Chapter 2: RANCHO BERNARDO, CALIFORNIA (Parts 7 and 8)
I wish for my sofa, my big front window, the sloping green yard. I wish.
After I put the girls on the school bus, I make myself my morning tea and settle in my chaise on the patio. On my lap I have the Yellow Pages and a small notepad; I hold a pen. I drink half my tea contemplating the cover. I open it, scan the tab indexes on the side, flip through the ads. I find the listings for Attorneys. I run my finger down the columns, pausing to read what those who have paid extra for bold type advertise as their specialties. Labor. Malpractice. Criminal. Divorce. Each time I encounter Divorce, I write the firm’s name and number on the notepad. When I finish, the little tea in my cup is cool and undrinkable, and I have jotted the names, addresses, and phone numbers of five firms located near Rancho Bernardo. They are in Escondido, Del Mar, and Solana Beach. How do you pick a divorce attorney, I wonder? I decide if I call, if I call, if … then probably the firm in Del Mar. My only reason is that I like Del Mar and the idea of an attorney whose office overlooks the ocean. At least there will be something pleasant to anticipate, if I visit the attorney.
Carefully, I tear the page from the directory and return it to its place in the catchall drawer. As I do, I stare at the White Pages also in the drawer. I stare at it and guess at how many Connies might live in San Diego. Thousands, probably. Anyway, without a last name it will be impossible to find her. Why bother? Did it accomplish anything discovering Richard with Julie, or the woman from the Trentonian, or the wife of Mike in Twin Rivers?
I close the draw, but I can’t leave the kitchen. I’m looking at nothing, at air, if it is possible, until I tell myself that I am dressed and free until three, when the girls arrive home. And Richard’s office is down Interstate 15 in Scripps Ranch, perhaps twenty minutes in non-rush traffic. I don’t know what I will find. I hope nothing. I drive to Richard’s office. On the way I think the surprise will do him good.
I wend my way through Scripps Ranch. Like everything else here it’s a rambling, tightly packed development. It’s partly residential, boxy houses with contemporary façades that remind me of Twin Rivers, and partly light industrial, featureless hybrid office-warehouses. I find Richard’s building without much trouble; I’ve been to his office a couple of times with Samantha and Emily. The building is an exception, handsomely dressed in redwood and glass. Richard’s office is on the second floor, in the corner. He overlooks ground that slopes to a pathway and then into a wood of eucalyptus, whose fragrance envelops the building. I park in the main lot and sit for several minutes before entering.
The receptionist recognizes me and is about to notify Richard, when I say, “Please don’t. I want to surprise him.”
She smiles. “Who should I call, Mrs. DeSantis?”
I know she can’t allow me unto the premises by myself for security reasons. Not anything to do with terrorists; everything to do with protecting business and trade secrets.
I say, “Call Connie.”
She scans a directory on her computer screen. “You mean Connie Constance?”
“Is she Richard’s new rep?”
“Yes. She has a cube outside Mr. DeSantis’ office. Just temporary, until she finishes training. Your husband insists on starting his reps off with a solid foundation.” Her tone is admiring, as if she would love the opportunity to sell for Richard. I’m detecting a bit of doubt in myself. I don’t believe I’m wrong about Richard and his philandering; but I might have misjudged the situation with Connie. Maybe I should leave. Why embarrass myself and Connie?
I say, “Call her, please, but ask her not to mention I’m here. The surprise, remember.”
She moons, slightly, happy and sad, as if she envies me, or wishes she had someone she could surprise at his office. I’m sorry for her, but sorrier for myself.
She calls. I meander to the windows and gaze down the green slope into the eucalyptuses. I snuffle to catch the scent of the trees but I’m hermetically sealed in the lobby, and nothing from the outside penetrates.
Connie’s voice, deep, precise, modulated low but forceful, startles me. I spin around too fast and feel my face flush.
“Sorry,” she says.
“Don’t worry about it. I was off someplace.” Advancing on her, I say, “You’re Connie Constance. Pleased to meet you.”
I extend my hand and we shake, clasping lightly.
“It’s sweet,” she says. She’s bright and displays cosmetically perfect white teeth. Reflexively, I swipe the edges of my upper teeth with my tongue, where it bumps and dips, snags once; mine are a damaged picket fence.
“Sorry,” I say, “sweet?”
“You wanting to surprise your husband. It’s kind of romantic.”
I don’t want to glare, but I do. My eyes are narrowing. She’s blond, but she’s not natural; I can see her roots. It’s not a professional job. Her eyebrows, thin strips, are light brown. Her natural color must be brown, the mousy type. I soften my gaze, making it friendlier. She’s plain, but she’s not unattractive. Her appeal is in her figure. She’s slim but not skinny. She appears to work at maintaining her shape. She’s busty, but not overly, not obnoxiously big, but noticeable. She’s dressed for business in a finely cut gray business suit over a white starched blouse. She wears a gold cross necklace. A Christian gone bad, a biblical fornicator; a true believer led astray, corrupted by the devil incarnate, my husband.
“I recognize your voice,” I say.
“You do,” puzzled for a moment, then remembering. “Oh, I left a message for Richard Saturday.”
“Yeah, I called his BlackBerry a couple of times. He’s pretty good about getting back. You know, getting back to his reps.”
“Richard takes personal contact seriously,” I say.
She laughs softly, but nervously, as if she’s relieved. “Tell me about it. I’ve never had a boss like him. I’m not complaining. No, I like the way Richard keeps an eye on me, helps us reps. I mean, nobody knows more about pushing drugs than Richard.”
She’s serious and determined, but the picture of Richard pedaling drugs, dealing drugs in the street, sample packs of digestive, pain, and psychotropic meds piled high around him, old folks approaching him, heaving, limping, groaning—I can’t restrain myself. I laugh, only mine is real and robust.
I surprise her.
“Sorry,” I say. “It’s just I’ve never thought of Richard as a drug dealer. Super salesman, yes. But drug dealer.”
She reflects. “Pushing, huh? I have to be careful what I say. Richard’s warned me about words. ‘How you say it is as important as what you say,’ he says. You know, like the ad: ‘People judge you by the words you use.'”
I see why Richard likes her. She’s like a puppy, eager to please.
“Well, how about we surprise the master?”
She flails hands at me. “Oh, sure. Sorry. I shouldn’t go on. Richard says, ‘Choose your words carefully. Say just enough to make the sale, and no more. Don’t talk yourself out of the sale.’ I know them by heart,” she blithers, leading the way to the staircase.
Upstairs is a vast room crammed with half-wall cubicles, most empty. Full offices line the walls and block everybody’s view of the outdoors.
“Everybody’s making calls,” she says. “Richard likes everybody in the field visiting, sampling, demonstrating. He says you can’t sell sitting behind a desk. In another week or two, I’ll be ready to make calls on my own.”
I glance at her. Her wattage is up and she looks prettier.
She knocks lightly on Richard’s door, which is open.
“Somebody here to see you,” she announces.
“Connie, how many times have I—Babe, what are you doing here?”
“Well, I’ll just leave you two,” says Connie.
Richard’s office is standard issue and he has done nothing to personalize it, except for the family portrait on the credenza behind him.
He gestures at a chair in front of his desk. I sit. He taps his desk for a moment. He rises, walks to the door, closes it, and returns to his desk and sits.
“Satisfied?” he asks.
“She’s attractive, and she seems nice.”
He shrugs, as if her appearance and demeanor don’t matter. “I only care about one thing.”
He glares at me. “What do you know?”
“You’re fucking her,” I say. I’m distinct, direct, emotionless, though despair and anger strum every fiber of me.
“No,” he says.
He’s emphatic so, for the moment, I give him the benefit of the doubt.
“Okay. You’re preparing to fuck her.”
“I’m fucking nobody,” he says, barely below a shout.
“You’re fucking me, Richard, and in a most unpleasant way.”
He keeps a clean desk. An uncluttered desk means an uncluttered mind, a beatitude he often preaches. He opens the center drawer and removes a letter opener. It’s designed like a stubby sword or an ornate dagger. He grasps it by the hilt and taps his knuckles.
“You’ll hurt yourself,” I say.
“Thanks for the concern.” He bangs his knuckles harder and faster.
“I can’t continue like this, Richard.”
“What are you talking about?” He’s irritated and his words are edged.
“Connie. Connies,” I say.
He lowers his head to prevent me from looking into his eyes. He ceases his assault on his knuckles and stares at his desk.
“There is no Connie,” he asserts to his desk.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a while, Richard.”
“What?” he says. He snaps his head up and examines me. He’s tense, carotids in his neck pronounced. “I have to run every new hire, new female hire, by you for your approval?”
I shake my head. “No. Leaving you.”
He runs his eyes up and down me, scrutinizes me as if he is seeing me for the first time. I wonder if this is how he studies prospective employees, whether it is a test: If they don’t wilt under his withering gaze, they pass, his method for culling those lacking the steel to work for him, to push his drugs and grease his path to king of his drug kingdom.
I don’t crack, nor blather irrationally.
“You’re not funny, Babe.”
“I don’t mean to be, Richard. After I leave here, I’m driving to Del Mar. I’m visiting Mr. Karl Korbrin, Attorney at Law, specialty divorce.” From my purse, I remove the page I tore from the Yellow Pages earlier and folded. As I speak, I unfold it. I place it on his desk.
Richard glances at it. He doesn’t touch it. But he does lay the letter opener down gently. He says, “Are you thinking clearly, Babe?”
“Clearer than ever,” I answer.
“Thinking about yourself, maybe, but what about Samantha and Emily? Or how you’ll support yourself and them? Or maybe they don’t fit in whatever plan you’re concocting.”
His calmness disturbs me. Richard knows his crimes; he must have been expecting my pronouncement, or something like it. Maybe I’ve gone further than he anticipated, but that I would react eventually is no surprise. I’m saddened. More, I’m heartbroken. I believed, maybe wanted to believe, I meant more to him; our live together had value; the girls were important as delightful children, testaments to our love, our vanished love, not merely pawns in his premeditated strategy to flank my discontent. The last thing I want is to breakdown in front of him and reveal how much he is hurting me, how effective his strategy is.
I rise, turn my back on him, and open the door. Before I’ve brought it back completely, his hand is pressing against it, forcing it closed.
“I’m leaving,” I breathe, like expelling fire.
“Let’s talk about this, Babe,” he says, his voice low and strained.
“The door, Richard. Let go. I have an appointment.”
I cut him off. “What’s that rule of yours, something about not allowing your emotions to blow a deal?”
He eases up on the door.
“You’re wrong,” he says, “about Connie. I’m training her. That’s the sum total of my involvement with her.”
I tug the door. He releases it. As I step onto the floor, I say, “The question is, training her to do what?”
He’s seething, but I have escaped, robbing him of any power to retaliate.
I hurry to my car, checking behind me all the way to see if he is following. But he isn’t.
In the car, I begin to leak tears. I lean forward, my hands at the top of the steering wheel, my forehead resting on them, and I cry freely and fiercely. Richard’s right. I am trapped. I’ll have nothing if I leave him. Worse, Samantha and Emily will have nothing. They are used to having everything. How will they react to living in an apartment, for I know Richard is cruel enough to force us from the house? Even if he granted me the house, I couldn’t afford to keep it up, pay the taxes. I have no money without Richard and no way to make enough to afford the house and support the girls and myself.
I sit up and wipe away the tears with the heels of my hands. But I don’t know that for certain. Maybe there is a way. Maybe the attorney, Korbrin, is smart and wily and can device a smooth exit for me and the girls. I have to see him. I have committed myself.
I leave Scripps Ranch, drive up 15, arrive home unable to recall any of the trip, scared a little by my withdrawal from the world.