Secrets of the Lottery Winner

Secrets of the Lottery Winner

CHAPTER 8: LIES AND IDEAS

Had it had been any other night but Sunday at six, he would have headed directly to a telephone store to purchase a cell phone. Since he figured none would be open on Sunday, he went where pandemonium erupted, what with Teddy and Sammy clamoring with joy at his return and asking what presents he’d brought them from California.

His jet-lagged brain functioned well enough to explode a huge “Ouch” behind his drooping eyes. Loretta had completely eclipsed the boys and Emily. On his way to LAX, his thoughts were of Loretta weeping in the cab taking her home, and crying up a river in the bedroom of her apartment that he imaged to be mildly glamorous, at least in that it was occupied by the single L.A. woman with whom he had tryst the better part of his first weekend away from home as a man of independent means. The place was probably a box; the glamour came in the furnishings; and especially in the closets, which he imagined packed with more slinky red dresses and tiny bras that were barely there, and thong under things hardly objects at all, and rich floral scents. This wasn’t all he had on his mind; there was the cell phone, too—when to get it, where to get it, what cool style to get. But there were no boys and no Emily.

There was, however, prickly guilt. It had crept up on him Friday night when he was imagining what was under Loretta’s red dress. He’d beat it back, caged it as he would a frothy beast. Now he was in the house and it sprang free, mauling him with claws branded Teddy, Sammy, and Emily. As much a Scrooge as she was, if Emily had been away for a couple of days, she would have returned with at least trinkets for the boys. Sure these would have been junk, but to the boys they would have been treasures of inestimable value. He focused on the boys who tugged at his pants, afraid to face Emily’s castigating eyes, afraid she might be right, afraid they might be pipelines to his soul, to the blackness in him.

The scene could have passed for a Rockwell, except he knew he was an adulterer.

However, he wasn’t about to own up to neglect. I’m not a self-centered guy who thinks only of himself, he raged to himself. I’m not the type who looks forward to getting away from the family, who regards business trips as glorious regenerating retreats from reality. These things he wanted to shout into Emily’s judgmental gaze.

He realized, then, that was the crux of her complaint: He’d put business before the boys. Nothing truly grand, or indicating she understood the double life he’d mapped for himself and her. Her complaint was a simple slip of the mind.

Relieved, he dug into his jacket pockets for anything and latched onto two booze bottles, two Chivas miniatures he had leftover from the plane. He was desperate for a gift and the boys wouldn’t care what he gave them. It was the thought that mattered, wasn’t it?

Teddy and Sammy regarded the bottles as riddles and they presented them to Emily for a solution. Gari saw the red at the base of her neck and knew she was livid. The woman couldn’t speak, but he knew she’d have plenty to scream about after the boys departed the room.

“They’re souvenirs,” he said. “They aren’t toys. They’re little mementos of Daddy’s trip. He got them in first-class on the airplane.” He took the one Teddy held. “You put them on your bookshelf, see.” He illustrated by lifting the miniature bottles and placing them on an imaginary shelf. “Then you admire it. You think, ‘Boy, Daddy sure has a good job.'” 

He returned the tiny Chivas bottles to Teddy and Sammy, and the boys dashed off to their room, presumably to ensconce their tokens on their little bookshelves.

“Gari Garibaldi, how could you?” said Emily. Tears welled in her eyes.

“Okay, Emily, I’m a cad and a lousy father. Don’t tell me what I know. But, Christ, I was busy. Those Vanny’s people are worse than Lubeck’s. Larry’s not paying me enough for this, forcing me away from you and the kids and putting up with Vanny’s bullshit.” As he spoke, he’d sidled up to her and draped an arm over her shoulders. “I didn’t have a second to spare. I came this close,” he indicated with pinched fingers, “to missing my flight. You don’t think I wanted to get something for you and the boys? There just wasn’t any time.”

She snuffled doubt. Waving at him, she said, “When did this drinking start?”

“Drinking? What drinking? I’ve had a few drinks with clients. Sure. But I wouldn’t call it drinking drinking. You know, like in the drinking you’re thinking of. With this new job, I’ve got to drink with clients sometimes.”

“These clients were on the plane with you?”

“Plane? Oh, no, they’re back in L.A.,” he said into stern, unbelieving eyes. “Come on, Emily. Didn’t I just finish telling you this trip was murder? I had a couple on the plane to relax. So what?”

But he knew there was something to it. He had noticed himself drinking more. Even before L.A. and Loretta, with Catherine at lunch, and in-between before leaving for L.A., he stopped in a couple of nightspots in the city to check out the action and have a drink. Just unwinding he told himself. It was tough living as a poor slob, when you were the opposite. And why? To hide your good fortune from your wife. To live a new, wilder, expensive life in secret.

“Well, maybe this new position of yours isn’t worth it, Gari. Not if it means being away from home and the boys, and drinking on top of it.”

Had she been reading his mind? Did she know more than she was letting on?

“Christ, Emily, isn’t the money nice? Isn’t not scrimping nice for a change? Don’t you like giving the boys presents for no reason?”

“You mean like two liquor bottles?”

He wanted to storm out of the room, out of the house. But he couldn’t; his guilt was like cement shoes, the kind gangsters wore to hideous ends in Lake Michigan. In his case, they weighted him in place. The best he could manage was a glare.

“You can’t be serious?”

But her expression testified she was. Money and what it could buy meant nothing to Emily.

“Okay, look, no more drinking. Soda pop from now on. Scout’s honor,” he said, raising a hand and grinning wide, hoping he didn’t look like the Cheshire cat, but the adorable, supplicating husband he knew he should be at the moment. And seeing her soften a bit, he added, “I’ll talk to Larry, see if I can persuade him to lighten my load.” In a burst of bravado, “Hey, I’m the top producer for the agency, right? The linchpin. I deserve a few concessions, don’t I? Damn right.”

She’d been hard in appearance and pulling away during their conversation, until this declaration. She cracked a slight smile and moved toward him. He met her. They embraced and from the recesses came this, which might have been prompted by guilt and true feelings: “I didn’t intend for this to be a problem for us, Emily.”

“It’s not, Gari. It’s just me, I guess. I’ve just got to get used to your success and what comes with it.”

Gary’s throat hitched. It could have been gas from the airplane food, which in first-class was a cold, soggy chicken sandwich; but really it was a monster growing in him. This scene would have been so much better if the promotion had been real, if his own effort had transformed him into the success he’d deceived her into believing he was.

She noticed and said, “You okay?”

He thumped his chest. “Airplane food. I shouldn’t eat the stuff.” He said it matter-of-factly, as if this indigestion was a longstanding concern.

She stroked his cheek lightly. “Well, maybe I have been hard on you. Being home alone with the boys over the weekend hasn’t been a picnic. They missed you, and I did too.”

The guilty demon snarled and flared in him. His head ached and his stomach burned. “I missed all of you too,” he managed. “But I’ll be home for the next couple of weekends,” trying desperately to recall what he’d promised Loretta, wondering how long he could stand being away from her. Under the weight of these questions, Gari’s eyes and the corners of his mouth sagged.

She read his face as filled with concern and regret and perhaps an amalgam of other emotions, the sum of which indicated this step up in life was as hard on him as it was on the boys and her.

“We should get to bed early tonight.” She emphasized her intent with more caressing.

He couldn’t dispute the merit of early to bed. Loretta, L.A., the flight, the time change—all exhausted him. And while he was a rich man who, from a practical standpoint, didn’t have to work, he was still tethered to a job and thus had to appear on time at Lefton & Associates. Then there was Emily herself. She was wearing her sweats, mismatched grays, baggy top and seat-sagging pants. She looked drawn and old, as if she’d aged ten years between Friday and Sunday. Then there was what the sweat suit hid, what had taunted him at the Beverly Hilton, and his evil comparison, which was how he viewed it; for how could he dare to compare the woman who loved him, who gave him two boys, who cared scrupulously—maddeningly—for his and his children’s welfare to … a paramour? And that he was sufficiently well off to afford such a high-class description of a woman in L.A., this he couldn’t believe either.

“You’re so right, Emily. Sleep is what we need. A rejuvenating night of sleep and we’ll be good as new tomorrow.” Breaking from her, he yelled, “Teddy, Sammy, time for bed. Daddy’s putting you to bed tonight.”

The boys presented themselves and voiced their protests. They weren’t tired. They wanted to play more. Wouldn’t Daddy play with them? It was too early; bedtime wasn’t for another hour. Gari conceded. He’d been away the entire weekend and they’d missed him. He’d deprived them. This wasn’t conceit on this part, but stark and painful truth that cut him and obligated him to give into the boys, and thus salve his guilt about his lousy parenting. He played Candyland and Chutes and Ladders with them until Teddy and Sammy each had won a game. After, he put them in their beds, kissed each goodnight, and headed for his bed, in which he prayed Emily had fallen asleep.

She was reading a magazine, propped up on two pillows, perfumed, and wearing a pale blue diaphanous nightgown through which he could distinguish her narrow breasts and their dark tips. Since Emily slept in shorts and a T-shirt (flannel nightgown in the cool and cold months), sleep didn’t seem an option, unless his invention was particularly fleet. But he was too drained for speed and undressed with a dull smile. Putting off the inevitable, he said he needed a shower as the heat and travel had made him a little gamy.

The shower gave him a small jolt of energy, sufficient for him to suggest, upon slipping into bed cleansed and nude, “You’re doing this for me, I know, Emily. But it’s not necessary. Not that I don’t want to. Oh, I do.” He enforced this as gospel truth by wrapping an arm around her and kissing the hollow of her neck. “But I know the kind of weekend you’ve had. Thirty minutes with the boys did me in. I can imagine how you feel after a weekend alone with them.”

Well, it was the best he could manage in his enfeebled state, and it was pretty good, demonstrating understanding, concern, consideration, probably other feelings he was unaware of. While right and good, it was exactly the wrong tactic on this night.

When he attempted retracting his arm, she pulled it back. “These past couple of weeks have been the best we’ve had in a long time. I’ll admit it. Your promotion and the money, even the travel as much as I hate it, it’s all made you more attractive. I don’t want you to think I’m superficial, having these feelings for you just because you’ve got a better job and all. Sure it’s part of it. I don’t deny it. But I’ve always loved you, Gari, even when it didn’t seem like I did. I just wanted the best for you and the boys, and I guess I was frustrated, you know, because you weren’t providing it.”

Her confession of affection stunned and dumbfounded him, leaving him limp.

“I appreciate you telling me, Emily.”

Loretta had drained his libido, now flaccid below and above in his head where it counted. Could he overcome this and perform? Loretta handed him salvation in the form of her little red dress. He rose to the occasion with Emily, and his reward was a long, delicious night’s sleep.

* * *

He awoke earlier than normal feeling better than usual. Emily was up before him and already busy in the kitchen when he strolled in for a cup of coffee. This morning was different, as Emily was in the midst of preparing what he rarely enjoyed at home, or anywhere for that matter.

The breakfast was huge: coffee; eggs done as he liked them, sunny side up, wheat toast, butter, two types of jam, bacon, and biscuits. She joined him and ate with him, notable because this hadn’t occurred since Teddy was born. As they finished, Teddy and Sammy straggled in, wiping sleepy eyes and dragging a menagerie of plush animals.

Indeed the world had changed and continued changing, he thought, strolling to the train station. He was weighing his new life on the scale of justice, the good and the bad, and the scale tipped in favor of good.

Gari arrived at the office early. This struck him as strange. Before, when his job mattered, he showed up at his desk within the vicinity of eight. Time had been an approximate concept for him. He was among the class that worked its way through college and was a somewhat proud graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. He labored—and it was real labor, putting his desk jockeying at Lefton & Associates to shame—afternoons while college was in session and ten-hour days during the summer. He’d started in the warehouse of Jennifer’s Direct Mail Services, Inc. receiving customers’ advertising, placing it in inventory upon arrival, and transporting it to the shop floor when it was ready for assembly into a direct mail package bound to annoy somebody. He’d been good at the job, not that he found it challenging. His co-workers were deltas. His boss, Carmine—the owner who’d honored his first born by naming his business after her—had appreciated his intelligence and his hard work. He’d received several promotions until he was supervising the evening shift. His problem was arriving at work on time. Of course, he was better than anybody else in the shop, many of whom could easily miss starting time by an hour and sometimes a day or two. While his ten-minute late arrivals would have driven most bosses to habitual harangues on timeliness, Carmine ignored this aspect of Gari’s otherwise stellar work ethic. Larry Lefton was another matter.

The problem, as Gari saw it, was everybody at Lefton & Associates worked. They were ambitious, and for reasons Gari could not fathom, they respected Larry Lefton, or at least paid deference to him by observing his wishes, among them that everybody appear in the office by eight and on Monday’s assemble in the weekly status meeting by eight-thirty ready to answer whatever inane questions he might ask. Gari managed this feat more often than not; but he wasn’t consistent and consistency was what Larry demanded.

So it was no surprise when Larry acknowledged Gari’s timely arrival at work and to the status meeting. Normally Gari would have ignored Larry’s indirect method of sharing his displeasure with the assembled agency staff; however, this day his sense of power at having challenged Larry the previous week surged in him, enhanced by his weekend in L.A., for which he’d left early on Friday. He nodded his acknowledgement. A few arched eyebrows indicated some had noticed.

Larry knew Gari had ducked out early on Friday. Larry might have missed the big picture occasionally, usually at the crucial junctures in the agency’s history; but he never missed a nit of the minutiae. Were the wall clocks off by ten seconds? Ask Larry. Did the cleaning people dust the desks and replace the wastebasket liners over the weekend? Larry knew by eight-fifteen on Monday. Was a company initiating an agency search? Don’t ask Larry, unless you didn’t mind knowing after the search had been completed and reported in the Chicago Tribune‘s marketing column.

Larry attempted to skewer Gari with a question regarding the state of spelling errors in Lubeck’s ads. But, of course, this was stale news that when it did possess a fresh stench hadn’t clung to Gari. And Larry had been aware of it only because Victor Lubeck himself had transmitted a jolt of his anger over the landlines, special delivery to the president.

“Victor Lubeck says all is forgiven. Accidents they do happen is his sentiment.”

“Indeed, Mr. Garibaldi,” intoned Larry. He enjoyed elevating his words with haughtiness in contests such as this. He believed his tone conveyed royalty, assertiveness, and leadership. In fact, it was the signal to the subject Lefton employee to relax and allow Larry to erupt. Experience assured normalcy would return shortly.

However, Gari wasn’t backing off this morning. This morning he was a superman.

“Indeed, Larry,” Gari responded, “Victor said those very words to me Friday afternoon, when I turned up at his office.”

Larry couldn’t disguise his surprise. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Gari smiled, slyly as he envisioned himself squared off with the big boss. “Larry, do you really want us,” he said, sweeping his arm to involve everyone at the table, “to ask permission each time we do something? If so, may I ask your permission to use the restroom? I had a little too much coffee before the meeting.” Gari knew precisely what Larry wanted to do at that moment, and would have done, if Gari hadn’t followed on seamlessly with: “Of course you wouldn’t. You’re too smart an agency man.” He meant it sarcastically, and he was sure Larry knew it; but Larry’s adorning fans took it as a show of respect, a dollop of expiation for the preceding insolent remark, and general good survival sense. The fan club neutralized Larry. “Victor sends his regards and says it was savvy of you sending me over. It demonstrated how much you respect the Lubeck’s Shoes business.” Nice touch, he complimented himself, for he’d both insulted and placated Larry, avenging himself while enhancing, he was sure, his position in the company.

This proved the highpoint of the meeting, though the conclave staggered and limped on for over an hour before Larry mercifully put a bullet in it.

Afterwards, Larry motioned Gari into his office.

“Is it true? You went over to Lubeck’s Friday? He said he liked how we showed respect for his business.”

“Absolutely, Larry.”

Larry regarded Gari silently for what seemed to Gari to be the rest of the morning. Another moment and he would have broken into a nervous sweat. But Larry laid a hand on Gari’s shoulder before the water began flowing. “I like the initiative you’re showing these days, Garibaldi. Good work. Keep it up. Listen, do you think I should give Victor a call? You know, add cement to the bridge of goodwill you’ve already built?”

Gari suffered a spasm of terror. “No,” he replied, fighting to maintain his composure, “I’m headed over there this afternoon for another session. I’ll mention you send along your regards.” After a pause, “Let’s save you for the really big stuff.”

“Great idea, Garibaldi. Great job. Keep it up.”

Gari returned to his desk feeling as if he really had been promoted and recognized by Larry as a key man in the Lefton organization. This fostered deep reflection on a subject usually far, far from Gari’s mind. He contemplated how he might improve, maybe even expand, the agency’s relationship with Lubeck’s Shoes. At his desk, his first act was to phone Victor Lubeck. Gari asked if he could see him in the afternoon. Victor was busy and told him another time. Gari knew Larry and he suspected Larry would be on the phone to Victor by Tuesday morning. Perhaps later today, but most likely Tuesday, as Larry had a sluggish brain.

“We’ve been working on a few terrific ideas for Lubeck’s Shoes here, Mr. Lubeck,” he said, desperate to change Victor’s mind. “We think these can really improve your business.” He waited no more than a second for a response before adding: “Not only that, these ideas could actually bring you new customers for less than you’re spending now.”

Victor grunted into the receiver. “I don’t believe that. Not coming from Lefton.”

“If you give me ten minutes, I’ll prove it.”

Gari listened to Victor breath loudly, and then got what he wanted. “Okay, be here at three. Ten minutes, and I’m putting my watch to it.”

Gary was pleased. He would be able to cover his tracks with Larry. But his pleasure quickly dissipated when he realized he’d committed himself to a plan that didn’t exist.

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