Masking Divorced Dads

MASKING DIVORCED DADS

 

By Rita Chante

Author’s note: this copyrighted short story uses masks to solve some of the economic dilemmas brought by during single parenting.

PART ONE

“Susie, I know you want a new prom dress, but your mother hasn’t come up with the child support again this month,” informed Armando Rendon.

“Why do we have to rely on the money she sends, Dad?”

“Because between insurance policies, house payments, car payments, credit card payments, taxes, utilities and food, everything I make from my two jobs is already spent before I even get my pay checks. You know that better than your brothers and sisters. I really appreciate how you help write out the checks each month. Since you have been doing it, the check book always balances.”

“I guess you are right, but it will be so embarrassing going to the prom in the bride’s maid dress I wore at Tia Chevalas’ wedding,” complained Susie. “I have tried several designs and patterns, but no matter what I do, the color and material just makes the garment look like a badly altered bride’s maid dress.”

“Don’t worry, honey. I’ll see what I can do,” promised Armando Rendon.

“Dad?” called Tomas from the garage.”

“I can’t rebuild this carburetor again. We have to get a new one, and the battery and tires are on their last legs.”

“I hear you, Tomas. Do you think we can get at least another month out of them? I almost have the van paid off and then we can use the van payment money to make the repairs.”

“If you like gambling with our lives when we go down the freeway, Dad,” replied Tomas. “Maybe the carburetor can be jury rigged to function another month or two, but the same cannot be said for the tires and the battery.”

“I will see what I can do, Tomas, but yours is not the only request this morning. I had already planned on giving your mother a call from my work. Our phone bill can’t take anymore long distance calls,” declared Armando Rendon as he tried to juggle the family priorities in his mind.

“That call better be sooner than later, Dad, or the van will kill us all,” asserted Tomas as he went back into the garage to try and piece the ancient van back together.

“Dad?” shouted Robina from the bathroom. “The toilet won’t stop flushing again and the crack in the broken toilet seat just pinched my leg for the fifth time this week. When can we get a new one?”

“I have that on my wish list along with everything else, Robina, but the van and your sister’s prom dress are ahead of the toilet on my list of things to do,” announced Armando Rendon.

“I’m always the last on the list. The upstairs toilet is totally shot. I guess I just have to pee in the back yard,” moaned Robina.

“Isn’t there any bread to make my lunch, Dad?” asked Roberto. “It’s not that I don’t love bologna sandwiches, but I get hungry between school and my part time job. Besides, periodic bologna is better than the constant diet of peanut butter that Susie feeds us.”

“Don’t lay that on Susie, Roberto. She is making do with what we have. I will try to do some shopping on my way home from work, Roberto, but I have stretched the food budget just about as far as I can this month. I have a special job finished that I am expecting some payment on. I will try to get the groceries out of that, but a dollar just doesn’t go as far as it used to at the Costco Warehouse,” declared Armando Rendon.

“Dad, I need some money for my shop fees at school,” declared Mario. “This is the third time my teacher has asked me for it and I am running out of excuses, Dad.”

“I’m sorry that you have to do that son, but you can tell your shop teacher for me, that money doesn’t grow on trees!”

“When can I tell him that we will have the fees, Dad?”

“I’ll figure that out today and tell you this evening, Mario,” stated Armando Rendon.

“It better be soon, Dad, or I may as well drop out of school.”

“I don’t want to hear any talk about dropping out. Tell you teacher that somehow you will have those damn fees tomorrow even if I have to rob a bank!” proclaimed Armando Rendon.

If it weren’t that the kids were helping out in a myriad of ways and patient with the long waits for items that their peers had almost instantly, Armando would not have tolerated the morning petition ritual for funds to do anyone of a number of things. It had been this way ever since Natalie had divorced them and moved to Nevada. One day she just announced that she wanted to be free before Armando and the kids used up her youth. A horn sounded from the curb in front of the house. “At least it is not my week to drive the van pool,” muttered Armando to himself. “Will you have the van working so you can shuttle every one to their respective schools, Tomas?”

“I’m about five minutes from that, Dad, but I am going to need at least five dollars for gas. Grandpa’s old Explorer is just one tank of gas away from running, Dad.”

“I’ll look into that too, Tomas. I thought we were just cannibalizing it to get the van running.”

“In some ways it is in much better shape than the van, Dad.”

“Then use your best judgment, son,” said Armando.

“I didn’t need to eat lunch again today,” said Armando as he pulled five dollars out of his wallet and gave it to his oldest son. “If you need more than that you are going to have to borrow from one of the kid’s piggy banks.”

“This should do, Pops. You better catch your ride before they leave you here,” suggested Tomas. “This five bucks won’t be enough to get you to work too.”

“You are going to make a great wife and mother, Tomas,” said Armando Rendon with a chuckle.

“I’m just following you as my role model, Pops,” joked Tomas.

“Make sure that everyone has brushed their teeth, Susie.”

“I will, Dad. Please tell Mom that I need that dress.”

“I will honey. I’m off kids,” called out Armando as the horn from the curb sounded again. To a chorus of “good-byes” and “be wells” Armando gathered a couple of bananas, some celery stalks with peanut butter that Susie was making for her lunch, his brief case and exited his crowded house. Arturo was waiting with the rest of the van poolers at the curb in the small Ford Van.

“Hurry-up man,” called out Arturo. “The radio says the freeway is backed up and I don’t want us to be late to work. Edwardo already had the shotgun door open and the van was ready to leave the curb.”

“The van sound’s good, Arturo. Whom do you have working on it?” asked Armando as he climbed into the passenger side, front bucket seat.

“Your boy, Tomas, does good work, Armando. He is a gifted mechanic. He has my van purring like a little kitten,” said Arturo with pride. “You should set him up with a shop.”

“Are you going to loan me the money to do that, Arturo?”

“You have got to be kidding, dude. You know I would if I could. I love that kid of yours, but by the time I gave my mother money for the groceries and all my kids their lunch money, I am down to two oranges for lunch.”

“I’ll trade you an orange for a banana, Arturo,” quipped Armando. “It didn’t used to get like this until the end of the month.”

“You got that right, Armando,” confirmed Tino from the back seat. “I don’t even have a banana or an orange to trade.”

“I’ll split some of my celery stalks with you Tino,” offered Armando.

“Do they have peanut butter on them?” asked Tino.

“They are loaded with it. Thank God my kids love peanut butter. They put it on everything,” said Armando.

“Can I have a couple of those celery sticks with peanut butter now? I didn’t get any breakfast,” proclaimed Tino. “Things are so tight at my house that I have given-up drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. That ex-bitch of mine not only isn’t helping me out with the kids; she wants me to float a second loan on my house to buy her a beauty shop. Can you believe that?”

“You think that is bad, Tino?” asked Chato Reyes. “The whore that I was married to wants me to cough up some money to buy her new boyfriend a car. She missed on the orthodontic payments for my girls and I don’t know where I am going to get the funds to keep that wolf away from my door.”

“Being a single dad with kids is hell,” said Arturo as he pulled into the car pool lane to enter the freeway. “I can’t even afford to shop at Wal-Mart anymore. If it wasn’t for Barrio garage sales, and the fact that used looking clothes are in style, my kids wouldn’t have any clothes to wear to school.”

“If it wasn’t for garage sales and that weekend selling stuff at the flea market, I wouldn’t have been able to make my house payment this month,” stated Armando.

“There just has to be a better way to make ends meet, guys,” said Tino.

“Why don’t you write to Macy’s and ask them for a grant?” asked Edwardo.

“What does that mean?” probed Tino.

“I don’t know. We just passed the Oak Ridge shopping complex and I saw the Macy’s sign. I don’t need another loan, or a third job. If my mother didn’t live with us and do my child care, I don’t know what I would do. I just thought that it would be nice if the big corporations that cleaned out our ex-wives and gave them those voracious consumer appetites that we can’t afford, also gave a little back to us.”

“Fat chance of that happening,” suggested Chato.

“Don’t discount him so fast, Chato. Maybe Edwardo is on to something,” stated Armando Rendon. “My dreams keep telling me that I have to figure out something. My kids are great, but I have to start putting something away for their college. They are too smart to be day laborers or servants for some other family just because their mother is a selfish floozy.”

“You really think that Macy’s would make us a grant, Armando,” asked Arturo?

“Maybe they might if they didn’t know about it,” responded Armando Rendon.

“I not sure I like what you are implying, Armando,” said Tino. “The last thing my kids need is a jail bird for a father.”

“But their father wouldn’t be the one getting the grant, Tino.”

“Now you have me totally lost, Armando,” responded Tino as he munched on a peanut butter laden stalk of celery.

“Look, guys, we are in the pickle we are in because our ex-wives are a bunch of hedonistic, no good, dead-beat, floozies, right?” said Armando Rendon.

“Right,” came a chorus of replies.

“You are centered on the mark, Armando,” said Arturo as they neared the complicated maze of ramps and interchanges where they had to change freeways. The slow down through the maze was much lighter than usual. “There must be one hell of an accident upstream to make the maze traffic so light.”

“I’m just glad that we aren’t in that pile-up,” said Armando Rendon. Then after a pause he asked, “What if I could tell about a way where our wives could help us with that Macy’s or Wal-Mart grant?”

“You have got to be dreaming, Armando. I hope your kids didn’t spike this peanut butter,” declared Tino.

“Well, to be honest, the idea first came to me in a segmented dream after I took several Extra Strength Tylenol for a massive headache that just wouldn’t go away. That same dream has reoccurred for the better part of the last year, but the idea still looks pretty good to me as I shave in the morning. It sounds better and better as each of my children petition me for funds I don’t have,” declared Armando Rendon. “It is not their fault that I have to be both mother and father to them. I am sure that I am not doing a really good job at either role. I think their mother should help out even if she doesn’t know she is doing it.”

“You still have me in a fog, Armando. What are you saying here?” asked Edwardo.

Armando could tell by the strained silence in the van that he had everyone’s attention. He would have to choose his words very carefully so he wouldn’t sound like a total idiot or an evil taskmaster. Then as he thought on it longer, he decided that a picture was worth a thousand words. “You are right, Edwardo. The whole thing is still a little fuzzy to me too. I will work on it some more before we meet for happy hour today. I have a check coming for a side job and after I get the gift certificate for my daughter’s prom dress and a down payment for tires on my van, there should be enough to treat you all to a round of beers at Mel’s happy hour.”

“That’s great. I love the free happy hour snacks Mel’s puts out. Tonight is taco night at Mel’s. That means I get a free dinner with that beer,” announced Chato.

“That sounds all right for me too,” stated Arturo as he pulled into the studio’s main gate and proceeded towards the make-up warehouse/studio where Armando worked. “I was wondering if I would have enough to buy dinner after paying off the pharmacy bill from last months round of colds at my house. Since you are the last pick-up, Armando, expect me to be back by here at about six o’clock. I am pretty sure with this early start and the extra crew, we won’t have to work late today.”

“That will work out just fine. Don’t forget that we have to stop by Costco on the way home from Mel’s.”

“Yes, dear,” called Tino from the van’s back seat. “You are a bigger nag than my ex-wife.”

“Leave him alone, Tino. Armando is just trying to be helpful,” defended Chato.

“You two should get married,” snapped back Tino.

“My, my Tino. Do I detect a note of jealousy,” asked Arturo with a wink of his left eye in Armando’s direction. Arturo pulled off in the direction of his next stop before Armando could catch Tino’s response, but he was sure that it would have been a pip.

For the past fourteen years, Armando had worked in the make-up department at Universal Studios. He had always wanted to be a sculptor with his own gallery in Beverly Hills, but after he married and started a family with Natalie while was attending UCLA, he never had the money to start his own studio. After he graduated with his B. A. in art, he found that jobs for a sculptor were few and far between. He tried his hand at teaching for a while, but never really enjoyed that line of work. Then he finally took a temporary summer job in the make-up department at Universal Studios. His best friend, Arturo, had told him about it, but like everything else, Armando just saw the job as another block to starting his writing and the opening of his gallery.

Arturo had been the best man at Armando’s wedding and had been a drama and photography major at UCLA. He had interned at Universal Studios and worked there ever since he had graduated. Arturo had mentioned to Armando several times about the constant need for good make-up artists. Armando felt that this wasn’t his cup of tea. However, he took the summer job at the studio to make some extra cash to build an addition on their house when Robina was born. Almost immediately the department recognized Armando’s creativity and skill. By the end of that first summer, Armando had scrapped his teaching career and his job became that of designing models for creatures. This gave way to creating masks for science fiction films. Often he was only given an artist’s rendering and with the help of the computer he created the 3-D concept. Unfortunately, the computer couldn’t create the actual 3-D item or the appliances that actors needed to wear. Making all of these items kept Armando very busy.

As time pasted and one movie project blended into another and then another, Armando Rendon found himself making items for confidential side jobs as well. Sometimes they were worth more to him than his job at the studio. These projects were mostly for actresses that wanted to enhance this or that body part and didn’t have will and/or want to take the time to undergo the extensive plastic surgeries needed to achieve the glamorous look the producers demanded.

As he walked into the studio that morning after Arturo had dropped him off, Armando told Alberta the receptionist and general file clerk that he had an urgent project that needed attention and that he would have to put a few things on hold and work through lunch. “I will be working through lunch in the secure vault area, Alberta.”

“Very good, Sir. I will hold all your calls and take messages as usual,” said Alberta.

Armando noted that Alberta had become a real and loyal asset to his work. She was as dependable as the crack of dawn. Armando always fantasized that she was as horny as the crack of dawn too. She was always courteous and had a beautiful face. Her smile could light up a dismal day, but her body was nothing to brag about. Armando had actually used her face as a foundation for creating several of his sexiest female monsters. When Alberta had modeled the modified bodies of those sexy monsters for him, she was real star material. Maybe he could make her a regular torso that she could wear to those required studio activities with him. It pays to advertise you skills and it would also keep the guys from hitting on him. Actually, the casual behavior Armando was employing this morning was standard operating procedure for Armando, so Alberta accepted his announcement as nothing more standard operating procedure. After all, she didn’t have a clue as to what he did in the vault, and the studio wanted it that way.

In reality, Armando wanted to complete the mask and body suit that was his rendition of his ex-wife Natalie. He had used his memory and pictures from the family photo album to create his molds. He already had some of Natalie’s clothes in the back of his office closet in a large suitcase. The case had sat locked in his closet for almost a year. Natalie had asked him to send several of her leather items and a couple of coats to her. He guessed that she had put on a few pounds as these clothes were from what Natalie called her “fat wardrobe”. Maybe the bum she was with had knocked her up. That was a good thought. Armando used to laugh that this set of clothes would fit him if he wore a transformation waste cincher. The packing of the suitcase had made him so angry that he hadn’t gotten around to wrapping it and sending to her.

By four in the afternoon all of the preparations had been completed. The mannequin that was wearing the mask and suit was the spitting image of Armando’s naked ex-wife. The detail was so exquisite that he had duplicated her anatomically correct genitalia right down to the shape and color of her pubic patch. Natalie, as Armando remembered her was really a beautiful woman. He pulled a pair of size twelve, three inch heel, patent leather, lace up boots and a pair of size eight elbow length, black leather gloves and a matching large shoulder strap purse from the studio Wardrobe Department. The gloves were an added touch in that the suit already had attached feminine “hands” with bright red long nails. However, not only would the gloves add to “her” feminine credibility, the tall boots would also added to “Natalie’s” elegance. The purse would also add to the illusion as well as allow “her” to carry all of the items that Armando normally carried in his pockets. Armando took Natalie’s leather pantsuit from the suitcase. It was both professional in style as well as sexy to touch and look at.

Since he was taller than Natalie, Armando had made all the parts of the suit accept for the waist, proportionately larger. The ultimate result was a “Natalie” that would make the real Natalie drool with envy. Using every make-up technique that he had learned to beautify and transform the stars of the big and small screen, he set about transforming himself into his beautified ex-wife. It took the better part of the next two hours, but when he was done, Armando had left the building and “Natalie” stood before the make-up and design vault’s full-length viewing mirror. He made sure that his newly created ID matched the form reflected in the mirror. “Natalie’s” leather pantsuit fit the new creature like the leather gloves fit “her” hands. “Natalie” turned on the voice box built into the neck of the mask so when Armando said good evening to the female reflected in the mirror, “she” sounded as sweet and feminine as the real Natalie had when she was courting Armando. “She” picked up her burgundy leather coat and laid it over “her” right fore arm. “She” then slung “her” shiny patent leather purse over “her” left shoulder. The total effect, complete with large gold earrings and full red, moist lips that matched her glove covered fingernails, was nothing short of stunning.

“There are going to be five horny peckers riding with you to the happy hour at Mel’s. Are they ever going to be surprised,” said “Natalie” to the sexy reflection in the full-length mirror. “Natalie/Armando” checked out the front office with a buzz on the intercom to make sure that Alberta was gone for the day. Noting that Albert had left her post, “Natalie/Armando” walked out to the curb and waited for Arturo and the others top pick “her” up. She got several whistles from passing vehicles before Arturo pulled into the pick-up lane.

“Natalie, what a surprise. Where is Armando?” asked Arturo as he surveyed his best friend’s ex-wife. Damn she was a woman that Armando should have figured out how too keep, he thought.

“Armando had to go home suddenly when I came by to pick up some clothes he never sent to me,” replied “Natalie” in “her” best wenchy manner. “I think I actually made the poor bastard sick, but then he never really had a strong stomach when it came to romancing a real woman. He said something about preparing a proposition for you guys. He told me that he had promised to treat you to a round of beers at Mel’s. He gave me the money so that I could do that instead. Is that okay with you guys?” The stunned occupants of the van nodded their consent, with each one trying to figure out how to get this obvious prick tease to sit next to him. “What do you think about me sitting in Armando’s regular seat?” asked “Natalie” rhetorically. “I wouldn’t want to upset your routine. I know how important things like that are to you guys.” Armando laughed quietly to himself behind his perfect disguise as his partners in the van-pool silently tried to look like they had no idea what “Natalie” was talking about. “She” sashayed around the front of the van to reach the right front bucket seat. Ten extremely horny eyes in the van didn’t miss a single bump, grind, wiggle or giggle. “She” purposefully backed into “her” seat so the tightness of “her” leather trousers exposed the full roundness of “her” ass to them. If the five guys had to walk to Mel’s they would have tripped on their tongues, unless they slipped on pools of their own drool first.

“Chato broke the tense, yet excited silence with, “You are looking great Natalie. You look like a showgirl and you have a really killer tan. Nevada must agree with you.”

“Probably not as much as being out from under the oppressive, overbearing thumb your tyrannical friend, Armando. That man was so cheap with me that when he finally let go of a couple of pinched nickels they were rubbed so smooth that I couldn’t tell which side was heads and which side was the tails,” complained “Natalie” with one of the real Natalie’s most constant gripes.

Instead of defending their friend, the guys in the van nodded in agreement and Toni said, “I know what you mean, Natalie. He always treats on Taco Night so he only has to by us beers.”

“It must have been really rough for a beauty like you to live with such a cheap skate,” sympathized Edwardo.

“I don’t know how you managed to stay with him so long and serve him so faithfully, Natalie,” added Chato. “With your natural assets you could have been a movie star if you had wanted to and Armando hadn’t kept you knocked-up all the time.”

“That’s exactly how I see too, Edwardo,” said “Natalie” as Armando continued to test the loyalty of his alleged buddies.

Only Arturo defended his friend by saying, “Armando was managing the best he could with the five kids and all, Natalie. He made sure that you didn’t have to work when he put you through school.”

“You are just defending Armando because you are as cheap and overbearing as he is, Arturo. Look at this heap you drive around in. Have you any idea how it embarrassed Lisa? She used to talk about that all of the time when she was married to you. In fact she is still talking about it all the time. She almost has it down to a stand-up comic routine. Why didn’t you buy that Porsche she always wanted?” asked Armando as “Natalie”.

“If a marriage is based upon what model car you drive, Natalie, I don’t think it is much of a marriage,” declared Arturo. To Chato’s, Tino’s and Edwardo’s surprise, that comment seemed to shut-up “Natalie” until they reached Mel’s. To their collective disappointment, the explosion they were hoping for never materialized.

“How fast the ugly is forgotten. I had blocked out of my mind what a dump this place is,” observed “Natalie”.

“I never realized what a dive it is until just now, Natalie,” said Tino with the hope that he could re-ignite the fires of controversy. “Treat or no treat, this is the last time I will come here.”

“You are probably right, Tino. How are we ever to get dates if we frequent places like this,” added Edwardo. “Maybe we should not even go here tonight. Does anybody have a suggestion where we should go?”

“Arturo, why don’t you take us to the Beachcomber’s Club?” suggested Chato. “Many of the single female staff and starlets from the studio go there.”

“I’ll take you and Natalie if you want, but I coming back to Mel’s”, stated Arturo. “Armando said that he would meet us there and I for one will wait for him there. Besides, when did you bums start judging a place by its ranking as a meat market?”

“We can’t stop you from doing what you want, Arturo. Why don’t we get a cab and go over to the Beachcombers Club. We can have my roommate pick us up and get us to our respective homes,” stated Edwardo.

“Are you coming with us, Natalie?” asked Tino with a fuck me hard smile.

“I think I’ll wait here for a bit with Arturo. I may come over later with a couple of friends,” stated “Natalie” in “her” regular and casual prick-tease manner.

“That would be so cool,” said Chato with a hopeful grin. “Of course if you have other plans for Arturo, we will understand.”

“As a matter of fact I do, but it is not what you think, boys,” declared “Natalie”.

“Sure, we understand,” said Chato, Tino and Edwardo almost simultaneously and followed their remark with knee slapping laughs and high five’s.

“Arturo and I are just friends, announced “Natalie.”

“I would say that we are less than that,” proclaimed Arturo.

“You can’t fool me,” declared Edwardo. You make the perfect couple. Let’s get out of here before we make the love birds cry.”

“To prove that you are wrong, I will come over to the Beachcomber’s Club later tonight, announced “Natalie.”

“I’ll look forward to that,” added Edwardo while Tino haled a cab. As the three deserters piled into the cab, “Natalie” and Arturo went into Mel’s to allegedly wait for Armando.

“Can you believe those guys, Arturo? A couple flashes of my ass and they dump a guy they have been carpooling with for almost four years,” stated “Natalie” as “she” ordered them a couple of beers and got the fixings for a couple of tacos. “So much for male bonding and friendship. Of course, women can be the same way when they are competing for the attention of a guy.”

“Horny guys are like a wolf-pack that feeds on its own when there is nothing else to eat,” said Arturo as he paraphrased one of Armando’s favorite sayings.

“Why didn’t you go along with their moves, Arturo?” probed “Natalie”.

“Armando is my best friend, Natalie. I would go to the mat for him. We were friends long before you and Lisa came along. I think he has done amazing things with and for his family since you deserted them. To be honest, you have soured me on this evening. I was actually looking forward to some time with the guys and forget the hassles of everyday life as a single father. Where are you staying?”

“I was going to camp at Armando’s tonight and say hello to my kids,” replied “Natalie” as Armando felt small and cheap behind his “Natalie” mask as he listened to Arturo’s defense of him.

“There is a whole lot more to being a mother than blowing into town and saying hello, Natalie,” with a voice full of resentment.

“You should talk, Arturo. If you know so much where is your Lisa?”

“She needed her freedom the same way you did, Natalie. It is a disease in today’s woman. As much as I still love her, I say good riddance. The kids, my mother and I are doing just fine without her.”

“You are really Armando’s friend, Arturo. You sound a lot like him.”

“You can say that again,” confirmed Arturo. “In fact I consider that a compliment although I’m sure you didn’t intend it to come out that way.”

“Let’s finish this beer and these tacos. Then you can take me back to Armando’s studio. There is something there I think you ought to see, Arturo.” Behind “Natalie’s” face, Armando made a mental note to not carpool any longer with Toni the weasel, Edwardo the looser and Chato the traitor.

“This better be good, Natalie and I don’t want any ticks or weird stuff from you. It goes against all my natural male instincts, but I don’t want anything you may have to offer.”

“Don’t worry Mr. Loyalty. You are as safe with me as you would be if Armando was here,” declared Armando through his “Natalie” disguise.

“That remains to be seen,” said Arturo as he ate the tacos and drank the beer like they were his last meal of the month.

“Since the other guys are gone, I have enough money for another beer, Arturo.”

“Let’s see what you have to show me back at the studio and then I’ll tell you if I want that second beer,” proclaimed the loyal Arturo.

“Before we leave here I have to make a stop in the powder room,” said “Natalie”.

“Do what you need to do, Natalie. I will get another bowl of chips and salsa while I wait for you.”

While “Natalie” did need to use the rest room, what “she” really needed to do was to check in with Armando’s kids to make sure all was going well. “She” took Armando’s cell phone out of “her” large purse, turned off “her” voice box and made the call.

“Hello? This is Rendon residence,” greeted Suzie as she answered the phone with a cheerful voice.

“Hello yourself, Honey,” said “Natalie” in Armando’s natural male voice. “I should be home in an hour or two. I have a couple of stops to make on my way there. Have you had your dinner and done your homework?”

“Yes, Dad. We all have done everything you left for us to do. Thanks for having the groceries delivered. How did you managed that on our budget?” asked Suzie.

“I did some very confidential work for a famous woman who has among her assets, Oakridge Shopping Center. We got to talking about this and that. In that conversation she asked me how my children were and I shared some of my problems with her. Then, instead of paying me all of what she owed me in cash, she offered to arrange for a series of things to happen for us.”

“Things, what things, Dad?” asked Suzie with excitement in her voice.

“Well the big load of groceries and their delivery was one of them. Bye the way, were they all right? I had told my sponsor that we were living on peanut butter and celery.”

“They must have raided a gourmet deli, Dad. The stuff was and is fabulous. Roberto and Mario are gorging themselves like there is no tomorrow. The delivery guy was kind of cute too.”

“I’m not sending you to college to fall for some minimum wage delivery jockey, Suzie, and tell you brothers to slow down on the food. Over the next few weeks there will be a lot more from where this load came from.”

“Don’t worry, Dad. I was just playing with you. I’m focused on my schooling, big time. Between my responsibilities here at the house, my little part time job and school, I don’t have time to be boy crazy.”

“Then why do you need a prom dress, Suzie?”

“I need it just in case I get asked, Dad. There will plenty of occasions to wear it after I graduate as well.”

“That is not a topic I want to play around on, Suzie. Tell Tomas to take the van down to the Oak Ridge Center’s garage. They have a set of tires and a battery for the van. While you are waiting for the van, go into Formals Are Us. They are expecting you Suzie and will create whatever you think is an appropriate prom dress.”

“Are you really serious, Dad? Now this is an area that is not a joking matter in my book,” said Suzie.

“I’m serious, Suzie. You are supposed to ask for Lucy. She has you signed up for the star treatment.”

“I can’t believe what I am hearing,” squealed Suzie. “It’s like a dream come true.”

“Believe this as well, Suzie. Oakridge Building Supply has a couple of toilets in their will call that Tomas will need to pick-up after the van is finished.”

“Robina will be so pleased, Dad. This way her issues haven’t been downsized or ignored. You have really been moving a lot today,” observed Suzie.

“I have some other plans in the works as well, Suzie. You had better get going if you want to do everything before the mall closes,” suggested “Natalie” in Armando’s voice.

“We’re on it, Dad. I’m thrilled about my dress and I know Tomas will be thrilled too. What are your other plans?”

“I’ll let you know if and when those other plans bear fruit, Suzie. They are only in the proposal stage. Bye for now.”

“You are the best, Dad.”

“I’m trying my hardest for you kids, Suzie. I know that most of the time I am a big disappointment to all of you.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Dad. That is our job.”

“Thanks for the chuckle, Honey. You better get off to the mall.”

“Bye, Dad.”

“Bye again, Suzie.” “Natalie” hung up the phone in the woman’s lounge and turned “her” voice module back on. “She” then went back out into the bar. “I’m ready to go whenever you are, Arturo.”

“I’m ready as well. Let’s go,” suggested Arturo.

Once they were back on the street for the short tip back to the make-up studio on Universal Studio’s lot, Natalie picked-up on the conversation that Armando had started earlier that morning. “Armando was telling me that he was suggesting that the former wives of your van pool are supposed to get together and get grants for you from corporate sponsors or something?”

“Or something is right, Natalie. No offense, but if you are like my ex-wife, the only person you will try to get money for is yourself and your new boy friends,” declared Arturo.

“Armando said that he had a way where we were going to get these grants without even knowing about it.”

“That is what your crazy ex-husband seem to be saying. Maybe the stress of saving for your kid’s college as well as all the other things he does for them, is getting to him.”

“I think he has found a way, Arturo. He said that he has left it at the make-up studio.”

“Look I am doing this because I want to believe in Armando’s dreams, but if it is all the same to you, Natalie, would it be possible for you to keep quiet until we get into the studio?”

“I understand your anger Arturo. I don’t like it, you understand, but I can identify with it and appreciate it.”

“You don’t even have an inkling of where I am coming from, Natalie.” They rode the rest of the way in silence. The same was true of their dismount from the van and their entry into the Make-up Studio. Arturo was surprised that Natalie knew the alarm codes and had the keys. “Armando must really want me to see what you have to show me if he trusted you with his keys and alarm code.”

“I think what I am about to show you will prove that he was right in trusting me, Arturo. Can you be a dear and help me take off my coat?”

“Just as long as you stay dressed, Natalie. I am not interested in any hanky-panky although I must admit that you look good enough to eat.”

“Don’t worry, Arturo. That is not my purpose here, but I need for us to go into Armando’s confidential lab were he creates some of his more secure illusions.”

“What do you mean by secure illusions?” asked Arturo as “Natalie” pressed some more code sequences into what appeared to be a vault door.

“Some of the studio’s stars are not quite as glamorous as they appear on the screen. It is Armando’s job to make them look the way they do and most of those secret appliances are locked in this secure room.” The vault door swung open and Arturo and “Natalie” stepped inside. “Natalie” then resealed the door. I needed a very private place to show you what you are about to see. Armando said that you must swear to me that you will never reveal to a living soul what you are about to witness.”

“This sounds pretty serious.”

“It is, Arturo.”

“Okay, for Armando’s sake, I swear that what I am about to see will never leave this room.”

“That’s good enough for me,” said “Natalie” as she reached behind her head and started to pull at “her” hair. There was a ripping sound of the Velcro parting as “she removed “her” hair.

“That is pretty bizarre, Natalie.” So you are bald. Are you having chemotherapy or something?” asked Arturo.

“I’m not done yet, Arturo,” said “Natalie” as “she” reached behind “her” head once again. This time there was the sound of a zipper being undone and the features of “Natalie’s” face became a little distorted. Arturo watched in stunned amazement as “Natalie” pushed “her” hands under “her skin” and pulled it forward off of “her” head. What do you think about that?” said Armando’s natural voice as the latex head fell forward onto Natalie’s fabulous chest. “Would you like to help me out of the rest of the costume and body suit, Arturo?” asked Armando in his own male voice.

Arturo was at a lost for words. He held up his hands in front of his face with the palms facing Natalie’s body that had Armando’s head on top of it. “Give me a second, Armando. It is you isn’t it, Buddy?”

“It’s me in the flesh, Arturo,” confirmed Armando Rendon.

“That is totally bizarre. I heard that you guys could do stuff like this, but seeing it, is a total…, I mean I never would have thought…, not even for a second…, I see it and I still don’t believe it. Your transformation is incredible and undetectable, Armando. You were Natalie,” declared Arturo in wide-eye amazement.

“That is exactly my point, Arturo. I’m sorry that I had to trick you this way, but it is the only way I could show what could be done if it was desired or necessary. I could use some help in getting out off the rest of the costume,” said Armando.

“Okay, so you proved that you can be your wife if you wanted to. So, besides blowing my mind, what is the point?”

“Think about it, Arturo. We don’t do certain things because we fear getting caught. In addition we want to get some kind of pay back for the injustice our former wives are perpetrating upon our families. We also need to somehow supplement and/or replace the funds they aren’t sending us.”

“All true, but what does this costume have to do with all that?” inquired Arturo as he began to assist Armando with the removal of the full-body, latex suit.

“Let’s say that we want to do a little shop lifting to increase our incomes in front of a security camera. If I am in this costume, who does the camera see?”

“It sees Natalie doing the deed.”

“Exactly, Arturo. She takes the fall for what I am doing in the same manner that I am taking the fall for her with my kids for what she is not doing. There is a poetic justice to the whole thing.”

“But what if you get caught in the act while you are wearing the suit?”

“Good question. That is why you plan situations where the identification is delayed or mechanical. For example, the cameras outside this building saw me walk in this morning. They saw Natalie leave earlier. They just saw her return. As far as the camera is concerned I haven’t left the building all day. I have been here the whole time while Natalie was out with you. In a very real sense, the suit and mask has created an alibi for me. If I had done something while I was with you, like boost your wallet, for all intensive appearances, Natalie would have done it. By the same token, I couldn’t have done it because I was here the whole time according to the security monitors. On the other hand, I can make Natalie disappear whenever I want to. All I have to do find is a place where I can make a quick change outside of the sight of the camera’s snooping lenses.

“Where do I fit into this picture?” inquired Arturo.

“I think that you ought to be your ex-wife so we can pull jobs that require a team approach.”

“Can you do that?” asked Arturo as he continued to help Armando out of the “Natalie” suit.

“It is already done,” said Armando as he hobbled in the legs of the “Natalie suit” over to one of the wardrobes and pulled out a suit and mask that bore a resemblance to Arturo’s former wife.

“You were pretty sure I would go along with this. Weren’t you?”

“I know that you feel as angry about what Lisa has done to your home and family as I am about what Natalie has done to mine. Besides, if you didn’t use the suit and mask, I would have found a use for it. Maybe Alberta and I could have had some fun with it. She is a great masker. If it would make you feel any better, you can use some of the female clothes I have here if you want to try it on.”

“Clothes are not the problem. I have boxes of Lisa’s old things. To erase all memory of me, she left me all of my favorite outfits for her. Let me give it a day, Armando. I have had about all the surprises I can handle in one day to this point.”

“To be completely honest, Arturo, I am not done yet. I still want to propose a plan to you,” declared Armando.

“You really have a plan as well? How long have you been thinking about this?” asked Arturo.

“For at least a year. Like I said in the van this morning, it all started in my dreams at first. I often used that dream to help me fall asleep at night. I was so angry with Natalie. Then as a lark I started to make the components for making it happen in my spare time. When I told you this morning in the van that I had a dream about how to make what I have planned happen, I was telling the absolute truth. I have suits for Chato, Tino, and Edwardo as well.”

“Okay, let’s hear this dream. I know I don’t want to hear it. The last time you had a dream, I got married and bought a house.”

“The house worked out for you and the marriage was pretty good for a while. I just didn’t dream long enough for you.”

“Nice come-back, Armando,” said Arturo with a laugh in his voice as he continued assisting Armando in getting the last of the legs and arms of the “Natalie” suit off. Once the suit was off they began cleaning and powdering it.

“In my dream I kept seeing an excerpt from an Alfred Hitchcock film called, “Family Plot”. I went to the film vault and checked it out. I told the guys I was doing some period costume research. I’m always doing that to spur my creative juices, so the guys in the film vault thought nothing of it. Anyway, the film starts out with Bruce Dern driving down a boulevard. He stops next to a MTA bus. He starts to pull out and a long hair blonde in high heel boots that make her over six feet tall, steps out from in front of the bus she just got off of. Dern makes a quick stop as the blonde crosses right in front of him without taking any notice of him. She is wearing a large brim, black felt hat, black jet-wing sunglasses that completely mask her eyes, a long black trench coat and black leather gloves. While the camera concentrates on her every move for the next ten minutes, you have no idea that you are watching Karen Black. The confused reaction of the FBI agents is that while they can describe her, they have no idea what she might really looks like once she stepped out of her boots and the rest of her costume. I want us, as our ex-wives, to become that Karen Black image and do some activities that will get you and me out of our financial binds and pay for our kid’s college.”

“I have seen that film too, Armando. I recall the scene you described. Looking like that would take a lot of practice. Her walk was really special and sexy.”

“We can do that. We can practice on an alternate schedule. You date me as “Natalie” and I’ll date you as “Lisa” until we get used to being in public as our modified ex-wives.”

“I don’t know if I could do that, Armando. I am not into masking that much, let alone cross-dressing in public.”

“There is no sex here or anything weird other than the masking and cross-dressing,” declared Armando Rendon.

“That is weird enough for me. What if we were exposed?”

“We won’t be, Arturo. If we do it right, people will only see what we want them to see, and in your case, that will be Lisa.”

“I’m still not sure that I can do that,” said Arturo with a voice full of doubt.

“You have been an extra in sci-fi flicks. Just think of this as wearing another full latex costume,” suggested Armando.

“I will have to work on that in my head, Armando. If I find that I can do that, what would we do in these costumes?”

“I haven’t worked that all out yet, but doesn’t Tony’s wife work as a guard in for an armor truck company?”

“Yes, so what of it?

“Suppose Tony or you, or I became his ex-wife for a couple of days. Maybe Toni could take her out of town on a trip he won or something. Then we have our masked impersonator be the inside person to boost the armored truck and get it’s contents.”

“You have been watching too many old movies, Armando, but I have to admit, that sounds almost do able.”

“I also seem to remember that Edwardo’s ex-wife works in the cash room of the Oakridge Wal-mart.”

“That she does. I suppose that the same scenario would happen there.”

“Right-on, Arturo,” said Armando as he finished cleaning and powdering the suit before he started cleaning himself up.

“Anything else, or should I ask?” probed Arturo.

“I think my ex-wife is now the head teller in the Las Vegas Depository Bank. They handle all the cash money for the casino drops. Imagine the amount of cash that is logged in there everyday, seven days a week. Even on a slow day, it would be better than hitting the largest Lotto on record.”

“The security for that place would be incredible,” stated Arturo.

“That is the wild part of the whole scheme, Arturo. They figure that every one will assume what you are assuming. But, because the casinos don’t want exact counts and are a probably washing drug and mob money through that depository as well, very few eyes follow the cash. Robots and mechanical handlers do most of the actual work. The idea is that by removing the human element, they have eliminated greed and theft through the use of machines. They have forgotten that humans still program the mechanical devices. Everything is done by line of sight and the staff gets paid well to look the other way when the washing or skimming is in play. All the surveillance in the depository is designed to keep intruders out, not the staff in. Electronic surveillance is minimal once you are inside. As my ex-wife, I could get inside and get whomever I want inside as well. Once there, we do our programming thing and leave my ex-wife holding and empty sack. I could even have you bring Natalie in as someone else and then I become that someone else before we pass through surveillance on our way out.”

“We can’t just walk out of there with bags of cash,” stated Arturo.

“But we can design clothes that can carry at least two to three million in cash for each person. Believe it or not, it would take several weeks for them to find the short fall if we do it right. My ex-would be grilled, but she wouldn’t have anything she could tell them; not even under hypnotherapy and drugs. She could pass a lie detector test, because she would be innocent, no matter what the security tapes say.”

“Your mind is even more creative and devious than I thought, Armando. I am glad you are on my side, Homeboy.”

“I’m glad you are with me too, bro.” declared Armando as he started putting his own clothes back on.

“Now that you have changed back into yourself, Armando, how are you going to meet the guys at the Beachcomber’s Club?”

“Screw them for tonight. I’ll catch them when Lisa, meaning you, can go with Natalie, meaning me, of course.” Which of the three jobs did you like the best, Arturo.”

“I like the sound of the third one best, but it would take some funds to make that one work.”

“Maybe we would have do one of the other ones first and work up to the Las Vegas job. That will gives us both practice and capital to put the big payday in place.”

“If we get lucky, we might score enough where we don’t have to do the Las Vegas job.”

“That is always a possibility. We don’t want to get greedy. If we get too much too quick, that will be a dead give away that something is amiss,” stated Armando.

“Would it just be us, or would we involve the other guys in the van pool?”

“Until this evening, I would have definitely included all five of the guys in the van pool. I even have suits and masks for them. But, now I don’t know. Toni is definitely a giant if. He not only is a loose canon, he has a big mouth and flip-flops his loyalties. Chato and Edwardo are cool, but trust is a big thing with me and even if we were to pull off one of those scenarios, trust after the event would be the ultimate part of the game. Would you trust the future of your family on them?”

“If we don’t, that leaves just you and me,” observed Arturo.

“You, me and the costumes,” responded Armando.

“This is going to take a lot of thought. Thanks for lousing up my dreams, Armando.”

“If we can make anyone of those things happen we will be set for life, Hommie.”

“What if one of the other guys figures out it was us and starts black-mailing us?” asked Arturo as he examined the latex form of his ex-wife Lisa.

“That is the best reason for involving them in some way without them being able to point the finger at us if they screw up. We could do the Wal-mart and the Armor truck jobs and let the other guys have the Vegas job. Their greed would blind them to the problems. We could even have them be the same characters we are when we do our end. Then if try to take us down, they will take either take the fall with us or for us,” declared Armando as he put away the suits and masks.

“That will take some planning as well,” suggested Arturo.

“You are right on that, bro.”

“Tomorrow I think my van is going to need some immobilizing repairs. Could you pick me up in yours?” asked Arturo.

“It will have new tires and a full tank of gas,” said Armando.

“That is something special,” observed Arturo.

“I know. Tomas will be so proud that we are finally getting it fixed. It was looking pretty raggedy.”

“I’ll let you know tomorrow if I am in on this masking scheme. Just thinking about it is some kind of thrill,” said Arturo.

“Take a couple of days if you need them Arturo. I won’t be going crazy for money until the next child support check doesn’t arrive.”

The ride from the studio to Armando’s modest home full of kids was a quiet one, with each man contemplating the masking possibilities that lay out in front of them. They said their normal good-byes and made transportation plans for the following day. They would both ride into work with Tomas on his way to UCLA. Armando arrived home to an empty house. His children were living their fantasies down at the Oak Ridge Mall. The more he thought about it, he concluded that Wal-mart job would be the best one to start out on. He knew the territory there better than the other locations. Maybe the wife of the site manager would be of some assistance. After all, the manager was messing around with Nora, Tino’s former wife.

PART TWO

As Arturo got into Armando’s van the following morning he asked, “Were are the kids, Armando?”

“Good morning to you too, Arturo. I was able to spring for a tank of gas so Tomas could use his own vehicle to get his brothers and sisters to school on his way to UCLA.”

“You mean that he finally got that old Ford Explorer running?” inquired Arturo.

“Yes and it sounded pretty good. That old pre smog, three fifty-one Cleveland engine has a real throaty sound to it. Tomas was so proud that his grandfather’s old pile of junk is a functioning piece of machinery again.”

“I want you to know that I dreamed, tossed and turned all night,” announced Arturo. “I kept seeing you masked as Natalie wearing an oversize black leather trench coat that was stuffed with three million dollars.”

“You can be in my dreams if I can be in yours, Arturo.”

“I wasn’t able to get a hold of the other guys in the van pool, so I guess we are going to have to pick them up and give them a ride to the studio,” stated Arturo.

“Sounds like they had a late night. I’ll bet they will have a story or three to brag about,” replied Armando.

“Come to think about it, we better pick-up Edwardo first. He was going to have his roommate get them at the club and if it was late, they may all have crashed at Edwardo’s.”

“That makes sense. I will head there first. They all live pretty close together anyway,” declared Armando Rendon.

“You know, Armando, those guys and their dirty minds are probably going to assume that I made it with Natalie last night since she and I didn’t show up at the Beachcomber’s Club.”

“Let them think whatever they want to, Arturo. In fact that might turn out to our advantage. If they accuse you of that, I will act deeply offended.”

“What do you mean?” probed Arturo. “Why would you do that?”

“If they think that you and I are on the outs with each other, they will try to work without us entirely.”

“And that’s a good idea?” probed Arturo.

“I gave a lot of thought to the conversation you and Natalie had last night. If we use the other guys, we have to do it as Lisa and Natalie to keep ourselves in the clear if something goes wrong.”

“That makes sense. I have been thinking as well. I have brought some of Lisa’s clothes with me and I think I want to try on the Lisa outfit and Mask during lunch,” declared Arturo. I will make sure that the other guys think that I am going out to the Post Office or something.”

“Good for you, Arturo. Maybe Lisa and Natalie, dressed as the Karen Black, Family Plot twins, will make a presentation to Tino, Edwardo and Chato tonight at The Beachcomber’s Club,” suggested Armando.

“I can feel the wheels of your devious mind starting to spin again, Armando. What do you have in mind?”

“I think our ex-wives should present the idea of boosting the pay-day Friday proceeds at the Oak Ridge Wal-mart to those three libertines.”

“And you want to do that as our wives,” interjected Arturo.

“Exactly. As I said before, I don’t want to let on that you and I in our own personas are in on it. That will keep you and I in the clear and completely out of the picture. Tino’s big mouth still worries me.”

“That works for me,” commented Arturo.

“However, we will suggest to them that they will have to figure out how to disguise themselves as women,” continued Armando. “We will have to make up a cover story where Lisa and Natalie have a grudge against their ex-wives as well as Arturo and Armando. The cover story will also have to have the element that they are not to share any of this with Arturo or Armando.”

“You have been thinking out several of the details, Armando. I like the sound of it,” declared Arturo.

“Maybe we can have Edwardo ask Armando, meaning me in my own persona, to make a mask of his ex-wife Nora. He will have to make up some lame ass story as to why he needs the mask. I will even make him sign a contract and give him a bill of sale to keep myself in the clear. I will take the position that I only make the masks and suits. What people do with them after they purchase the masks from me is their own affair.”

“What comes next, Armando?”

“Then our “ex-wives” will suggest that Tino or Chato work out a way to keep the real Nora away from her job in the Wal-mart cash room so Edwardo as the latex Nora can be our inside person in the cash room. Natalie and Lisa will be in the Karen Black mode or better yet, gas masked women during the actual robbery. The split will be five ways.”

“And of course, Nora will take the fall and Chato or Tino won’t be her alibi.”

“That will be up to how big a load Edwardo wants to drop on his ex-wife. Maybe we could hold the alibi over her head and have her help us boost the armored truck.”

“This is sounding better and more far fetched with each new wrinkle, Armando. That means that Lisa and Natalie will be double masking during the robbery. Can that be done?”

“I will figure out a way for it to happen, Arturo.” With that comment they arrived at Edwardo’s apartment. Chato and Tino were at Edwardo’s apartment. The walls were decorated with the regular Recuerdos de Tijuana stuff that was on the walls of a lot of Barrio domiciles. There were the traditional serapes, sombreros, and barrels of tequila. Edwardo even had the obligatory painting of the Last Supper done in oils on black velvet. Amidst the entire stereotypic decor were Chato and Tino who were still crashed out of the couches of the apartment. “Wake-up yee libertines.” shouted Armando as he entered the apartment. “I have a lot of work ahead of me at the studio. I can’t be late.”

“We waited for your ex-wife to show-up to the Beachcomber’s Club. The night just slipped away and became a liquid blur for me. I am glad my sister was able to watch my kids,” stated Chato.

“My ex-wife called me to tell me that she would try to make it up to you tonight by getting Arturo’s ex-wife, Lisa, to go with her to the Beachcomber’s Club.” announced Armando. “Do you think you guys will be to recover enough from last night’s festivities to make it?”

“For an elderly party pooper like you, Armando it may look like two nights of revelry in a row, but for us, it is just the beginning of a starting a new lease on life,” declared Tino.

“I don’t know Tino do you really think we can do that?” inquired Edwardo.

“Well, as Tino suggested, I can’t make it,” announced Armando.

“Try to make it, compadre. You need to get a life,” observed Chato. “All you do is work and take care of your kids.”

“I’ll see what I can do, ese,” responded Armando, fully knowing that he would be there as “Natalie”. He glanced over in the direction of Arturo’s puzzled expression and threw him a wink.

“If Lisa and Armando are there, I won’t be there either,” said Arturo.

“You just need a nap after your hot time with Natalie last night,” suggested Tino with the sound of envy in his voice.

“You didn’t tell me that you had a date with my ex-wife,” snapped Armando like he was angry at Arturo’s deceit.

“Nothing happened, compadre,” truthfully declared Arturo.

“That’s what they all say,” chirped Tino.

“Of course nothing happened, Arturo. I saw the horny looks you gave her,” said Chato with a laugh in his voice.

“I could tell that she wanted you too,” proclaimed Edwardo.

“Are you having an affair with my Natalie, Arturo?” asked Armando with jealous accusation burning through his eyes.

“You know me better than that, Carnal,” replied Arturo.

“Even if he was, Armando, do you really think that he would tell you?” asked Edwardo as he readied himself to leave his apartment. Besides, vato, she isn’t yours anymore. Armando didn’t answer Edwardo’s question, but winked his left eye as he passed by Arturo on his way out of Edwardo’s apartment.

The previous night’s alleged exploits of Chato, Tino and Edwardo at the Beachcomber’s Club and more accusations about Arturo’s alleged affair with Natalie punctuated the ride of the van poolers to the studio. To hear Chato, Tino, and Edwardo recount the evening’s merriment, the women in the club would have committed suicide out of boredom if the three virile machos hadn’t arrived. Armando and Arturo were sure that their fellow van poolers were ready to be swallowed by the bait that “Natalie” and “Lisa” would entice them with.

During lunch, Arturo tried on “Lisa’s” latex replica. Armando’s artistic abilities had once again achieved their goal. Once everything was in place, Arturo disappeared and “Lisa” came to life. “It’s amazing,” observed the awe struck Arturo as he gazed at his “Lisa” reflection in the studio’s modeling mirror. “The transformation is breath taking. Even my voice is hers. “She” is even prettier than I remembered her. I always loved her in these boots and leather suit. Damn, I wish I could fuck “her” right now.”

“You are, Bro. You just aren’t doing it with your dick,” proclaimed Armando.

After work, Arturo and Armando dropped Chato, Tino, and Edwardo at the Beachcomber’s Club. They then drove off to change into “Natalie” and “Lisa”. By the time they had returned in their rented car, the three men had picked-up on Armando’s receptionist, Alberta. At first, “Natalie” was against the idea of including her in the package, as it meant splitting everything six ways. But, Alberta was such a natural and creative masker. To “Natalie’s” surprise, Alberta went along with the men on planning the robbery scheme as laid out by “Lisa” and “Natalie”. Alberta volunteered to mask as Edwardo’s ex-wife to get them entry to the Oak Ridge Wal-Mart cash room. Chato, Tino and Edwardo balked at first at the thought of masking and cross-dressing as females until they realized that the security in the cash room would have them identified before the robbery was completed if they didn’t wear disguises. Alberta even talked about how the change in gender would really confuse the investigating agencies. She also volunteered to coach them on how to walk and move like a woman.

“What are you going to do with your end, Tino?” asked “Natalie”.

“I going to pay off my Van. The payments and maintenance wipe me out every month,” replied Tino.

“I going to pay down my house mortgage, after I pay off the orthodontist. My girls deserve a beautiful smile,” volunteered Chato.

“What are your plans for your money, Edwardo?” inquired “Lisa”.

“Depending on how much it is, I’m going to buy that boat the kids and I want. I will make some payments on a pool for the backyard,” replied Edwardo. “What are you going to do with yours, Natalie?”

“I going to pay up all my back child support payments,” declared “Natalie”.

“I’m going to do the same with mine,” stated “Lisa”.

“You are all being so practical with your share. Mine is going to buy me a tummy tuck and some eye-catching boobs. You can’t get anywhere in Hollywood without them,” proclaimed Alberta. “Since we are going to be working together,

Natalie I think I should come clean with you.”

“Spill it and we will deal with it now, Alberta,” said Natalie.

“I don’t know why you dumped Armando, Natalie, but I am glad you did. I hope to attract his attention with my shapely new body.”

“Well you are on the right track, girl,” observed “Lisa” with a savage wink in “Natalie’s” direction. “Armando is definitely a real fan of big boobs. Look at all of his female creatures. They all have a large pair of jugs.”

“If you can get him with a big set of boobs, Honey, you can have him. I wouldn’t invest a plug nickel in his future,” said Armando from behind “Natalie’s” incredible face.

“You maybe a smart woman, but when it come to judging men you haven’t got a clue,” jabbed Alberta.

“Then we don’t have a problem, because we are robbing a store and not a man,” retorted “Natalie” with Armando behind the mask developing a new sense of interest in Alberta.

The rest of the evening was spent working out the details of the Wal-Mart robbery. Edwardo was to figure out a way to get his ex-wife Nora out of the way for the day. They decided that they would all enter the store on a staggered schedule near closing time, but before the armored car pick-up. They would all be masked as one of their ex-wives and dressed in what they labeled as the “Family Plot” mode. Except for Alberta, who would be playing the part of Nora, they would all don gas masks immediately after entering the cash room. “Nora” was to turn out the lights as she buzzed open the door to let them in. When the lights went back on, the sleeping gas grenades would have been released and all the cameras would see was four blonde, black trench coat and gas masked females. After leaving the room and taking a drowsy “Nora” as hostage, they would remove their gas masks, and blonde wigs. They would also reverse their coats and walk right out the front door with the store closing crowds carrying shopping bags full of cash. To avoid getting stuck in the parking lot, they would use folding scooters that they would store in a locker to get to the street quickly.

“Natalie” and “Lisa” figured that they had five minutes before the police arrived from the substation near the mall. While he scooters kept the exiting traffic from being a problem for them, that same traffic would confound the police access to the crime scene. The longer the police tried to blockade the crime scene, the easier their get-away would be. Once on the street, three of the five masked females would go to their separate cars and go to Mel’s where they would transform back into themselves in the restroom. They would use the lockers at Mel’s to store their change of clothes. After an hour in Mel’s they would return to their homes. The following day, they would pick up their female costumes. “Natalie” and “Lisa” were allegedly to head out for Las Vegas in separate cars. Actually they would head back to the secure make-up design vault at Universal Studios.

“Lisa” and “Natalie” couldn’t believe how the others at the table swallowed the whole activity like they were discussing the best way to wash a car. They went over and over the plan until everyone could recite every detail. They made the guys and Alberta swear not to let Armando and Arturo in on the deal. At the end of their discussion, they all agreed not to meet again until the day of the robbery when Edwardo would convince his ex-wife Nora to play hooky from her job in the Wal-mart cash room and go to Disneyland with him and their kids.

The next morning, Edwardo called Armando to say that Tino, Chato and him had to go in early so they wouldn’t be able to van pool with Armando and Arturo. Armando took this as notice that the other three had gone for the cross-gender robbery plan hook, line and sinker and couldn’t face Arturo and him, because they thought they were acing them in a scheme with their ex-wives.

The three conspirators eventually approached Armando about making them some masks so they could pull off “some practical jokes”on their ex-wives. They even agreed to pay Armando three hundred for each of the masks. “I want the money in cash, boys. I need that money and I know how tight you all are on cash,” observed Armando.

“How about a credit card payment, asked Edwardo.

“As long as it is the same as cash, it is fine with me,” said Armando.

“When can we get them?” asked Chato.

“I’ll have to do them in my spare time. I will need some very good photos of your ex-wives. It will probably take a week,” lied Armando who already had completed masks stored safely in the vault wardrobes.

“The picture is no problem,” said Chato. My ex-wife left them all over the house like a bad case of foot rot.”

“One week’s time should work, guys. That will give me time to get the three hundred bucks together,” declared Tino. “My last van payment has me cash poor at the moment.”

With Alberta masked as Nora, entry into the Oak Ridge Wal-Mart’s cash room went off without a hitch. The four trench coat wearing, tall, blonde gas masked females took “Nora” as a hostage and gassed the rest of the workers in the cash cage as planned. The exit from the mall was even easier than they thought it would be and the police response was even slower than they had allowed for. The take was four hundred and twenty thousand dollars in cash, once all the checks and bankcard receipts were removed. That made each split sixty-nine thousand each after all the expenses were paid. They agreed not to spend more than five thousand a month to prevent suspicion by some nosy IRS official. Alberta changed her mind about the immediate surgery. She had enjoyed her look in the “Nora” body suit to the point, that she had Armando make her some special appliances that she wore all the time. She used the rest of her share to become a make-up expert and open a beauty salon in Beverly Hills. The other exception was the large cash payments that suddenly appeared at the Child Support Offices to clear the arrears owed by Natalie and Lisa in back child support payments. Armando and Arturo slowly put the amount that was left, into accounts for their children’s college trust funds.

Almost exactly one year later, they pulled off the armor car job using the same plan. They kidnapped Toni’s ex-wife Tina. They scared her into telling them the entire operation of the Armor Car operation. Through the use of some old latex creature costumes from Armando’s vault and special lighting effects created by “Lisa” (Arturo’s area of strength in the film industry), they had Tina fully convinced that she was abducted and being tortured by aliens. They even drugged her and made her up so that she thought she would become transformed into an alien if she didn’t tell all she knew. The fact that her current sleeping partner was the owner of the armor Car Company proved invaluable. Then they actually forced the real Nora to help them by using her contact with the Mall manager to get uniforms and to prepare a secret and safe egress. They also had Nora mask as “Tina” and made her become the inside person on the job. This time they each netted two hundred and fifty thousand dollars each.

Alberta used her share up to up grade and expanded her beauty salon. She also took time out from her busy schedule to upgrade her body as well. Edwardo went into the hardware store business in the very mall they had robbed twice. Chato bought a ranch in Mexico and moved on to it. Tino lost most of his in a wild week in Las Vegas.

The law enforcement agencies called them the Gas Girl Gang, but even with all of the media coverage, they couldn’t get a clue as to their identity or their whereabouts. There were some rumors that the Gas Girl Gang was a highly trained professional squad of women working for the mob out of Las Vegas and when the Las Vegas Depository was robbed using the same modus operandi, law enforcement was positive the mob was behind the gang. The only problem with that theory was that none of the van poolers had any knowledge of the Las Vegas robbery. They were all in Tahiti on vacation with their kids at the time. This even included Tino. Armando figured that the real Natalie had figured out what he was doing and copied his plan before he could pull off the Las Vegas Depository robbery himself, or Nora had told her about the moves with the same result. About six months after the Las Vegas Depository heist, all of the van poolers ex- wives disappeared without a trace. Without their cover, the Los Angeles van pooler end of the Gas Girl Gang faded into the smoggy Southern California Sunset.

The funds that Armando’s ex-wife had helped him get not only secured his children’s future, it also allowed him to set up a sculpting gallery where he could display his work. While the actual sculpture in the gallery never really paid for itself, it served as a visible means of support and the perfect tax shelter as well. Many of the gallery’s wealthy female patrons commissioned Armando to turn them into personal works of art. They bought the models and molds that he made to do this work, as well as the resulting latex appliances. Today, almost all of the gorgeous women in the U.S. movie and television industry have some work that has been done for them by Rendon Galleries. Sometimes it is only for a particular role, other times it is for everyday wear, and yet other times it is for both settings.

These same wealthy and not so wealthy females and some male patrons saw to it that the creator of Armando’s “living sculpture” was well rewarded and close at hand in case he was needed to maintain of modify them. This large income along with the interest from what he labeled as “his family support investments”, gave Armando the freedom to pick and choose the work he took at Universal Studios. It also allowed him the time to write masking stories and get them published, but the thing that most pleased him was the long romantic hours he could spend playing masked games with Alberta. The kids seemed to enjoy having Alberta around as well.

“Dad, when am I going to get my Porsche?”

“Call your brother Tomas he is a great mechanic. Tell him to give you the first junker that a customer leaves with him after not paying their bill.”

“That’s not fair, Dad,” moaned Mario.

“I knew I should never have paid those shop fees at your school,” said Armando Rendon with a sigh.