Queen of the Donut Palace
By Steven Hunley
She was in her early 20’s when I first met her.She was very beautiful.She had magnificent eyes, and skin so fair it could only have graced a girl from Sinaloa.In fact, the only way to describe it
was to say it glowed.Equally from Mexico were her high cheekbones, a sign of her Aztec heritage.The combination of cheeks and fair skin was decisive.She was slim, rather tall for a Hispanic girl,
with a wide expressive mouth and dazzling white teeth.When I first saw her, her hair was a rich dark brown, almost black, with blond highlights running through.She was definitely alluring.The fire
in her dark eyes, the warmth of her smile, the seductiveness of her movements, suggested so much passion that it wasn’t quite fair.She had wicked combinations.She combined reticence with
articulateness, stubbornness with intelligence.Her weapons, for both offence and defense, were her eyes and her smile. If she turned her eyes on a man and withheld the smile, even the hardest would
melt, like wax from a candle.If, on the other hand, she combined them with the smile, even the toughest would fall under her spell.Either way one could say that both her look and her looks were
devastating.She was as they say, a woman to be reckoned with.
She was born in Mazatlan.While still young her family moved north, first to Tijuana, then to L.A., and finally settled in Compton. Her father walked off one day, right after her quinceanera, never
to return.To support her brothers and mother, she got a job in a donut shop, the Donut Palace.It was owned by a Cambodian man, who despite the fact he was ex-Khymer Rouge, was known throughout the
neighborhood as Chino.Many other Hispanic girls had worked there over the years but she was the best.Her being bilingual, hard working, and pretty was good for business, and kept her in Chino’s
If she was late, he kid her mercilessly,
“One more time Claudia and you know what I’ll have to do.”
“Yeah Chino, you’ll go get the rope, string donuts on it, and torture me.”
Then they, and anyone else who was listening, would laugh.Working at the Donut Palace was good.She was happy and would have worked there forever.Then something bad happened.On her way home one
night, two wannabe gangsters accosted her.One stood in front of her blocking her way, and one stood in back.The one in front had a gun. She could see the moonlight glinting off the barrel.
“Well girl,” he said, “it’s time to give it up.”
That didn’t sound too good.The other one, who’d probably been watching too many movies said,
“Yeah, Chica, stand and deliver!”
Thinking quickly, she ripped the gold chain form her throat, and threw it at their feet.While they grappled for it she ran away.In that neighborhood the police don’t look too hard or too long, so
nothing became of it, only the oceans of tears she cried in her Momma’s lap.
From that day on security became her issue.She searched for it everywhere, but never seemed to find it.She couldn’t feel it and couldn’t see it, until one day, when on two feet, it walked right
into her shop.
He was, as they say, tall, dark, and handsome.By dark I mean he had black hair, rather short but nicely cut, and his beard, when he didn’t shave close, would add a blue cast to his rather square
and rugged jaw.Also dark were his eyes, close set, with long lashes.He was over six feet, his features regular, and his body in good shape.He could have been mistaken for a boxer, which he wasn’t,
because he was something else.He was a cop.Even out of uniform he looked like a cop, if you know what I mean.He saw the world in extremes, in black and white, in good and bad.To him, everything was
legal or illegal, everyone either a perpetrator, or a victim, with nothing in between. This made his decisions simpler, and with that, life itself more simple. And that’s how he liked it.
She took to him right away.He had a winning smile, and looked so smart and fit in his uniform.He seemed so confident and relaxed yet official at the same time.She respected his position.He was so
steady, so consistent.As for him, he felt her magnetism.She would greet him and always with a smile.That was all at first, but it was more than enough.Soon he was by twice a week, then even on
weekends. He would come in on Sundays when he was off and read the Wall Street Journal after Chino was finished with it. He liked how the stock prices went up and down.Often they would bet on the
outcomes, as Cambodians, as is well known, are great gamblers.One time Chino asked Eduardo for some advice.Tagging crews from the Segundos and Lime Hood were constantly marking up the wall near the
“Just put in a camera Chino,” he advised smugly,” That’ll catch the bastards.”
After a while she knew how he liked his coffee., two sugars and cream.She knew his favorite donuts, powdered sugar. After a bit longer she even fixed his coffee for him herself.He would come in
with his partner and display his familiarity with her.When fixing his coffee she’d ask,
“Eduardo is it sweet enough?” though she knew it was.
“Not as sweet as you, Reyna.” he’d reply.
After a few weeks he finally asked her out and she consented.Eventually, after several dates they became an “item.”She referred to him as her “novio” and that was that.She felt secure at
last.Everything about them seemed so close, and at first it was.But it was not to last.
The hint of what was to happen happened during aftermath.It was in the morning, a day off for him, and waking early, the sun barely up, they made love.Afterwards, as she lay there on the pillow,
her chin supported by her hand, she gazed at him lovingly.What a man he was!So strong.Strong eyes, strong jaw, strong chin.But what was this?A scar that she had never noticed before, ran up under
his jaw and slightly up under his chin.
“What’s this?” she said, softly running her finger playfully along the line.
“That?” he answered, “It’s nothing, just nothing.”
“It’s nothing?” she queried, “What do you mean?”
“It’s nothing, just nothing.” he said firmly.
From the tone in his voice she knew not to enquire further. He rolled over and faced the wall. Although there was a window there she knew he wasn’t looking out.
“Just forget it,” he said, and for a while she did.
But days later, small things, little things, began to bother her.She would, for instance, ask him about work that day.
“How was it today, Eduardo?” she’d say after a kiss.
“Same ol’ same ol’ he’d reply.”
Even when he did talk he never seemed to give her the details she wanted.From his viewpoint he was protecting her. He was a man who knew the cruel world.He didn’t carry his work home with him.He’d
seen many bad things and protected himself from walling them off, by compartmentalizing them.He would box them up and throw the box away as far as possible.In this way he protected himself from the
evil.He would protect her too. He’d do both of them a favor.He was so used to this process, that he was quite out of touch with his own feelings, and cut off.But at the same time he was cut off
from her as well.For her, it was the tip of the wedge.She didn’t know it at the time. She only knew that he didn’t want to let her in.A woman may want to be protected but she wants to set the
limits of her protection.When they want in they want in.After all, who was it that opened the box? Pandora.Where men are hesitant, women are often bold.To Eduardo, physical closeness meant intimacy
and they had reached that some time ago.He viewed her questions about his mental state as intrusive, even offensive.Still, they regarded themselves as lovers, even though a barbed-wire fence had
been put up between them.It existed only in their unconscious but it was there none the less. Unfortunately this fence of the mind wouldn’t, like a real fence, grow rusty and duller with time.The
barbs, in fact, grew sharper.
Then one day, a fateful call in their game of love was made.She’d just come back from work.She kissed him a greeting.
“Gee Baby, (he called her Baby) you smell like powdered sugar.”
“I didn’t notice,” she replied, “I guess I’m around it so much I can’t tell.”
“You always smell like powdered sugar Babe.”
And that was all that was said, but it was more than enough.Two weeks later, tired of waking at 4:30, tired of coffee and donuts, and especially tired of powdered sugar, she quit her job.
In the few weeks it took her to find a new one, the tension between them grew.Although they were still close physically they became farther apart in their minds.Eduardo became more distant each
time she probed. His own feelings were out of reach, and unknowable, so how could he express them to her?He became resentful of what was her attempts to be closer.She thought now that the physical
intimacy was complete; the real intimacy was to begin.But for some reason he was resisting.Then she got a new job, a job at the 99.
The 99 was easy for her.There were various duties, more customers, and no powdered sugar at the end of the day. And it was busy.Even the pay was better.Eduardo came by one day and she showed him
the store proudly.Soon she’d learned all the tasks and mastered them.She was popular with the customers, both men and women, workers too.Everything seemed alright until Alex walked in.
He was tall, thin, and distinguished.By distinguished I mean that he was going grey.His clothes were neat and clean but worn.He had what they call a butt-chin, which means it had a curve that came
up from the jaw and divided it neatly in two.He wore wire-rimmed glasses, which gave him a studious look and implied to many people that he might know something. Sometimes he actually did.She
assumed he was literate, as a pen peaked out from the top of his pocket.That and the glasses indicated to her that he could possibly read and write, and she hit the nail on its’ head.He was a
teacher, an unemployed one at that. He’d been a fine-arts photographer, which meant he never made any money at it, but also that he saw the world in not just black and white, but in 8 distinct
shades of grey in between. Black and white seemed rare to him, and rather extreme.It had become his metaphor for life.This made life rather hard to figure out at times, but he liked a good puzzle.
Although he was well mannered, he had a way of provoking responses in people which he couldn’t help; it had been his stock in trade.He needed a new pen, and paper, when he came in the 99.But Kava
is really what he was looking for.
He’d picked up the Kavahabit in Tahiti while searching for the savage Gauguin.It was still used in Tonga and Fiji, but hard to find in the States.He was stressed because he was out of work, and
bored.He hated the interviews, and the anxiety they produced in him.So he took Kava.
When he walked in, she was the first thing he saw.Her perfection was almost unbelievable.She definitely got his attention.She was polite, even reserved.As time went on he observed her in greater
and greater detail.She became his Venus so to speak.So he placed her on a mental pedestal and dismissed her.He summed her up without all the figures.He saw her as cold and hard as white marble,
even though carved in perfect proportion and with great detail, she showed no hand of the artist who’d made her.But then it happened. Coming in late one night, stressed out as usual, and searching
for Kava, he literally ran into her while she was stocking the aisle.
“I’m so sorry, I wasn’t looking for you, you know, I was looking for Kava.I gotta face 36 strange kids tomorrow, and I’m quite nervous you see.”
It was obvious to her that he was, though over what she couldn’t tell.
“You’re a teacher?” she asked.
“Yes.” he replied, and that was all they needed.
She’d always felt secure with her teachers, so they began to talk. To him, she’d stepped from her pedestal and the Goddess became flesh. He finally saw her as human.Instead of reticent she became
After that they’d often talk as time permitted, and he looked forward to seeing each other.At home one night, he was reading a catalogue for Long Beach City College and when he finished, folded it
and slipped it into his coat pocket.A month later it had turned to winter, and running out of Kava, he slipped on the coat, and went to the 99.He could see her behind her register before he even
went in, and hear the Christmas music.They’d been playing it for days.It was monotonous, hypnotizing, and it droned on and on.Finally he got in line.As she handed him his package and he was paying,
“Aren’t you tired of that music by now?”
“It’s putting me to sleep,” she replied, “Can’t you see my face?”
Before he could think he blurted out, “Well, it may be a sleepy face, but it’s still a pretty face.”
“Why thank you.”
Reaching in his pocket to stuff the receipt, he felt the catalogue.
“Here,” he said, handing it to her.
Then, as she looked up, their eyes met.
“You know Claudia,” he said softly, “you need to get out of here.”
And he walked out into the cold winter night.The die had been cast.By the new semester she’d enrolled, two weeks later she began attending.She only saw him once or twice after that.It was almost as
if he’d disappeared off the face of the earth.But it was only to Chino.
She enrolled as a drama major, and as part of a class requirement she was expected to attend plays. She was late seeing Bram Stoker’s Dracula one night when Eduardo tried to call.But, at the play
they allowed no cell phones, and asked everyone in the audience to turn them off.He couldn’t get through.
Eduardo got tired of waiting.He was running out of places to call and running out of patience.He slugged down a shot of Jack Daniels.He thought about it. Thinking was no good.Time was running
out.He would have to go to work in an hour.Another thought, another frustration, ,nother hit of Jack Daniels.He laid his uniform out on the bed and beside it his belt.It had attached his tazer, his
cuffs, some cartridges, his night stick and his gun.He liked looking at it.It made him feel like Batman, that utility belt, and that was good.It had taken his thoughts off her for a second, but
only for a second, and they returned.Another thought of her, another hit of Jack Daniels.If not in a rage then, then he was close to it.He gave theit up.Grabbing his keys, uniform, and belt, he was
out the door.How he managed to drive so well was a wonder.His brain was vacillating.It was going between his present frustration and thoughts of when they first met.The past and present.Not much in
between.Then he saw up ahead, the Donut Palace.He couldn’t resist.
“If I can’t have her then I’ll have a piece of her,” his sotted brain thought.
It was a piece of her in symbol, a piece of her memory, a powdered donut.This he could locate.This he could get hold of.This he would control.He made a quick right, turned in, and pulled up to the
window.But no one appeared.
“I get a little service?” he yelled, no answer.Then louder,
“Can I get a little service?Where are they, asleep or something?”
Impatient, demanding. and drunk he opened the door and got out.He leaned over and propped himself on the stainless steel of the window’s edge and bellowed,
“Can I get a little service?" no answer.
He put his head half way in.He saw nothing.
“Shit,” he muttered to himself.
But, much to his undoing, as he pulled his head out he saw one thing, the object of his desire, a stack of powdered donuts.
“Shit,” he murmured.
Although they were available visually, physically they were just out of reach.This fact was what would tip the balance.He reached through the window and would have taken one without further
thought.But something stopped him.It wasn’t his inborn sense of morality, or his awareness of its possible illegality.No, it was something else, something quite simple, the length of his arm.It
In disgust he withdrew it and said one more thing,
“Shit,” and sat down in his car a defeated man.
The donuts sat there beckoning, taunting him.Virgin donuts they seemed, pure, white, and untouchable.Then as his bowed head muddled his thoughts even more, his eyes wandered and fell on his belt
lying beside him on the seat.He had, what he thought then, was a brilliant idea.He reached down, grabbing the belt, opened the door and approached the window.Laying it on the stainless-steel
counter, he removed the nightstick.He grabbed it by the end, the handle pointing away and down.He stretched through the opening and easily squewered the donuts with the handle.He felt accomplished,
and in control of the donuts, which he was.What he had lost control of was something else, his fate.
He took them off, ate them greedily with little regard, in the waya man might have sex when it’s for sale, and sped off into the night.He screeched his wheels as he left the driveway, concerned
only with getting to work, his fingers and hands covered with the powdered sugar of lust and conquest.
After that came a full night of arrests, confrontations, and busts. Then, when it was over he returned to the station. When he was checking in at the end of his shift, a surprise was waiting for
him.He saw somebody he knew, and it wasn’t another sheriff.It was Chino.
He was sitting at a desk in the captain’s office with a smile on his face and a videotape in his hand.
To make a short story even shorter, he was put on arrested on the spot.The chromium bracelets were attached to his wrists behind his back, and he was dumped quickly and unceremoniously in a
cell.Three months later he was tried and found guilty.The evidence was on the tape.Chino could not be bought out, as he was unforgiving not only of the crime but of the fact Eduardo had robbed him
“He robbed me twice,” he explained to the D.A., “once for the donuts, and the time before that for thehardest workinggirl I ever had.”
We all knew who he was speaking about.The D.A. had to make the charges stick.He might have prosecuted for simple burglary, but as the judge pointed out in chambers, there was a gun involved.It was
on the counter, “in plain sight” as they say.
Besides,the judge wASCambodian too, and actually a cousin of Chinos twice removed, though nobody knew.He got three years.It hit all the papers in town of course, and even made the hit list on
America’s Stupidest Crimes on Tape.
“My job, my life, and my career, are over.” he thought.
He had three years to think of a new one.
Claudia continued to go to school and eventually transferred to U.S.C. She majored in drama, which she had some practical knowledge of.She appeared in plays at school.An exchange student from Dubai
saw her one night at a performance. He was smitten immediately. She had turned the eyes and smile on him.It worked.He was a prince, it turned out, and his father was filthy rich with oil
revenues.She moved there for the wedding, which formally made her a princess.She got her security at last.She had no regrets, and never looked back.She completely forgot about the powdered sugar
and donuts in general, as they have no donuts there.It was a step down for her, from being a queen to a princess, but she took it in stride.
Alexander got finally got a job teaching.He found it in the California Correctional System, and was posted to Chino, where he taught the prisoners English, E.S.L. and photography.Eduardo ended up
in his class.He taught him photography, and the zone system, which explained that there were 10 zones of grey and not just black and white.
Neither one of them knew about the other, or of their relation to Claudia.If so, they might have resented each other.As it was they enjoyed each other company immensely.
Eduardo read a lot too.He found a copy of the Wall Street Journal in the prison library, and later subscribed.After he got out he became a trader on Wall Street and moved to New York.The Stock
Exchange didn’t seem to care about his thieving past, and he was soon accepted as one of them, and felt right at home.
Alex used his time in Chino well.He wrote a paper titled, “Great Works Written in Stir” which included such diverse works as Mallory’s Morte d’Arthur, and Albert Speer’s autobiography of his life
with Hitler.It created quite a stir in the literary world, and landed him a job at Stanford, where it is said he’s scribbling something new.To me, they all seem better off now than they were,
except for the rough spots of course, but only you can be the judge of that.
© Copyright 2016 Steven Hunley. All rights reserved.