An Old Friend
I was at a downtown watering spot, waiting to meet my lady to go to dinner, when I ran into an old acquaintance, E. Wilmington Worrell. I almost went to work for him at Worrell, Hanson, and Associates a long time ago, at but I was young and easily impressed by shallow stuff then, so I went with another agency instead. I'd like to think I would know better now.
We hailed each other, and he sat down at my postage-stamp-sized table. "Long time, Jack," he said, as we shook hands.
I was pleased to see him. E. W was a good guy and would have been a good boss. If I'd gone to work for him, who knows, I might still be working fat, dumb and happy in his shop. And who knows what else might have happened with, well, with other things. As it was, I went to work at the crappy place. And that had ultimately led to me going out to try the big world with a small agency. And that had ultimately led me to a whole bundle of betrayal and grief.
I'm Jack Merriam, by the way. I once owned that small ad agency with my quondam best friend and business associate, Vince Bacus.
After a few minutes of chit-chat, E. W. asked, "So, Jack, I haven't been keeping up with the trade. I had that heart thing three years, and, well, I just stay out of the pressure cooker now. Sid Hanson runs things now. I'm semi-retired."
"Oh?" I said. "So what brings you here, semi-business or semi-pleasure?"
E.W. chuckled into his glass. Straight OJ, by the looks of it.
"Still the kidder, Jack. That's good. A sense of humor is always good. Helps you through the tough times."
I raised my glass to that.
"Semi-pleasure, I'd say, I was just out visiting my grandkids," he said. "Now, I'm just killing time between planes. I have a flight out to go to my semi-retirement place, only my plane doesn't leave for another eight hours. I'd rather be sitting downtown than in an airport bar. I don't run into old friends at the airport, either, like now."
"Mind if I visit with you for a while, Jack?"
"Not at all, E.W.; it'd be my pleasure. I'm just waiting for my..."
Just then my cell phone went off, and I excused myself. "Jack, here.
"You have to WHAT? Damn!
"No, I just wish you'd tell that crappy boss of yours to give you more help," I said with a chuckle.
"So, what about dinner? How long will it take to get the ... Three hours max? That's not too bad. Tell your slave-driving boss I'll kick his ass next time I see him
"You do? Ok. I don't know how long the kitchen at Rocco's stays open, but we'll find something.
"Call me when you see the end in sight. Or, if you just want to pop over, I'll be at The Irish Pub. I'm just chatting with an old friend. You may have to pour me into a cab by then, but I'll wait for dinner.
"Ok, love you too. Looking forward ... See you whenever."
I turned to my old friend and said, "Looks like I'm free to catch up on old times with you, E. W."
"Great. I go by Eddie now, Jack."
He took a sip and eyed me. "Last I heard, you and Vince were ready to tear up the town.
Now you're where?
"It's a long story, E ... uh, Eddie. Kind of an ear-bender."
"Like I said, I've got time," he said. "I love a good story."
= = = = =
MERRIAM AND BACUS
We were equal partners, Vinnie and I. Our strengths complemented each other and diminished our weaknesses.
I was the idea man and the writer. I was also the pitchman who sold the ad campaigns.
I wrote the scenarios and scripts and copy, but Vince was the one who brought them to life. He wasn't much in the way of big picture imagination, but he caught on to my ideas better than almost anyone I've ever worked with. Once we were on the same page, his eye for graphics and insistence on getting everything to look just right on the page or the screen meshed very well with my perfectionist's eye for words. I might not know exactly what I want to see, but when Vince put it together, I knew it was right.
We worked together for six years, the first two in that crappy agency that will remain nameless, and then four years at Merriam and Bacus Advertising.
Merriam and Bacus, that was US! It was our baby. We got to where we were doing all right, and had a decent and growing rep in the business. Sometimes we'd even get discreetly called in by the big boys to critique their struggling projects, and they paid us well for our advice. We were doctors for sick campaigns.
We'd met at that crappy agency, two junior staffers thrown together to try to rescue a very poorly conceived ad campaign. That place gave scant service to their smaller clients.
Well, we salvaged something out of it and made a little money for our bosses. We also realized that we worked together really well.
Vince had gotten married to a very lovely lady named Veronica just before he came aboard.
I had married Carole two years before that, back before I even knew Vince. His wife Ronnie and my Carole hit it off great when we first got together socially; they became about as close as Vince and me. Maybe closer.
They were both great wives and sweethearts and much too good-looking for two ordinary plugs like me and Vince. On that, Vince and I agreed.
Carole was a slender honey blond; Ronnie had jet-black hair, and they were both well-put together foxy ladies, indeed. In heels, Carole came up to eye level with me. Petite little Ronnie might make it up to my chin in very high stilettos.
Vince is a great big beefy guy, 6 feet plus. He looks like a pro linebacker gone to seed, but he's much too gentle a man to do anything like play contact sports.
Me, I'm about 5' 9", weigh about 165 pounds, and actually did play a little college football. I was the little guy they'd put out there to run fly patterns and return kicks. I got the snot kicked out of me week in and week out, but I gave as good as I got, and the half scholarship I got helped me get through school. I was on my own after high school.
Carole, and I, and Vince and Ronnie, were practically inseparable. The Gang of Four, we called ourselves. We liked each other's company in and out of work so much that we went in halfsies on a mountain lakefront property and built a nice cabin there. We co- owned a boat, too, a real sweet cabin cruiser. I've never seen one as big as ours up on any of the lakes up there, but hey, it was for four people, right?
On the fateful day when everything turned to shit, the four of us were going to enjoy an end-of-Summer weekend together at our lake hideaway, but I hit a snag. We were supposed to make a big presentation of an ad campaign to Babcock & Sons next Thursday, but THIS Thursday night, old Orville Babcock called and said he had to go to Europe next week. If we wanted to try to get the Babcock account, we'd have to make our pitch Friday, the next day. He's kind of a prickly old coot, and we really didn't have a high percentage shot at the account, but it was worth the risk.
But the schedule crunch sucked. We had the package fairly well laid out, but there were some finishing touches that we thought we'd take care of and polish up during the first part of next week. So we pulled an all-nighter and Vince came through as usual with all the graphics.
Friday morning his part was done, and we agreed that he and Ronnie would take Carole up to the lake as planned. I would go to Babcock and endure their glacial pace of meet and greet to give the pitch. If I were lucky, I'd get done by five or six PM. After a two- hour drive up to the lake, I'd be there in time for us to go out to the new buffet over at a nearby resort.
= = = = =
Old Orville liked to do things nice and slow. I'd call it glacial. There would have to be a long morning tour of the plant, "To learn how we do things here at Babcock." Then a leisurely lunch, "To get to know the cut of each other's jib." Then finally a lengthy afternoon presentation of the firm's goals, followed by Orville's dissatisfaction with their current sales campaign.
I knew pretty much what his gripes were. The campaign was from a big agency that wouldn't put the time and effort into a small-to-middling account like Babcock. Sounded familiar.
After all that, I would be up front and center. It would probably be no sooner than three PM or so. I would make a detailed hour-long pitch, slides by Vince, to address their complaints as we envisioned them. Then there was sure to be a lengthy Q &A session to satisfy everyone that we knew what we were doing. That would be an hour or more. All this for a long shot at what would be our biggest billing client ever.
But we thought it was worth trying.
When I got there, it was Murphy's Law day. The worst-laid plans, etc., etc.
The local area got hit with a substation power failure, and everything was down, no power, no work, no A/C, no nothing inside. We couldn't tour a darkened plant with no functioning air conditioning. There would be no leisurely lunch except from a local pizza place that delivered. There could be no slide presentation in a powerless conference room.
So Orville led us out to a little campus picnic area. There was no power for slides and nothing to project them on, which cancelled out much of Vince's great work. Still, I had hard color copies of the slides, enough for maybe half of the major attendees. I told them they would have to share.
I had lemons thus far, so I decided to try for long-shot lemonade. Instead of general conversation to kill time, I started grilling Orville and his people about what they wanted to project in their ads.
Which was a return to a more peaceful rural setting to show off the work they did and the very fine products they made. I think it was nostalgia. But hey, I thought that nostalgia would sell Babcock products well. It was all of a piece with old Orville himself. He believed in what he did and he could be more folksy eloquent than any copywriter could make up.
Then I told them flat out what was wrong with their current failing campaign, and I told them why.
I told them the ad agency simply didn't buy their self-image idea. The ads that they made were slick, edgy, and actually were borderline mockeries of Orville and his old-timey virtues. It was a smarmy big city point of view. There was no sincerity in it.
They sat up at that, I tell you.
"That's right!," Orville jumped up and said "That's exactly right! They're more interested in poking fun at us and our ways, than in selling our danged product for us.
They think they're so danged subtle."
"Mr. Merriam. I think you nailed down in ten minutes what we've been trying to tell them for three Gol-Danged months.
Orville eyed me for a moment. Then he went for it. "Jack, how would you present Babcock?'
So I told them. It wasn't exactly what was written on our presentation, but it wasn't far off. I'd been thinking all along about the virtues of an old-time company. What they'd just been telling me informed what I told them now.
I told them our Babcock ads would promote the ideals of honest work, good native materials, and hometown values, where a man's word was his bond and you gave an honest day's work to the best of your ability.
I was only telling them what they saw in themselves.
Every ad would feature a different Babcock employee going through a typical work day activity, and would end with him or her looking the viewer in the eye, and saying: "I go home every night knowing that I did my absolute best for the man or woman who buys what I make. There's not too many in this day and age can say that and mean it.
"I stand behind my work, and Mr. Babcock stands behind me. I won't let you down, and he won't let me let you down."
Then Orville would step in beside the employee, and he'd say, "You have our word on it."
Cornball? Sure. Sincere? Absolutely!
Jesus, they loved it! They crowded around me, pounding me on the back and jumping around like little kids at a playground. Orville told me he was sold! He told me to Fedex the contract for the full deal, all options included, to where he'd be staying in Germany next week.
Orville was direct when he knew what he wanted. "I want you back here three weeks from Monday, when I'll be back. I want you rarin' to go by eight AM. We'll give you a real tour and introduce me to the kinds of people at Babcock you'll want in our ads."
It was just 12:30 when they saw me off.
Merriam and Bacus had our first big account! It might be so-so for the agency that had bungled it, but it had enough revenues to keep us going and let us bring in some staff to take the burden off us.
I was practically singing.
I headed out on the long road up to the lake. I decided not to call ahead. I'd just waltz in hours ahead of time with a huge success story for the four of us to celebrate. I hit a gas station for fuel and a pit stop, and planned to be on the road again by 1 PM.
The rest room was so filthy that I didn't try to change there. Instead I pulled around back of the station by the dumpster and changed in the front seat of my Subaru. I wound up driving with my clothes strewn over the rear passenger seat, and my swimsuit-clad butt bouncing in anticipation of the celebration after I blew in.
Damn, I thought, I even might get in some serious sunning and swimming.
= = = = =
As I drove up the cabin driveway, I could see that foxy little Ronnie was asleep, swaying in the hammock down by the dock. She wore a skimpy bikini and was a real hottie. Just looking at her like that could give me a partial stiffy.
There was nobody in the cabin.
The cabin cruiser was out on the lake a hundred yards or so from the dock, gently rocking.
I let Veronica sleep on, although I did slow down to appreciate how little of her was covered by her string bikini. Now I had a full stiffy.
I walked past her and dove into the chilly lake water. That soon took care of the stiffy. I reveled in the feel of the exercise as I swam out to the boat.
I thought I'd surprise Vince and Carole sunbathing or fishing. But as I neared the boat, I couldn't see either of them.
They must be down below, in the cabin, I thought.
But that made no sense. It was too gorgeous a day to be inside.
I came to the short transom ladder and put my weight on the lowest rung. As the boat heeled, I thought I heard Carole's muffled voice. No words, just a sound. Then I was aboard and moving toward the hatch that led down into the cabin.
I was tiptoeing. Why? Instinct.
Two steps down and I saw Vince, naked, lying on the starboard bunk. I saw Carole, also naked, straddling his middle, gently fucking herself on his big stiff cock. It slid in and out of her as she rocked back and forth. She was facing me, but her eyes were closed.
There was nothing hurried or frantic or furtive about it. They had all the time in the world. It was the slow easy movement of a couple who have done this hundreds of times before. The comfortable ease of long practice.
As I stood there, frozen, Carole's eyes opened up, but she was unseeing, still oblivious to my presence. As she neared her climax, she tilted her head back in the way that I knew so well and let out that little squeal I also knew so well. She rolled her head from side to side, looking straight up in her ecstasy.
After a few moments, she let her head come forward and her body slumped. And then her eyes looked back up, and she saw me.
She screamed, "JACK!"
I heard Vince chuckle, "That hurts my feelings, Babe. It's Vince."
I finally became capable of movement. It was a tossup: Grab down the salvage axe and go in there swinging, or just back away and try to think, make a plan.
As I backed away, I heard Carole's panicked voice. "NO, Vince, it's Jack! He's standing there! He was standing right there! He saw us! Oh my God! Oh my God!"
I looked over at the dock, at the hammock with Veronica's sleeping form, and further up, the two vehicles; his Range Rover and my Subaru. That gave me a hint of a plan, although admittedly short term. But a half-assed plan is better than chaos, someone once said.
Just as I stood on the transom ready to dive, I heard Vince's agitated voice. "Geeze, Carole, are you sure?"
"YOU FUCKING IDIOT, YOU THINK I DON'T KNOW WHAT JACK LOOKS LIKE? Of course it was Jack!"
As I dove, I heard "JACK! JACK, BUDDY! WAIT!...
The water was cool and silent. I swam back, consciously going for long, smooth, strong strokes, my mind completely concentrating on the movement. It left no room for coherent thought for a few moments. But this brief respite of peace wasn't going to last long. I was the best swimmer by far of the Gang of Four. I'd be at the dock in no time.
The Gang of Four.
Carole fucking Vince was gonna shake the Gang up a little. There was no escaping having to think about that and a million other bad things.
I began to hear the boat's engines being cranked over and over. "You always flood it when you're in a hurry, Asshole," I thought.
I decided right then that "Asshole" was Vince's new name. For Carole I was wavering between "Slut" and "Deceiving Bitch."
I made it to shore and heaved myself out of the water and onto the dock. As I walked past the hammock, I heard Veronica's cell phone start to do her goofy little ring tone from deep in her tote...
As I neared the two vehicles, I heard her sleepy little girl's voice. "What? I'm trying to sleep."
Then, "WHAT!" NO! God! Wait a minute ... I don't..."
Then, "Jack, JACK, wait a minute. Wait up, Jack. JACK! I have to talk to you..."
I looked back. Ronnie was scrambling around trying to find her sandals. She's not a barefoot kind of girl at all. The gravel hurts her delicate little toes.
By then I was leaning in my Subaru, rummaging in my pants pockets. I came up with my keyring, and pulled open the small penknife blade.
The Range Rover beckoned. I sunk the blade into one rear tire, and then into the spare that hung on the back. They deflated with fierce, then fading hisses.
I heard the boat's engine getting louder as it neared the dock, but didn't bother looking back. I jumped in the Sube, which always started like a champ, and I could see them now. They had 70 or 80 yards to cover running up from the dock.
I saw they had managed to get their swimsuits on en route. All nice and decent-like, for the benefit of any passers-by.
Wouldn't want to scare away the tourists.
I threw the Subaru in reverse and floored the pedal. I whipped the wheel around just like I was taught back in defensive driving school, and executed a pretty decent bootlegger's turn. Once the ends swapped, and I was pointing away from the lake and the cabin, I slipped the transmission into Drive One and raced away down the driveway, spewing gravel behind me in a miniature rooster tail. Damn, I had always wanted to do that turn in a real world setting. It was sweet!
So why did I feel so sick?
I hit the paved road and drove too fast for several minutes, then cut back on the gas. It wasn't as if any of them back there would be chasing me for a while. Not with two out of five tires down.
It took maybe five minutes before my cell phone went off. I have it set so that it will act like a home answering machine, where you can hear the person leaving the message after the beep.
"Honey, ... Jack, ... Look, ... I know that was something that you didn't want to see, Baby, but you just have to come back and let me explain. There is an explanation.
Please Jack. Please Baby, please call me back. I love you!"
She repeated that call and some variation of that message many, many times. I wondered if that "I love you" sounded as hollow to her as it sounded to me.
Just before I did my jazzy bootlegger's turn, I'd noticed that the boat was drifting away.
Asshole had been so excited he'd forgotten to tie it up. I figured his cell phone was on board, so I called his number and left them a group message, one that they could not interrupt by picking up.
"Asshole? I have good news and bad news.
"The good news is that we won the account.
"They lost all power out there, so I couldn't do the presentation. We were just killing time sitting out on some benches, so I decided to just wing it.
"And old Babcock and his people just ate it up. He wants us to send him the full contract next week.
"Now for the bad news, in several parts.
"The first bad news is that I'm not going to do a fucking thing about Babcock. You can do what you want, but I'm dissolving this partnership, backdated to the minute that I saw you fucking my wife. I don't know you and I don't want to see you. You're a lying, backstabbing prick! You want to know the lies? Any time you called me your friend.
"The second bad news is for Carole? You listening, Honey? I'm gonna divorce your lying, treacherous, deceitful, beautiful little ass as soon as I can talk to a lawyer. I hope this doesn't come as too much of a shocker, but I don't know you and I don't want to see you either. You're a lying, backstabbing cunt! You want to know your lies? Any time you told me you loved me.
"The third bad news is for Veronica. Ronnie? Since this is obviously something that you go along with, add yourself to the list of people I don't want to know or see again. No offense, but I hate being lied to by my closest friends.
"Ok, that's about it. Resume fucking or whatever you guys had planned for the rest of the day.
"Good luck getting emergency road service up here on a Friday night."
= = = = =
After I sent off that little billet-doux, I disengaged my mind and just wallowed.
OHMYGOD, OHMYGOD, OHMYGOD!
Carole and Vince! Carole and Asshole!
Carole and Asshole fucking away like an old married couple.
This must have been going on for years!
How could I not have seen anything until now? I realized now that there had always been opportunity. The four of us went everywhere and did everything together in all kinds of combinations. I'd squired Ronnie to parties when both Asshole and Carole were both working on something or other.
Or maybe working on each other. That was the crux of it. I'd never dreamed of it, so they could have been doing it forever. I'd have never known. It might have started as soon as they met.
My wife screwing my partner.
My supposed life partner riding my supposed best friend...
And Ronnie just snoozing away, but apparently not surprised. No, definitely not surprised. All she could say was that she had to talk to me? How the hell would that conversation have gone, I wondered.
"Oh, by the way, Jack, In case you missed the memo, my Vince and your Carole fuck each other every chance they get. Are you tired from your drive up? Let me get you a drink."
I wondered what was in it for Veronica?
The repetitive din of calls into my cell phone was getting on my nerves. I wanted to turn it off, but I briefly wondered how many calls per mile I was averaging. It might be a record. I might get something positive out of this mess after all, I thought.
Then I had another thought. I'd have to share the record with whoever was calling me.
Fuck it; I'm not sharing anything with those people. I flipped the phone open and pushed the red button to turn it off.
Ok, Now what?
My fucking wife was fucking my best friend. Who was also my business partner.
Ooh, this could get awkward at the office Christmas Parties, no?
I was making jokes out of this. I always joked at bad times; it was that or start crying.
Right now I knew that if I wasn't laughing, I'd be driving off a cliff or straight into a stone wall somewhere on the way home.
Home! There's another laugh.
To paraphrase Robert Frost, "Home is the place, that when you go there when it isn't Asshole's turn to fuck Carole, you get the sloppy seconds."
Carole and I had had a pretty active sex life, I'd thought. Or we had up until about two years ago, but even turned down a notch it had been pretty good.
Geeze! If she's also been doing him along with me all along, she must need a pocket planner to keep her assignations straight. Or maybe Veronica kept the calendar for her.
Ronnie always was the organized one. Keeping the fuck schedule for the Gang of Four.
Check that! Now the Gang of Three.
Home? No, I'm not going home. Not right now, anyway. That'll be where they'll head when they get on the road. They're probably synchronizing their lies right now.
I figure if the three of them work in 8-hour shifts around the clock, in a couple of weeks they can maybe start to convince me that I didn't see Carole climax while riding Vince's big cock. Brainwashing, you know?
No, I wasn't going home. I'm not ready to listen to their lies right now.
Instead, I headed for the office.
Soon we will be at the offices of the soon-to-be Erstwhile Merriam and Bacus. Asshole Bacus will have it all to himself now. Maybe he'll leave the 'Merriam" on the door, like Scrooge left Marley's name.
"Boo! You see these chains? A new link was forged whenever you fucked Carole.
Shit, even I didn't think I was funny any more.
I cried. Really cried. Real salty tears. I think the word was sobbed.
I had to pull over for a few minutes. I couldn't see to drive for the tears.
I wiped my eyes, and started up and eventually pulled into my parking space.
I decided to be practical. I started with the nitty-gritty details. Save the big picture stuff for later, I thought. I made a checklist.
I went online with my bank and set up new accounts for myself. I took half of everything in my joint accounts with Carole and moved it to my new savings account. I liquidated all our joint CDs and split the money 50-50. It cost us some money in early termination penalties, but I really didn't give a fuck, and Carole wasn't there to protest. Fuck her!
Our investment brokerage had 24/7 online customer service. The computer took my orders to sell our joint portfolio, but balked at my request for expedited service. The weekend guy emailed me to call him to verify. So I called the number he gave me and told him the basics of what I was doing. I also told him why.
He invoked the 72-hour cooling off clause and said he wanted to talk to Mrs. Merriam about it. I told him to knock himself out, but by the contract, whether he talked to her or not, I had the right to do this without her permission.
He said it would be done by COB, Wednesday. I said, fine. I thanked him.
I called Bernie Melton, our family lawyer. He was at home on a Friday night! Get a life, Bernie!
I said I wanted him or a referral from him to file for divorce, and to do whatever was necessary to dissolve our business partnership.
He sounded startled and asked what had brought all this on.
I told him.
After I was finished, he said he was very sorry to hear of it. He cautioned me about moving too fast on these things. He asked whether I would consider some marriage counseling. I said no, that the time for words ended around three o'clock this past afternoon.
He told me to call him back Monday morning for an appointment and/or referrals. I thanked him.
I pulled up the real estate classifieds and found an apartment in the close-in suburbs. I wasn't sure where I'd be working after this weekend, but this was accessible to the major arteries. I called the number and talked to a nice lady. I was surprised they were open this late.
She said they had a unit that I could rent for 6 months with option for renewal. The nice lady said that if I would promise to come in early the next morning, she would put a temporary hold on the apartment until noon. If I liked it, she said I could come over and sign the lease Monday evening, after they ran a credit check. I thanked her.
Damn, I thought, I was making progress. My life was falling down around my ears, but I was getting a lot of check marks made.
It was a poor substitute for losing the love of my life. And my quondam best friend.
But it was something.
I was at the end of my checklist, so I added another item. I hunted through my Roledex and found a card for Harry Dittersdorff, the head of one of the good Ad agencies in town.
I had remembered right; he had scribbled his personal cell phone number on the back when we had chatted some months ago. He was a former shark de tutti sharks, but now was reportedly mellowing into a pretty nice guy. He had people to be ruthless for him, now, I suppose.
I called him up. He sounded surprised that I was calling, but not displeased. We chit- chatted for a few minutes. Then he said, "Jack, I have no problem just shooting the shit on a Friday evening with a friend, but why do I have the feeling this isn't a purely social call?'
"That's because your instincts are still first rate, Harry.
"Ok. In a nutshell, I caught my wife Carole fucking my partner Vince this afternoon.
For some reason, that displeased me. I'm going to get as far away as I can from both of them. I'm going to divorce her and bail out on the partnership with him. The time frame is ASAP.
"I can't ask you for a new wife, Harry. But I do need a job."
"Wow," he said. "You've had a helluvuh Friday, Jack. Let me think.
"I have a good organization. A little thin in the graphics area, but no holes that you'd be an obvious fit. Mostly junior stuff. I have good people in any of the slots that you'd be a natural for, but I'll never turn away a real talent. Nor a man who need a little help."
I could hear him whistle softly as he thought. I thought, maybe he really has mellowed.
"Jack? My head is spinning. I need to talk to some people. Tell you what, give me a few days, say until Wednesday or Thursday at the latest. I will, without fail, get back to you with something, and it'll be concrete. To tell the truth, when I used to bug you about coming in with me, I never dreamed you might actually agree. I thought you and Vince were going places."
"Yeah, well, not gonna happen now," I said
Harry was thinking out loud, "Damn! This could be really interesting. Any leads I can pick your brain for?"
"No. well, ... we, ... I mean, ... well, we won an account with old Orville Babcock. Or did win it. I don't know whether Vince can handle it on his own."
Harry said, "Babcock? That rings a bell."
"Harry, it was your account. You gave it to some schmuck who's managed to piss Orville Babcock off. He's going to dump your campaign.
"But I can't snipe that one back for you. First, cause Orville's pretty pissed at you and your minions right now. Second, cause, well, much as it pains me to say it, Vince did a lot of the detail work. By rights it belongs to the firm. And since I'm walking away from the firm, I've decided to leave it for him to try to make it work. I'd say there's a 50-50 chance he won't be able to do it with me gone, so you may get another shot at it."
Harry laughed at me over the phone. "I can't believe you, Jack. Here the guy has been fucking you over, and with your wife, no less, and you're still trying to be honorable and do the right thing. Didn't anybody ever teach you that there's no room for principles in Advertising?"
"Just because he's an asshole doesn't mean I have to be one," I said. I still gotta look myself in the mirror every day.
"Anyway, like I said, you may get that do-over shot, but only if we can work something out by Wednesday.
"And, by the way, how could you get so careless about a good solid account, Harry.
That's not like you. Maybe if I poke around I could find other accounts that are being neglected."
"Point well taken, Jack, point well taken. Geeze, it sounds like you're almost making money for me already. For a principled fool, you do nice work. Without fail I will get back to you Wednesday, Jack. Trust me. I'm not letting you get away."
"Damn! I gotta have Kelly look into losing that Babcock account. I can't believe we got so sloppy."
"Who's Kelly? I asked."
"Kelly's my daughter, Jack. You met her a couple of years ago at the big New Year's Bash we threw. Very petite. Very pretty. Very sharp."
"You hiring relatives, now Harry? Nepotism doesn't replace talent."
"Fuck you, Jack," he laughed. "Nepotism has nothing to do with it. Kelly's a lot like me; she has good instincts. Unlike me, she's got an MBA.
"Besides, she's my daughter, not my nepot. "
"God help her if she looks like you, Harry."
"Nope, she's got her mother's genes to work with there, and she did a nice job, although in a very small package."
"Anyway, you'll be meeting her after Wednesday."
"But let me warn you, Jack. She's very sensitive about the nepotism thing. She hates to be patronized.
"Ok, forewarned is forearmed ... or has four arms, or something.
"Anyway, thanks, Harry."
"Forget it. I'll work your ass so hard you'll be begging for help."
I laughed and hung up.
Damn! If you didn't know how fucked up my life was, you'd think I was really cooking!
Oh well, time to go home and listen to lies while I pack, I thought. I'd told them on the voicemail that I didn't want to see them, but I had to go back the house and pack, and I knew they'd come there trying to "explain." So I'd have to endure them one more time at least.
I added another item to the checklist: I'll have to find a hotel for a couple of days.
I called around and found one off the Interstate near the address of that new apartment, and reserved a room for two days and nights.
The next to last thing I did was dig up a minirecorder from my desk, load it with fresh batteries and a new cassette, and slip it in my jacket pocket. I might need a recording of the next few hour's worth of conversation with the Gang of Three.
The last thing I did was empty most of the junk in my desk into the trash, and put the remainder in a Xerox paper box to carry out with me.
Check and check!
= = = = =
It was dark out when I got home and my house was dark and deserted. They weren't there yet. Man, I thought, that emergency roadside service really blows.
I had just gotten my suitcases down from the attic when I heard the door open. Hark! I thought, the Gang of Three arriveth.
I figured they'd find me eventually.
I turned the recorder to RECORD and set the jacket down at the end of the bed with the gain set at max volume.
They came up, Ronnie in the lead. I guess the adulterous two weren't eager to face me.
They stood there watching me as I opened up the suitcases and tossed out whatever was inside onto the floor. Anything that was mine and hadn't been used for over a year was superfluous. Anything that was hers, ... who cares?
Carole spoke first. "Jack, first of all, we are all very sorry that you got hit with that today. Now, will you please listen and not go crazy on us?"
"Oh sure," I said. "I can listen as I pack.
"But here are the ground rules.
"First, nobody touches me. No hugging, nothing like that. No one in this room has close-up rights to me. Not ever again. Understand?"
"Second, if Vince gets within swinging range, I'm going to knock him on his ass. No warnings. Got that?"
"Ok, third, I won't listen to lies.
"If you feel you have to tell me something, give me the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I don't know how long this fucking around and cheating and adultery has been going on, but you have all been lying by omission for a damned long time. No more of that. Tell me all of it, first time out of the box."
"Ok, you have the floor. Ronnie, would you mind not sitting in the middle of the bed? I need that space for my suitcases."
She jumped up and sat over on the arm of the chair where Asshole was sitting.
I got busy emptying out my dresser drawers, while they just looked at each other.
Geeze, I thought, they've had four or five hours to get their lies straight.
Vince kicked it off. "Um, Jack? I know that you're pissed off at us ... at me. I'm sorry.
About today, I mean. Carole and Ronnie are going to tell you about that. But about the contract? Our business? you can't be serious about walking away from the partnership.
The contract you won puts us way up there. We're a team. We can be rich!"
I stopped stuffing underwear in the case and stared at him. "Vince! Asshole!.There is no we. There is no us. We're no longer a team. I can't be on a team with a man I thought was my friend — my best friend — after I found him fucking my wife. If you can't understand that, then you're too dumb to be able to dress yourself each day."
"But the contract?" he said. "The money? So you hate me. Right now I hate myself. A lot of this is my fault. But people who hate each other work together every day. Hell they even stay married sometimes."
"Not me," I said flatly. We. Are. Done. Merriam and Bacus is dead. Also Merriam and Merriam.
Baffled, Vince sat down, muttering.
Then it was Carole's turn. "Honey, you said you wanted a divorce. I know how mad you are, but you can't mean that. Jack, you just can't throw away eight years of a great marriage over one mistake,..."
I slammed the case lid down.
"Ok, let's get something straight. Not a one of you can understand how I feel, or how mad I am, or anything about me right now. You're all just upset because I turned over a rock and exposed this little ... arrangement? Affair? Menage? Whatever. You are way behind the curve on the feelings thing.
"So let's skip past all this petty bullshit about our great business and eight wonderful fucking years together and get down to it. I'm ending everything because I can't stand to look at the two of you.
"One mistake? One single stroke of his cock in your pussy might be one mistake. I saw a lot more of them than one. When I look at Asshole, I see him lying there in that bunk, fucking up into my lovely faithless wife.
"That's my permanent picture, my screensaver. Do you think I could accept seeing that every day while we worked together? I can barely stand to be in this room with him, this second. But I gotta pack, and I know we gotta get all the rest of the story all talked out one time so I never have to be in a room with any of you again.