I was typing away on my borrowed PC minding my own business when I heard a knock-knock-knocking on my chamber door. I am tempted to say, "Quoth the Raven nevermore." But no, that would be taking unfair advantage of the readership.
I had taken the apartment in the low rent area near the projects because it was all I could afford, and it was close to the private school that I am an all around handyman at. It's a one bedroom walkup in a dilapidated and all but condemned tenement in South Central L.A.
I work daytimes at St John's high school cleaning up and keeping the electrical and plumbing operating. This is a major task considering the aging state of the electrical and plumbing apparatus that I have to work with. Anyway with rent and food and utilities and the occasional new shirt or pair of shoes, I don't have much money left over for anything else.
That's why I am typing at 7:00 at night. The extra money I make typing up papers for lazy minority kids, minority kids whose parents are well off, brings in enough for me to keep my child support payments up to date. At any rate, the person knocking on my door, whoever it is, is messin' with my livelihood. Reluctantly, I decided to answer it.
"Nina," I said, surprised to see my ex-wife of fifteen years standing in the hall.
"Hello Mikey," she said. She walked in without so much as being asked. But, that was Nina. She never had stood on ceremony and rules of any kind were alien to her. "You're kinda hard to find." I just stared at her. I hadn't known she'd been looking. I hadn't seen her in months, except when visiting the kids, and not even then most times. The divorce? That'd been more than eight years ago.
"Yeah, I just moved in here a couple of months ago," I said.
She was dressed to kill. But, whoever she was going to kill, it sure as hell wasn't me. Like I said, she'd divorced me and totally cleaned me and my business out in the doing eight years ago.
"You're looking prosperous," I said. I was still trying to become unshocked by her sudden and unexpected appearance after so long a time at my door. "Where's Malcom?" Malcom Brady was of course was the interloper she had dumped me for.
"He's home," she said. She looked good at age forty-three. The dress alone must have cost her a couple hundred dollars. She still wore her brown hair in cascading curls down past her shoulders, and her five-nine frame and her porcelain complexion would still be traffic stoppers, I was sure of that. Well anyway, it was clear to me she and lover boy were enjoying the fruits of my old business and her earnings as a surgical nurse. "Got time for a bite to eat?"
"I was just gonna put something in the microwave," I said. "I have to work tonight?" Her eyes glanced over toward the computer. I had to wonder why the hell she was inviting me to dinner, but looking her over made me think of other things; she knew it too.
"Uh—yes, I do a little tutoring and clerical for some of the students," I said. The school I work at loaned me the computer, so you can't have it," I said, my meaning clear. She just frowned.
"Yes, I heard you were working at St. John's," she said. "That's how I found you. One of my coworker's kids goes there.
"What about dinner?" she repeated.
I was curious. I had just gotten a $100 bonus, so I decided why not; the bills were paid. Also, I hadn't seen the kids since she'd sent them off to boarding school at the beginning of the term. It would be a chance for me to hear about them, hopefully. "Okay, but I don't have a car," I said.
"Never mind that, I do," she said. I got my windbreaker and followed her out.
She drove us to the Sandcastle, a fancy bistro near the beach. Inside we were seated, and the maître 'd seemed to know her. I saw her signal him about something, God knows what.
It finally occurred to me to ask what it was that had brought her to my door. "So, Nina, to what do I owe this—surprise—tonight," I said.
She smiled at me. "Mikey, I—we—Malcom and I were talking..." she paused.
"Yes?" I said.
"Well, we—I—I've been thinking a lot about the divorce," she said.
"Well, that's history now," I said. "Not much either of us can do about that I don't suppose. You got me good, so if you want more you can forget it; I'm just getting' by."
"No, no, I'm not here to make your life harder," she said, "quite the opposite in fact." This was interesting. Nina had little in the way of conscience; so whatever she was going to say, I was going to have to weigh the cost to me. And, I felt certain that there would be a cost.
"Yeah, well, I am kinda enjoying my poverty now," I said, getting a gentle swipe in. She ignored it.
"How are you doing, Mikey, really?" She could clearly see my straights, but evidently wanted me to confirm them orally, or maybe beg her for a handout. Well, she wasn't going to get her way if that's what it was. I might be broke, but I've got my pride.
"Okay," I guess. Like I said, I'm getting by."
"Got a girlfriend?" she asked, looking sidelong at me in that way she had of tantalizing me, and for that matter any male, that I knew so well.
"Nina, I'm forty-six and broke. Look how I'm dressed. Do I look like I have much to offer or to attract a woman? But, to answer your question, no I don't have a girlfriend. Satisfied?"
She looked embarrassed, "Mikey, I didn't mean—really—I'm sorry," she said. "It's none of my business." She sounded like she really meant it, but with Nina one could never be sure.
"I'm okay, Nina. Just leave it at that. Being married to you was enough for any man. Certainly it was for me. Just leave it," I said.
"Yes, of course. I'm sorry, really.
"Mikey, would you like to come back to work—run—the hardware store?" she said.
"Huh?" I said.
"It's a big store and it needs a lot of running. And well, you know the business better than anyone. And frankly, Malcom isn't much good at it, I mean the business. We'd pay you well," she said, finally.
So there it was. She was evidently having trouble running the store, or more succinctly, her lazy-ass hubby wasn't up to the job. The irony was that she was offering to pay me for running my own business, or what used to be my business, the one she'd screwed me out of. Adding insult to injury, she'd be my boss—and Malcom. I had to repress a laugh.
"I don't think so, Nina. I can't feature myself working for you, and certainly not for good 'ole Malcom," I said, without apparent rancor. "Not, after everything—all of the water under the bridge."
"Mikey, I can see you need the money. And, well we—I—could use you," she said. I didn't say that in point of fact she'd used me pretty good already.
My pride was hurt. Boy was she good at hurting my pride. She'd seen my apartment, my clothes, knew I had no car. Well, it was all because she'd cleaned me out, and at age forty-six there weren't a lot of places looking to hire me at top dollar, or even medium dollar. So I got by just barely avoiding welfare. Looking at her, I figured she would probably double what I was making now, which would have been about one fifth of what I used to pay myself. The insult to my pride alone would prevent me from taking the job.
"No, I don't think so," I said. "I'm doing okay. I just came into some cash too, so things are looking up." I wasn't lyin'; my bonus was extra cash.
"Well, I'm disappointed, Mikey. I really would like having you around," she said. "Would you at least think about it? I've always felt bad about how the divorce went, but you know lawyers; I—we—just did what he told us to do. I'd like to make it up to you some if you'd let me." She sounded sincere, but I still had my doubts. She'd looked mighty happy when the gavel had finally come down on my head. And, it had taken her eight damn years to start feeling bad about what she and asshole had done to me.
"Yeah, well, don't be a stranger," I said, managing to not sound too sarcastic. She nodded.
We talked about the kids, the food came, we ate, and then the bill arrived; it was $88. I handed the man my $100 bill. "Keep the change," I said, a little too grandly.
"Mikey, I was going to pay," said Nina, genuinely surprised that I'd beat her to it.
"Oh no. I ain't goin' that route," I said. "I'm the guy, I pay. I got my pride." She was a little disconcerted, but had the good grace to thank me and not make a public issue of it. I coulda used the C-note, but easy come easy go, I thought. Like I said, I have my pride.
We drove in silence back to my apartment. Pulling up, I got out, leaned back in through the window, and thanked her for the nice dinner and the job offer.
"It, the job offer's, still open, Mikey. Just call and it's yours," she said. I just waved and headed back in. I watched through the glass door as her T-bird disappeared up the street.
I thought about all that water under the bridge that we'd spoken of. I'd lost everything, largely because of her and her boyfriend. She'd made me hire him as an accountant. This of course was before I knew she was screwing him.
By the time I'd finally caught her sucking his cock in the stock room, I was essentially broke and owing back taxes. The lawyers had cut me a deal. I'd keep my car—since sold for cash—my personal stuff, and my 401k. And, alimony would not be an issue; she was planning to marry the motherfucker anyway; so I wouldn't have had to pay it for very long in any case. The price for such generosity? I'd sign over my business to the two of them. Plus, she got the house and primary custody of Robbie and Jennifer, ages seven and nine respectively at the time; I did get liberal visitation, but she'd messed with that too whenever it'd suited her convenience. Apart from all of that, the rest of our personal possessions were divided up fifty-fifty, except her fifty percent was bigger than my fifty percent. Well, I didn't want the furniture and she did, whatever.
The boarding school she'd shipped them off to had a court order attached to it that allowed me to visit to kids whenever I wanted, but it was 100 miles away, so I didn't get up there as much as I would have liked.
The T-bird pulled into the ranch style split level, and she got out. She leaned back against the car's side clearly lost in thought.
Going into the house, her husband of eight years, Malcom Brady, smiled. "Well did he go for it?" he said.
"No. His pride won't let him. He even paid for the dinner if you can believe it. You know, it's been eight years, and I think the guy still has the hots for me."
"Yeah well dinky dick didn't have what it took then, and I doubt if he does now," snickered Malcom. "I never understood what you saw in him anyway. He's short, he's damn near dickless, and he's a wimp."
"Yes, he's short. Yes, his dick isn't much. But, he has a soul, Malcom, he's a good guy. I should never have let you and that lawyer talk me into fucking him over like that. He didn't deserve it."
"Well, if you feel so sorry for him, sell him back his business. That's plan-B anyway isn't it?" he said.
"I didn't ask him about that tonight; the time wasn't right. I did offer him the job, but that was not happening. He turned me down cold. He would never work for me now, and especially not for you," she said. "Unless, you know, he get's desperate..."
"Well, you knew that going in.
"Is he as poor as your friend said he was?" said Malcom.
"Yeah, he is. He's got a small apartment, but no car; and I think it cost him most of his ready cash to pay for the dinner tonight. I feel guilty as hell about that. I had to be an asshole and choose a place like the Sandcastle."
"The Sandcastle? You took him there. Did he wear a tie?" said Malcom.
"No, and Sam didn't require it when I waved him off," she said. "I'm just glad Mikey didn't see me do it. That would have been too embarrassing for words. When we started driving, I just kinda went there not thinking about the formality of the place. Originally, like I told you, I'd just planned to have us go to Denny's; but oh no, I had to play the big role."
Malcom laughed. "It's kinda funny if you think about it."
"Yeah right. Making a guy whose already been screwed over eat shit. Yeah that's really funny—not," said Nina.
"Well, I think it is," said Malcom.
Talking to Nina had peaked my interest in getting to see the kids as soon as possible. Jen was seventeen now, and Rob was fifteen. They were no longer the babies that they had been. I had to make the effort to get up there at least once every couple of weeks; I just had to. The cost of the gas would be a challenge for me, but I'd figure something out. My finances were pretty thin, but there had to be a way. I decided to go up tomorrow; it was Friday, but it was one of those Catholic holy days, so I wouldn't have to ask for a day off.
I pulled into the parking lot of Ojai Preparatory just about noon. It had been a four hour drive up from South Central L.A because of the traffic on the coast highway. I'd had to borrow a car from Mr. Jacobs, the assistant principal of the school, but I would pay his kindness back at some point and he knew it. At least it had saved me having to take the bus, my usual modus operandi when I'd gone up there.
Arriving, I headed for the administration office.
I was still sitting there when the kids came in. Jen ran to me and hugged me big time. Robbie was a little more reserved, but he had a big smile on his face. I felt good. It had been worth the effort to come.
"Hi daddy," said Jen. "We have so missed you."
"No more than I've missed you," I said.
"Hi Dad," said Robbie. "Jen is right, we have missed you."
We talked for almost an hour, their lunch hour. But, I planned to stay and wait for school to be out anyway and take them to MacDonald's. We'd tank up on calories there, so it wouldn't be so bad for them missing the cafeteria's offerings.
We had the big booth in the back of the colorful fast food giant. We talked forever.
"Guys," I said, "how come your mom sent you all the way up here, anyway? Do you know? Did you ask for this? I mean it's nice and all..."
"Dad, we sorta asked for it, I guess. We don't like the asshole. I mean he and mom make a lot of money, him an accountant and her a nurse; but they treat us like ornaments. They decorate us with clothes and stuff, but they're never around, and when they are asshole acts like were in the way.
Stephanie goes here, and she gave us the idea." Stephanie Colter had been my, our, next door neighbor's daughter.
"Really," I said, mulling over her words.
"There's something else too, dad. Something mom said," said Robbie.
I just looked at him, waiting.
"She said that it might be a good idea to send us up here because maybe then you'd come back to the store and work for us. I used to help out around there weekends, and the store isn't like it used to be. I hear them arguing about it sometimes," said Robbie. What the kids told me made me think. Could it be that the dynamic duo really did need me to run the store?
It began to get late, and I had to get them back to the school. Curfew, as I knew, was sundown. We promised to keep emailing each other, and I promised to somehow get up to visit them more often.
On the way back, I figured out how I was going to be able to see them more often in person. I made the call to Nina's cell; the one she'd given me at dinner just a few days before.
"Hi Nina ... Yes it's me ... Uhuh, I have ... yes, I'll take the job ... yeah, but you know I don't have a car yet ... No, I'll take the bus up there to the Valley. I've done it before ... no, I'll take the bus ... we still have to talk about my income and all ... yeah ... tomorrow afternoon ... three o'clock is good ... bye." I hung up.
Even though it was Saturday the bus ride took me more than an hour and a half because of all of the stops. It would have been half that in a car. I had to somehow get a car and soon. One cannot live in Southern California without a car at least not easily. Not if one has a family.
I had to walk a mile and a half from the depot to the Denny's she'd chosen to meet with me at. Before I entered, I wondered if I would actually kowtow to her, when it got down to it, and actually take the job. I needed the money if I wanted to see my kids regularly, and I did, in the worst way. So fuck my pride; I had to do it; no matter how painful it was for me personally.
She was sitting a t table near the window about halfway back.
"Hi," she said, actually rising to greet me. She took my hand in both of hers and pulled me to a seat at the table. This was so unlike the Nina I knew, I thought, as I took the proffered seat. "I was so glad to hear your voice and that you would come back to help us."
I didn't like the "us" part, but I wasn't going to make a big deal out of it at least for the moment.
"Hi back atcha, I'm glad you're glad," I said.
"We'll make a good team," she said, "just like in the old days. Malcom is happy you decided to join us too. He wanted to come, but I thought that maybe this first meeting..."
"I'm here Nina because, after thinkin' about it, I figured my pride wasn't worth the financial pain," I said. "I do need the money. But, Nina..."
"What hon?" she said.
"I don't want to start off on the wrong foot or anything—but—please believe me, I won't have anything to do with the man that, well, came between us. You gotta make him know that, or I walk. I walk now. I'll deal with you of course; you're the boss, but I can't handle bein' around him at all. I won't cause any waves, but I just can't be around him."
"I—I—understand," she said. "I think we can work that out. We'll just take it a day at a time and not worry about it now, okay?"
"Okay," I said. "Now for the details. How much? You said you'd pay me well. How well?"
"You're making what now," she said, "seventeen thousand?"
I looked at her wondering how she'd found out my salary. My look must have betrayed my embarrassment at her knowing.
"I checked," she said. I shouldn't have, seeing your look I realize that now; it was rude of me.
I didn't look happy. I nodded. "Yeah, about that much," I said, finally. I was totally humiliated. I shouldn't have been. She knew that I was poor, but her knowing how poor was somehow worse. "How much are you offering?"
"How does thirty thousand sound?" she said brightly. I was wrong, she hadn't offered me double, but close.
I nodded. "Okay," I said, "beggars can't be choosers I guess." Well, I was disappointed. I really had wanted a minimum of thirty-four. No good reason, but I'd kinda set my mind on that amount. Still, I was more or less mollified by her next announcement.
"Mikey, I'd like to give you more, but the store isn't doing too well right now, and well, if it does better we can renegotiate," she said. "But there is one more thing. The company does have an old Ford pickup. It runs good, and you can have it to use once you start working. Is that okay?" She looked concerned at my overall reaction; she could see that the money wasn't what I'd hoped for, I guess.
But, now I finally had a reason to smile. "Yes, that's fine," I said. "I appreciate your offer. It's better than anything that's been coming my way lately. And, the truck will be a big help."
She released a sigh. "Thank heavens," she said. "I was afraid you might turn us down. Anyway, I am so happy to have you back—at the store I mean," I'd caught her double entendre and wondered if it were some kind of Freudian slip. I put the idea out of mind, I supposed it was not. We talked some more.
"Okay, we're agreed then. You'll start officially two weeks from Monday," she said.
"Yes, and I'll be in on weekends starting tomorrow. I have to give notice at the school, and even two weeks is hardly enough. But, I need to start making some money," I said. What I didn't say was that I had to start as soon as possible if I wanted to see my kids the sooner.
Well that's that. I finally got my ex to come back and do what he does best—sell hardware. Now, Malcom and I can stop merely breaking even and calling it a win; it hasn't been even close to being a winning situation. But a million dollar business needs a million dollar manager, and Mikey is one; neither Malcom nor I, on the other hand, qualify. Mikey will make the business prosperous again. As he used always say; "baby, that's a dead-mortal-lead-pipe-cincheroonie!" Could I have gotten someone else to do the job? Maybe, but not for sure. And, so far Malcom had not found anyone near as capable as Mikey. Mikey I'm sure of. And yes, there were other reasons for wanting him running the business.
Malcom and I had fucked him over good in the divorce; talk about a pyrrhic victory. And frankly, I'd never felt right about it. Mikey had never hurt me, but I'd sure as hell hurt him. Then I'd raped him in the divorce. Oh Malcom was a more than willing participant, but in the end it was all me; I was the one married to the man.
And again, if the truth be told, I still felt something for the little shrimp. He is the kindest and sweetest man, and there are times when...
Then there are the kids. They love him. They love him more than they love me. I know it. Sometimes it hurts too. I suppose, deep down, it was to partially separate them from him that I sent them to Ojai to go to school. There was a secondary reason too though. I knew Mikey was hurting financially, I'd checked—a dirty trick, but I had to know.
Once I knew that he was all but broke, I also knew that sooner or later there was a good chance he'd accept my job offer just so he could see the kids more often; it costs money to travel a hundred miles.
Hey, but my little bit of plotting has created a win—win situation. He gets what he wants and needs, and Malcom and I get someone who really does know how to run the business. Sometimes you gotta use the tools you have handy to get the job done.
I'm gonna do some more investigating too. Somehow, I'm gonna make all of this work for me, for all of us.
I sigh a lot these days. Divorce is such a nasty, hurtful business. I sometimes think about Mikey. I think about his little dick all five inches of it; I compare it in my mind to Malcom's eight inches. Size does matter to a girl, especially if she's a big girl like me. I'm three inches taller than Mikey too, and in heels, which I Love to wear, I tower over him. Funny, but it never bothered me much when we were dating. He was so funny, and intelligent. And he was a wonderful dancer. He knew all of the Latin dances, and boy could that man jitterbug—my favorite thing in the whole world. And he has a great looking body. He just wasn't any good in bed, at least not with his teenie-weenie. That said...
There are times, when I wonder if a big dick and a taller husband is worth all of the tradeoffs. Well, it hardly matters now. But, I am determined to make it up to Mikey to some degree. For one thing he is definitely going to get a raise as soon as the business can sustain it, and that's a promise I am making to myself right now, a big raise too. Malcom can fuck himself if he doesn't like it; his dick isn't that big.
The meeting with Mikey has had me climbing the walls since I left the restaurant. I am so hot that if that husband of mine doesn't get his ass home pretty soon I'm gonna hunt him down and shoot him—after I rape him of course!
The kitchen door slammed. "Damn it Mal!"
"Sorry," he said, "I was carrying some groceries, and I had to use my foot to close it."
I had to laugh when he came around the corner from the kitchen and saw me. "Jesus! You're gorgeous," he said.
"Why thank you prince charming," I said. Standing in the middle of the room, naked, except for my stockings and high heels, I pretty much had this specimen of malehood where I wanted him, and I knew it. I beckoned him with my finger. He came towards me, and I could see he was shaking in anticipation of what was about to occur. I turned my back to him.
I sensed rather than felt him fall to his knees and bury his face in my ass cheeks. I loved being worshipped, and he was worshipping me now. He licked my anus lovingly. "God you're good," he said.
"Of course," I said, haughtily.
I felt him begin to pull me down to the floor with him. He was going to do me right there.
"Oh my," I said. "Oh my! Be careful of my legs. That's better. Yeah, just let them rest there on your shoulders."
"You got it," he said.
My legs were straight up in the air. I felt him start to push into me. "Uhhggg," I groaned, "slower, you're too big."
"Not like your wimpy ex, huh?" he said.
"Just shut the fuck up and do me, okay. Leave my ex out of it." I wanted his cock, but I didn't need his comments. I almost lost my interest because of his uncalled for nastiness.
He started pounding into me. I surrendered to him and mewed as he fucked me to an orgasm. He let my legs drop to the floor. I lay still and spread wide as he filled me with this cum.
I let my eyes shut in the afterglow.
"Good for you?" he asked, inordinately proud of himself.
"Hmm," I said. Then, I began to think of Mikey. He probably hadn't had any sex in a long time. Why did this man have to bring him up? He knew it would upset me. It would serve this nitwit right if I let Mikey have me, just for old time's sake of course. I'd have to think about that. I'm pretty sure I could interest him. I could get him off no trouble if I really decided to go for it.
Being back in my store was a good feeling. The conditions were shit, having to be an employee of my ex, but being back was hard to describe it was so good.
My first day back was Sunday, and all I did was move around, observe, say hello to old friends that used to work for me, and accept a whole lot of sincere welcome backs—a few even from old time customers. Did I say I felt good!
I was heading for the coffee station to grab me a cup when I was held up by the bookkeeper. "Hi, Mr. Kellerman. We, all of us, are so glad your back," said Mary Tyler. "Things haven't been so good, especially this last year."
"Hi Mary. What's been the problem?" I asked, really wanting to hear what she had to say.
"Oh Mr. Kellerman, business has been off; and Mrs. Brady had to let Sam and Harlan go. We all felt terrible for them. Sam is working for Walmart now, and Harlan is still unemployed, or so I hear. It's sad, Mr. Kellerman."
I nodded. I had to talk to Nina. I had to know who was going to have the authority to handle personnel. I should have as the manager, but I well knew that Nina had veto power, and so did the asshole in the final analysis. I knew too that Malcom had not gotten along with Harlan.
Harlan had early on warned me that Malcom had been coming on to my wife, and when I had confronted her about it, I had mentioned Harlan as the bearer of tales. That, I guessed, pretty much sealed his fate after the divorce. But, I wanted him back. I was expecting my first problem because of that bit of history.
It was 8:00PM and I was standing a few feet from Jack Stuart the night man as he was closing up. We were just turning to head out when Nina pulled up out front of the store. She waved me over.
"Hi Jack," she said, waving at him. He waved back.
"Come on, Mikey," she said, "let's have a drink." I nodded my acceptance. It would be a good time to talk to her about Harlan and Sam.
Her T-bird was a nice ride, and it was a fast ride. She got us to the Nite Owl in about seven minutes: a ten mile run!
"How about something to eat, first," she said. "And I pay, no arguments."
I chuckled. "Okay. What's the most expensive thing on the menu?" I said. She looked at me and raised an eyebrow. "Chateau Briand."
"Good." I closed the menu.
The waitress, a twenty-something nymphet arrived to take our orders. "And you miss?"
"Uh—Chateau Briand," said Nina. "Oh, and glass of Chateauneuf du Pape '85."
"And you sir?"
"A cheeseburger and a Lite beer," I said.
"What!" flamed Nina.
"I'm afraid I am too much of a plebian to imbibe French wines," I said, laughing out loud. She was miffed.
We talked about nothing for a while. The food came and in between guffaws we chewed and ate and had a good time. And then it was time for business.
"So, how was your first day back," she said.
"Good. I talked to a lot of the old hands who were still there. But uh—"
"Yes?" said Nina.
"Harlan and Sam were gone," I said. "I wanna bring 'em back. I assume, since I'm the manager that personnel decisions are mine."
"Mikey—I—I mean of course." She was clearly uncomfortable.
"What were you going to say, Nina? We gotta have everything out in the open or this little relationship isn't going to work," I said.
She fidgeted. "Mikey, Harlan and Malcom..."
"Yes, I know they aren't bosom buddies. But, this is business. So I'm askin', do I have the authority or not?" I said.
She sighed. I knew there was going to be a spirited discussion at home tonight for Nina. But, this is one I had to win on several levels. Number one, either I was the manager or I was just a figurehead, and that is what I told her.
"Nina, I know Malcom isn't going to like it much, but either I'm the manager or I'm a figurehead. If the latter, I'm gone. I will not be a powerless buffoon."
She had on a look that could only be described as sad. I still had feelings for her even after eight years. But, I had to have this my way or not at all. I felt sorry for this woman, my ex-wife; I didn't want to cause her any trouble, but it looked like in this instance it couldn't be avoided.
"Okay, Mikey. You're right. I'll make it good with Malcom," she said.
"You know, Mikey, in spite of everything, Malcom is a good man. He loves me, and I love him. We have our differences from time to time. But, he takes care of me and tries hard. He just isn't worth a damn when it comes to running a business and neither am I. He knows it; I know it; that's why we asked you to come back. In a sense you are being asked to save a business that once did two million in gross annual sales. Now, it's down to a quarter of that. I guess what I'm getting at is, can you turn it around?" She paused and looked me straight in the eye.
"Yes, if you stay out of my way and let me do my thing," I said.
"Okay, that's good enough for me," she said. "I promise, Malcom will not cause you any problems. Hire Sam and Harlan back if you want. But, Mikey, the business has to fund any increased payroll. Okay? I mean that's why we're payin' you the big bucks," she said, laughing.
"Absolutely," I said, but I wasn't laughing. "One thing, do you think I could get that truck you mentioned tonight? I sure could use it."
She smiled. "Of course, Mikey." We had a few drinks and talked some more about staffing and supply. I was able to gather that "out of stocks" had been a big part of the decline in sales. I'd have to look into that; that was a biggee. A store couldn't increase its sales if it didn't have anything to sell. Oh yes, I would be looking into that and soon.
She drove me to her house; it used to be our house, and got the keys to the truck. I waited in the car while she went inside. She was back outside in minutes. Malcom came out with her and waved to me from the stoop. I waved back; I figured we wouldn't be dealing with each other much, but on those rare occasions when we did, we'd need to be civil to each other.
With the truck, I now had the wheels I needed, not only for the job, but to be able to see Jennifer and Robbie too. That I was dependent on my ex for the largesse rankled, but what the heck, what is, is, I told myself.
I had driven to the store after hours every day since that first Sunday. Technically I wouldn't be full time until the 15th, two weeks after that first day. But, I had loved that store and I was determined to get it back on its feet.
I saw Nina every time I was there. That kind of bothered me. I had the feeling I was being watched. I knew that was being paranoid, but it's how I felt.
Having gotten in touch with both Sam and Harlan through Mary, I was able to meet with them and persuade them to return on the same day that I was officially starting. Harlan especially was thankful. He'd fallen on hard times. Sam was working, but Walmart was a far cry both in pay and the type of work that he had been used to for more than twenty years.
Mary pulled me aside after my meeting with the two men.
A little bit about Mary. She was forty, six years younger than me, and three years younger than Nina. Where Nina was tall and athletic, Mary was short and petite. She was small in every department: height, weight, and bra size. But, she was sharp as a tack. She could have been an accountant, but she hadn't been able to afford college, so bookkeeping was her stopping point.
She was cute too. Turned up nose, medium length brown hair, and she always smelled great, female.
"Mikey, I want to tell you that I appreciate you going to bat for Sam and Harlan. All of us old timers feel that way," she said.
"No problem, Mary, as far as I'm concerned it was a no brainer. I'm gonna need them, especially Sam, to handle inventory and resupply. I'll be assigning Harlan to work with him in that regard," I said.
She smiled. "Mikey, do you have plans for tomorrow night?" she said.
I looked at her questioningly. "No, not really. Why do you ask?"
"Would you be my escort to a little dance thingy I have been wanting to go to forever," she said.
"Uh—yes—sure," I said. "Heck, I haven't been dancing since..." I didn't finish. I was about to say since my divorce.
The few dates these past years had turned to shit, so a night out dancing with an old friend would be great. I was going to be rusty, but not that rusty.
"Great. Do you remember where I live?" she said.
"Yeah, yeah, over on Oak, right?" I said.
"Yes, that's right," she said. "Seven o'clock okay by you?"
"Yeah, but where will this shindig be happening?" I asked.
"At the Moonlight Ballroom downtown," she said. "It's actually a contest we'll be entering. I remember that you used to be really good.
"I've gotten to be okay myself, actually." She beamed with pride.
I breathed a sigh of relief that it was the Moonlight. But, I thought I'd better ask anyway. "Is there an entry fee?"
"Don't worry about that," she said, "I'm paying."
I threw up my hands. "Okay then," I said. I was actually looking forward to it. Nina and I had won several contests in the old days. But, that was then and this was now. I didn't know if Nina had kept up with her dancing, but I doubted it. Malcom didn't seem like the kind that would like competitive dancing.
Mary looked like a million bucks, and her dress looked like it cost that much. Jesus, she looked good! I didn't look too bad. I still fit into my dancin' shoes, and my suit fit me perfectly. But, I didn't begin to compare with her.
"You look terrific," I said.
"You look pretty good yourself, mister," she said.
"Let's get going. I can hardly wait," I said. And, I couldn't. I was excited about something and that for the first time in eight years!
We got to the venue a little early. The refreshments bar was open and we helped ourselves.
"Mary, I have to ask. Why don't you have a regular guy to take you to this do? I mean I'm thrilled. Actually, I'm excited for the first time in a long time. But you? You look great. There has to be a hundred guys trying to get you to go out with them," I said.
"I've had offers," she said. "For dates. But not this kind of date. There aren't many men who can even spell Paso Doble. You on the other hand—can." Her smile was infectious. I started to chuckle.
We talked and laughed and told ourselves how wonderful it would be if we won. That, I knew was going to be a tall order. We'd have fun, but the experienced hoofers were going to kill us when it got to the more difficult dances. Heck, we hadn't practiced at all, and practice was everything in competitive dancing.
The dancers were finally swirling and twirling around the floor and so were we. We didn't look to bad, I didn't think. Better than some. And, it was due to the skill and feel for the timing that the woman I was with possessed, not the rusty if enthusiastic talents of her partner.
The Waltz was first; then, a succession of Latin dances. And, Shock of shocks, we made the initial cut. We were in the top half of the group.
"Hi Mary," called out a woman in her fifties, as we passed their table during the break. "You guys look great. Who's your handsome beau?" said the woman.
Hi, Harriet. This is Michael Kellerman. He's my boss," she said looking up at me.
I nodded. "Actually, she's my boss tonight," I said. "She's got the moves and I've got the rust, I'm afraid."
"Not from what I've seen, young man, you two look good out there. Hope you make finals."
We laughed and headed for our table. There were two other couples sharing it, and we engaged them in conversation. All in all it had been a nice evening—so far.
The break ended and the swirl of rhythmic bodies went to war. If it had been a shock to make the initial cut, it was absolutely stunning to make the top ten.
"Mary, I don't know how we've gotten this far. But this next Sunday we're both going to church to thank God, because no way we did this without divine intervention. I mean you're good, but I haven't danced in eight years—at all.
After the dust settled, we were in possession of two small strips of ribbon at whose ends dangled little bronze coins. We'd placed third! The boost to my ego was beyond telling, and Mary was nothing short of effusive.
We headed to Concho's, a country western bar-cum-dancehall. By the time we were ready to go home; the barkeep had pulled Mary's keys. We were both sloshed. I had my truck but it was back at the store; we'd come in her Corolla. The keep got us a cab.
"Mikey, you're stayin' at my place tonight. It ain't much, but it's comfy," she said. I tried to demur, but frankly all I wanted to do was sleep at that point; so my protestations of impropriety pretty much fell on deaf ears.
I wasn't sure what time we'd gotten in, but I was even more confused about where I was. That after having been cruelly awakened by the sun god; that's the last fatted calf he'd ever get from me for damn sure!
I rolled to my right and bumped into sleeping beauty! "Jesus! Mary!"
"Hmmmmm," she noised. She licked her lips.