I love her. She means everything to me and has since I first met her at the Newark airport. She just arrived from Europe and I just arrived from Arizona. Who says baggage claim can’t be auspicious?

Anna Draco, what a name! European light complexion, waist length rich brown hair, light dusting of makeup, that red-red lipstick that only a few women can carry off. I was in love.

She knows me as Clark Dale.

Turned out we were staying at the same hotel across from the Jersey version of the Mall of America. She liked to shop; I wanted to spend time with her. Thus, I liked to shop. We did a lot of shopping.

And eating. We went to classic Italian restaurants; to Portuguese places where the olive appetizers are wonderful and the Portuguese port is ever flowing; Peruvian places, Mexican places, Cuban places, Indian places. We went anywhere to be together. Meals are always a haven for talk and romancing.

Across the river to the City for shows, Central Park, the zoo, more lovely restaurants. More talk and romancing.

I make frequent trips to Jersey to consult on various demolition projects in the Northeast. She was in Jersey to decide if she wanted to immigrate to the United States. 

She explained during one of our special suppers that she had had a devastating relationship that turned brutal. Who would hurt Anna?

Then, about four months into our time together, over supper at the restaurant across from the hotel, she broke down and explained some details of that relationship. They were harrowing.

She is from old central European money. Over centuries, her family acquired wealth and local power that some envy and covet. Her uncle Vlad, her guardian since her parents’ death, has enemies. Hard to believe in this day, but that’s what she said.

She met a nice man and fell for him hard. At her uncle’s mansion, she learned that he was not a good man when he stabbed her in the chest with a sharp stick. Not a mortal wound, but extremely bloody and painful on many levels. In self-defense, she killed this beast, this slimy little animal.

Her uncle found her bleeding out and got her medical help. It took months to heal completely. She explained that after two years, here in Jersey with me, her heart was beginning to heal. She said she liked me.

I professed that I had fallen for her at baggage claim. That’s why I’ve done anything I can to be with her.

I asked if she would travel to Arizona with me and let me lead her on the tourist’s circuit around my state. She had reservations about traveling with a single man. I explained that I had already arranged for a condo for her in downtown Phoenix. With the news that she was independent, she accepted my invitation.

Anna explained she’d have to talk with her uncle about the trip. She didn’t see a problem, but he had become more protective of her after that horror two years ago.


hree tables away from us, I sighted an anomaly. A real life cowboy. He could have come off one of the working ranches in New Mexico or Arizona. Plaid-shirted, Stetson shading his face, worn cowboy boots. His profile was indistinct because of the angle of his hat. No one dresses like that in urban Jersey.

This all transpired on Wednesday. I always fly out on Fridays so I can be home and fresh on Saturday to reconcile my accounts. Multi-week trips leave me with a lot of reconciling to do. And, I hate paperwork, so I try to get it done right away. 

I planned to spend the next three weeks at home before my next excursion. I was hoping Anna could come next week so I could spend more time being her tour guide around Arizona.

Thursday evening over appetizers at the hotel’s lobby lounge, she told me her uncle approved of the trip to Arizona. More importantly, he was willing to hold judgment on me for a few weeks. I was glad to hear that and assumed he had someone investigating me. They would find nothing other than a well-traveled engineer who watched his money and who fancied one day getting into politics.

The next day, at the Phoenix airport gathering up my luggage, I swear that old cowboy from Jersey was leaning up against a rail at the baggage claim area. He didn’t seem intent on anything except relaxing in the airport. Odd.

Anna arrived in Phoenix the Tuesday after I returned. She said she could stay four weeks. She’d stay at the condo when we weren’t sightseeing.

That evening we went to supper at my favorite Irish pub in downtown Phoenix, right around the corner from Anna’s condo. Irish whiskey and Guinness flowed for hours. Anna said she liked the place and her condo. My nervousness slowly subsided.

Stepped back out into downtown Phoenix. Out of a gentrified Irish pub. The usual springtime foot traffic meandering on the sidewalks around us. Ubers and taxis gliding past us. Across the street, leaning against the red brick, that Jersey cowboy. What the heck?

I pointed him out to Anna. Anna said nary a word and showed no sign she saw anything out of the ordinary. 

I walked Anna back to her condo building and walked around the corner to my hotel.

I picked her up about eight-ish for breakfast. Another lovely meal with Anna: she, poached eggs on buttered sourdough toast for her; chorizo omelet and Bloody Mary and lots of coffee for me. 

Downtown Phoenix stroll, picking out places to visit later. Decided to make a run to Grand Canyon the next morning for a few days.

After breakfast we scooted up I-17 to I-40 to get us on our way to the Grand Canyon. Planned to spend three days in that area doing the usual tourist gig. Spend nights at the old hotel  right on the Canyon rim. Adjoining deluxe rooms overlooking the Canyon. Spectacular views.

Several hours later we parked at the hotel, gathered up our stuff, headed to the front stairs. Jersey cowboy! How in the devil did he get here?

I turned to Anna. “Please tell me you see that guy.”

“Which guy? There’s at least 20 tourists here!”

“That cowboy leaning against that post there on the left at the top of the stairs!”

“Sorry, Clark. I can’t say that I do.”

I couldn’t believe her. This guy was no more than 30’ from us and in plain sight. Last night, now this? I looked at her, looked back at him; gone. I knew I wasn’t losing it; so, I had to figure this out.

Checked in, made reservations for supper, found our rooms, changed into strolling clothes, hand-in-handed it around the south rim. I really did love this woman.

At the Southern Rim Trail lookout, “Anna, I know we only met a few months ago, but would you consider marrying me? My place is pleasant, a bit isolated, historic, secured. We can live there and use it as our base. The Phoenix airport is two hours away; the Tucson airport is about one and a half hours away. We could be anywhere easily. I can support us quite comfortably. There’s a guest house so your family can come and stay as long as they’d like.”

“Let me answer at supper.”

“Deal.” It wasn’t a no.

The minutes flowed at glacial speed to supper. We finished our stroll, went to our rooms, cleaned up and dressed for supper. I was to meet her at the desk in the lobby.

I got down there about five minutes early and stepped out onto the porch. Looking across the parking lot, I saw the Jersey cowboy slouched against my truck facing the hotel. I looked down to take the first step down the stairs, looked back up and he was gone. That dirty…. Where did he go?

Back in the lobby, Anna was standing with a very well-dressed man. Half a head taller than me and half a chest wider than me, he was a striking figure. As Anna’s look acknowledged me, he looked across to me. Not an entirely calming experience.

“You want to marry my niece?” he quietly queried. Right there in the lobby with no introduction, he wanted a straight answer. 


“Why? Do you know who I am? What I am?”

“I want to marry her because I love her and want to share my life with her. I gather you are Anna’s uncle and I know she loves and respects you. I know you are a wealthy and powerful man. I know that Anna and I can be happy and financially comfortable on what I earn doing what I do. I want nothing from you except your blessing to wed Anna and for you to continue loving her even if she marries an American.” 

“Nothing will stop me loving my niece. As far as all the other stuff, I respect you. Anna speaks well of you. Her defender speaks well of you. You only see him when he is willing to expend the energy to become visible. Trust me, if he feels you threaten Anna, you won’t see him leaning on anything. The last thing you will see is a red plaid blur of death.

I’ll meet you two in the dining room. I have taken the liberty of inviting myself to your supper.”

Anna started, “If that wasn’t too threatening, I’d like to explain a few things and then answer your question. May I?”

“Of course, but only if you let me say that I don’t care how threatening that came across, I love you and want to spend my life with you. I promise I will do everything I can to be an example of what a good husband should be.”

She went on to explain, “You’re right, that is my uncle Vlad. He sent Max, my defender to watch us, to ensure my safety. I could not say I saw Max because most people cannot see him and anyone else listening might have thought we were both crazy. 

“Uncle Vlad is wise as only a centuries-old man can be. Max has been his valet all that time. He likes looking like an American cowboy. He is now my hidden defender for the rest of my life granting privacy as appropriate. His first duty is to protect me, and he can appear anywhere essentially instantly.

“Having said all that and if the offer still stands, yes, I very much want to marry you.”

“Anna, I really do want to marry you.”

“I’m glad. And, Frank, your secrets are safe with us. Yes, we know you and your secrets and I still want to marry you.”

April 18, 2020 03:47

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Chuck Thompson
22:59 May 04, 2020

Frank is first introduced in "20 Little Horrors" by D.S. Knight (my pen name). He is quite the character.... Some of his antics are at https://www.amazon.com/s?k=20+little+horrors+d.s.+knight&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss Mr. Knight is working on a collection of short stories in which Frank is featured.


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Alexis Klein
22:42 Apr 22, 2020

I want to know what else Frank did!!! I love this story SO much!


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Kathleen Jones
20:12 Apr 18, 2020

The story is a great beginning for a much longer story or a book. Makes me want to know more about what has happened to them before they met.


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