Secrets of the Lottery Winner

Secrets of the Lottery Winner

CHAPTER 24: PREPARATIONS

Emily had billed the girl as thirteen or fourteen; but upon her arrival the sight of her reminded him that young teens in modern life and especially in California didn’t look their age. Jenny showed up with piled-high blond hair, an aquiline face that brought to mind a young Laura Dern, a lithe body, including breasts that properly belonged on an eighteen-year-old. She came dressed for, well, Gari really couldn’t say, but babysitting didn’t seem to be it. Up top a belly shirt tented over her breasts, hanging somewhat north of her navel, forming an awning over the little porthole. While small, her navel was an eye catcher, glittering with a gold ring. Down below she was covered, barely, by short-shorts, revealing her legs for admiration.

Ordinarily, Gari would have found Jenny tempting, demanding a gawk and perhaps a brief fantasy. However, in his home, in her role as the temporary caretaker of his boys, she was off-putting. When he expressed his reservations to Emily, she remarked, “Gary, it’s a good thing you’re a shoe man, because you’re such a prude.” He went blank, turned white faced, detectable under the tan even, and she mistook this for umbrage at his implied lack of worldliness. She responded by squeezing his cheek, like his aunts used to do as they pursed their lips and pecked the cushion of air between them and him. She said, “You’re cute,” which was nearly synonymous with planting a sloppy kiss on him. The only saving grace was they were in the kitchen and Jenny was parked in the foyer, where they had left her when Gari practically dragged away Emily.

In the end, he had too much to do in the coming hours to dispute the virtues of a girl who gave every outward appearance of maintaining a residence in the Kingdom of Tarts, the province of BP, the Barely Pubescent. On the way to his Jag with Emily and Jenny settled on the family room floor with the boys playing Candyland—which in momentary reflection he found disturbingly appropriate, though of course the dolce dispensed by the babysitter was completely lost on Teddy and Sammy, he hoped—it occurred to him she might be the possessor of other skin adornments, maybe intriguing ink. If he were a fourteen-year-old girl, where would he locate a tattoo on himself, and what would it declare about him? Normally he would not have associated a youth like her with body art, as the deluded described it; but Jenny did have metal in her belly. In all innocence, if she indeed was marked, it was probably with Tweety or Minnie or other kid show character. Down the driveway, onto the street, and pointing the Jag at Hollywood, he prayed she didn’t use whatever might be on or just above her ass—for where else would a princess of Tartdom (he’d already elevated her to royalty) exhibit such an escutcheon?

“Why the smile?” asked Emily, as he glanced at his Pasadena domicile fading in the rearview mirror and told himself with certitude Jenny was changing the boys for the worse; and, if true, he would have to teach her a very serve lesson. Hoping Emily didn’t notice the swelling in his lap, he answered, “Oh, I’m just happy you’re doing something for yourself for once.”

She impelled herself closer to him but not on top of him as the center console proved an insurmountable barrier, at least at sixty miles an hour. When his tumescence had reared its yearning head, fear zoomed up behind it and before she could cast an eye down to check … whatever—his foot ware, the cleanliness of his pants—he’d mercifully returned to his everyday state of flaccidness, though left impressed by the power simple consideration had on woman.

He found a place to park at block from Grauman’s, where the tour hawkers congregated, and walked up to the theater. There he bought Emily a ticket on a deluxe two-hour excursion and waited with her until she’d boarded the van and it had pulled away and vanished around the corner. It was noon then and he retrieved his car and piloted it to the Beverly Hills Hotel. He waited in the lobby for Loretta, who wasn’t due until one.

He ensconced himself in a club chair near a plant and was able to watch surreptitiously as Loretta strode into the lobby. Often after her revelation of pregnancy he’d speculated about what had attracted him. He’d come to regard himself as an astute fellow with a discerning eye concerning the nature of the human animal, so how he missed the signals—there always were signals—she would transfigure into a clinging girl who only wanted caring for, was unsettling to him. The old Gari could and did miss signs. But he wasn’t his old self. It was as if the lottery money had arrived with a set of antennae tuned to cash and how to make more of it. Now he wished the gift had also come with a social setting. If it had, he might have detected Loretta’s neediness.

But as for what had attracted him to her, Loretta displayed it as she scanned the lobby for him. She was in her best color, red, in the form of a slight sundress that showed off her back and the tautness of her breasts to tantalizing effect. She perched on heeled sandals, in coordinating red. Her legs were tanned and sexily muscled. Her blond hair seemed blonder, whiter, and it appeared longer, down to her shoulders. He pictured it fanned on a bed of pink and nearly let slip, “Marvelous.”

Meeting her was dangerous, but it didn’t have to happen. She hadn’t spotted him. He could hide until she realized he’d done it again, deserted her. But he found the option and the consequence repugnant. Forever she would describe him as, “That bum.” Once she could forgive, but twice? Not even he could have forgiven himself such an act of callousness. Fending her off—for he was committed to Emily and vowed not to cheat again on her—was preferable to hurting Loretta or incinerating his reputation, even if only among people he didn’t know and would never meet.

“Looking for somebody, miss?” he said, having crept up behind her, no easy feat as she was shaming Mary Richard’s ability to twirl madly in a crowd.

“No, I’ve already found him,” she said gaily, entwining an arm around his, drawing close to him until the floral fragrance wafting from her skin caused him to break into a light sweat, and the mint scent of her breath tempted him to break his vow of spousal loyalty seconds after he’d renewed it in his imagination.

“Where would you like to go?” he asked.

“Oh,” she said with titillating coyness, “somewhere quiet.”

This could have meant a restaurant or a bungalow at the hotel, neither of which would place a suitable barrier between him and the temptation beckoning from under the red dress.

“How about Venice Beach?” he offered. It possessed the virtue of a crowd and spectacle.

She frowned adorably. “Have you been to the Getty?”

Gari was an intellectual bottom feeder, which probably accounted for his skill at hawking the mundane necessities of life, and why he certainly despised Gyl and Kennie, who presented themselves as avant-garde. But he’d been in L.A. long enough to know she was referring to the museum perched above the San Diego Freeway. At least it was a public place.

“No, but I’ve always wanted to see it. Let’s go.” Then he had a second thought, a cautionary creeping upon him from his Chicago days, from the first moments of his remaking into a man of wealth, position, and responsibility. “Do you know somebody at the Getty?”

“What do you mean know somebody?”

“Like,” Gari said casually, “somebody who works there, somebody, say in art restoration; somebody like that.”

“I wish I did,” she gushed. “It’d be fun to see, wouldn’t it, how things worked behind the scenes?”

“Loads,” he said.

They had plenty of time for conversation, compliments of L.A.’s twenty-four-hour jam up. She led off by praising his Jag. He didn’t want it to happen and he put forth a mighty effort to prevent it, but to no avail: He puffed his chest with pride at owning a classy auto, at least by Mundelein standards. Here Jags were Fords and if you wanted to billow your feathers you’d better be driving a Rolls or Ferrari or something else in or above these class acts. But she was impressed, and that was enough.

“What have you been doing?”

“I’m in the movie business,” she exclaimed with enthusiasm so vividly realized it activated her seatbelts and she found herself pinned like a butterfly, a pretty blond and red specimen, to the mat, at which she giggled furiously.

He ventured, “You’re in a movie?”

“No.” She pouted like an actress pitching to the back rows. “I work in the office.”

“Still, it must be fun. At least you’re closer to the action. Who knows, maybe you’ll be discovered. Hey, I want to hear more, but I’ve got to get over.”

L.A. traffic was maddening and frightening. They were in a jam up moving at fifty miles an hour. Problem was Gari was in the outside lane with his exit approaching. He discovered himself in the modern version of Dante’s inner rings: descending to the core was calculated torture he self-administered. He learned during his earlier trips in situations like this you had to maneuver immediately or before you knew it you were in Santa Barbara, which while beautiful was the wrong place if your destination was San Fernando, Santa Clarita, or the Getty. Sometimes, he’d discovered, you had to swallow hard, close your eyes, and jerk the wheel, exactly his actions at that moment.

Horns blared from all quarters and Loretta tittered with fear and excitement. Gari made the exit with a hundred feet to spare and not so much as a scratch on the Jag or an accident left behind on the freeway.

“Mr. Garibaldi, I just love a man who knows how to take charge,” trilled Loretta as they breezed off the ramp and toward the Getty parking lot.

“Please, ma’am, it’s just plain Gari,” quipping his catch phrase.

He deposited the Jag in the lot and they jumped the tram for the ride up the hill to the museum.

The Getty was huge and modern, with everything in good taste, including the signage. White was what Gari thought of it, big and white like Moby-Dick, which he considered pretty damned intellectual, if he did say so himself. He had a ready response should she ask him his opinion of the museum.

But, typical, she was in awe of the place and struck speechless, except for her piercing expressions of appreciation—”Beautiful,” “Incredible,” and “Look at the view,” which he had to agree was quite spectacular, affording panoramas of Malibu, the Pacific, downtown, and the Valley.

After an inordinate period enthusing over the layout itself, she said, “Let’s go in.”

Gari liked the place almost immediately. Admission was free. No matter how bad the experience, how boring, how exhausting, at least it wouldn’t cost him a cent, except for parking. That had to count for something as far as he was concerned. He smiled, he supposed like a simpleton: more like the old Emily every day.

The Getty was a shrine to man’s creative and expressive mind that a person could not thoughtfully explore in a couple of hours. Instantly, Loretta was fretting she couldn’t see everything, absorb it all, and exit a new, improved woman. Gari, if nothing else now a superb manager of people and time, suggested they confine themselves to paintings. He reminded her there was always a next time for other exhibits.

Painting it was. Gari wasn’t a paint man. He didn’t even paint his own house, not that it and artistic painting were in anyway related, except for the paint. Paintings were dull. Religious subjects. Landscapes. Portraits of people dead hundreds of years. And a few nudes, many of men, which got him to thinking the Getty must be a favorite with Gyl and Kennie; but nothing with real pecker power, as he liked to characterize the impact of a good pornographic picture. What stood between him and an appreciation of fine art was: no fine art was crystal-clear, imagination-free, like mundane reportage photography.

In fact, he was in the very middle of his rationalization, when they encountered “The Three Lovers.” It lured Gari closer for examination—it was about the size of typing paper—and to note the artist, a Frenchman named Theodore Gericault, Gari had to get real close and squint at tiny letters, speculating whether a client-hungry optometrist had a hand in preparing the cards. While the women portrayed weren’t to his taste, too chunky, the situation intrigued him. A man
— Gari could easily imagine himself as the lucky indulgent fellow—reclined on a platform bed. His arm embraced a woman. Her legs extended down at an angle and her dress was hiked to her hips. The two were locked in an intense gaze. Across from them on the bed was a recumbent nude woman. Gari’s gray cells went delightfully to work on this scene. In his scenario, the women were friends, or at least acquaintances, and they were sharing the man. It was obvious to Gari that the fellow had already banged—precisely Gari’s sentiment about this brand of pure striped down sex—the nude woman. It was the dishabille’s turn. Art, he concluded, wasn’t such a bad thing, not at all mysterious. This fellow Gericault might have been the type for a beer and randy conversation.

“You men,” said Loretta.

“You men, what?” he said, pulling away from the picture.

“What? Do you really believe women like group sex?”

What was this? A rhetorical question? A trap? Really, he lamented, you just can’t freely express your opinions to a woman, not even muse candidly in their presence. If he admitted to the retouched “Three Lovers” floating in his mind, it would be the end with Loretta. Which had him curious as to why he was holding back. After all, wasn’t permanently severing contact with Loretta what he wanted?

His version of the painting substituted Loretta for the spent woman, who radiated satisfaction—serviced was the word Gari liked for it never failed to rouse his desire for action—and amusement at the forthcoming lovemaking. His other participant was Catherine. Conjuring remembrance of her was painfully stimulating, as he felt restraint in the presence of Loretta was necessary.

“You do, don’t you?”

It was time for vigorous retorting. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Please, Gari, don’t tell me you men don’t want this,” she said, waving disdainfully at the painting.

“I mean, Loretta, not me. I can’t speak for other men.” He commended himself on firing off a good answer with what he calculated contained just the right dash of indignation.

The rest of the tour was anticlimactic, at least for Gari. Loretta seemed absorbed in the art. He admitted to amazement that a girl from Danville, the daughter of a prison guard, the sister of a suicide, who he’d taken for a bubblehead and a prostitute, would be an admirer of fine art. He chalked it up to his sum total philosophy on the world and life in it, expressed in the short sentence: Life was absurd. Clichéd perhaps, but in his humble advertising man’s opinion, ageless nonetheless.

As they peregrinated about the Getty, the picture of a van appeared before Gari like a mirage rising from the polished museum floor. This was the thing about Emily and him in California, Emily and him after he had become a man of great fortune, and after she’d responded by rebirthing the woman who had attracted him: She was always on his mind. His interest was her welfare, her happiness, what she thought of him, that she loved him. So here he was with his former lover wondering why he was with his former lover who no longer was his lover and who could never again hold that rank with him. Why he was at the Getty, or anywhere with Loretta, puzzled him.

Emily was on the van alone. Or maybe not alone, if someone like himself, in town for a meeting, or perhaps another lucky fellow who’d been transformed from average slob to rich man, was on a jaunt in search of … a difference, a little variety. But Emily wasn’t susceptible to a man like that, since her ambition was her life: a loving husband and mischievous but generally goodhearted children with potential. Regardless, the scene troubled him.

Where was the star-studded tour now? Breezing by Barbara Eden’s cottage, or Dean Martin’s Italiano fortress, or Robert Wagner’s block—an entire block bought up on television receipts, or maybe the Playboy Mansion? He despised the regret overwhelming him as he traveled in Loretta’s squiggly, fragranced wake, the knowledge gnawing him he’d seen everything Emily was seeing without her. Worse, with Loretta. And here he was, after his avowal of loyalty, consumed with his renewed passion for his wife, a man again happy in his home, who wished he could spend more time there instead of on the make for business—a man with all this feeling for his wife in the Getty seeing it for the first time with the same woman with whom he’d seen the stars’ homes for the first time, and this woman wasn’t the woman he loved, but just a woman, for his feelings for her hadn’t advanced a degree beyond what they been the first night in the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

In this tortured reverie he strolled right into the rear-end of Loretta, who was frisky and playful, probably the result of admiring vast quantities of fine art. She pushed back, waiting for his embrace, which didn’t come. “Not here, Gari. Control yourself.”

He stopped abruptly when he felt her soft ass against him. Her dress was thin and the softness and heat of her skin penetrated through to his pants and instantly he was growing.

“Gari,” she said, turning around to face him, her lips mere inches from his, “the Getty isn’t X-rated, you know.”

“Sorry. It was an accident.”

“No you’re not. You’re sweet.”

If the curator had tucked a bed in an alcove anywhere on the floor, doubtlessly she would have had them on it. Restraint was the order of the day and for the first time his commitment to meet Catherine at the Hollywood party seemed heaven sent. Loretta pouted that they had only a few hours to tour, but Gari was eternally grateful, full of praise for Catherine, who assumed the veil of divine mistress. To assuage Loretta, he suggested they grab a quick lunch, as he had a few minutes before he had to streak off to work.

He ushered her to the The Café, railing inward about the name. It raised his ire that it was at once banal and pretentious. To his mind, here was another example of the Gyls and Kennies hard at it corrupting language and thereby the world. The style of the place was minimalist in keeping with the sans serif type—clean in the vernacular of the art clan, for whom clean, slick, balanced, unified, equalized, and generally homogenized was their collective grail, their constant chant, their wall of mantra through which regular guys like Gari could not penetrate with sweet, pragmatic reasonableness; that, as instances, the chair had to be comfortable and type must be readable or their efforts were no more than useless self absorption.

They were seated on the patio, which was in shadow and pleasant. They selected light fare, fruit for her and a salad for him, hot tea for her and the iced variety for him, Equal in hers and sugar in his, a couple of shovelfuls with his avowal that once this day was over he would reform, Equal to be his choice every time he required sweet in his beverages and food. They admired the surroundings before starting in on their food and drink. Well, she admired and he consulted his watch to be certain he was on time. He might not have been adept at retort but he had become a great one for punctuality, sometimes ahead of time (to gain an advantage).

As they began eating, Loretta said, “Until I met you I didn’t know many people who worked on Sundays.”

“And now?”

“You’re still the only one I know who does it regularly.”

“They work on Sundays in the movies,” he said.

“That’s my problem, Gari. I don’t know anybody in the movies. I mean anybody who can do me any good. I wish I did.”

Gari considered himself cursed to live forever as the good guy. He listened; he sympathized; he was compelled to help. Was this a vestige of his life in the realm of the unfortunate? This compulsion, it must have been why he said, mindlessly, “I’m meeting some Hollywood types later.”

“Movie people.”

“Production company people. They’re producing a movie.”

“Really? A real movie? What’s the name?”

“I don’t know. I mean, I’m looking forward to helping them with the next one.”

“Ground floor?”

Gari heard a ton of hope in the question. “I’m going to see if I can snag the advertising.”

“Where’s the party?”

“The Beverly Hills Hotel.”

“Gari, I never asked much of you,” she said, and she was sincere about this, which surprised him, as he remembered her having asked for a great deal. She’d asked that he visit her at her apartment. She’d asked that he play house with her. She’d asked that he raise a child with her. Her definition of not much struck Gari as very liberal. “But now I am asking. Take me, Gari. I could get a break at the party.”

“I can’t, Loretta. It’s business.”

“Please, Gari. It would make up for things.”

He knew exactly the things to which she referred, and it felt like blackmail.

“I’m going with my boss, Loretta. I just can’t do it. I’m sorry. But, look, if anything comes of this, maybe there’ll be another time. Besides, then I’ll know what the movie is, know the people making it. I’ll be able to do something for you then.”

Did she believe him, the man who went for the anecdotal pack of cigarettes and never returned? It didn’t matter as she knew the location of the event and was a determined woman. She said softly, projecting sufficient melancholy to inform him he’d done her wrong again, “I understand.”

After this, they ate their meals and sipped their beverages and chatted pleasantly and he took her home and he declined to accompany her into her apartment when she asked and he drove to the Beverly Hills Hotel and took a regular room. He showered and napped until eight, whereupon he ordered a light dinner—a hamburger, fries, and a full-strength Coke, the diet variety would come tomorrow. After, he showered again and changed into the black suit, white shirt, orange foulard tie, and black mirror-finished Johnson and Murphy banker’s shoes he’d packed in a small suitcase surreptitiously secreted in the trunk of the Jag. By nine-thirty he was ready for the party.

About the time he’d been descending into a torpid rest in a regular Beverly Hills Hotel room, Emily’s star tour was ending, with apologies from the driver for giving them a full half-hour more, guiding them down streets no tour van had ventured before, obligating with charming patter every last member of the party to tip him an additional five for his extra-special effort.

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