Secrets of the Lottery Winner

Secrets of the Lottery Winner

CHAPTER 7: HEAVEN ON EARTH

Everything was clear and simple Saturday morning. He was a man who had emerged from a gratification desert. A rejuvenated wife. A transformative woman, Catherine. And now the woman who lay beside him. Well, more than beside him. She nestled in his crooked arm, her head tucked under his chin; and his free hand casually trolled her breasts.

Her full name was Loretta Heavencrest, which he quickly upon their undressing deconstructed and rebuilt as Loretta Heavensent, earning him a room service cart of giggles and go-ons, as well as accolades to his wit and charm, which until he’d won the lottery he’d never realized—and still doubted, regardless of female flattery—he possessed. Of course, she was taken with him for the same reason as Catherine and the reinvigorated, passionate Emily, of this he had no doubt.

Yet he sensed something in addition that Saturday: He was a man of palpable power. Weeks earlier, he’d been, at best he admitted, an average Joe. He had been a man traveling though life invisible. Those who did catch his shadow didn’t hold high opinions of him. Among these folks, he classed his dear wife, the PLW (that is, pre-lottery win) Emily, and his much disliked employer Larry Lefton.

What accounted for Augustus Garibaldi now striding through every aspect of his life with visible confidence? This confidence—about which he harbored no illusions—had been engendered by mere chance. But in bed at the Beverly Hilton with the beautiful and fully satisfied Loretta in his arms, he could have cared less than zero about chance. Luck was finally in his corner. He was reaping the rewards. He was a confident player in life and he didn’t care this state had materialized through no effort of his own, except for the little required to stop and buy a sandwich, a Big Gulp, and a lottery ticket at a 7-Eleven.

Loretta stirred, as if disturbed by the crackling taking place under his skull. She opened her eyes and blinked at him. They were marvelous eyes, gray and luminescent, and now brimming with mirth and satisfaction at her happy state, in the bed and arms of a man finally branding the world with his mark. Gari’s brain was hot, steamy, and cooking rapidly as he ran his eyes over her.

She’d been gorgeous and irresistible in her red dress perched on the barstool. But just how stunning he’d not fully appreciated until she’d slid off the little red thing in the dim, soft yellow glow of the room. Every inch of her was golden, a woman kissed by beauty and the California sun. Her perfection had transfixed him. He had been paralyzed before her, unable to do more than watch her as she’d bent to remove her slides—canting, as she did, her legs first this and then that way, cast them aside, raising her arms and with them her breasts, gliding her hands into her hair, under it, flipping her blond mane even more golden in the tungsten light—this hair that was absolutely buoyant and bounced of its own accord as it fell back upon itself. When she was in front of him nude on her toes working lose his collar button—for so riveted had he been he hadn’t started getting out of his clothes—he was hit by the thunderclap of realization: She’d removed nothing but dress and shoes. She’d been in the bar on the stool chatting him up naked under the red dress; naked and, combined with her demeanor, accessible right there in the bar. Could she be more alluring, more tempting, sexy to the point where he might explode into a pile of reproductive goo? She before him—the perfect golden West Coast princess—and the idea of her naked under her clothing—if he’d been … been what? What was he searching for? Ah, if he’d been a nineteenth-century coxcomb, a Victorian dandy, a devotee of aestheticism, he’d have swooned. But he lowered the heat long enough to doff everything below his waist, while she made short work of the upper, and then fell into bed in her embrace.

After a while, he discovered he wasn’t alone with Loretta. There on his shoulder like a hen escaped from the barnyard was Emily. The damn woman didn’t say a thing. She was simply there, standing, sometimes dressed, sometimes nude like Loretta, but, of course, not in the least like the princess. He knew Emily’s purpose. She was present to load him up with guilt and—oh, this was too cruel—deflate him. He drew comparisons. He couldn’t help himself. It was as if Emily was part of him, attached to him, embedded in him, and short of the deft application of a surgeon’s scalpel, she wasn’t leaving. She was old. She was lumpy, flaring in the belly and the hips. She was disproportional, having more length above the waist than below. She was shopworn, with lightly veined breasts, stretch marks streaking her abdomen, and veins visible in her legs. Was this fair of him to compare her to Loretta? Not a bit fair, but the woman deserved it, as she wouldn’t stop haunting him.

Emily rarely wore dresses. Blue jeans were her preference, when she wasn’t in sweats. Sweats were the worst and there on his shoulder when she appeared dressed she was in them. Her ass in sweats was, let’s be honest, repulsive. The seat was shapeless and hung down as if it was overflowing with something and the something was utterly revolting. And this unattractive and unflattering clothing was cheap. Nasty, ugly attire a person who respected herself and her husband wouldn’t wear, not even from necessity. Her underpants—really, he couldn’t deign to label them panties—were the worst of a bad lot. They were big baggy bloomers, white sacks better suited to hauling trash than a woman’s ass, which in Gari’s opinion was an article of art when trim, tight and proportioned, as was Loretta’s.

Loretta hadn’t been wearing panties, but if she had stepped into them before leaving for the Beverly Hilton bar, he had no doubt they would have been red or black. They would have been tiny, little things that functioned less as underwear and more as an invitation to fantasy and arousal. They also would cost more than Emily’s entire daily wardrobe.

Ah yes, he was in the perfect spot with the perfect woman, and an entire Saturday stretched before them.

“I wonder if the star tours are running today?” Her voice was muffled and slurred with sleep’s remnants, but more enticing for her condition.

His face blossomed with a smile. She observed closely and said, “I’m guessing you haven’t taken a tour.”

“Never.”

“But these fires,” she said, propping up on an arm, kissing him lightly, and glancing toward the window. They’d drawn the curtains last night, but a sliver of murky sunlight angled through slicing the room, the bed, and them in half. “These are the worst I’ve seen since I got here.”

“Movie star houses burn down?” he said with sufficient incredulity to convey he might just be a hick from the hinterlands. What were these people, demigods exempt from the laws tormenting humanity? In the future, he’d have to check his awe.

She laughed. “Don’t get the idea Sharon Stone puts her dresses on any different than me.”

Well—he kept this to himself—you and Sharon Stone have more than that in common. It’s what you both don’t wear under the dress.

“No, no, it’s that, I guess I don’t know where the movie stars live.”

“Damn.”

“Damn what?”

“Damn but I can’t believe your shoe guys didn’t take you around the town at least. I thought everybody did that. Christ, I have to do it for every relative who gets past Vegas.”

She might have expected ready wit, especially from an advertising man, but he was too stuck on the word relative to respond immediately. Relative shocked him a bit, as he’d been viewing her as an entity without connections. No parents, brothers or sisters, other relatives, and no friends. Nobody to think about, to report to, to care for, or to care about her. It seemed odd to see her this way, when he considered it. She was a person just like him. Consequently, her life was more than perching on a stool in the Beverly Hilton Hotel bar and then devoting her attention and life to him. After he returned to Chicago, she would be getting back to something here in L.A. It occurred to him they’d been as intimate as two people could hope to be, and yet he knew nothing more about her than she moaned softly when she made love.

“Me or you?” she asked.

“Huh?” lost in himself.

“The curtains. Who’s going to open them?”

“Oh, sure, me.”

He slipped from under the covers and padded to the window. He drew them back a few inches.

She said, “More. I can’t see anything. Nobody will see you. Open them.”

He opened them completely and felt a rush of excitement. It wasn’t the day, sunny in a dusty way. It was his state—naked in front of a window. At home, he could not recall the last time he’d pranced around naked. Or if he’d ever gone around the house, or his bedroom, without some clothing. Certainly not after Teddy toddled. With the kids, privacy vanished. Not even in the bathroom, where the boys had been known to intrude as he sat on the toilet.

“Christ,” she yelled, nearly in his ear, startling him. She came around from behind him and almost flattened her breasts against the window. “It’s a smoky day. I guess the fires haven’t let up much. I guess they won’t until we get some rain.”

“When’s that?” he asked, interested more in running his hands down her waist and over her hips.

She must have read the desire in his eyes for she grabbed his lecherous hands and clamped them on her slim yet tantalizingly flared hips. “December, maybe,” she answered, soft and sultry, so the room felt as if the fires had insinuated themselves into the corridors of the Beverly Hilton. “We’ll get tickets over at Gruaman’s.” She was pulling him to the bed, and then falling onto it, her legs splayed slightly, leaving him to watch. “So what star palaces do you want to see?”

He was dizzy and blank. He said, “Sharon Stone’s, maybe.”

Loretta broke into a convulsive laugh.

She said she was hungry and she hated room service. It was something to the effect that hotel rooms were for two things only, and they’d already used theirs for both.

They taxied to Hollywood and ate breakfast at the Roosevelt Hotel. She told him it was haunted and took him up to the mezzanine and guided him through the exhibit to prove it. They caught a star tour at two and bussed around Beverly Hills, Holmby Hills, and Bel Air, up and down the hills between West Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley, and on Mulholland Drive past the spot were James Dean was supposed to have crashed his Spyder (though Gari knew the spot was miles and miles away, near Bakersfield). The fires weren’t up in these rich, exclusive hills, but the smoke from those burning near Malibu was. It wasn’t thick, probably no denser than smog, but it colored the landscape brown and filled the air with an acrid smell. Amid the ohs and ahs, the tour driver jolted his charges by saying, “Lucky you’re seeing L.A. today. Tomorrow it could be ash.” Nobody believed him, but they laughed nervously nonetheless as they contemplated the evening in their L.A. hotel rooms. And in the end, Gari never did see Sharon Stone’s house.

They spent their evening at Ivy, one of the restaurants de jour. He’d asked Loretta in the morning where she’d like to dine that evening and she’d said, “Ivy would be nice. You’ll see famous people.” While he’d lost interest in watching the famous eat, he was very keen to please and impress her. Naturally, being a gravitational center, securing a legitimate reservation on short notice was impossible. However, just as in Chicago, Gari figured money would move mountains. And it did. The Beverly Hilton concierge got him a reservation, after Gari persuaded him with five hundred dollars. Forking over the C-notes, he had visions of the apoplexy this would have caused in Emily. Five hundred dollars would have bought food for a month, new school clothing for the boys, as well as this and that—and none of it would have been wasteful or fun. Spending money on bribery hadn’t been a pleasure for him, but then he was in the big time and he understood big time living could be expensive.

What the five hundred had bought him was a one hundred dollar bar bill at Ivy waiting for a reserved table that opened two hours late. Where were the stars on Saturday night? Loretta apologized they were not at Ivy. The meal was okay but overpriced, though he did not volunteer his true opinion to her. For her ears, Ivy was fabulous, nothing like it in the sadly benighted backwash of Chicago. Of the hinterlands herself, she laughed agreeably. She was in L.A. to escape.

With no stars to ogle, they talked about her over dinner. He had said enough about himself. Anymore and he feared he might get hung up in the complex web he found himself weaving. She’d come from near him, at least when viewed from Ivy in L.A. Danville was her hometown. Gari was something of a dolt about Illinois, as he supposed most who lived in and around Chicago were. He did know two facts and used them with good effect. First, the women’s penitentiary was located there. Probably the place’s main industry these days was her observation. As far as she was concerned, the town was a giant pen and she was a fortunate escapee. Second, Rob Petrie hailed from Danville. This puzzled her. He discerned bewilderment in the way—cute way, in his opinion—she flared her nostrils and set her nose to twitching. Well, she was young, and Rob had been a Sixties guy, and Gari devoted a fair amount of his time to such fare on TV Land. The old “Dick Van Dyke Show” with Mary Tyler Moore, he clarified. She recognized Mary Tyler Moore.

By the time Rob Petrie had slipped by, she was on her third martini, and now their potency had gripped her, and Gari had the sense she was revealing information she normally would have withheld, and probably secreted from others like himself, for in his mind strangely sharpened by an extremely expensive single-malt scotch he knew there had been others, though he wasn’t sufficiently mellow to say this didn’t present tremendous difficulty for him. He was the only one for Emily and, irrationally as even he regarded it, he expected this of Loretta. Naturally, the only sensible recourse was to repress his knowledge, which presented no immediate problem for the prevaricating man.

Loretta rambled down her alcoholic memory lane, from girlhood to womanhood. Her father was a prison guard and her mother a homemaker. Her father demanded order, and that included an ice-cold Stroh’s waiting for him the instant he clomped through the front door after a hard day keeping society’s recalcitrant females in line. Possibly as a result of his vocation or perhaps simply because he was seriously anal, he brooked no rebellion at home. Complying with his wishes was no problem for her mother, whose name was Sandi, short for Sandi Louise. Sandi was, in the vernacular, wrapped tight, her personal twine so tensed she couldn’t dance, and barely could bend over to put in and pull out Clyde’s—that was her father’s name, which she found comical for a big old tough guard of bad broads—casseroles. Yes, he was a casserole aficionado, eschewing steaks and burgers and other man fare for what, in Loretta’s view, amounted to daily chemistry experiments. She marveled the house still stood on its foundation and that Clyde and Sandi still lived; and, in fact, that neither had ever found themselves in the emergency ward, except once for her dear brother.

“Richard was his name,” she said, wiggling her martini glass. Gari signaled and another was on its way.

He’d been known as Ricky. It seemed adorable when he’d been a tike, less so when a teenager, and not at all when a man. She told Gari the strict observation of the conventional was Heavencrest house policy. She balanced on the line, asserting herself in small ways, most of the time known to her only, unless she mentioned an act to Ricky, who usually sneered at her effort, labeling it “Pi-Ti-Ful.” Big on her list was not wiping water spots off the glasses when she set the kitchen table for dinner. Clyde was a stickler for cleanliness and would always comment to Sandi about the spots.

Ricky was a flagrant rebel, a perfect successor to the original rebel without a cause. Though she corrected herself and admitted her brother did have a cause: to rebel demonstrably against the rigidity of the Heavencrest house. By twenty, Ricky suffered unto himself and those surrounding him every affliction known to American teen rebeldom. He was an alcoholic and drug addict. He was a petty thief. He managed two girlfriends, both of whom left him after he abused them. Clyde disowned him, as if he had anything to disown him of, then backpedaled by allowing him to live in his room. Sandi wept for him. Loretta figured Ricky for what he’d been: a self-destructive jerk. At twenty-one, just five days short of his majority, he overdosed on heroin in his bedroom.

Loretta supposed her brother would have found the discovery of his body satisfying. He’d been in his room in a coma from dawn to dusk. Clyde came to rouse him for dinner and discovered him sprawled on his twin bed, sideways, legs and arms extending off each side. He knew an overdose when he saw it, having seen them from time to time at the prison. Clyde and Sandi hauled Ricky to the hospital, where he died as the admissions clerk inquired about Clyde’s insurance coverage.

It was at this point in her life’s tale that she said, her mouth operating at half speed, “Whoa, but this is too much. I can’t imagine what you must think of me.”

Gari thought her to be an expensive woman, for at the very moment she ended the story of Clyde, Sandi, and Ricky, the waiter sealed it with the bill. It was two-fifty. With the bribe and the bar tab, the evening cost him nearly a thousand dollars, and they weren’t back at the hotel yet. Here, he thought, was a woman who certainly had ventured far from her humble weed patch, a woman as opposite Emily as existed in the world.

It was late. Thankfully, she was too inebriated to move on to another L.A. adventure. They cabbed back and finished the night in Gari’s hotel room, with him undressing her and putting her in the bed, where she passed out instantly.

The next morning they did what Loretta hated and ordered in breakfast, as she was in no shape to face the sunny AM, again dulled by smoke and ash. All for the best, Gari informed her, as he had to catch a noon flight back to Chicago. She asked if he could postpone his return, stay another day, and end their weekend on a glorious note. He was tempted, but this was his first excursion away from Emily and he didn’t think pushing it was advisable. Besides, he had to show up at Lefton & Associates as usual Monday morning. And he was exhausted.

In the last hour, she became fretful and agitated. Gari figured it was the after effect of booze.

“I hope I’ll see you again,” she said, pensively. “You haven’t said anything.”

Gari panged with guilt. During this short weekend, he had become infatuated with her. Her life story put him off a bit; it twanged with more than a smidgen of hillbilly messiness. But then sex does smooth the rough edges of a budding relationship and fosters much fantasy regarding the other party. Hillbilly history was dim in his mind, way back in the recesses with depriving his grass of its weekly mowing. His weekend in L.A. was the most thrilling sustained sexual experience of his new life; he wasn’t prepared to end it. He craved more and toyed with modifying his plans as Loretta pouted in front of him. Those lips of hers, they were full, fluffy pillows of delight, unlike Emily’s razor pink slits.

“I’ll be back in two weeks,” he said. It simply popped into his head and seemed like the right interval. It was like everything in his rich new life: spontaneous.

Her face cleared and brightened, as if the fires shrouding L.A. had extinguished and the soot and stink had blown out of town, leaving the place crystalline, and he found himself ecstatic over the transformation.

She wrapped him in her arms and rose up on her toes and touched his lips, his nose, and his eyelids with her cushy lips. “You’ll stay with me then?” When she saw doubt shadowing his face, she said, “I insist on it. You’ll stay with me. I’ll cook for you. Wake you in the morning for your meetings with the shoe louts. Welcome you home at night.” This she sampled and emphasized with a volley of little kisses.

“We’ll see,” he hedged. “My schedule’s usually hectic.”

She laughed as if she had a middle name and it was frantic.

“I’ll call you,” she said. “What’s your number?”

Gari, while now a new man, a man of wealth, of position and importance, a man on the verge of residency in two states of the grand ole union—this man of pending sophistication had yet to shake off all his Emily-induced penny-pinching habits. In short, he hadn’t acquired a cell phone and worldwide reach and accessibility.

“You know what, my cell conked on me Friday afternoon. Damn thing just up and died. No wonder, I guess. I’m on it all the time. Chicago and L.A. L.A. and Chicago. Back and forth.” He saw her excitement dim a watt or two. “I’m replacing it tomorrow. It’s first on my list. As soon as I have it, I’ll call. Heck, you’ll be my test case, Loretta. I’ll phone you when I’m giving it a try.”

These words were akin to him injecting a stream of charged particles into her lips so brightly did she flash her smile.

After this, he ached to take her to bed. However, time was short and with Loretta bedtime could easily stretch until … well bedtime. So he hosed his libido, gave her fifty for the cab home, wherever that might be, settled up with the Beverly Hilton, and tore out of the parking garage in the red Ford Focus, vowing next time it would be a red Jag, or some such car. After all, his status demanded such wheels and sweet Loretta deserved them.

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