Friday, December 26, 2008

BIG MONEY, Chapter 70 (The End)

When Beth, Ryan, and I finish eating, we walk three blocks to Carvel’s for ice cream. Though it’s fun to show and share with my children things I liked as a kid, my job as parent isn’t only to be protector and pal. Once every visit--six times a month--I exercise them like boarded horses and rein the discussion toward trails my children might not necessarily like to travel.

“So you two are studying hard in school, right?”

They both nod, Beth with somewhat less enthusiasm. Uh, oh. I used to slip in questions like this when I thought they least expected interrogation, a technique I learned watching Sipowitz. But ambush is hard these days. When I lost the element of surprise, I added the walking for ice cream.

“The grades are still good, right?” I ask. “Both of you?”

“I got all A’s and B’s for the year,” Ryan says.

Silence from my daughter.

“Beth?” I scrunch my eyebrows when she glances at me. Never underestimate disapproval as a training tool.

“Maybe I got a C or two this time,” she says.

Oh, boy. My ex-wife will have a hissy fit. Beth has been all A’s and B’s since kindergarten.

I lick my double-fudge chocolate on a sugar cone. “School’s very important,” I say. “Life is about choices. Good grades and more schooling gives you extra choices. Bad grades, no college, your career options are pretty much restaurants and hospitals. Waiting tables or changing bedpans is what our current population most craves. The Baby Boomers are eating out on their way to the nursing home.”

Ryan stares straight ahead. I may have gone too far with my explanations.

“We know the speech, Daddy,” Beth says. “We need a college education to earn the Big Money.”

After I drop Beth and Ryan at Susan’s new house, a four-bedroom ranch two blocks from the beach, I head back to Luis’s. I’m at the bar, being introduced to Luis’s girlfriend, Angelina Something, when Mr. Vick parades inside the restaurant like he’s one of the first astronauts coming home from the moon.

Talk about your favorite son. Takes him fifteen minutes just to hug and kiss his five sisters, Mr. Vick being passed from table to table like a bottle of ketchup. Shaking hands, slapping shoulders; laughing with the men between lip smacking the women.

With the Bonacellis, one virus gets you twenty cold sufferers.

An hour later we’re finally alone. Mr. Vick says, “So business is good despite the bad publicity?”

“Oh, yeah,” I say.

We’re drinking margaritas at the corner table beneath Luis’s wall-mounted television. The Yankees and Red Sox are playing in Boston. The whole U-shaped bar--a baseball bleacher section in disguise--cheers between us and the Bonacelli-Shore revelers. Much to the baseball fans’ chagrin, Luis let Mama Bones turn up the house music for dancing. The combined roar is deafening.

Mr. Vick’s coming at me slow. But he’s obviously heard what I’ve been up to. If I know Vick, he’s getting ready to jump me. Go ahead, pal. I’m ready.

“Business is real good,” I say. “Like the publicity was good for us, not bad. We lost five accounts the first day, but that was pretty much the end of it. We’ve opened one-hundred and fifty new accounts since.”

Mr. Vick nods. His eyebrows pinch. Here it comes.

“I hear Rags is trying to sell you his seventeen percent interest in Shore,” he says. “You know that’s supposed to be Carmela’s. What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Sold, actually. Escrow closed today.”

He frowns. “What?”

I stand up. “Come out back with me, Vick. I have something to show up.”

Mr. Vick just stares at me. “Carmela’s supposed to get those shares in the divorce agreement with Rags.”

I show Mr. Vick my most delicious, full-boat Carr grin.

“What divorce? Carmela’s decided she’s still in love with crazy Rags. She’s down in the Caribbean with him right now, sobering him up at Eric Clapton’s gold-plated rehab. Glad my money’s going to such a good cause.”

“You’re not getting away with this crap,” Vick says.

Wanna bet? I turn and hit the TV’s off switch, then lean over the bar and cut the music. The sudden absence of loud noise makes everyone in the restaurant stare my way. Or maybe it’s the fact I’m now standing on Luis’s bar.

“Everybody come on outside,” I say. “I have a special surprise for Vick and all the Bonacellis.”

Lots of murmuring, but nobody wants to comment on what’s tied down in the back of this giant truck I had parked in Luis’s lot. Nobody but Mr. Vick, that is.

“Is this a freaking joke?” he says.

“No. In addition to Rags’s shares, I also closed today on Walter’s seventeen percent interest in Shore.”

Mr. Vick’s face turns the color of fresh snow. “What? You bought Walter’s too?”

“As of noon today, I own fifty-one percent of Shore, Mr. Vick. You work for me now.”

Dazed, Mr. Vick glances again at the truck’s heavy load, a giant rectangular sign. The bright, red-lettered plastic will tomorrow take its place above Branchtown’s busiest street. I think it might take Vick a long time to get used to our company’s new name.

Carr Securities, Inc.

The End

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