Secrets of the Lottery Winner
CHAPTER 31: ROUNDTRIP
Gari could tolerate most everything, except the weather. Maybe his aversion to cold, ice, and snow had begun in Jamaica. It certainly had solidified in L.A. Waking to a warm, sunny day every morning was temporal paradise. Sure, he had to live elbow to elbow with an assortment of nuts. And perhaps he himself was fitting in too well and transfiguring into a lunatic himself.
* * *
Emily asserted as much after the party in their bedroom as she undressed—actually torn off her pink dress he later learned in sifting through the bills cost six hundred dollars, a sum he regarded for a long minute, in disbelief. It wasn’t the amount. It was that Emily, years the miser, would spend six hundred dollars on a dress she intended wearing once, just one night for … what purpose? To please him, she revealed in a continuous rant in the bedroom, as she tore the dress, the precious dress, into confetti.
“Gari Garibaldi,” she huffed. “‘Call me Gari, he insisted,'” she mimicked. “And a real estate agent my ass. I know more about selling a house.” He was tempted to point out Loretta claimed to be a commercial agent and she might concede they operated differently than the sort with whom she was familiar. But then he hoped to survive the night and smooth the situation over in the morning, so he kept the little bit of prevarication to himself, a little sweet to savor every time the going got really rough.
“Where you sleeping with her, Gari? Is that what you were doing all those nights you dragged in late, too tired for anything more than a peck on the little woman’s cheek?” She slapped him hard and his cheek reddened, a deep, rich shade. She herself was mottled pink, the patches reaching down her neck and running over her shoulders. “Is that why you rented the room? A love nest for you and your real estate agent? “
* * *
What a mistake. When she yanked him from the party, she stopped at the front desk to checkout. The mistake was standing next to her. The clerk recognized him and asked if there was anything he could send to Mr. Garibaldi’s room. Christ he wanted to reprimand the man. Whatever happened to discretion? Respect the privacy of the guest. Wasn’t that a bylaw of front desk clerks in ritzy hotels? He would have thought management tattooed such a rule on the palms of the staff: If baffled or on the verge of committing a horrible indiscretion, check palm.
“How about a little dinner?” he asked her.
Then right there in the middle of the swank lobby teeming with the most beautiful people L.A. had to offer the world—even the staff was pretty damn good looking—she screamed, and this was shocking as it was completely out of character for her, she not being the type of person who exposed her emotions to the world, and especially not to those in the world who might turn around moments later and transform them into a blockbuster screen epic enabling a preening star to win an Oscar: “You slimy fuck.”
“You know dear, I imagine his style of fucking would be quite slimy.” The voice was unmistakable and shrunk his already rapidly receding balls into tight peas, green, too, for all he knew, the effect of sexual strangulation. “He always impressed me as the sweaty type.” Facing him full on, Patricia asked, casually, “Are you, Mr. Garibaldi?”
And with Patricia’s question, the group, including those within the vicinity of the front dress, froze as if all were participants in a tableau, a reenactment of a classic scene, though in this case a staging destined to assume classic status in the annuals of the hotel, probably as soon as the players disbursed.
“We’ll meet tomorrow at our offices to hear your ideas. Brian, give Mr. Garibaldi the address.”
Gari took the card and watched the pink pair swish away. He fully expected her to toss back at him his bloody sacs so well she had gelded him.
In the wake of Patricia and Brian, in the heat of Emily’s glare, Gari concluded dinner was out, the room was out, and he was out of the house in Pasadena.
But he was wrong about the last.
“Let’s go home,” Emily ordered.
They wheeled in unison to leave for their eastern abode when a hand clamped onto Gari’s shoulder and a gush of words followed.
“Really splendid job, Gari. Absolutely terrific.”
Gari and Emily wheeled again into the face of Larry Lefton and his companion, known to Emily as the notorious real estate agent who wasn’t, and to Gari as Loretta, more tempting than ever in pale pink.
“Where’s Darlene?” Gari asked, curious and somewhat surprised to see Loretta entwined on Larry’s arm, like a vine that had been busy working its way up for years. He figured it would have taken her a while, at least a day or two, to entrench herself with Larry. It wasn’t he doubted her skillfulness. It was that he considered Larry as inflexible—and unaware—as the columns in the hotel lobby. He guessed he might have been wrong about the man.
Larry consulted his watch, no easy task as Loretta had coiled around his left arm, the all-important time-telling appendage. “It’s my sincere hope that soon she will alight from a cab at LAX,” he said, jolly, eliciting a faint giggle from Loretta. “We saw you chatting with the new clients. When are we meeting with them? “
Well, Gari understood the second we—Larry and he meeting with the new clients. It was the first use that resulted in a slight pause in his answering. Larry considered himself and Loretta a couple. He would have smiled had Emily not been tight by his side to see his smirking upper lip curling and surmising the meaning and concluding it was as absolutely randy and loutish, as it indeed was.
“Tomorrow,” Gari answered, immediately wincing as he felt his ankle jabbed.
From across the way, his ears tuned high probably as a result of the sharp pain, he raked in the sound of cooing. He’d been treated to that sound on several occasions and reacted to it as Larry did, turning and smiling, patting the well-manicured and tanned hand, assuring in glance and touch everything would be fine, just fine. What he made out from the round tones emitted by Loretta was: “What about the Getty? “
“You know, Larry, I’m not feeling well. It’s rotten of me, this being the first meeting and all, but I don’t think I can make it.”
Gari relished the sad expression of disappointment flashed by—not Larry—but Loretta. Trap them while they’re hot and panting, Gari thought, that’s your motto. Snare and bind them with your sweet glue. But under no circumstances allow them time to themselves or they might escape; and if they return, they might not be as agreeable and pliable as when properly conditioned, as he had been.
“Didn’t you hear me, Gari?” yelled Emily. “We’re going home.”
* * *
He was in a small club chair he didn’t much like because he sat with his rear lower than his knees, uncomfortable for him and a position difficult from which to rise. Getting out of the chair made him feel clumsy and oafish. Though that night it wasn’t bad. He was curled, almost defensively fetal; a configuration perfect for fending the arrows Emily had been hurling his way the moment they had set foot in the house. His attitude had been doe-eyed, dewy with regret, silently imploring innocence, but inwardly hunkered to withstand the assault and allow it to spend itself to zero.
Thus between unpleasant reveries and self-imposed emotional isolation, the final rant had zoomed by him, registering but faintly. He required clarification.
“You mean a vacation? You want to go home for a vacation. Sure, sure,” he said in an agreeable tone he hoped didn’t sound too much like pandering.
She stalked over to him from across the room, where she’d occupied herself renting the dress, stomping it, kicking it, screaming at him, making him glad the boys were sound sleepers. Even the earthquake they’d experienced since moving to Pasadena hadn’t awakened the boys. He admired their youthful ability as he himself had turned into something of an insomniac since becoming a man of wealth and success.
Under her glare, he said, “Vacation? You don’t mean as in me taking the boys and leaving to—“
She hovered red-faced, suffering, he feared, an attack of apoplexy. But she recovered without need of his intervention, to his relief. “Leaving you to do whatever you’ve been doing with your real estate agents and your bankers and who knows what else. No, Gari, we—all of us—we are going home. Not for a vacation, but for good. We’re selling this house and getting back to normal.”
It was time to push out of the chair and he struggled doing so, feeling like an idiot and losing whatever retorting fury he’d mustered upon her clarifying what she intended for them.
Up, steadied, and clear of her by several arm lengths, Gari said, “But what about the deal with Pink Productions? I’ve got to be here for that.” His words sounded to him like a long, pitiful bleat.
Ominously, Emily quieted. She stepped over to the tattered dress. She scooped it up and deposited in the bedroom wastebasket. She spent a minute gathering stray shards and shoved them in the basket. Finished, she returned to Gari, who hadn’t budged but fidgeted the entire time, and stopped within an inch of him, so close he could feel her hot breath on his chin and could not avoid her watered, magnified eyes, those that searched deep into souls.
“The choice,” she said, “is entirely yours. You can stay here, work for Larry, service this new account, become an even bigger businessman. Or you can come home with me and live like a decent man, Gari. The choice is yours, but you have to choose by tomorrow morning.”
Confronted with a stark decision, the implication and import of which wasn’t lost on him, Gari’s vow resurfaced and seized control of his brain, addled over the several days since encountering Loretta and Catherine and the temptations they offered. No, he hadn’t broken his vow to be true to Emily. He loved Emily, old and new version. If she was proposing the old version, he was okay with it. It wasn’t the happiest circumstance he could imagine, but it was superior to the life he’d been leading, dealing with indulgent clients and solipsistic creatives and an idiot-savant boss (in that he was expert at unwittingly making money off the labor of plain unadorned dopes of which he, Gari, numbered himself the prime example); getting fat and sloppy and exposed to nearly irresistible temptation; working day and night and missing his Emily and the boys; and gaining for it some extra money and plenty of additional weight and an overall unhealthy life. The fact was—the fact he nearly forgot in his quest to be a grand exalted business leader—he didn’t need the money. He was an Illinois Lottery winner, five million dollars, two hundred fifty thousand a year for twenty years, now down to nineteen. And really, when he could understand or at least convince himself it wasn’t simply rationalization, he’d proven himself. He’d gotten off his duff. He’d saved Lefton & Associates. He’d become an executive. He’d earned an executive salary. He’d started a L.A. division. He’d expanded the business by winning a movie client for the agency. He’d proven himself and agreed with Emily: It was time to retire and go home and be normal again.
* * *
The weather forecast, which he hadn’t paid much attention in L.A., called for light snow accumulating to about two inches. Gazing out the window off into the woods behind his office, he watched the snowfall for a few minutes. Back in L.A. or down in the city when he’d proved himself to Larry and Victor Lubeck, he couldn’t afford a second to enjoy a snowfall. Here he was the boss and he could move at his own pace, which he had braked considerably. He’d been at it for a couple of months and already had won a handful of clients and hired a writer and art director—two people who could craft a decent ad without the creative angst of Gyl and Kennie or the crackpots at Lefton & Associates, Chicago.
His phone jangled, disturbing the peace of the moment. He picked it up. The receiver rumbled in his hand as the voice of Big Bill Carson rushed from it. Gari moved the receiver a half-foot from his ear. Big Bill spoke only in speakerphone mode at the highest volume.
“Those Thursday ads, Gari: Gangbusters! Set a new record. Let’s huddle tomorrow afternoon.”
They prattled for a few minutes, meaningless, meandering conversation being the glue applied liberally by agency account people, the hat he wore that moment with Big Bill.
Actually, Gari had grown to like Big Bill Carson, who insisted on the egalitarian moniker of just plain old Big Bill, just one of the people, though he was an extraordinary specimen. He’d started in the auto business as a mechanic. Working days, he’d attended community college evenings. When he felt he knew enough, he’d taken a sales job at a car dealership. Shortly, he emerged as the top salesperson. The grateful owner appointed him sales manager.
Doubtless, Big Bill was a brilliant businessman. Additionally, he possessed another skill and it proved even more crucial to his success. Big Bill understood what motivated people; and before he sallied forth on any business deal, he learned everything he could about the person he would confront. And what he’d learned about the owner of the car dealership that he had become sales manager launched his career as successful auto entrepreneur. It was very simple: The man had no children to leave the business to. He tried hard at siring, but after two wives he’d resolved himself to selling off the business when he retired to whoever might be the highest bidder.
Big Bill, though he was in fact a huge man at six-six and three hundred pounds, possessed another important quality, one that had lured and won over Gari: an engaging and endearing personality. He was the kind of man nobody could dislike.
With the meeting set for the next day, Big Bill rung off, and Gari returned to studying the landscape through his office window. He felt warm, comfortable, and secure, and his mind drifted to Emily and the family.
Once they were back in Mundelein and he was well out of reach of the temptations of L.A., things got as good as they had been when he’d first achieved his success with Lubeck’s Shoes. For her part, Emily retained much of what she’d gained in California and he found attractive. Yes, she was more assertive and controlling in Mundelein and she kept a close eye on his comings and goings. He didn’t much mind. He’d renewed his personal pledge of marital fidelity and she was simply helping him do what he in his heart had committed to do.
The phone rang a second time. He expected it was Emily checking in, as she did daily.
“Long time no see,” said Catherine. “You’ve been hiding out there in Mundelein.”
Not exactly hiding, as Catherine was still his banker for that part of his life still secret from Emily. He’d nearly revealed he was an Illinois Lottery winner in the hours following the fateful Hollywood party. But he’d clamped down on the urge to expiate his springboard into sin. It would be, he’d reasoned, akin to driving a tank truck filled to the brim with gasoline into Hell. Infidelity that he managed to sidestep was one thing. But admitting he was hiding a fortune from Emily—no, he’d given the impulse the boot. Rightly so, too, as he and Emily were never happier.
“I wanted to touch base with you on your account.”
“Anything wrong?” he asked, casually, not the least worried, as he was earning a good living servicing Big Bill and a handful of small accounts.
“Nada,” she said, “but I like to visit with my clients face to face occasionally. You know how it is.”
Yes he did. Relationships survived and thrived only with nurturing. If he’d learned anything, it was how to be a first-class nurturer. “I’d love to see you, Catherine, but I don’t expect to be in Chicago anytime soon.”
“I was thinking of picking you up in Mundelein,” she said.
He shrugged at his reflection in the window. “Sure, okay, when do you want to get together? “
“One-thirteen tomorrow night.”
She baffled him for a moment, the odd time and night no less, until the sound of dull chiming, metal on metal, a wad of keys as thick as his heart, welled up from his memory.