Some guys spend all their spare time washing every last speck of dirt off their rides, waxing the surface to a polished sheen so bright it reflected everything within a fifteen-foot radius like a photograph. Around here, that meant those mirror cars were a snapshot of rainbow graffiti on plywood windows, at least those windows that didn’t have bars across them.
He really didn’t see the point. All it’d do would attract the chop-shop gangs or street racers and either way, your prize Honda S2000 ended up in itsy bitsy pieces in some grittier, even more boarded-up place.
Most of them did it to attract chicks, not that Ginny would be interested in a Honda S2000. She was more of a Lexus LS type—which is what he used to own before he lost his job. Before they moved out of the condo on Hillshire and ended up in this three-story walkup with no AC and a kitchen the size of a toaster.
She sat across from him on the so-called love seat, twirling her hair and wearing those pricey Diesel denims and Armani tank top she refused to stop buying, which is why the credit cards were maxed out. Her silence said more than a hundred tirades, but he knew that wouldn’t last long.
“Look at you, Bill” she said, finally, and he knew the dam had broken. “You’re nothing but a useless fuck, you know that? Any other guy without a job would be pounding the pavement or hitting up old friends for leads, and you’re not even reading the goddamn classifieds. What, you think the job fairy is just going to drop out of the sky and wave her magic wand around and presto—it’s back to direct deposit every two weeks and a reserved parking space at the country club? We haven’t eaten out in weeks, unless you count greasy takeout from Ming’s and I can’t remember the last time we met up with friends at the MercBar. A useless fuck.”
He wadded up the cloth in his hand and laid it across the Smith & Wesson lying on his lap.“You did say ‘in richer and poorer’, remember? Or were you too drunk that day?”
She snorted. “I must have been, otherwise, I wouldn’t have said ‘I do’.”
He stayed silent, moving the cloth across the silver object in his lap over and over, the smooth surface and sensual lines calling him like a siren. He rubbed on more Never Dull until he got it looking just about right, then reached around for his Mibro #6 high gloss and polishing wheel.
Ginny jumped off the love seat and planted herself firmly in his line of sight. “I swear you love that goddamn gun more than me. You certainly give it more attention.”
“Maybe that’s because this gun actually has its uses and it doesn’t talk back.”
She threw her hands up in disgust. “I’m going to see Allison. I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
He just watched her go, then returned to the gun. Sure was a beauty when it was shined up like this. Ginny had been a beauty, too, when he first met her. Well, if he admitted it to himself, she still was a looker. Tall and slender but not flat-chested like some of those waif-types, and poured into those jeans, wearing that low-cut tank-top braless, she could still take his breath away.
Yeah, he loved her. Christ-almighty help him, but it was true.
He put down the gun long enough to pick up the Business section, which he used to read first thing every day. Back when he was a stockbroker with Pedrone Financial Group, before he was fired, thanks to Cecil Albany. Bill had pegged Albany as trouble the day the man walked into the firm promising to lead the company to new heights. Wall Street glamour parties, the works. Because Albany, of course, had the “special touch.”
Almost a year to the date later, Bill was out on the street for “failure to perform his required broker responsibilities,” which oh-so-coincidentally happened after Bill refused Albany’s demands that he conceal the fact a Pedrone trader violated federal securities laws by churning client accounts. Apparently that “special touch” was simply finding creative ways to break the law. Albany also had very well-connected friends and Bill had found it difficult to find a job since. He’d been blacklisted.
Bill sat staring at the TV. Some damn talk show host droning on and on about gold digging women revealing their secrets, which had followed a piece about a woman who wanted her 12-year-old to get a boob job. Disgusted, Bill jumped up, deciding concealed weapons laws be damned as he pocketed the Smith & Wesson, and headed for Barrow’s. He was running up a pretty hefty tab, but Thoreau, the aptly-named philosophical bartender, was a friend and knew he was good for it.
Thoreau saw him coming, poured a glass of Jim Beam Rye and had it sitting on the counter when Bill walked in. “Two o’clock, Billy Boy. You’re getting earlier every day.”
Bill knocked half the glass down in one gulp. “Gotta take time out of my busy schedule for the important things, Thory.”
The bartender started drying some glasses. “Any news on the on the job front? Thought you had a nibble on the line.”
He forgot he’d told Thory about that. Biggs and Foster, competitors of his old company. Yeah, he thought that interview had gone pretty well. When senior partner Reginald Biggs gave him that handshake at the end, it almost felt like a done deal. But two weeks later, nada.
When Bill didn’t respond, Thory added, “Well, something will come through soon. You’ll see.” Thory’s cloth made musical squinching sounds on the glasses as he dried, holding each glass up to the light to see if it was clean enough. “Funny thing about glass. Seems so transparent, yet pour some dark liquid in one of these and all of a sudden, you’ve got a medium for sin. Poison, even, all murky and opaque.”
Bill raised his head up. “Is that your way of telling me you’re trying to poison me, Thory?”
The bartender laughed. “You’re one of my best customers. Or at least you will be one day after that first paycheck. Nah, just saying things aren’t always as they seem on the surface.”
With a squincha, squincha, squincha, Thory finished a few more glasses. “How’s that lovely wife of yours, Bill? Haven’t seen her in awhile.”
Bill put his head back in his hands. “Oh, she’s swell. She stays in shape by haranguing me with all my various faults several times a day. Five sets, ten reps each. Then she goes off to bitch some more to her friend Allison.”
“Allison, huh?” Squincha, squincha. “You ever met this Allison?”
“Once. She lives over on Robinson. In those ritzy refurbished condos, the Phoenix Towers. She got a great deal on it, just over one point five.”
“Are we talking about Allison Vincent, the Paris-Hilton clone who used to work for Brindalls?”
“That’s the one. Why?”
Thory stopped cleaning long enough to squint up at the ceiling. “One of my customers knew her. Said she moved out of that complex six months ago. Got married to some banker and lives on Long Island now.”
Bill said, “Huh.” And then he thought. Hard. He was pretty sure Ginny hadn’t mentioned that. But if true, who was Ginny actually going to see?
He stared at Thory. “You know something you’re not telling me?”
“I’ve known you for how long, Bill—ten years now? You’re a good guy, not like those other financial shitters I run across. No saint, sure, but the kind of guy you can trust to watch your back. Stands up for what he believes in. Now that Cecil Albany—don’t you love the way he pronounces it SESS-ul—that one is a shitter. You’re not the first person he’s stomped on. Another customer, a guy who comes here to get away from Wall Street madness and has an even bigger tab than you, knew this Albany creep years ago. Let’s just say, if he were a regular blue collar Joe Lunchbucket, he’d have been in jail by now. But he makes lots of money, so he’s a free man.”
“What kind of shit was he into?”
“It was hushed up, but apparently he’s a con man for one thing, and there were rumors of woman trouble. Rapes. Including one underage girl found dead, allegedly from a drug overdose. My customer said Albany thinks he’s God’s gift to women. Oh, and he prefers redheads, kinda like your Ginny, I think.”
“That so?” Bill tipped his head back and guzzled the last of the Jim Beam. “That’s all my bank account can afford today, Thory.”
“I know you’re good for it, Bill. You’re the kind of guy who always makes things square.”
The kind of guy who always makes things square. Was he? Bill headed back toward the walk-up, but stopped in front of a pawn shop and whipped out his cell phone to call a friend of his who worked at City Hall. “Hey, Greg, I was hoping you can look up the name of the owner of 813 Phoenix Towers on Robinson.”
As Bill waited, he glanced at the pawn shop window. He had a few items in there he hadn’t told Ginny about. So far, she hadn’t noticed. Greg’s bass voice had Bill holding the phone out to his shoulder. “Yeah. Are you sure? Can you spell it for me? No, that’s OK. Thanks, Greg, I owe you one.” Bill stood there, cell phone dangling at his side and threatening to fall to the ground. He felt like he was in a freeze-frame, with time standing still all around him.
Holy fuckin’ shit. So Allison had moved out and Cecil Avery had moved in. In more ways than one.
Bill thought back to his wedding day. Ginny had been radiant in her mother’s wedding dress, looking like one of those pictures on the magazine covers. He’d never believed in love at first sight until he met Ginny. It wasn’t just lust, although the sex was amazing, it went deeper than that. Cupid’s arrow, right through the heart. And if he remembered those vows correctly, it hadn’t been just richer and poorer, there had been something about ‘til death us do part.
He fondled the gun in his pocket, the gun he’d bought to protect them in their new digs in one of the less desirable areas of the city. He’d bought it for them, for her. Making up his mind, he walked back to the bar. “Thory, can I borrow your car for just a little bit? I promise I’ll take real good care of it.”
Thory nodded. “Sure thing, Bill.”
“And do you have any string and maybe some paper or cardboard and a black marker?”
Thory scratched his chin. “Yep, got those.”
“How about that special kit you showed me a year ago—the one your brother bought. You still have that?
“Yeah, got that too. In the back. Wait here.”
The bartender reappeared a few minutes later, materials in hand. “Here you go.” As he handed them over he noticed the gun poking out of Bill’s pocket. “Going to stand up for what you believe in, Bill?”
“You know it, Thory.”
“Well, then. If anyone comes asking, my car was here all night. Never saw it leave its spot.”
Bill was genuinely touched. “Thanks, Thory. Good to know you’ve got my back.” He guided Thory’s Civic through the streets, driving until it got dark. Then he pulled the car in front of Phoenix Towers and took the elevator to the eighth floor. At the door of #813, he took out the kit Thory had given him and picked the lock, opening the door slowly and quietly.
He listened. There were sounds coming from the back. Must be the bedroom. He headed toward it and opened the door. There in bed lay a naked Ginny underneath an equally naked Cecil Avery. Willing his stomach contents to stay down, Bill pulled out the gun and cocked it.
At the sound, Avery rolled off to one side and both he and Ginny grabbed for the sheet at the same time, looking like a tug-of-war as they almost fought for that sheet. It would have been funny, if his heart wasn’t breaking in a million pieces.
Ginny really did look like a deer in the headlights, with her wide doe-y brown eyes, as she spoke first. “Bill, don’t do anything rash. We can work it out. This doesn’t mean anything. It was just a lark. I don’t love him. I love you.”
When Bill pointed the gun towards Avery’s crotch, the man almost started hyperventilating. “What do you want?” he squeaked.
To make you a soprano, Bill thought to himself, but said aloud, “You used to have a trench coat. Is it in the closet over there?”
When Avery nodded, Bill said, “Put it on. And some socks and shoes. Nothing else.”
As Avery complied, Bill indicated to Ginny to get dressed, which she did in record time. With one arm around Ginny, Bill held the gun at Avery’s back as they took the stairs down to where Bill had parked Thory’s car.
With Ginny behind the wheel and Avery in the front passenger seat, Bill had Ginny drive them downtown onto Morning Star, Richmond, then Stuyvesant. When they got to the Wall Street intersection, Bill commanded Avery, “Take off your trench coat, shoes and socks. And put this around your neck.” Bill handed him the sign he’d made from Thory’s materials.
“I’ll be watching you, Avery. You’re to stand there in front of the Exchange building for an hour. I’ll have the gun and I’m prepared to shoot you in a spot where you’ll never be able to fuck anyone’s wife again. You got that?”
Avery, buck naked, walked out of the car and stood in front of the Exchange, wearing the sign which said, “I broke federal securities laws. I churned clients of Pedrone Financial Group.”
As Ginny drove on, she said in a small voice like a little girl, “I’m really sorry, Bill. Please don’t hurt me.”
Bill had her stop the car so he could sit in the front seat and made a big play out of putting his gun back in his pocket. “I’d never hurt you, Ginny. I love you. You know that, don’t you?”
His cell phone rang, and he looked at the number. He was so tense, his fingers almost slipped and pressed the off key by mistake. “Hello? Yes, it’s he.” He listened to the voice on the other end, then said, “Of course. Absolutely. I’ll be there. Thank you.”
Bill turned to Ginny. “Baby, our fortunes have turned. I just got offered a job at Biggs and Foster for twice what my salary was at Pedrone and I start on Monday. We should celebrate by going to the MercBar. Or something even better. Dinner at Masa’s or Per Se. Maybe later this year, we can even take that trip to Paris you’ve always wanted. What do you say?”
Ginny’s shoulders relaxed and she managed a small smile. “You’re not mad at me? You still want me?”
“To have and to hold, doll. Forsaking all others.” He wrapped his hand around the gun in his pocket, enjoying the comfort of its presence. But if he ever found her in bed with another man again, he’d stand up for what he believed in. ‘Til death us do part.