love conquers nada

excerpt

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August 2000

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

24 AUGUST 2000

Lodging World Rocked by Death of Four in Plane Crash

 

Black Box Data Reveals Possible Scuffle Between Passengers

 

 

Sun Valley, ID – The American Association of Hotels and Hoteliers (AAHH) announced today the sad news that four innkeeping titans had died in an unexpected plane crash. JoJo Bramer and Harriet Ford, founding mothers of AAHH, were two of the four passengers identified by local police.

 

Two male passengers have yet to be identified. They are believed to be Niel Hardy and Steve Ort, co-authors of “Niel’s Inn Ratings: An Unbiased Guide to the Information Super Highway.” Niel was from Missouri and active in Civil War reenactment. Steve, believed to be sitting next to Niel, was a lawyer-turned-website guru and business expert.

 

“JoJo and Harriet were not just two peas in a pod,” said Beth Granger, AAHH executive assistant. “They were two kernels who popped with ideas constantly.”

 

The American Association of Hotels and Hoteliers was founded in 1990 to help innkeepers, hotel managers and bed & breakfast owners increase their reservations and compete with larger hotel chains.  The AAHH motto is “More Heads in Beds!”

 

 

For More Information

JoJo Bramer can be reached at 801-555-AAHH

 

#     #     #

Friday 25 August 2000

The last thing the Sun Valley Police Chief needed was a bunch of dead hotel people in his backyard. Chief Howard Campbell never did understand why celebrities had to come to his town. Bruce and Demi, they were a delight when they first built their home a little over ten years ago.

 

But a plane crash? It was already starting to look complicated. The National Transportation Safety Board go team had already met with Chief Campbell first thing Friday morning. The NTSB told him to plan on a meeting Friday evening with the FBI; no one was sure why the gal from the hotel group said there was foul play. 

 

What was her name again? Beth something with a Gee. When Chief Campbell pressed Beth – sweet thing, really, one of those tiny nervous women that would fit in a ten gallon hat – when he pressed Beth for information, she blurted out “it’s an inside source and I cannot perjure myself.” She then threw herself down on the La-Z-Boy recliner in his office and bawled so hard she hiccupped. The chief wasn’t quite sure what to do with her; she had eventually fallen asleep. Beth reminded him of his seven-year old grand daughter. So he draped a blanket over her before returning to the crash site.

Saturday 26 August

 

After a long night with FBI agents, all law enforcement agree that foul play is unlikely. The four victims were not engaged in any legal activity, the small jet appeared to have had some minor mechanical issues that could have posed problems. And it appears that both the pilot and co pilot were fairly new hires with Alaska Air.  The feds recommended that Chief Campbell run a basic investigation into the death of the passengers, just to leave no stone unturned.

However, Beth Granger was insistent that the four passengers had been having problems. Lots of problems. The Federal Trade Commission was accusing them of restraint of trade, the California Attorney General had had several meetings with JoJo and Harriet and there had been phone calls. Angry phone calls.

“Okay, slow down a bit Beth,” asked Chief Campbell.  “What kind of calls are we talking about?”

“Well, there was this one guy with a weird voice would kept calling and saying “You are going down in flames.”

“Ma’am, did you file a police report when you got these calls?”

“Oh, no, sir. I wouldn’t ever want to take up the police’s time on something silly.”

Chief Campbell was always amazed at dealing with the public. They either called 9-1-1 for small things, like updates on power outages. Barking dogs. Loud neighbors. And yet, when confronted with an actual dangerous problem, they don’t even think to call the police for help. Maybe if Beth had called, they could have laid some groundwork. He took off his reading glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, exhaling slowly.

 

Beth couldn’t stand the silence. Plus it looked like the chief was mad. Or sad. Or both, she couldn’t tell.

 

“I’m super sorry sir, I guess it seems sort of serious now that, you know, they did go down in flames.”

 

“No, ma’am, it’s okay. Everyone can be an armchair quarterback. The best way you can help me is to make a list of people who had been angry with the passengers, let’s start there, okay?”

 

Beth completed the list of disgruntled people in less than five minutes.

 

“The advantage of being short is that people ignore me. All the time. So I started noticing things a couple of years ago and made a file. First off, Mr. Ford and Mr. Bramer – Harriet’s and JoJo’s husbands – they suspected that the gals were, um, you know … “  Beth squirmed a little in her seat. She didn’t know much about Sun Valley, Idaho, but it looks like a place for conservative churchy people. And conservative people do not take kindly to alternative lifestyles.

 

Chief Campbell cleared his throat and nodded at Beth to continue. “There had been rumors for a while that JoJo and Harriet were romantically involved. With each other. Like, um, as gay people. Well, I guess gay isn’t the right word, I mean there are so many different ways here … “ she grabbed the bottle of water and drank, mainly to give her a reason to stop talking. Yes, Beth was a nervous type and when she felt uncomfortable, she talked. And talked. About anything, really. She just couldn’t bear the silence.

 

“Okay, I hear you, Beth. No judgements coming from this side of the table, okay? Anyone else?”

 

“Oh, yes! Quite a few. So the two gentlemen on the plane, they were … well … “

 

“Also gay, Beth?”

 

Beth felt the blush creeping down her neck, into big splotches, like an ink stain spreading. “Oh, heavens no. No, they were working on a book together and then they got into a fight because Steve – he’s the tall one. Oh, well, I guess since he’s dead, he was tall.  Anyway, he was a lawyer and I got the impression he gave Niel the short end of the stick. They had a big fight at that last conference in Albuquerque.”

 

“And what conference would this have been, Beth?”

 

“Every year, the American Association of Hotels and Hoteliers has an annual trade show with bunches of vendors that have products for innkeepers. It’s super fun and kind of the highlight of our year. When JoJo and Harriet started AAHH, they thought that membership dues would be their main revenue. But then they realized – oh, I shouldn’t be speaking ill of the dead, should I?”

 

“It’s okay, ma’am. They didn’t deserve to die in a plane crash, so any light you can shed on their business dealings will be a big help. Go on, so they needed better revenues, then?”

 

“Oh, yes! Once we started putting on trade show, well it was a cash cow. The hotels where we hosted the trade show gave us the convention space for free. Then we charged the vendors a couple of thousand for a simple booth, pipe and drape, electricity set up. Maybe a small snack for them – oh, well, we charged them for the snack too.”

 

“Were there any disgruntled vendors?” asked Chief Campbell. Honestly, he just couldn’t imagine innkeepers being @naughty cows. What was that show? No, not the Waltons. The other show. Oh, yes, Newhart. That was fun little show about running an inn. Now, where was that inn located? Somewhere snowy, he thought. God, the chief hated aging, he had noticed recently how words fell through his mind like grains of sand …. And focus was all over the map.

 

“Chief?”  Beth was looking at him expectantly. Internally, he chortled at the irony of thinking hard about lack of focus with this bouncy woman, possibly the only one who paid attention to details.

“Yes. So we have mad husbands, two guys fighting over a book. Anyone else?”

 

“Absolutely. Though I feel bad even saying her name out loud. She had been very sweet, really, especially, you know, who she was.”

 

Beth stopped to take another sip of water.

 

“Samantha Franklin was a vendor.”

 

Suddenly, Chief Campbell’s attention was pulled very much back into focus. He knew that name. But it couldn’t be the same one, could it?

 

“Samantha Franklin, the market maven? Really? I always wondered why she left CNBC. Were you a fan? She was really out of this world, if you ask me. Always said what was on her mind, too. And you could tell she was not friends with that other one, the dark haired one, Maria something. Sorry, I lost track there. That Samantha was a vendor for inns? Well, color me shocked.”

Beth was caught off guard by the chief’s sudden interest in Samantha Franklin. She seemed nice and all, certainly not some kind of diva. Well, she had been snarky on the phone with JoJo on several occasions, but Beth hadn’t understood why JoJo had such a hate-on for Samantha.

“Yes, sir. One in the same. She was a snappy dresser, that’s for sure. A lot of the innkeepers were star struck at the first trade show, though she lost some of that star power during the lunch after she got mad and then that handsome guy Erik sort of rescued her. But then those two ended up fighting like kittens over a ball of yarn.

Chief Campbell realized that there was certainly more drama behind the scenes here than he had expected. And he was also looking forward to talking to his financial crush in person.

Monday 28 August

It was Richard Tucker who fielded Chief Campbell’s call. Richard was the proud husband of Samantha Franklin. So proud, in fact, he often credited himself with getting Samantha her start in finance.

Richard had first met Samantha in person at the Tall Ships bar in the World Trade Center. But he had been in love with her long before that day in May 1986.

Richard had worked as an intern for Samantha’s father at Mocatta Metals. Samantha’s father regaled Richard with ongoing tales about Samantha, her high school travails, her college application process. She had transferred to University of Texas in her sophomore year. Her parents both convinced Samantha to join a sorority, thinking it would be a good way for her to meet friends at the new school. She complained about the antiquated rush system, but eventually had found a good fit with the ‘smart girl’ sorority. Samantha insisted she was having a good time with her newly-minted sisterhood. It was certainly lucrative for the sorority sent monthly invoices to her father for room, board and fines. Multiple fines for not wearing pantyhose during sorority meetings. A fine for coming in after curfew. Several fines for ‘coarse language.’

In addition to the sorority fines, Samantha had also wracked up an impressive number of parking tickets during summer school. Her dad sighed and explained to Richard “Well, it hasn’t gone under 100 degrees in Austin for weeks and the shuttle buses aren’t air conditioned. And it is several miles from the sorority house over to the economics building. She also told me that she’s parking only in graduate student parking.”

“And that matters how?” Richard asked, one eyebrow quirked.

“Well, Samantha’s is a rule-follower. She confirmed ahead of time with the archeology department that there were no graduate students taking classes in the month of August, due to a class trip to Greece somewhere to dig old bones up. She also took a picture of the parking lot and there’s no posted sign about not parking there. The sign simply says “graduate parking." She has appealed to the university police and I’m sure she will succeed.”

“And you are okay with that? How many parking tickets are we talking about?” Richard was intrigued by the way Samantha thought.

“Well, over two dozen at this point.”

“How much is each ticket?”

Samantha’s father sighed slowly. “At least $35 per ticket. I’m not worried, she’s a persuasive kid. She believes that since the parking signs don’t specify what student has graduated from what school in order to park near her econ class, that the error is the fault of the university. In her mind, she had graduated from high school and will  -- god help us all, eventually – graduate from that university, so she is following the rules with express consent from the archeology department.”

At that moment, Richard felt his heart skip a beat at the mere thought that his soul mate was around the corner.

While barely clearing 5’4” (with shoe lifts), Richard’s charm and intelligence always helped the girlfriends forget his shortcomings. He was a New York-born Jew with tight curly hair and sparkling hazel eyes. He was often mistaken for L.A. Law actor Michael Tucker. Certainly having the same last name wasn’t a big help. However, he didn’t go out of his way to dissuade fans who approached with phone numbers and requests for autographs.

When they did finally meet, the attraction was instantaneous … and mutual. After the movie When Harry Met Sally came out, Richard would tell anyone who would listen that he had found his Sally.

They were equally smitten with each other but enjoyed the friendship so much that they never wanted to risk the friendship on the off chance a romance would work out. After a particularly devastating breakup, Samantha leaned heavily on Richard and, over time, they took the plunge and never regretted leaving the friend zone.

 

When Samantha lost her beloved creative job in public relations, it was Richard who bucked her flagging spirits, took her to a few Yankees games (he did love that they shared a hatred of the Mets) and convinced her to apply for a research job at Bear Stearns. He bought her a subscription to the Wall Street Journal and within one year, her boss sponsored her to sit for the Series 7 and Series 63 – the two licenses required to be a stockbroker.

Oh, Richard loved coming to pick her up from work; they often threw darts on Friday nights. He’d time it so he’d get to the Bear Stearns trading desk around 3:30, so he could watch from afar, as she waded through the trading floor, one of four women in a sea of 300 men. 

One trader asked Richard if Samantha was his girlfriend. No, no, Richard assured the trader that Samantha was just a good friend. “More like my boss’s daughter. So, you know how that goes, right?”

“We have two nicknames for Samantha. Double Dee, which is shorthand because when she stands up there during the morning meeting, with her heels together, you can see those legs of her, there’s a diamond at her ankles and another diamond right above her calf muscles. She’s perfection. We’ve got an office pool on which one of us will … “

Richard felt green around the gills, hearing some stranger talk about his Samantha, his Sally in such a crude, lascivious way. He interrupted the trader. “You said there were two nicknames?”

“Heh heh. Yeah. Nutmeg.”

“Nutmeg? … like the spice?”

“Exactly. Because she’s a nut-crusher.”

Samantha was happy with both nicknames and happy working as a liaison between the brainiac research analysts who could talk for hours about the impact of fuel costs on next year’s holiday travel season … and the testosterone-fueled stewpot of money-wielding men who needed to be told to buy or sell and one sentence why.

She was tasked with stock picking and quickly turned the day trading desk profitable.

Then Operation Dessert Storm happened. Samantha was charged with keeping morale up and her pithy in-house commentary on the middle east earned her guest appearances on CNN and CNBC. Guest appearances turned into regular spots which then turned to a full job with CNBC.

Samantha, for the most part, was a great addition to the CNBC team. She had managed to stumble a couple of times her first few weeks, getting used to being on air for more than a 60-second sound bite. She went in worried that superstar Maria Bartiromo would feel threatened – the producer had told Samantha they were hiring her in case Maria left CNBC. Maria seemed chilly at first.

But when Samantha met CNBC anchor Ron Insana, she was shocked to see that was taller than him. “Oh, wow, you are so short! Aren’t you? I guess that TV adds 10 pounds and six inches. I mean, it's just surprising because you sound really tall.”

Maria overheard the exchange and couldn’t help but laugh, spitting espresso over her show notes.

Samantha tried to explain what she meant. “It’s just odd, because when I listened to you on the trading desk, I just always thought that you were pushing six feet tall.”

Richard often felt like her fairy godfather, watching her meteoric rise. Broadcasting had been her dream job; she confessed at one point that she had done the math at age ten. Here’s the math: Samantha looked up and discovered that Barbara Walters was 35 years older than her. So when Samantha  hit age 30, she’d be seasoned to take over Barbara’s reins when she retired at age 65.

When Samantha offered to quit her dream job to help him start his business, his heart got a little bit of a crumple in it. Yes, he had been depressed since coming home from their month-long honeymoon. Yes, he might have been a little bit not-sober when she broached the topic of helping ‘fix’ his depression.

And by not-sober, let’s clarify that Richard was quite stoned during the Big Discussion where Samantha fell on the sword and promised to do whatever it took to help Richard find his way back to happiness. Richard had been smoking marijuana since his senior year in high school.

It was his mother’s fault, his drug use. Entirely her fault.

She was concerned that he did not fully appreciate the gravity of being Jewish. The Tucker family hadn’t been to temple since Richard’s bar mitzvah in 1973; naturally, Richard felt his parents had dropped the ball on the Jewish education. Nevertheless, Richard’s mother shook the family tree, hard, and rustled up some distant cousins in Antwerp. They agreed to let Richard visit over the summer of 1977.

 

Richard made the most of his first trip to Europe. While his cousins were considered ‘modern orthodox,’ their lifestyle was a lot more strident @(note: find better word here) than he had imagined. Men were required to wear yarmulkes at all times and the family followed the kosher dietary laws to a tee. On his last weekend before returning home, his cousins gave him a very modern farewell present: a weekend in Amsterdam complete with a stop at The Bulldog coffee shop on the itinerary.

 

Richard was confused at first; he didn’t drink coffee. His yarmulke-wearing cousins nudged him in the ribs on the way to the train station. Wink wink, nudge nudge. Coffee house was code for marijuana store. That first head buzzing feeling enthralled Richard. He and his cousins laughed their weekend away and he realized something important: this was the first time he felt truly, deeply happy. 

 

That was the one thing he had kept from Samantha. She was such a stickler about following rules that he was certain she’d disapprove. He didn’t like lying to her, but he rationalized that he was doing what was necessary to be a happy husband, which she wanted. He had gotten adept at smuggling his herbal anti-depressant through customs. Hide it in coffee cans, that masked the smell. He’d used a saxophone case for a while, but did get caught at the Canadian border, which was a shame, because Samantha said the saxophone made him sexy. When the sax  was confiscated,  that’s the closest he got to copping to his herbal anti-depressant.

So when the phone range and the caller identified himself as the Chief of Police, Richard broke out into a sweat. A deep, profound sweat. Was this when it all comes crashing down?  Richard patted his right pocket on his cargo shorts. Yep, it was still there. His key fob. Well, it looked like a car key fob, but the inside held a pipe, a secret compartment for the herb, and a lighter. It was brilliant and it never left his sight.  He had originally purchased a pipe hidden inside a carved-out Sharpie pen. However, Samantha found it one day while cleaning up his office and threw it out. Just tossed it in the garbage! They’d had a bad fight that day, over the Sharpie.

 

“I’m sorry, you said chief of police, correct?”

 

“Yes, I’m chief of police at Sun Valley, Idaho.”

 

“Great skiing there. How can I help you?”

 

“I’m trying to reach your wife. I understand you are the husband of Samantha Franklin?”

 

Richard exhaled all that pent up tension and worry, relieved that this wasn’t about him. He momentarily forgot why he was on the phone in the first place. Was it a wrong number? Idaho? Montana? Somewhere snowy…

 

“Hello? Mr. Tucker, are you still there?”

 

“God yes. Is Samantha okay? She hasn’t been hurt has she?”

 

“No sir. We believe that she’s fine. It’s just that there was a plane crash last week and want to ask her a few questions.”

 

“A plane crashed in Sun Valley? I don’t understand. I think Samantha is in Las Vegas. There was a trade show there for our business. Why would an Idaho plane crash involve her?”

 

“Well, sir, the plane was carrying people from that innkeeper trade show. We believe the deceased are JoJo Bramer, Harriet Ford, Niel Hardy and Steve Ort.”

 

Whatever sense of relief that Richard felt just a few scant moments earlier was replaced with a new wave of sweat and rapid heartrate. Samantha hated those four, down to her very toenails. In fact, she had had a big fight with her mother at the trade show in Nashville four months ago. Samantha had made some quip about asking her mafia princess friend if there was a pricing menu, something about just wanting some kneecaps knocked in, some jokes about Tanya Harding. But that’s how Samantha was, she’d fly off the handle, curse like a sailor, drink Bailey’s straight from the bottle, down a box of chocolate orange PIMS cookies… and then the storm would pass by morning. 

 

After three decades in law enforcement, Chief Campbell was very good at diagnosing the different flavors, if you will, of silence and Richard’s silence smelled salty with essences of panic... with a dash of guilt.

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