Secrets of the Lottery Winner
CHAPTER 15: TWO SURPRISES
After his promotion to Vice President & Management Supervisor, Gari developed the habit of arriving early to the office, making the practice of opening the front doors his new hallmark. His idea of building a database of customers, employing targeted direct mail (and coming soon, television) to entice customers into Lubeck’s Shoes stores was working beautifully. Lubeck’s sales were up and the calls he received from Victor were stuffed with glowing praise, though sometimes they were left-handed, as in, “Who knew you were such a genius?” The agency was making more money on the account, too, which won regular accolades from Larry Lefton, who before rarely spoke to Gari and when he did left the impression he was considering whether or not Gari was so much deadweight. At the Monday morning staff meetings, Larry glowed when Gari presented his reports on the steady improvement in the Lubeck’s Shoes account, and followed up Gari’s conclusion by urging all present, “Take a page from Garibaldi’s playbook. We’ve all got to be producing like this.” Which, of course, meant the staff, as Larry Lefton regarded his elevation of Gari as his claim to superior production. After all, he reasoned, wasn’t this the job of top management: to recognize talent and let it run with the ball? Though Larry was never much good at understanding “it,” and was a lucky winner when Gari’s variety of “it,” long in hiding, had surfaced.
In addition to arriving at the office early, Gari made himself available to receive calls anytime a Lefton or Lubeck’s staff member felt compelled to phone him. The calls, while infrequent, rang while he was at home and supported nicely his promotion and his new importance at Lefton & Associates; they convinced Emily he was indeed a big man. Thus Sunday, when his cell phone rang as the Garibaldi family finished dinner—it was a roast (very lean) done medium with baked potatoes and hot green bean salad with tomato, a meal less than a year ago he believed he’d never see in his kitchen—he assumed it was a business call. He opened his clamshell with an insouciant flip, again communicating to his brood his importance.
“Hello, Gari, Catherine Lourdes. Am I disturbing you?”
The clamshell wobbled, as if Catherine’s voice was weighty, the opposite of what it was: light and playful. Even if she was disturbing him, she certainly wasn’t, and her tone said she knew it. Smoothly, for this was a skill he had cultivated and mastered, he winked at the family while saying, “Not at all, Catherine. Just let me get someplace where we can talk.” He cupped the phone, rose, mouthed business, and took off for the living room.
He stood by the front window and watched the hallway. “Catherine, it’s been a while.” In fact, it had been months. They hadn’t spoken since he’d taken her to lunch and she’d introduced him to the restoration room at the Art Institute. What with Loretta and his checking and sweep accounts working flawlessly, Catherine had been reduced to a memory, but very sweet, like the aftertaste of Godiva. “This about my account?”
“This is about your train, Gari.”
“Yes, I was reviewing your account last week and your train materialized in my mind.”
“My train? My account? I’m confused.”
“Specifically, the twelve-thirty five a.m. from Chicago to Fox Lake. That train popped into my mind.”
The best Gari could manage was, “Huh?”
“It’s time for you to join the Club.”
“The Club?” And she seemed leveled headed—well, almost—when I met her, he thought, as he repeated her words.
“The Conductor’s Club. It’s a mile-high club for ground travelers.” Gari had these thoughts in rapid succession: Never again. Not after Loretta. This is wrong. What could I tell Emily? How would I survive the next day? She buying dinner before? It’s her turn. “I have a membership in the Metropolitan Club. Drinks and dinner on me and then down to the train.”
“I like you, Gari. Doing it on a train with you would be fun. It’s an adventure. That enough why’s for you?”
“Good. I’ll meet you at Sears Tower at seven.”
Returning to the kitchen, he began working on an excuse.
“What was that about?” Emily asked. “You look like you’re in a daze.”
“Oh, Victor Lubeck wants to meet tomorrow late in the day. We’ll probably go to dinner. Make a night of it. You know, wine and dine the client.”
“But you said Catherine.”
“Yes, Catherine, when you picked up the phone.”
“Oh, Catherine,” he said, lightly slapping his forehead and crossing his eyes. “Catherine’s Lubeck’s secretary. Imagine, a secretary. These days probably not even the president of GM rates a secretary.”
To head off conversation on the topic, Gari asked the boys if they’d like to play outside, to which they responded by bounding from their chairs and directly into the backyard. Gari played catch with them. Lobbing the ball back and forth he castigated himself for allowing Catherine to finagle him to dinner and … well, damn, sex on Metra was intriguing. Did people really do it? And how? But, stop, he cautioned. Hadn’t he learned anything from his affair with Loretta? Worse, Catherine was a short drive or train ride from his house, and unlike Loretta she knew who he was, where he lived, and that he was married. She also knew he was a lottery winner who had set up a new account to receive his winnings. He had no doubts about her intelligence. If he offended her or if she became pregnant—now a possibility foremost in his mind, she could cause him problems. He mulled this as he reprimanded Teddy for hogging the ball and Sammy for losing his temper and kicking Teddy in frustration. He concluded he’d done the right thing with Catherine: It was best to keep the woman happy and if a little kinky public sex did it, well there was self-interest to consider. But he cautioned himself to be careful, as it wouldn’t do to be caught and arrested with her for indecent exposure and lewd behavior on Metra.
Once the vision of sex with Catherine on Metra occupied his mind, concerns and worries and their concomitant caution vanished. He discovered himself growing tumescent playing with the boys and telling himself that sex with Emily would be the kind and considerate way to assuage whatever anger or resentment she might harbor about Monday night.
He thought they fell asleep happy that Sunday, or at least content. Morning confirmed it. Emily was up before him and finishing her preparation of breakfast when he appeared in the kitchen seconds ahead of Teddy and Sammy, in time to hear her thank him for a wonderful evening, which he graciously deflected by crediting her for tolerating the craziness he’d been subjecting the family to since his promotion. He was on the verge of promising a more regular schedule when the boys saved him from himself.
* * *
Larry Lefton had scheduled a private meeting with him immediately after the Monday morning staff festival. Settled later in Larry’s office with coffee and Danish at hand and a warm and cozy atmosphere permeating the room, Larry praised Gari for his work on the Lubeck’s Shoes account. Spectacular, outstanding, if I had known years ago and the like, should have blushed Gari’s face; but Gari now believed he deserved every hosanna Larry tossed his way. Gari calculated he’d personally doubled the great president’s income. Recognition was the least Larry could give him, and it cost the man nothing.
“Gari,” Larry said, addressing him as a familiar, as he had been since the Lubeck’s save, “I believe you’ve earned a reward for your work on Lubeck’s.”
Well, it’s about time, thought Gari, growing a bit more rigid in his chair, and forgetting the recent promotion and salary increase, which most would certainly construe as recognition and compensation for his contribution to the success of Lefton & Associates.
“Your work on Lubeck’s got me thinking about expanding the business.”
“We’ve gone about as far as we can with Lubeck’s Shoes,” Gari said. “Unless Victor decides to add stores, which I doubt.”
Larry smiled. Gari got the impression Larry saw him as a simpleton. Gari said, “You mean new business.”
Larry nodded. “But not just any new business.”
“No?” Gari said, strange dread tickling his spine.
“We’re shoe experts,” Larry said, flapping a conjoining hand between Gari and himself. “What better way to grow the business than by doing more of what we’re good at?”
“You don’t believe Victor will go along with us taking on another shoe account here.”
“Who said anything about here, Gari? This is a big country.”
“You mean another city, like Rockford?” Gari would have guessed Peoria, but Rockford was closer and by big country he cynically assumed Larry meant Northeastern Illinois, and not much of it either.
“Think coast to shining coast, Gari. Coast to coast. With shoe know-how, Lefton & Associates goes national.” Larry stood to emphasize his gigantic dream, as maybe coast-to-coast actually meant up and down, north and south to him, outer space to the molten core of the earth, misdirection Gari wouldn’t put past the president.
Gari ventured, “Milwaukee?” just because he could not imagine Larry possessed the imagination to conceive of parts farther.
But Larry could, fully evidenced when he said, “Please, I’m thinking L.A. Beautiful weather. Golf all year. People with plenty of money and in love with foot ware.”
“How do you know that?” Gari blurted in astonishment.
“You mean foot ware?”
“TV,” Larry said, “the Academy Awards, the Emmys. You ever notice the shoes those women wear?”
Gari certainly had with great admiration and a strong desire to peck at them in perverse foreplay. The connection, while vivid in Larry’s fervid mind, to expanding Lefton business was lost on Gari.
“Money, my boy, lots of it, and the desire to spend it,” clarified Larry, when he saw Gari wasn’t grasping the thrust of his vision.
Gari was stuck at the beginning of the clarification. He wasn’t a boy. He resented being called a boy. And he further resented it because Larry wasn’t much older than he, wasn’t yet gray domed, wasn’t balding; but presumed he could call Gari “my boy” because he had the notion he was his superior.
Oblivious to Gari’s consternation, Larry plunged onward. “We’re the shoe promotion experts. The job we’ve done for Lubeck’s Shoes is a great case history. Great.” He created a frame with his hands, looking like a caricature of a Hollywood director, and peered through it at Gari. Still he couldn’t discern Gari’s attitude. “It’ll play beautifully in L.A. We’ll win another shoe account.”
Gari did hurtle “my boy”; he caught up with Larry’s oral musings. And all he could envision was Loretta in various styles of foot ware: stilettos, pumps, flats, and finally sneakers replete with thickened ankles. He hadn’t been back to L.A. since the day of the revelation and escape, and he had no intention of returning, perhaps ever.
“And you’re my shoe expert,” rambled Larry. “I know what a hardship this will be on you.”
“Well, I don’t think you can find an account and service it without going to L.A. I don’t mean you’ll have to move there. Though that wouldn’t be bad, huh?” Larry didn’t nudge and wink at him, but he may as well have. “In the beginning, while you’re getting the lay of the land, a couple of days a week.”
“You mean a month?”
“Gari, you couldn’t accomplish a damned thing a couple of times a month. Why you couldn’t even manage to wet your wick in that short time.”
You want to bet? It was the retort he wished he could fling. He settled for a shrug.
“Of course not. So I know it’s going to be a hardship for you and your family. To offset your sacrifice a little, I’m giving you a raise. Up another twenty percent. Plus your expense account—no limit. And this is just to win us an account and keep Lubeck’s Shoes producing. You win an account, well then we’ll talk about more.”
The irony of Gari’s new life was becoming unbearable to him. He sipped his coffee and gagged quietly staring at the Danish. It was and appeared ready to serve as a happy home for mold. When he ceased needing anything—not a loving wife, not a rewarding job, not a hefty salary, not the respect and confidence of his boss—it was then he gained it all. He paused to admire the absolute absurdity of life.
“We couldn’t look closer to home, Cleveland maybe?”
Larry stared at his star account man a long-time, unsettling Gari.
Larry pointed at him and broke into a phlegm-rattling laugh. “You almost got me. Almost. But I don’t trick so easy.”
“When do we start?” Gari asked, resigned.
“Let’s get this moving January 2. Start the year off hot out of the box. That’ll give you Christmas with the family. Sound good?”
Gari meant marvelous he would legitimately be in the same town as Loretta Heavencrest, and there for extended periods. Yes, L.A. was a big town, bigger than Chicago. But Chicago was a big place too and how many times did he bump into acquaintances from the city and Mundelein? Often. Sure L.A. was big, but not really. Who cruised Glendale, or Covina, or Silver Lakes, or any of the dozens of areas that comprised the big town? No, when you went out, you went where the action was. West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Griffith Park. Places like these were magnets for people like Loretta … and him. Maybe the baby would prevent her from visiting the old haunts? Maybe he could do his job in the day and sequester himself in his hotel—probably apartment, he thought; I’ll have to find an apartment. But avoiding the hotspots would be impossible. Entertaining was part of building a business. And you didn’t entertain in Pasadena, unless it was tickets to the Rose Bowl. If she was on the town, he’d run into her.
“And look, Gari, I don’t want this interfering too much with your family life. I know it will to some degree. But I understand the family thing. You’ll see plenty of your kids, Jerry and Larry, right?”
“Teddy and Sammy.”
“The boys. What kind of father would want to be away from his boys for too long?”
Gari didn’t know if Larry meant this rhetorically, or if he expected a response. Gari took the middle road and shrugged.
“Right. If we find you’re in L.A. for extended periods, we’ll just have to get you an apartment. Then you could fly out the family occasionally. Spend time together.”
Gari found himself already in L.A. He could smell the smog and feel the slime in his nostrils and on his tongue. His eyes itched and he rubbed them with his fists. He could see the apartment, typical L.A. fare: pool in center court, doors in pastels or primaries ringing it, a highway masquerading as a street bordering it and enveloping it in noise and exhaust, and motley people loitering about, many waiting for the big call, but most just waiting for anything. The boys wouldn’t mind the place. They liked sun and warmth and pools. Emily liked those too; but the apartment would be tiny compared to home, itself not large, but palatial compared to a California apartment. He’d investigated them when he was hot and heavy with Loretta and contemplating spending more time on the coast.
But the worst was that Emily and the boys would expect to see the sights: the pier at Santa Monica, the homes of the stars, the tar pits, the Queen Mary. Emily wouldn’t want to cook in the cramped kitchen. Even if it was spacious, still she wouldn’t want to cook for the boys and him. She’d consider herself on vacation and would expect vacation treatment. There was a time when she would have been content with a rat hole room and cooking dinner on hot plates. But not now, not as the wife of a successful advertising executive. They’d be on the town, dining at fine restaurants, trendy places, the very types of venues he knew Loretta visited.
Larry saw Gari was fretting and understood why. He was a man who managed a large staff, after all, and he considered himself an expert on people. He offered an emolument. “Of course, all company expense, Gari. You’re doing us a favor by opening new territory. The least we can do is make the experience tolerable for you and your family.”
Gari smiled weakly.
“One more thing, did I mention you’ll have a new title? I remember how insistent you were about management supervisor. Well, I know how the movers and shakers think,” Larry said, puffing up, straining the buttons of his shirt, communicating he should too, as he was a member of the M&S class. “You’ll need a more impressive title. How does executive vice president sound to you?”
Gari’s smile firmed. “I like it,” he said. He didn’t say he would have liked it more a year ago.
“Good. Well then, go out there and get the ball rolling. Let me know your plans by the end of the week.”