Romance Crime

“Tell me, how do you think I ended up here, in prison?” Lourdes leaned against the heavy metal door, muffled voices echoed from the hall outside; shouting, laughing and cursing. Lourdes wore a clean and pressed inmate uniform, her white tennis shoes glowed white. She pushed her thick framed glasses tight against her face with a knuckle. 

Gloria sat on the bunk, her attention on her wine red nails, picking invisible fluff off her bed, anything to not look at Lourdes. Her few possessions, still lay crumpled in a pile on the bed next to her. Lourdes’s eyes lingered a moment over Gloria, the uniform tight against her hips and her full breasts, before she shifted back to her face. 

Gloria finally risked a glance at the small Mexican woman, black hair pulled tight into a single, thick braid down her back. 

“I’ve heard about you, from the other girls. I don't know- you killed somebody….” Gloria’s eyes held the fear her voice tried to hide.

Lourdes laughed, echoing in the tight, hard walled room.

“Despite our present location, I am wimp! More of a keyboard warrior-” Her fingers mimed typing. “ Are you hungry? How ‘bout I make you something while we talk.” 

The offer made no sense in the small cell. Gloria looked around at the tiny sink, and the collection of pouches, cans and to-go sauce packets on the shelf above the thin metal table.

“Go ahead!” She giggled, too loud, as her fear released at the ridiculous thought.

”I am so hungry I can eat the toothpaste.” Gloria caught Lourdes’s eyes as she leaned back on the bed, one elbow propping her up. “Just so you know my tastes, I prefer men...”

Lourdes's face, dark and smooth curled into a grin. “OK, understood. We’re just talking about some food, a welcome to prison life. I’m not good at much, really only a couple of things. But one of them is cooking.” She turned to the limited selection of ingredients, one hand folded across her wide body, the other pushed up her glasses again before tapping her chin.   

“Don't worry, I was trained as a chef, even worked at the French Laundry.” Lourdes glanced at the woman on the low bed, as her hands collected items from the shelf. “Have you heard of it, one of the best restaurants in the country-"

“Bullshit. You couldn’t pick up the garbage at the French Laundry. Gloria flicked her long deep red nails, manicured to a shiny gloss. “Dan and I went there once, before-”

“Before you got caught with your insurance fraud scheme.”

“I told you I had nothing to do with that, it was all Dan, and his stupid partners, Chris, Tony and them-” Gloria’s beauty disappeared into a raging animal, her face twisted into a scowl. “They dragged me into it by putting everything in my name. They were so stupid, and greedy. I was such a fool, and now I’m here.” She slammed her hand on the hard bed.

“Another innocent woman in prison. Join the club.” Lourdes took a clean trash bag out of a box and carefully opened it up, rolling the top down to make a small pouch. Her dark tattooed hands moved in quick, efficient movements. 

“I’m not innocent, I did all they say I did, and more.” Lourdes tore open a package of ramen noodles, and removed the spice packet. “But it is like everything in life, you have to focus on the good bits. I had a good life outside, and now with some connections, I have a good life inside.”

She crumbled the dry hard noodles into the trash bag. She picked up several spice packets and carefully tore them, and poured them in too.

“I collect information, and then use that information to help people. The difference between what is common knowledge and what I know, well it has some value.”

“You’re a hacker?” Gloria asked, confusion in her voice. 

“That’s one word for it. People pay attention to the wrong things, get the news from the wrong sources. Just as a magician gets the audience to look at the right hand instead of the left, I direct attention, of sports bettors, of home buyers, and-”

“How is that illegal? Dan bet on sports all the time-”

“Did Dan ever win?”

“He lost his ass. Just like everything Dan touched-”

"My clients won. You know what a betting line is, the difference of the points a team will win or lose by? I can influence that number, through mis-direction. But that’s not only why I’m here.”

 Lourdes opened a bag of Taki chips and poured it into the garbage bag, then looked inside, shaking the bag back and forth.

“You didn't tell what happened to all the money?” Lourdes asked. "From your schemes-"

"We were going to get out of insurance.” Gloria leaned back on the bunk." We’d invested in this start up, Eat4Joy, that-”

“...the recipe app that would revolutionize home cooking.” Lourdes finished.

Gloria lifted up, eyes . “It was going to be huge! They were talking about an IPO, and just needed another round of funding. Except once we wrote the check, poof!”

Gloria’s hands shot up like an explosion of fireworks, then fell back in her lap. 

“Not like it was exactly your money anyway-” Lourdes raised an eyebrow.

“We're going to be legit!” Gloria shouted, “and then that company made terrible decisions...”.

“Those start ups are a gamble. And didn’t you think it was suspicious their offices were that nice? Top floor suite, views of the San Francisco Bay…” 

 “How do you know that?" Gloria said. "I did go to their offices, I did my research. Everything checked out, we met the executives-”

“Yes, that’s where we met.” Lourdes dipped her face back into the bag to smell. 

Gloria looked up, “I’ve never met you-”.

“Well I looked different, in a business suit I was in the corner, with the laptop? I helped with your 'research'."

Gloria’s mouth dropped open. 

“We only see what we want to see. You wanted to see a successful company. Dan wanted a get-rich quick scheme. Neither were true.”

 Lourdes held up a can opener and a can of tuna.” Here, can you help me?"

“So is this just a coincidence?" Gloria asked.

Lourdes touched Gloria's hand softly as she placed the ca,. and opener in her hand. "Not exactly."

The can opened with a pop, and the sharp, pungent smell of fish and salt poured out, thick in the small airless room. 

“That smells awful!

 Lourdes dumped the can into her trash bag, and gently fondled the bottom, mixing the ingredients, quickly dissipating the smell.

 “I followed your case and when I heard you were coming here, I called in some favors. I thought we’d make good roommates.”

Lourdes added another spice packet, sniffing, and then massaged the bottom, slowly adding a can of salsa. “You’re right your husband was stupid. Did you know about his affair with Sophia?”

“You knew about that too? “ Gloria wrapped her arms around herself, wrapped tight like a rolled taco. “Not at first, not until the trial really. But then I saw how they were together. Men are assholes.”

“Of course they are. It's just about ready.”

 Lourdes added some hot water from the sink, and gave the bag one last push. 

She poured the continents onto another clean trash bag on the table. The orange, thick smear of condiments and top ramen noodles oozed across the white plastic bag. Lourdes opened a bag of Doritos and then crumbled the chips over the top like finishing salt. 

“You want me to eat that?” Gloria’s face contorted in disgust. The thick concoction glistened in the bright lights of the cell.

Lourdes stepped back to look at the orange and gray goo on the trash bag. 

“I have found that sometimes, meals taste better when you close your eyes. Here I’ll help you.” 

Gloria blinked once, and then twice before closing her eyes. Lourdes put her hand on Gloria's shoulder, and then with her other hand, directed her spoon to the dish, and then after collecting a bite-sized portion, paused in front of her nose.

 “Smell first.” Lourdes whispered to Gloria, her face close.

Gloria inhaled, and then a small grin grew. 

“Wow, that smells amazing!"

“Tell me what you smell-” Lourdes hushed.

Gloria pursed her lips, and scrunched up her nose.” 

 I smell shrimp, and lemon, and -what’s that Mexican salt?”

“Tajin, you’re good. Lourdes moved even closer. “Ok, now take a bite.”

Gloria hesitated, and then put the plastic spoon in her mouth, her face twisted in anticipatory disgust.  

Her eyes popped open, her mouth chewing. “That was fantastic! Did you switch it?” 

She looked down at the gross smear still on the newspaper, Lourdes’s face still inches from her own. 

“It had a texture, and flavor, it tasted like it had meat in it!"

“That’s umami, the meat flavor. Not quite the French Laundry, but I don't think Chef Thomas Keller could've done much better in prison.” 

Lourdes took a bite herself. 

“I think that is about as good as I can make it. I hope you enjoy your first meal of ‘The Spread’, an unorthodox, but delicious recipe for prison fare. Would you like to make some bruschetta? “ Lourdes took out a loaf of wonder bread, and then scooped up the Spread into small, open face sandwiches, quickly finishing off remainder. 

“Besides Dan and yourself, some other big players were caught up in the fake IPO. I was arrested for money laundering, tax fraud, among other things.” Lourdes said.

“But they never were able to find the money.”

“You still have it?”

“A few months in here, and then I’ll take a trip to Panama, to visit some friends…” 

Lourdes sat next to Gloria on the bed, and placed her hand gently on her knee. "Maybe you can come visit when you’re out?”  She took off her glasses. “So what do you think, have your tastes changed?”

Gloria looked down, and then around. Her legs crossed, and then uncrossed. 

 “So said you were good at two things, cooking and-”

“That requires a hands on demonstration.” Lourdes smiled

Gloria folded her arms, and then unfolded them, her eyes looking away. 

“I haven't done this with a girl before-”

“Sometimes, meals taste better when you close your eyes.” Lourdes whispered. 

Gloria smiled and closed her eyes. “Then, you’d better help me.” She leaned in for a kiss. 

December 15, 2023 19:20

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Michał Przywara
04:28 Dec 19, 2023

A neat take on the prompt! Like others said, unexpected. The Spread sounds both like a challenge and an adventure. I think it underscores how people can adapt to pretty much anything, and with time, figure out how to make the best of a situation. And fittingly, the meal is not what it seems. The whole story is about misdirection, and frankly Lourdes seems frighteningly aware and manipulative. I believe her when she says she'll be out soon. If nothing else, Gloria is learning a lot. Thanks for sharing!


Marty B
16:40 Dec 19, 2023

Yes, Lourdes lives in the 'spread' between the truth and distorted reality. Gloria needs to keep on her best behavior, or she might be added to the next iteration of the Spread! Thanks!


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Nicolle C
13:22 Dec 21, 2023

Unique take on the prompt and very well written!


Marty B
18:55 Dec 21, 2023

Thanks Nicolle!


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08:23 Dec 20, 2023

"Have your tastes changed in prison?" she asked. "Yes, they have...." haha I think Orange is the new Marty, Wattpad get ready for this! This fast fun story was unique and interesting, good work!


Marty B
18:57 Dec 20, 2023

Thanks! The peculiar institution of prison brings the strangest people together, maybe even romance? Or maybe just Gloria just knows what is good for her... ;) Martin


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Belladona Vulpa
19:26 Dec 19, 2023

Nice take on the prompt! At some moments I was wondering if that stuff is even allowed in prisons, but maybe I'm influenced by movies and such haha. I expected/imagined someone killing someone with a plastic bag or cutting with the food can. I didn't expect this turn though, and I am also curious about Lourdes' motives. Interesting and engaging characters that kept the rhythm of the story, with some themes here and there to add depth. The female-prison setting reminds me of Orange is the New Black Series.


Marty B
01:04 Dec 20, 2023

I read the book 'Orange is the New Black', however have not seen the show. Some of that book I am sure influenced this story. I did looked into prison recipes, and the Spread is a real thing, with all items for sale in the commissary. Although I can not say if it tastes good or bad. Based on how hungry you are, I guess ;) Thanks!


Belladona Vulpa
08:11 Dec 20, 2023

I haven't watched all of the show, just a couple of seasons binge-watching a long time ago when I was without apartment and staying at my best friend's from my undergrad. I vaguely remember the setting, our mutual dislike of Piper, and that there was a lot of prison sex. I do hope that the book was better than the show. It's cool that you base it on a real recipe!


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Helen A Smith
10:41 Dec 18, 2023

Wow! Unexpected take on the prompt. The food sounded grimace-worthy, but it obviously tasted great. I like the bit about adapting. Good build-up here. It wasn’t coincidence that the two were sharing a cell. I liked the idea of taking the good bits from the bad in life - always the best way.


Marty B
22:15 Dec 18, 2023

I have not attempted to make, or eat 'The Spread' myself, but have heard -when hungry enough- it is pretty tasty. Agreed, we all have to take life as it comes and find the positives! Thanks!


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AnneMarie Miles
13:47 Dec 16, 2023

I love the direction you took this prompt! Cooking in prison truly must be a creative art form. With so little ingredients available, Lourdes managed to concoct something delicious, and as a welcome to prison meal for Gloria no less! Wonderful premise that adds some interesting conflict to the story (what with the odiferous tuna!). I like that this was also a little romance story. You foreshadowed the ending nicely with the earlier descriptions of Lourdes checking out Gloria. Nicely done!


Marty B
19:20 Dec 16, 2023

Cooking for someone is an offer of love, even in prison! I don't know if I would eat it, but I've heard the Spread is pretty tasty :0 Martin


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11:27 Dec 16, 2023

Well the meal did the trick alright! Nice one Marty . Lourdes is a fascinating character.


Marty B
19:21 Dec 16, 2023

Everyone has their strengths, and it is all about how you use them to your advantage ;) Thanks!


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