
On her way back to the table, Valerie watched as Janet stopped to speak with two young men. The men, dressed in Dockers and golf shirts, followed Janet back to the table.
Janet turned to the two men and tried to speak over AC/DC’s Back In Black blaring through the speakers.  "This is my friend Valerie." Janet turned back to Valerie.   "This is Chuck and uhh, what was your name again?"
"Franco Stavini," said the six foot tall, thin but solid looking man with stylishly long hair.
"This is Valerie," she introduced them, then, looking back to Valerie said, "Chuck works with me at Kentucky Investment. He’s the bookkeeper."
"Nice to meet you," Chuck said to Valerie.
Franco nodded to Valerie, and then said to the group, "Great dance music."
"The DJ is making a point that he doesn’t want or need my advice," Janet replied.  "I told him to play some slow songs to get people on the floor before speeding it up."
"If you said it that way, I’d play AC/DC too." Valerie laughed at Janet.
Back In Black mercifully ended. The DJ played Lady In Red by Chris de Burgh.
"Dance?" Franco asked Valerie.
As they walked to the dance floor, Valerie realized this guy looked good and, although he was thin, he carried himself strongly.
Franco put his arms around her waist and noticed her pretty face when the flashing dance lights shined their perpetually moving beams over them. Her medium size standing five foot four inches fit nicely against him.
"So how long have you known Chuck?" Valerie asked, leaning closer to his ear than necessary to be heard over the music.
"Only a coupla weeks," he responded, also leaning in close. "I just moved here from Columbus, Ohio."
"What brought you to Louisville?"
"I’m an archeologist."
She burst out laughing. "How in the world did you get a job as an archeologist in Louisville?"
He smiled. "Everyone asks me that."
"I wasn’t trying to be mean."
"I know; people don’t think of Louisville as an archeological hotspot." He smiled again.
Valerie noticed his crooked but cute smile, "So what are you digging up?"
"We’re not really sure. It might be a Hopewell or Mississippian site; we just can’t tell yet." Franco tried to keep on topic as he looked at her eyes, reminding himself, don’t let the eyes drift to her chest; she'll think I'm a perv. He also hoped his breath didn’t reek after drinking that can of coke at dinner. He brushed his teeth before leaving the apartment, but one could never be sure.
"Were they Indians?"
The music stopped, and a few people clapped. Too Busy Being In Love by Doug Stone filled the room. Valerie headed back to her seat, assuming they were done. As the two couples passed on their way back to the table, Janet grabbed Franco and threw Chuck at Valerie so that they switched partners for this slow song.
"I hope everyone enjoyed those," a booming voice came over the speakers. "I had a request for some tender music." Everyone turned to see the DJ speaking into a microphone. "Now we’ll pick it up a little."
The DJ re-asserted his control by playing some hard rock tunes. No one even tried to dance to the headbanger songs. With the heavy metal urge out of his system, the DJ played Randy Travis’ For Ever And Ever, Amen.  Franco asked Valerie to dance, which surprised her.
"How long have you been in Louisville?" Valerie inquired as they embraced and began to sway in step with the music.
"Only a few months. What about you?"
"Me? I’ve been here about twenty years. Where’re you from?"
"I grew up in Vandalia, Ohio, just outside of Dayton, but I’ve spent the last seven years in Columbus at The Ohio State University." Franco paused trying to think of something else to say.
"Did you dig up Indian stuff in Ohio?" Valerie realized this cute young fella was shy. That attracted her; the last several guys she’d dated never stopped talking about themselves.
"I did," Franco said, with his mind focused on her warm soft body gently pressing against his. "I,uh, went around Ohio digging into Hopewell Indian burial mounds."
"I work at a bank, so I hope this doesn’t sound rude, but, who pays you to do that?"
"That’s a good question Valerie, and not rude; I get asked that from almost everyone I meet.  I actually worked for Ohio State as a graduate assistant for the Department of Archeology. Going out to sites was just a part of that job. Now I’m doing the same thing for the University of Louisville."
"You must be a Nosy Parker," she kidded, "wanting to pry into those dead people’s lives."
"I promise not to tell stories out of school about those people," he played along. "Now tell me what you do at the bank?"
"Well, I work at an in-store bank branch. An in-store means we’re in a grocery store. Know what I mean?"
"Oh yeah, I’ve seen those."
"I’m the Head Teller for the one in Food Kingdom on Outer Loop."
The song ended, and they went back to the table to find Chuck sitting alone.
"Franco," Chuck said as The Heart Of Rock And Roll by Huey Lewis began, "I’m sorry, but I have to take off."
"That’s cool," Franco said to him before speaking to Valerie. "I rode with him so I gotta go, too."
"If you want to stick around, I can take you home."
"You don’t mind?"
"Not at all."
"Chuck, I’m -"
"I heard. See you later." Chuck brushed by Franco and said in a low voice, "Janet’s driving me nuts." He quickly headed for the door, escaping before Janet came back to the table.
Returning from the bathroom, Janet asked, "What happened to Chuck?"
"He had to go," Valerie replied.
"That’s too bad. We were dancing just about every dance," Janet said with a disappointed expression.
The DJ played several more songs before he decided to pack it in for the evening. Janet and Valerie took Franco home. Valerie walked with him up to his apartment door.
"Would it be all right if I called you sometime?" he asked nervously.
"That would be fine," she smiled. "Do you have a pen to write down my number?"
"Come on in, I’ll find one real quick so Janet doesn’t have to wait very long for you."
"Relax, Franco, she doesn’t mind waiting."
He held the door for her to enter first. To her relief and surprise, this bachelor pad struck her as being as clean and tidy as her own apartment. So far, no red flag with this guy, she thought.
He grabbed a pen and paper off the coffee table and took down her number. They lightly kissed good night.
The instant Valerie shut the car door Janet practically screamed, "What the hell are you doing?! He’s about fourteen years old!"
"Oh, puh-leez!" a giddy, giggling Valerie shot back.
"You’ll have to teach him how to drive in a few years!"
"Janet, you’re just jealous."
"Damn right I’m jealous! Did you make a man of him while you were in his apartment?" Janet howled with laughter.
"Not yet." Valerie smiled.
"So when are you two going out?"
"He said he’ll call me."
"You know what that means Val. No man ever calls when he says he will."
"I know. Whatever; if he calls, great; if not, no big deal," she said, resigned to the truth of Janet’s words.
"Did you ever find out how old he is?"
"No, Janet." She looked at her friend with mock disapproval. "I couldn’t think of a way to bring it up tactfully. How old’s Charlie or whatever his name was that you threw yourself at?"
"I don’t know, but he’s obviously a few years older than that child you clung to."
"I bet he’ll be man enough for me," Valerie giggled again.
"With that school-girl squealing, you sound as young as he IS!"
Janet pulled up in front of Valerie’s apartment, and Valerie got out. "Thanks for dragging me to that dance. It was fun."
"No problem, chicky, we’ll just have to wait and see if your young forbidden fruit calls you."
"Well, Janet, in the unlikely event he calls, his fruit won’t be forbidden." Valerie smiled shutting the car door.

Born in Illinois, I nevertheless spent most of my formative years in Kentucky. I attended The Ohio State University and am an avid Buckeyes fan. I currently work in finance, am married, and am the father of a wonderful young woman with Down syndrome.

I have written four novels that have been published. A Spy At Home, Hazardous Choices, A Mormon Massacre, and my newest release, Valerie's Retreat are currently available on Amazon.
Please check out my web page for upcoming releases, and my blog,, to learn more about me.

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