The telephone pressed against my ear, I slide gently onto my living room couch, ease back, and stretch my feet out.
Some beatings I like to take lying down.
I just spent an exhausting and stress-filled Saturday morning reading the newspaper. The kids’ mutual funds are down, my horoscope sucks, and the local rag whose name I won’t mention ran another follow-up on Shore and Bluefish. Plus, I have a sinister premonition about this call I’ve been trying to make.
“May I help you?” the operator says.
“I’m having trouble reaching a number.” I rattle off the seven digits of Susan’s house line. My old ranchero. I don’t like numbers much, my business being so full of them. And I can’t remember my morning routine when I lived there, or even what Susan looked like naked. But this damn phone number is burned into my head like some ancient petroglyph into rock. 555-5443.
“The line’s been disconnected, sir.”
A hole in the earth opens up beneath my couch. I’m plunging through space like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. “Are you sure? That’s been my house line for eight years.”
“That number was disconnected yesterday, sir. By the billing party.”
I park in front of the old homestead and immediately know the truth. The realtor’s FOR SALE sign stuck in the lawn pretty much tells the tale.
Jesus. I can’t believe Susan would do this.
Dazed, I stumble inside the house through an unlocked back door, inspect the empty rooms and cupboards, the bare walls and floors. Vacant spaces where I played Legos with Beth and Ryan. Barren corners once stacked with toys.
My gut winces, as if claws were ripping my flesh.
The telephone rings as I unlock my apartment twenty minutes later. The shrill clanging echoes in the empty living room. I hurry, hoping for no logical reason it’s the kids. Did I leave that kitchen light on?
“Hey, pal, it’s Walter. How you been?”
I sigh. “Fabulous. Susan and the kids moved without telling me.”
“Sorry,” he says. “I just wanted to let you know I signed those papers you sent me and had them notarized. I dropped them off at the post office on my way into work this morning.”
I don’t think Walter is even slightly interested Susan skipped out. Maybe he’s right. Why should he be?
“A hitter like you, dialing for dollars on a Saturday?” Busting balls is what Walter deserves.
“Yeah, well I’m still working on getting all my Shore people over,” he says. “Thought this might be a good day to remind them how well I’ve managed their money.”
A month ago I considered him a friend. Now he’s calling up my customers and telling them their money’s at risk with Shore. “Right, Walter. And the follow-up story on Bluefish and Shore Securities today had nothing at all to do with your decision. Are you going to send our customers reprints?”
“Hey, that’s a great idea.”
I must be the world’s dumbest victim. I can’t believe I just said that. “Well, thanks for signing those papers, Walter. Nice doing business with you.”
“When do I get my first check?” he says.
“I’m not sure. Call the escrow company where you sent the papers. I can’t see where it would take them more than one or two business days.”
“All right,” he says. “Take it easy.”
I wonder if Rags has received his paperwork yet, if he’ll sign as easily as Walter. Carr’s Famous Plan to Create Opportunity from Crisis proceeds nicely on course. I’m not planning on hitting The Fortune 500. Honestly, it’s mostly payback, although I would hope one day to cinch myself enough moola to secure Beth’s and Ryan’s college education. It’s possible.
But my thoughts won’t stay on business. The sight of my empty old ranchero, that ugly FOR SALE sign...the memories there with my kids. These images just won’t stay out of my head but minutes at a time.
The Creeper only took Beth. Susan kidnapped both my children.
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