Hildy was a shop girl like all the
rest.If you're not familiar with the term let me help you out.A
shop girl is a girl who, because she has no skills, works in a
shop.Not because she's isn't pretty, not because she isn't
bright.Only because she's got no skills.That was the case with
Hildy.So she worked in a shop.A most common shop. She worked in
You probably thought she worked in a
huge department store in New York selling gloves or
something.Something like a shop girl in one of O. Henry's
stories.But she doesn't.Things have gotten tough since
then.Things have gotten real 21st Century.She lives in L.A.
(Paramount to be specific) and works in the 99 instead.She does
however live with her aged mother and a cat, and supports them
both, straight out of O. Henry.If he had known her she'd be the
kind he'd write about.She'd make him proud.
She lived in Paramount with her Mom
named Celia and her cat named Willy.It was right on the railroad
tracks near Rosecrans and Paramount Blvd. not far from the
store.When the train came by it would shake the house, just like
in I Love Lucy.It was that close.Fortunately for Celia, Hildy,
and Willy, trains didn't come by too often.She went to Compton
College some nights when she didn't work late.But, unlike the
train, it wasn't often enough.
Like many shop girls she hoped to
meet a man, a knight in shining armor who'd sweep her off her
feet and as far away from the 99 as possible.That's what she
hoped. Sometimes it seemed it would never happen.Such men rarely
made appearances, or shopped at the 99.Paramount is nice of
course, just not the kind of 'hood a knight shops in, in his
shining armor or otherwise.About this very fact she was
complaining to her equally shop-girl friend and fellow worker
Sam. (Her real name was Samantha)
"Sam," she said after their lines of
customers had evaporated, "it just isn't fair."
She examined herself in a mirror a
customer had returned and left on the counter.It was one of those
Parakeet mirrors, quite small, with tiny beads on wires on the
sides that birds can push about.
"All this," she said to Sam after
looking at her reflection, "and no one taking advantage."
In it she was seeing only a bit of
herself at a time, (after all it was a frickin' bird-mirror) but
these are the bits she saw.A bit of eyebrow and all of a lovely
blue-green eye.She turned it a taste, and a curl of red hair was
revealed. Then down, a bit of freckled nose, which she checked
for shine.There wasn't any.Totally then there wasn't much of her
to see, just a slip of a girl, but to men it was more than
enough.They liked the bits they saw.
"All this," she said to Sam making a
sweeping motion from head to toe, "and no man taking
advantage.And I do want to be taken advantage of Sam, I do.
"I know what you mean Mija," Sam
Sam did know what she meant too, as
she was in the same boat, being a dark-haired-dark-eyed Hispanic
from Culiacan, and pretty cute herself.
"There's only gangsters and school
kids shopping here," she said looking around at the place.
"No bueno aqui," she continued, " no
bueno buscando para hombres," and shook her head.
Sam looked at her watch.It was her
10 minute break she was looking for and she found it.
"Well Chica, I'm off."
She walked to the back.That left
Hildy to work by herself. She'd never meet the right guy in here,
she just knew it.That's how it was going to be.
That's why she didn't see him at
first.In her state of mind she didn't expect to.Maybe it was
because he was so neutral.He didn't wear a baseball cap on
sideways or his pants sagging so far down that he was wearing
scrungies around his ankles to keep the cuffs up.The pants didn't
have names across the crotch or butt in bold silver letters.Not
at all.He was dressed quite differently.That's probably why she
didn't notice him.He was dressed so non-bling.
In fact he was wearing a suit. A
three-piece suit.He had on a tie.An actual tie.A three-piece suit
and a tie. His shoes were brown.Now here was somebody that was
different.He was poking about in the school supplies, gathering
up stuff.When he was ready to check out he happened to pick her
line.She saw as he got closer that he was tall, and as he paid
her, that his nails were cut close and clean.She liked his smell
too,kind of fresh and spicy.He was her dream.When Sam got back
from her break she said,
"I just saw him, the most gorgeous
guy, you shoulda seen him, he was just..." her voice trailed off,
"Was he married?"Sam always came
straight to the point.
"How would I know?"Hildy answered,
"All I said was thank you for shopping at the 99.All he said was
thank you. I couldn't just ask him you know."
"The ring?" she held up her left
hand extending her fingers. "His finger? Duh!Did he have a ring?"
She pointed to the ring finger. Hildy understood and felt
"I didn't notice,' she said.
"Chica," Sam replied, "I know you
went to school, girl, but you still didn't learn."
Hildy looked crushed, as if she'd
failed a test, which she had.
"Don't worry Mija, Samantha is going
to take you under her wing."And that's precisely what she
The next day there was a full crew
so they got to take their lunch together.They put their lunches
on a box on the loading dock where they wouldn't be disturbed.
They faced each other.
"The number one thing is the ring,"
Sam counseled, "Of course, you can't rely on it completely; some
married men take them off. But there are other clues.Lots of
other ways to tell if they're married and who they are."
The boss came by and announced lunch
was over.That was the end of lesson one.
When Hildy went to school that night
she had her English class. They read a story called The
Red-Headed League about some detective named Sherlock Holmes
whose powers of observation were, as they put it, "acute."
"There's nothing that guy can't
figure out," she concluded. Then she went home.
Later, after watching a movie called
Magnum Force, she went to bed. When she was snug, her blanket and
the white sheet folded over it tucked neatly under her chin, all
the thoughts of her day came rushing back to her with a
purpose.They didn't do it logically, they did it chronologically,
which, though it sounds it, isn't logical at all.
First she remembered work.She
remembered talking to Sam on the loading dock and spreading her
paper towel on the box and placing her sandwich on it.It was a
tuna sandwich.She remembered the handsome well dressed man.Then,
for some reason, she remembered the song Well Dressed Man
by ZZ Top. That was odd.Then she remembered going to school and
reading about that detective, what was his name?Sherlock
"I've heard of him before," she
thought, "and that funny Doctor Watson."That made her
Then her thoughts flew back to the
well-dressed man, and to a knight in shining armor.He would ride
up to her, right into the check-out line, and scoop her
"Funny," she thought," he isn't
wearing shiny armor this time; he's wearing a three-piece suit
They rode off together.Where?Into
the sunset of course, that's always how it went. And somewhere
between the check-out line and sunset she fell fast
When she woke the next morning she
knew what she had to do.
"I'm gonna Sherlock-Holmes him," she
said sitting straight up in bed.And that's exactly what she
proceeded to do.
She was lucky, because fate (who is
a heavy-hitter in stories of this sort) was on her side.The
well-dressed man had just moved into the neighborhood.Between
what he had lost in the move or left behind and what he needed to
fill up his new empty place he needed a lot.He would have to make
many trips to the 99.That was real good.Real good for Hildy.She
had learned a lot from school.Like all good students she had
learned to extend her lessons to real life. Because hadn't she
remembered that a few years ago that the F.B.I or some police had
got in trouble for picking through someone's trash?She had.They
picked through someone's trash and found out all about him.Each
discarded wrapper, each empty carton or box, each cigarette butt,
told something about the owner, about what he liked, about who he
was.Didn't someone once say "Tell me what you like and I'll tell
you who you are."?And didn't she have all that there?I mean, they
carried almost everything at the 99.Food, books, all sorts of
stuff.Discarded wrappers before they were unwrapped! Before they
were discarded.Unlike the police she wouldn't need a search
You see, just like Dirty Harry
Callahan she knew, "A man's got to know his limitations."She knew
hers.It was the check-out line.A customer and checker can never
talk.Their conversations could never go beyond a "Thank
You."Sometimes not even that.So she'd work around it, work around
the limitation.If Sherlock Holmes could learn all about somebody
by observation, so could Hildy. She'd observe him and everything
he bought. She'd Sherlock Holmes him.She'd Sherlock Holmes him to
Her first opportunity came sooner
than expected, for he was in that very afternoon, slightly after
three o'clock.He looked different.
"My God," she thought, "he's wearing
glasses! I don't much go for glasses!"
But then she did.She decided this
when he got up close to check out.It was when she saw through the
lenses that his eyes were blue-green just like hers.It was also
when she saw how the frames, which were tortoise-shell, got lost
in his wavy brown hair somewhere there just before his
"Glasses are not so bad after all,"
He was gone with a "Thank you," and
out the door.But she had a list of what he bought on the register
tape and here's is what it was:
1. Tortellini top 3:15
2. Shoe laces
3. Sheets of notebook paper (4
4. Tetramin tropical fish
5. DVDHigh Command staring
She compared it with the tape from
when he first came in which was:
1. Tangerines top 3:25
2. Inkpens (two dozen)
3. Spagetti sauce
You have to admit it wasn't much to
go on.The most she could figure from this was that he might like
Italian food; he tied his shoes, watched old movies, wrote
something, and didn't stink.But then, like all good detectives
she had a flash of insight.What if she didn't have all the
clues?What if he'd been there when she wasn't?She ran to the
computer, hit a few keys, and like a French magician, Viola!There
they were.Three more lists.
Top3:10 top 3:33 top3:30
1.Black pepper 1. Tangerines 1.
Candy bar (dark chocolate)
2. Toothpaste 2. Pencils (two dozen)
3. Oregano 3. White out 3.Folders
4. Erasers (two dozen) 4.Aquarium
tubing 4.DVD Hound of the Baskervilles
5. Applesauce 5.Copy paper
"Well," she thought, "that's more
like it.It's time for a conference with Sam."
The next day they worked together so
conference time it was.She showed her the lists.She already knew
the plan.They spread the lists on a large box and examined
them.Sam sat on a stool.Hildy was nervous, and starting to pace.
It was a scene straight out of Baker Street.
"So what do they tell us Sam?" said
Hildy, walking north and south.
"He buys a lot of office supplies?"
Hildy was nervously twiddling with a
toothpick in her mouth as they'd just finished lunch.It should
have been a meerschaum pipe.
"And?" she now walked south and
north, twiddling, twiddling.
"And he likes Tangerines?"
"Elementary My Dear Samantha,
elementary.But we may assume something more.That he has an
addiction.An old movie addiction.And not just any old movies.We
may assume he prefers the films of James Mason."
"Why Hildy, only the one movie has
James Mason. That's High Command," she argued.
"As usual Samantha you have
perceived the obvious.And as equally usual you have missed the
details." She now paced east and west, twiddling.
With this Hildy flung down on the
box the two DVDs.She stopped twiddling.
"You see before you the
proof.High Command is a singular film, quite obscure as
well.Only a James Mason fan would avail himself of it.The
production values are low and the copy poorly made."
"But the other DVD Hildy, Hound
of the Baskervilles, it doesn't have James Mason at
"Not as an actor, but he is there
Sam, read the details, it's all in the details."
Sam looked at the fine print.It
said, "Narrated by James Mason."
Hildy raised one eyebrow and
narrowed her eyes.
"I put to you that only a true fan
would invest 99 cents in a rather badly made film just to see his
favorite actor.And even more of a fan to invest in hearing just
At this deduction Sam was
amazed.Hildy was as sharp as a tack.She'd never seen her this way
"I'm astounded Hildy,
"It's nothing Sam, just deductive
reasoning.But what else can we learn?What other clues are
there?What is it we're missing?"
Sam scanned the papers for something
else. They were hot now, hot on the trial.
"Look at the times, they're almost
Indeed they were.Up in the corners
were the times of purchase.All between 3:00 and 4:00.He never
came in the morning. That must mean something.
"This is kinda weird," Sam said,
"figuring out stuff about a guy I've never seen."
It was true.Sam was working a
different shift then, and had never seen him.
"That's O.K.," Hildy responded, "It
makes you more objective.But I think we're missing something,
some other clues.What do we know about him, his habits?"
This was hard for Samantha, she'd
never seen him, but she was like a blood-hound hot on the trail
and nothing would stop her now.
"It's when he comes in.It's always
after 3:00. Look at the receipts, the time of purchase is always
after three.He must get off around 3:00."
"That's true," replied Hildy, "he
comes in from that way," she pointed south.
"And you said he wears a tie, so
he's some kind of professional, they always wear a tie."
"He's well dressed but not flashy,
and has stylish but not expensive clothes," Hildy pointed
"Maybe they don't pay him enough at
what he does," Sam concluded, "But you know Hildy, it's not quite
right.Take the stickers.Who uses stickers at an office?I saw our
stickers the other day; they're all Hannah Montana and Spiderman
stickers.They're kids' stickers.And the pencils and erasers too,
what office uses them?No office I know."
"Maybe he has a lot of kids," Hildy
cried. Though she said it herself it was the last thing she
wanted to conclude.
"I think so Hildy.Take a look.He's
underpaid, and starts work before we open at 9:00 and gets off
about 3:00.He has a lot of kids alright, about two dozen I
think.He's a professional, but so poor he shops at the 99.And
they're not office supplies they're school supplies.And I believe
he works just down the street."
Hildy could smell Samantha's coffee
"His kids are his kids but they're
not his kids, get me Mija?"
"Oh My God," Hildy was astonished at
the thought.She looked at Sam who was nodding in agreement.They
were thinking the same thing.Staring in each other's eyes they
said in unison,
"He's a teacher!"
"You're the one who's astounding
Sam, just astounding!"
"Elementary my dear Hildegard," Sam
replied with surety, "elementary."
And the funny thing is… it was
perfectly true. He worked just two blocks away at an elementary
school named Paramount Park.Sherlock and Watson would have been
The next day Sam was off, and found
herself at Home Depot looking for bug spray.Near the end of the
store, next to the nursery she saw something she thought looked
familiar. It was out among the flowers.It was the head of a
man.On it was a face she'd seen before.A face from her past,the
face of Robert Fortesque.She hadn't seen it in five years. But
was it really him?This man was a bit taller and more handsome.If
it was Robert the five years had served him well.Then a blond
girl who'd been hidden by the palms joined him and she knew.It
was his half-sister Gwendolyn.They were always together in high
school, and there they were now, arm in arm circling among the
pansies.How could she ever forget Fortesque with his endless
pranks and practical jokes?Not likely.They were usually harmless,
but not that one in history class.Not the one that happened to
her.It was real quiet.Everybody was writing or at their
books.Then he farts.He farts real loud.Then quite suddenly, evil
genius that he was, he turns and looks at her, his eyebrows
furrowed, his eyes showing contempt, and scoots his desk away at
breakneck speed.She looks around, and all eyes on her.On
her!That's why she'd never forget him.
"I'll never forget him, the jerk,"
she thought, "and I'll never get even either.Evil genius
They made a u-turn and were heading
toward her now.Robert saw her and their eyes latched.
"Samantha, is it you?"he
"Yes," she said lamely, "it's me…who
Gwen screamed and gave her a
"It's been ages Sam, just
When all the hugs and kisses were
out of the way they talked.
"We just moved to Paramount, I
started a new job in September." he announced.
"He does look good," she thought,
"and she does too."
People who didn't know them always
thought they were a couple.She was his half-sister so they didn't
look alike.Her hair was straight and blond, and his brown and
"I live on 3rd Street in Paramount,
right across from the school.It's so convenient just hopping
across the street in the morning."
A thought started brewing on Sam's
"I work about two blocks away, at
the 99 cent store." She could smell the coffee.
"Oh," he said condescendingly, "I go
there all the time."
The coffee boiled over.That was
it.It was him.He was the well dressed man!
"Oh," she blurted out, "you're the
well dressed man!"
"Well dressed man?" he replied,
looking down at his clothes.Gwen gave her a puzzled look.
It all came out.Sam could never keep
a secret.It came out about Hidly, Sherlock Holmes, the clues
figured out based on what he bought, the whole nine yards.
"Hildy," he said, "is she the cute
"When's the next time you work?What
"Day after tomorrow. One to
"Is Hildy there then?"
"We'll see you at 8:00.Gwen and
me.Now keep this a secret Sam, will you?"
"Sure," she said, "I can do
He put out his arm, Gwen put hers
into his and they walked off.As they left, Sam heard him say to
Gwen, "I think we're going to have some fun."
Finally the day came.At 7:58 Sam
placed herself near Hildy to watch, as Fortesque put it, the
"fun". Here it came.Hildy saw them walk in together.
"Sam, it's him, and he's got a blond
"You mean him?" he pointed with her
eyes and chin.
They watched them closely.The blond
was a bit too pretty to Hildy's way of thinking.
Sam saw this and whispered, "Don't
worry; they're probably brother and sister."
Hildy looked closer."No," she said,
"they're not alike at all just look at them."
They were being too chummy for
siblings.She'd hang on his arm giggling at every little thing he
said. After picking up a basket, they started shopping.They
seemed to be having quite a romp. Hildy's line grew busy just
then so she couldn't see them.She was so distracted that when she
finally looked up, they were already in her line.The divider came
up.Their stuff would be next.The blond was putting stuff on the
conveyor belt slowly, not bunching them up, leaving spaces
"I like it when they put the stuff
like this," she thought, "it's such a mess when things are in a
First there were scented
Hildy looked over; the blond was
whispering something in his ear.
"Scented candles are nice," she
thought, everybody wants their house to smell good."
Next came a bottle of wine.
The blond was playfully pulling on
"Wine is O.K." she thought,
"Everybody needs a drink now and then."
Then came a jar of lotion."Midnight
Massage" it said.
Now she was nibbling his
"Lotion is good for the skin and
Next was a six pack of
Her tongue was out and approaching
"Social responsibility is good and
Then it was a twelve pack of extra
large, extra sensitive, rainbow-colored, well, you know what they
She was putting her tongue in his
"Protection is so important
nowadays, what with…"
Hildy began to feel a bit queasy,
then looking quite pale, rolled her eyes toward the ceiling,
stepped back, and fainted, dead away.
Samantha, Robert, and Gwendolyn
surrounded her on the floor.
"She's fainted," pronounced
Fortesque with authority, "I'll revive her."
Being a teacher he knew C.P.R.He
pressed his lips to hers and gave her his breath.She came around
and groaned, holding the back of her head.Evidently she's struck
it on the way down.Sam helped her stagger out the door where they
took her to the E.R. at St. Francis. Robert and Gwendolyn
left.Long before they got home they realized their joke had gone
too far.Robert sat up all that night, unable to sleep.He had the
strange sensation that when his lips touched hers there was a
certain something about them, something familiar.Something he
"That's odd," he thought, "I'm sure
I tasted her somewhere before."
The next day he came into the 99
with a bouquet of carnations.He found out from Sam that Hildy was
alright.It was only a slight concussion.
"Here, give these to her," he told
Sam, "with my apologies."
"Give them to her yourself," she
answered, "she's only one block from here."
She gave him the directions.
"It's the least I can do," he said
sheepishly, and was out the door.
Hildy was lying on the bed, watching
Days of Our Lives, eating Famous Amos cookies with milk.The phone
"Yes?" she said, and standing on her
toes, said, "Yes!" and slammed down the receiver.
She put the cookies and milk away,
grabbed a long bandage, and looking in the dresser mirror wrapped
it around her head.She'd stop occasionally to artfully arrange an
errant lock of red and let it stick out.Then she'd leaned close
to the mirror, up on her toes again, and checked her mascara.She
grabbed a DVD, put it into the slot and looked around.
"Is that all?" she asked herself.No
"Now, where's that remote?" she said
aloud.Finding it she made a super jump and landed back in
bed.Just in time too, as the doorbell rang.
"Yes?" she said rather weakly, "Who
"It's me, Fortesque, the guy from
the 99," the voice said.
"Who?" she said aloud, but in her
head she thought, "Fortesque, the poor guy, a Hell of a
"Me, Mister Idiot," he
"Oh, you," she said with just the
right taste of irritation in her voice but still all weak, "Come
Fortesque was an evil genius but he
was no fool.He led with the carnations.
"Oh, how nice," she said demurely,
"just put them there, by the aquarium."
"You have tropical fish I see, me
"Just Tetras. Serpaes, Neons, a few
Cardinals, they're so colorful but so hard to breed."
He was impressed. He said," Breeding
is the thing that separates the true aquarist from the common
With each passing minute he was
starting to feel more comfortable.
He thought, "How soft and feminine
she looks, even with her head all bandaged."
"Does it hurt much?"
"No," she replied softly," not
much."She was more than telling the truth here.
"I'm so sorry," he said, "I know I'm
He saw her pale hand hanging down
near the edge of the bed.What he did next he was compelled to
do.He took it, got down on one knee and began to confess.He told
her everything.When he'd finished she said,
"I'm a bit hungry now, but can you
do me a favor?" as if she'd heard nothing at all.
"Anything." he said, feeling quite
melodramatic.He loved melodrama.
"Could you heat up some lasagna for
me?I get dizzy when I get up.Have you had lunch?"
He admitted he didn't.
"Then fix some for us both, I made
plenty for two"
So he did.In ten minutes they were
eating lasagna together.
"I'm a bit bored, so I've been
laying here watching old movies, see?"
With that she clicked on the DVD,
then the TV.
"Wow," he said between mouthfuls of
lasagna, "it's one of my favorites; it's Twenty Thousand Leagues
under the Sea!"
"It's got Kirk Douglas and Peter
Lorry," she said.
"And James Mason," he
"Don't you just love his
He was too engrossed in the film to
answer but she knew he did.So they sat there, eating lasagna,
watching old movies, on a perfect afternoon, the curtains softly
swaying from the open window.Later, they ate tangerines for
desert, which he'd noticed in the kitchen in a bowl.He held her
hand, peeled tangerines for her, and somehow, he had to admit,
felt more comfortable in her company than he ever had ever felt
before.Three months later they were married.
You might say then that she won him
with his own lists. But it wouldn't be completely true.There was
one other list.It was her list.I found it when I was helping her
move out, on moving day. She was moving in with him.You know how
people always get best friends to help them move.They're the only
ones they trust.So there I was and there they were.A bunch of
papers lying in an empty drawer.
"You want these?" I said, "What are
"Just some old recipes," she
answered, "toss 'em."
Always on the alert for a good
recipe and totally unable to throw anything out I went through
them.I saw one for spaghetti sauce, one for chicken salad, but
the last one was different.
Here's what it said:
1. James Mason---research his
2. Italian cooking-get killer
3. Research Tetras-borrow
4. Teachers-----must know CPR
5. 1 tube tangerine lip balm
"What's this recipe for?" I
asked.You see, at that time I wasn't aware of the story.
We were working hard, carrying boxes
back and forth.Hildy had always been a hard worker.
She put a box down, wiped a sweaty
red curl from her forehead with her arm and replied,
"That's my recipe for success," she
said, "it's comfort food."