Secrets of the Lottery Winner
CHAPTER 3: SORT OF A PLAN
Gari had difficulty containing himself. He yearned to tell Emily from the moment he crossed the threshold. He might have, too, but immediately she attacked him for his lateness and reeking of alcohol. What admirable restrain he exercised, for he desired nothing more than to shout he could afford a drink, ten drinks if he wanted them. Hell, she could afford a new dress, something lively and designed to excite him and inspire him to cart her off to bed, Teddy and Sammy be damned for an hour. But he zipped tighter than size-too-small pants and the evening was about as uncomfortable as if he’d been wearing them.
Truth was he’d stopped at the Metro Deli and Cafe next to the Great Hall, where his new life had commenced hours earlier, and bought a scotch, the expensive single-malt variety. On the train, he sat in the refreshment car, a first for him, and drank two beers. He wasn’t much of a drinker and it telled as he wobbled home and there struggled against the lubricant to curb his tongue, afraid he’d leak his secret while wishing he could scream it in her face.
Finally, to flank her assault, he said, “What would you say if I told you I got a promotion?”
“I wouldn’t believe you for a second,” she sniped, working her eyes over him as if he had crawled from a corner in her kitchen.
He weaved a bit, grinning. “I kid you not.”
She stared at him, attempting to discern the truth of his statement in his eyes, she being a believer in eyes as windows on the soul.
Her scrutiny unnerved him, and he sensed guilt bubbling up his throat, or maybe it was the scotch and beers. “Yeah, wouldn’t you know it,” he said, “a promotion for keeping Victor Lubeck happy. My reward is more shoes.”
“They gave you a new shoe client?” she said, disbelieving. Gari couldn’t tell whether her tone was amazement Larry would assign him another account or that he was a shoe man squared.
“Who?” she asked.
Who indeed. He hadn’t the faintest idea. He worked on conjuring a suitable shoe name as he stalled, “You wouldn’t know them.”
Skeptical, she challenged, “Oh no? Try me.”
It had been less then a minute, but what a minute for Gari. Transfigured in a single minute. He traveled round the world in search of a shoe client. For him, a shoe operation had to have a real name, which meant a family name. English as in Church? Italian like Bruno Magali? Too chic-chic. Emily would never believe Lefton & Associates could win an account the caliber of these. She knew what a schlock joint Larry ran. Low costs, high margins equated to a sailboat on Lake Michigan, and nothing else mattered to Larry. Besides, if by wild luck or dementia on the part of the entrapped concern, Lefton & Associates did acquire such an account, never would she believe Larry would put her husband in charge. Gari reverted to what he knew—small ethnic family business. Eastern European, Slavic rang true to him and he thought it would to her too.
“I’ve never heard of them.” She screwed her eyes tight; they were like a double-barreled microscope tuned down to view the minutest flaw in the web he wove.
“Well dear wife of mine, I’m not surprised. Not in the least little bit. Who in this xenophobic place could pronounce Vanoyvich? Please, give me a break. Not even you, and you’re pretty good with strange names.”
Her eyes remained narrowed.
“The chain’s called Van’s Shoes.”
“You mean those Van’s sneakers, the ugly ones kids like?”
Gari barely heard the end of the sentence for he was busy castigating himself. What a shoe man he was. Vans! Why not Nike, for Christ sakes? Hey, Payless, now there’s an original name. As good as Florsheim. Why hadn’t he just made up a senseless, stupid name? Good God but a little shoe trade knowledge indeed was dangerous.
“What a headache,” he blurted.
“You have a headache?” Eyes still slits focused for error. Damn that must hurt you, he thought.
“Not my headache,” he said. “Vanoyvich’s headache. Excedrin headache two-fifty, if you follow. Lot’s of screaming and yelling about trademark infringement.” Who knew, but it listened like the real thing.
Her eyes seemed to relax, and Gari sensed progress. He plowed ahead. “They renamed the stores Vanny’s Shoes. Easy to say, easy to remember. By the way, it was my idea.” He actually swelled his chest with pride. Anyway, if the situation had been true, maybe it would have been his idea. Contrary to what some at the agency thought, he did have ideas occasionally. “My idea won the account for Lefton & Associates.”
“And from gratitude they gave it to you?” she said with shock.
Here was a woman who knew Larry Lefton and his type.
“I know. Hard to believe since Larry has never done anything like this for me in the past. But, you know, people change. Hey, all this time, Larry really appreciated me. So he finally got around to showing it.”
Sure he sounded naïve, the innocent lamb. But Emily, though a miser, was rich with the grace of everlasting hope that people—even him—under the right circumstances were good and would do the right thing. This one soft spot, her Pollyannaish weakness regarding the innate character of people, this he figured was his salvation.
“Well, I for one find it hard to believe.”
Christ, he thought, she was starchy. What a skeptic. “Okay, you’ve got me, Emily. There is a catch, and I’m afraid it’s a big one. You may not like it.” He paused for effect. “I’ve told you about client conflict. You know, you can’t have two clients in the same business. Who you going to do your best work for? But having the same kinds of retail companies in different cities makes a difference. The ideas might be the same—not that they would be—but since they’re different audiences there’s no conflict.”
Those narrow eyes were now mere slits. “You’re trying to say what? Vanny’s is out of town?”
“Milwaukee, Madison, Peoria. How about a little help here, Gari?”
Gari hesitated. He drew a deep breath. At his feet lay the Rubicon. All he had to do was cross it; start now by dipping his toe in it. Then his reward would be—well, he wasn’t entirely sure, but certainly better, much better than what he had now. Just get the toe in the water. Just do it, Gari, chirred a little voice in his head, “Do it!”
He exhaled, “L.A.”
“But, Gari, how will you run the account from here?”
He swept an arm up, up and away. “Can’t. Got to be there.”
“You mean we’re moving?” He detected a hint of excitement in her voice.
“No. Travel.” He flapped his arms to illustrate.
They’d begun this conversation in the family room and wended into the kitchen, though for the life of him Gari knew not how, so absorbed was he in forging the river. Lying required tremendous effort, he discovered, and he wondered if it was worth it. Maybe the truth was best, at least easier. But wait. Did Caesar second-guess himself? It was the little voice, harsher now, “No!”
“But not inordinate travel, Emily. Not every week. Probably once a month. Maybe twice depending on campaign development.”
“Are you sure?” she asked, dropping into a chair at the kitchen table.
Her question calmed and reassured Gari. She believed him and for an instant warmth and affection for her crept over him. He settled a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
“Absolutely. Look, I don’t always show it, but I love you, Emily. And I respect how you put Teddy and Sammy, and me too, ahead of yourself. So I made it clear to Larry I’d love the job, but only if it didn’t interfere with what I love most—my family.” He shuddered with emotion; he feared he was overdoing it, icing the cake too thick.
Emily stood. She draped his arm over her shoulder. She snuggled up to him, a position she hadn’t assumed in … well, Gari couldn’t remember when.
“How much more money?” she asked.
Hmmm, a mercenary at heart, but she raised a good question. What would be an appropriate amount? Enough to bring a smile to her face, maybe encourage her to loosen the purse strings, since he’d still have to live by her fiscal rules in Mundelein and Chicago, where he’d be spending most of his time.
A number popped into his head and it felt right. “Twenty-five a year.”
She pulled away and probed his eyes. He feared at first she was searching for the lie. No, she wasn’t probing at all. She was admiring him.
“Why, Gari, Larry’s giving you a thirty-five percent raise.”
He couldn’t restrain himself. “Is that good?” Who knew? Maybe she thought it too much for the job, for Lefton & Associates. Maybe it was just too much to believe a guy like him could command money like his make-believe Lefton salary?
“Oh, honey, it’s fabulous.”
He laughed. “Will you give me a raise?”
She caressed his cheek. “Of course, dear, and a little extra too. Teddy and Sammy are at the playground with Candy and her kids. They wouldn’t be back until dinner.”
* * *
At dinner, Emily was effusive. She apologized for the plain fare as she gushed the news of their good fortune to the boys, who picked up her enthusiasm, transmogrifying it into requests for new bikes to replace the second-hand wrecks they rode and more toys, toys, toys. Excited as she was, invigorated as well by the early evening romp with her husband—she was testing the concept of him as the man, the guy she could count on, the breadwinner instead of the crumb bearer—still the steel frilling her character had not softened completely. “We’ll see,” she answered the boys.
Instead of retreating into the family room and planting himself in front of the television, he stayed in the kitchen and helped her clean up. He was amazed how he was drawn to her, how he wanted to be close to her. And while drying a dish, he began to doubt himself and sour on his deception. Though staring at her, swiping idly at the dish, he could see it was reality to her. She caught his gaze and smiled. Even if he wanted to reverse course, how could he disappoint her?
“Traveling for business. You must be thrilled about it, Gari.”
“Well, I’m happy, sure. But I hate leaving you and the boys.” Had he uttered these endearments two hours earlier, they would have been as hollow as the chrome legs holding up the kitchen table. But now he sensed the words might be sincere. He didn’t plan hanging around, but he would miss them when on his excursions. Maybe he’d take the family along once or twice. But probably not, as their presence might complicate the fraud, especially if Emily wanted to see what kind of deal she could get at a Vanny’s.
“When’s your first trip?” she asked, removing the plate and towel from his hand and drying what his ineffective swiping had missed.
In adopting a new softness, she hadn’t lost her touch, it being delving, unbalancing, and thoroughly disconcerting. How could she always stab effortlessly at his weakness? Such an innocent question and the gyrations within him were innumerable. He could leave tomorrow. Okay, not tomorrow. After all, he had to pack, and he needed the lottery check. Where would he cash a check for a quarter million? At the Jewel? The local bank?
“A month or so from now,” he answered, figuring the state should produce his check by then.
“What day?” she asked. “It wouldn’t be so bad if you traveled in the middle of the week.”
Not for Emily, no. It would be perfect. But how could he hold down his little job at Lefton & Associates and vacation every few weeks? If his plan was to succeed, he’d have to travel on weekends. But how would he manage that? How could he explain weekend business travel to Emily?
“Gari, honey, what day?”
It was as if she’d slipped a vise over his head while distracting him with caresses and sweet talk. Here she was spinning the lever, tightening the mad device. Already his brain felt smaller, from melon to melon ball. He knew the day, but he didn’t know why.
“Friday,” he squeaked.
“One day, that’s not too bad.”
“No. Friday night.”
She pushed him away. “Friday night? You’re kidding, right? Nobody travels for business on a Friday night.”
Gari was sure some people did, had too, but he was at a loss to cite a single individual. With a brain the size of a desiccated melon ball fast on its way to transforming into the often spoken of pea brain, the ideas didn’t come, slowly or otherwise. And then the melon expanded large and more succulent with lies than ever.
“I did warn you this promotion has a downside. I have to manage the Lubeck’s account during the week, then zoom to the coast and shape up the Vanoyvich group.”
Instantly, Gari detected amazement and the rebirth of disbelief manifesting as frown lines around her mouth. “You mean to tell me the people at Vanovich –“
“Vanoyvich,” he corrected happily, emphasizing the “oy” with such flourish he thought the family might actually exist.
“Vanovich or Vanoyvich, it’s hard to believe they’re working on the weekend to accommodate your agency. Isn’t it usually the other way around?”
“Not usually,” he nearly sang, “always. Really, Emily, I didn’t realize you knew so much about my business. But this is an exception because we took the business contingent on it.”
“You really can’t be serious, Gari. Even Larry Lefton isn’t such a cheap son of a bitch.”
Here was irony and it nearly knocked Gari off his feet. However, he was engaged in serious, challenging finagling and he kept his course true. “You know, Emily, until this very moment, I didn’t realize you understood what I had to put up with everyday. You couldn’t be more right about Larry if you were his wife.”
She shook her head. “I just can’t believe it.”
“We’re short staffed,” he explained, succumbing to the ruse himself. “You can believe that knowing Larry.”
She regarded him stolidly, but he wasn’t discouraged; he was determined to carry the day.
“They wanted us for the work we’d done with Lubeck’s. We usually do crap just to get by and get paid, but this brand of crap worked for Lubeck’s. I was in on the presentation.”
“Sure. I’m the Lubeck’s guy after all.”
“I don’t remember you traveling anywhere, and certainly not to Los Angeles.”
Really, his brain whirled, you have to admire this woman. She simply will not slip into neutral. Always at him, she was. Absolutely merciless.
“Never did, my dear. Larry wouldn’t have it. Waste of money and time, he said. But like I said, they wanted us, and they came to us. Join the club in the shocked and amazed department. I was stunned and Larry, well he thought, Christ, I’m running a real live ad agency here.”
“Honestly, Gari, this is unbelievable.”
“It is, isn’t it,” he agreed. “I mean, when Larry gave me the account he nearly knocked me off my feet. And the raise, huge. Who would have guessed? Yes, unbelievable is exactly the right word for it.”
He observed her closely, saw her eyes relaxing, sensed she wanted to accept the inconceivable, felt her resistance crumbling.
“But Larry’s still Larry. Sure he gave me the account and the big raise. But now I’ve got to pay.” He reached for her and wrapped her in his arms. “We have to pay,” he said, pecking her cheek. “He should have reassigned the Lubeck’s account to someone else in the office. It would have been the decent thing to do. But, Emily, you know it’s not in his character. Let’s get more mileage out of that poor slob Gari.”
“You’re not a poor slob, Gari,” she consoled, pressing against him.
“Well thank you, Emily.”
“But shouldn’t you talk to him?”
Gari gripped her shoulders and pushed her away enough to look into her eyes.
“I already have. He said Lefton & Associates couldn’t pay me my new big salary if the agency had to hire another account exec to nurse the Lubeck’s business. Either I took the promotion and the money or I didn’t. I was thinking of you and the boys. I know it’s going to be tough on me, but I’m willing to do it for my family.”
He considered the last part with eyes fastened on hers and judged it brilliant. Make her feel guilty. Though he was feeling similarly in light of the consideration and affection she was showing him.
“Linchpin, Gari,” she pronounced, twisting from his grip, her eyes blazing with determination. He sensed danger.
“Linchpin?” he repeated, genuinely in the dark as to her meaning.
“Gari, he needed you to win the account. He can’t very well run it without you. You’re the linchpin. I bet without you Vanovich …”
“Vanoyvich,” he corrected, rolling his eyes.
“Yes, Vanoyvich would leave. But you don’t have much time.”
“No?” he said.
“Yes. You have to hold Larry’s feet to the fire on this now. I never thought I’d be saying this to you, but you have to deliver an ultimatum while you are the linchpin. Either he gets somebody for Lubeck’s Shoes or you walk.”
He was truly shocked, not at forfeiting his job, for he didn’t need it; but, rather, that Emily was counseling him to jeopardize his ersatz position. Conservative Emily certainly underwent a transformation in the course of an evening.
“Don’t worry. You wouldn’t be leaving and he wouldn’t be firing you. He gave you a big raise because Vanovich means lots of money in his pocket.”
On the verge of correcting her, he decided not to play the pedantic. Why antagonize her? And he realized he was at a dead end, at least for the evening.
“I’ll do it,” he said. “You’re right, I am the linchpin in this operation.”
She hugged him. “Ah, Gari,” she trilled, low, with regard he hadn’t heard in years.