Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The March, Chapter 58: The Story Comes Out

Chapter 57

“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits eighty-eight miles an hour, you're going to see some serious shit.”

 – Back to the Future

The NBA playoffs were in full swing.  On any given game night, crowds sat glued to the TVs, nursing beers.  If the Bulls won, they stayed and celebrated.  If they lost (and they only did that twice), they stayed and commiserated.  The whole city was in thrall to its basketball team.  Chicago was hungry for a championship.

But basketball games, unlike football, basketball or hockey, don’t lend themselves to heavy consumption.  In basketball too much happens with too few breaks.  Even during halftimes, the patrons were too busy dissecting the action thus far to order extra drinks.  It’s in that way that even though the bar might be crowded, the bartender isn’t busy.

It was during such a halftime, when most of the bar was arguing whether John Paxson or Michael Jordan was more reliable from the key, that Will was relieved at his door shift and joined John Farebrother, Wally Cadwallader and Mary at the bar.  Caleb leaned companionably against the back bar, sipping a cup of coffee.  Mary was fending off another sales pitch from Wally. Farebrother was uncommonly quiet.  He had a story to tell and was waiting for Will.

“Will,” said Farebrother, when Will sat down next to him.  “I was hoping you’d join us here tonight.  I have a story to tell you and I was hoping to be able to tell you amongst friends.”

“Sounds good,” said Will, expecting Farebrother to regale him with some juicy tale out of Chicago’s sordid political past.  Will asked for a draw of Budweiser and settled in to listen.

“Um,” said Farebrother, starting off more hesitantly than was his wont.  “You are aware that a man died in the L.G.E. offices last week?”

“Sure,” said Will.  “Everyone knows that.”

Caleb, Wally and Mary were quiet, wary of what Farebrother was up to.

“Before his demise,” Farebrother continued.  “He sat with me right here at this bar and told me some things.”

“Probably all lies,” said Wally.  “You should stop chatting up the derelicts that wander in here.”

“Not lies, Wally,” said Farebrother. “I’ve done my due diligence before deciding to tell Will what was told me and what I hope, given Will’s blessing, to become a corker of a story in the Reader.”

“My blessing,” said Will.  “What do I have to do with it?”

“Are any of you aware,” said Farebrother.  “Of how Bulstrode got the capital to fund his rapid acquisition of this bar and the ones following it?”

“Before my time,” said Wally.  “He’s always been loaded since I knew who he was.”

“I’ve heard rumors,” said Caleb.  “Just rumors.  And you know how bars are.  These drunks are like high school girls when they get a sniff of some good gossip.”

“They are!” said Will.  “The people here do gossip like cheerleaders!”

“Sometimes gossip is nothing but lies,” said Farebrother. “But sometimes there’s a kernel of truth in it.  I’ve heard people talking about a woman that Bulstrode had an affair with.  A married woman, older, who was politically connected and greased the wheels to get him started.”

“That’s what I’ve heard too,” said Caleb. “Sordid, but not criminal.”

“During my conversation with Karl Rafferty,” said Farebrother.  “I got to understand that this is the barest bones version of what happened. He told me the whole story and, Will, this directly impacts you.”

Will looked at him skeptically.  “Me?” he asked.

“The woman he had the affair with was your maternal grandmother, Will,” Farebrother continued.  “Ellinore Ladislaw.  She had an affair with Bulstrode back when you were a baby.  She loved him.  She trusted him.  And when she got sick, she named Bulstrode the executor of her estate and asked him to make sure your mother got the money. Bulstrode said he couldn’t find her and kept the money.  And there was money, Will.  Money that should have gone to you.”

The four were silent for a few moments.

“Fuck,” said Mary.

“That about sums it up,” said Wally, looking concernedly at Will.

Will was quiet.

“Are you sure of all this, Farebrother?” asked Mary.

“I’ve been digging around all week,” said Farebrother.  “James Bulstrode was the executor of Ellinore Ladislaw’s will.  And there was a good sum of money that went to him.  They’d kept their affair pretty quiet, but it turns out it wasn’t only Karl Rafferty who knew about it. I looked up some of Ellinore’s friends from those days.  They’d known about ‘her bartender.’  It all lined up as Rafferty said, Mary.  Will, this is all true.”

“Will,” asked Caleb, gently.  “You understand that this could be good news.  It sounds like Bulstrode owes you some money.”

“I don’t understand,” said Will.  “My grandmother knew where we were.  Roughly.  I mean, I think she knew where we were. Why didn’t she just tell my mother herself?”

“She probably knew, like you said, roughly where you were,” said Farebrother.  “But I think the only people who know why your grandmother didn’t find you herself are dead now. Rafferty says she told Bulstrode.  Bulstrode might could make a convincing case that he tried to find you and couldn’t.  Still, he’s been telling people for a quarter century now that he built this business up on nothing but savvy and hard work.  And that lie in and of itself is pretty damning.”

“Maybe he did find my mom,” said Will.  “She wouldn’t have wanted that money.”

“She would have wanted it for you,” said Mary.  “Or, shit, she would have donated to some cause or other.  Besides, if she’d turned it down, Bulstrode would have made sure she signed something.”

That was true, thought Will.  He would have.

“Will,” Wally continued.  “This is rough.  But it’s also good news for you.”

Will was silent.

He went on.  “Look, you’re in school on loans now.  You could walk out of grad school free and clear.  You could buy yourself a little condo and get started with your life.  The money Bulstrode owes you can help you get started.”

“I guess,” said Will.  “I just need to process this.  I’m kind of confused.”

“Think logically about it,” said Caleb, gently.  “Get organized.  The way I see it, there are two issues here.  The first is how do you get the money.  And, you know, I’m not even sure you need to make a legal claim.  My guess is that Bulstrode will just hand it over.  Like Farebrother said, this story is going to expose Bulstrode for a liar.  He’s not going to want to drag it out.  The second issue is how do you feel about this story going public?”

“Yeah,” said Mary.  “On the downside, everyone will know your shit.  On the upside, everyone will know Bulstrode’s shit.”

“That’s a hell of an upside,” said Wally, repulsed by the story in light of Bulstrode’s unshakable attitude of moral superiority.

“I think I’m OK with it,” said Will.  “But I think I need to talk to my cousin first.  Right?”

“You talk to whomever you want to,” said Farebrother.  “Get all the advice you can. But, remember, this is your story.”

Helluva story, thought Will, suddenly forced to rethink his whole history.  All his life he’d been told that his grandmother had wasted her money; that she’d been foolish and spendthrift. He’d believed the whole of his mother’s family was careless, that he was loveless.

But maybe that wasn’t true.  Farebrother had brought him evidence, of a sort, that Ellinore had thought of her daughter when she was dying, thought of him.  Maybe this family rift wouldn’t have been so final if both his mother and grandmother had only managed to live a little longer, or had put their faith in each other instead of social movements and James fucking Bulstrode.

Will thought of his mother.  He had loved her so much.  And she’d loved him.  He thought of sitting on the hospital bed with his mother at the end.  She’d told him that it was OK leaving this world knowing that there would be someone left who loved her; that loving him and being loved by him was her legacy.

It made him feel so sad to think that Ellinore had died with only Bulstrode’s cheap promises left to anchor her soul to this world.

But even in these sad reckonings, he began to see one door suddenly open.  Or, more to the point, he saw a door he was ready close.

The March, Chapter 57: Dirty Martinis in the Afternoon

Chapter 56

Man, you're the hottest thing since sunburns! 
-Better Off Dead

Entirely unaware of Bulstrode’s fierce rationalizations, Ellinore’s grandson, Will, awoke on the wrong side of the bed.  He was hungover, irritated, and touchy.  He definitely did not feel like going to school.  He didn’t feel like studying or reading or anything. He felt like indulging his bad mood and checking out entirely for the day.  He called up Rosie to see if she wanted to hang out.

Hector had called that morning and set up her audition at Lobo.  Rosie was still in Tré’s apartment, but their relationship had fallen apart.  She lay in his bed, phone in her lap, scared of what the future held.  Either she’d be good and get offered a job in New York and then be too scared to move by herself.  Or she’d bomb and end up stuck here in Chicago.  Both options were equally terrible.  She was glad to get the call from Will.  She instructed him to bring champagne and a board game.

Will knocked on her door at about noon with a bottle of Korbel and Battleship.  They drank the wine straight from the bottle, which they kept in the middle of the coffee table next to the game.

“E-7,” said Will, making a wild guess.  “So, have you picked out something to wear for the big night?”

“Miss,” she said.  “I’m toying with a couple of looks.  I’m thinking of trying understated.  B-7.”

“Shit, hit,” said Will. “I don’t think understated is a good idea.  But I also don’t think you really know what understated means.  E-9?”

“Miss, dumbass,” she said.  “You’ve been trying E’s the whole game and keep missing.  Stop. “ She stretched her legs out beneath the coffee table and settled her feet in Will’s lap. He massaged them as they played.

Before too long, the champagne was gone and Rosie had sunk Will’s battleship.  Neither of them felt even a little bit buzzed.  All those nagging thoughts were still nagging.

“I’ve got a bottle of vodka and some olives,” said Rosie.  “Let’s have dirty martinis and you can help me pick an outfit for my Lobo show.”

“Sounds perfect,” said Will.  “I’ll help you with your set list too.”

“I don’t need any help with my set list,” said Rosie.  “I’ve got that worked out already.  But I’m not quite sure what I want to look like yet.”

They went into the kitchen where Rosie pulled a bottle of vodka from the freezer.  You know, you shouldn’t keep vodka in the freezer.  It makes it too cold to melt the ice you pour it over, resulting in a drink that's too strong.  Then again,  too strong cocktail might have been just what Rosie and Tré were looking for.  Rosie poured the vodka into an iced shaker along with a bit of the olive juice and shook it vigorously.  She poured them into martini glasses and handed one to Will, who was settled onto the couch, picking idly at Tré’s guitar.  Rosie went into the bedroom and tried on her first outfit.

She emerged a bit later wearing a thrift store wedding dress that she’d accessorized with a tacky 70’s era necktie and combat boots.  She felt like it made an interesting statement.

Will laughed so hard he spilled his too strong drink and was tasked with making more.

Rosie’s emerged from the bedroom a second time, this time wearing bike shorts and a sports bra, accessorized with Bootsy Collins sunglasses, a neon boa and gold stilettos.

“That’s more like it,” said Will, beginning to feel a little loose.  “Clearly, groove is in your heart.” 

“Derivative,” she said. “Got it.”

“I didn't say that, Rosie,” said Will.  “Here’s your drink.”  He handed her the martini he’d mixed and she took it into the bedroom to try on her third ensemble.

Will sat on the couch with the guitar and tried to remember how to play Blackbird.

Rosie’s third outfit was a black lace bra and half slip, bare feet, blonde hair tousled, lipstick artfully smeared.

“Whoa,” said Will, stopping midway through a strum.  “You look…um… whoa.”

“That’s more like what I was going for,” said Rosie, sipping her drink.  “Ugh.  This drink is terrible.  The ones I make are so much better.  Maybe if I don’t make it as a DJ, I can start bartending.” She joined Will on the couch and stretched her legs out, feet in his lap.  Will began rubbing her feet through the haze from too strong drinks.  They were quiet for a bit.

After a while, Will smiled, “You’d make a lot of money as a bartender.  No doubt. The waitresses would probably hate you, though.”

“Because all their customers would come to my bar,” said Rosie.

“Well, that and because you’d be slow with their drinks and you wouldn’t ever do the dishes,” said Will, eyes fixed on the lower half of her body, his finger running gently up and down her foot, up to her knee, up a little higher.  “Maybe you could work with Brooke.  She’s an awesome bartender.”

Rosie didn’t like it that Will had invoked another girl.  Not when she was sitting on the couch in her underwear, not while he was rubbing her legs. 

“I guess I could get one of The March losers to work with me,” she said.  “They can do all the grunt work.  Brooke or Mary or someone.”

“Brooke and Mary aren’t losers,” said Will, his hands stopping their idle path up and down her legs.  “They’re both great girls.”

“Oh, you know,” said Rosie.  “Mary is so… blah and Brooke is even more boring.  Neither of them have any, you know, pizzazz.”  She leaned forward as she said it, putting her cleavage front and center.

“You’re just being a bitch,” said Will.  “Brooke is amazing!  She’s interesting and beautiful.  You’re just jealous because she’s smarter than you.”

Rosie was hurt.  And mad.  Will was always hanging around. He obviously wanted to fuck her.  Why was he comparing her like that to Brooke?  “Everyone wants me,” she thought.  “Not Brooke.  Me.”

“She’s not as great as you think,” said Rosie, nastily. “Why was she fucking your gross old uncle?  There’s something wrong there and you know it.”

“Fuck you, Rosie,” said Will.  “You don’t know anything!”

That’s when Tré came home.  He looked at Rosie – bra, JBF hair and half in the bag.

“What the hell is going on here,” he asked. Things might have changed, but he didn’t think Rosie would go so far as to sleep with someone else in his apartment.  Or at all.

“Nothing, Tré,” said Will.  “I’m getting the fuck out of here. Thanks for a depressing afternoon, Rosie.  I hope your audition goes well and you go away.”

Will exited the apartment. Slammingly.

“What the fuck, Rosie?” asked Tré.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” she said.  “Will is in love with Brooke and we got drunk and got in a fight.  I just look like this because I was trying out outfits since my audition at Lobo got scheduled.  I don’t want to talk about it or Will.  Why are you home so early?  What happened?”

Tré decided, in light of all that had happened that day, to just let it go.  “Some guy broke into the L.G.E. offices last night. He got drunk and did a bunch of blow and died sitting at your Dad’s desk.”

“Holy shit,” said Rosie.

“I knew the guy,” said Tré, still standing.  “Sort of.  He knows your father from the old days, back when he was a bartender at The March.  I guess he did some time downstate and when he got out, he started hanging around, trying to get something off your Dad.  But, now he’s dead.  It was weird.”

“Sounds like it,” said Rosie.  “Daddy must be freaking out.”

“Yeah,” said Tré.  “He is.”

Tré left Rosie sitting on the couch, half drunk and half naked and locked himself in the bathroom where he took a long shower. When he came out, she was gone.

Will took deep breaths of spring air while he walked home.  He did like Brooke. He liked Brooke a lot.  Fuck it, it was just time he admitted it: he was in love with Brooke.  And he thought she liked him too.  But everything was so complicated and people would be such assholes about it if they got together.  Everyone thought there was something sleazy going on with her relationship with Teddy. And if she started dating Will so soon after that affair ended, everyone would believe the gossip that she’d cheated on him with Will.  They’d believe that she was in it with Teddy for money or something.  They’d believe the worst because that’s what people liked to believe.

The right thing to do was to leave her be.

And he’d leave Rosie be too.  What the fuck crawled up her ass, anyway?  They were in her boyfriend’s apartment and she was pissed at him for being into Brooke?  Bitch!

It was a lot easier being mad at Rosie than it was being in love with Brooke.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The March, Chapter 56: Regret

Chapter 55

The world is made for people who aren't cursed with self awareness
- Bull Durham

The next day, Tré arrived at the L.G.E. offices at the same time that Karl Rafferty’s corpse was being wheeled out by the coroner.

He walked in, shocked, and looked at Wally Cadwallader, who was standing behind his desk giving a statement to a policewoman.  Bulstrode stood in front of his office, looking blankly around.  A detective was gathering evidence.

“It was such a shock,” said Wally.  “I noticed coming down the hall that the door was wide open. I thought maybe it was Tré or Bully.  But then I walked into Bully’s office and there he was… dead on the floor. God, it was awful!”

“What happened,” asked Tré.  “What’s going on?”

“Oh my god, Tré,” said Wally.  “Someone broke in and then died here!”

“It was a man named Karl Rafferty,” said the detective.  “Did you know him?”

Tré’s mouth opened and closed a few times.  He couldn’t quite think of what to say.  He was shocked and confused and very grateful when Wally Cadwallader came from around the desk and hugged him.  “I know, honey,” he said.  “It’s an awful shock.”

“Raff is dead,” Bulstrode said to Tré. “I took your advice and left after you called me, but I guess I forgot to lock up.  He came in and drank some cognac and did some drugs and just …died.”

Over the next few minutes, Tré, Bulstrode and Wally reconstructed the series of events: Bulstrode had known the dead man, many years ago.  He’d resurfaced following a drug-related stint in prison.  He’d been trying to ingratiate himself into Bulstrode’s life.  He’d made a nuisance of himself, hanging around the L.G.E. offices and bars.  When he’d been asked to leave one of those bars, Tré had been there and warned Bulstrode that he was on his way. In his hurry to avoid another tiresome confrontation, Bulstrode had rushed out and neglected to lock the doors.

Tré and Wally corroborated all that Bulstrode told the police.  It was all true.  Karl Rafferty was a man from Bulstrode’s past; a man anyone would be eager to avoid.

Not too long after, the police and the coroner left.  They didn’t expect much more from Bulstrode.  The man had died of a drug-related heart attack, as was clear from the security tapes. If Bulstrode needed a copy of the police report, he could get one from the police station; but since there’d been no loss or damage outside of a bottle of cognac, it probably wouldn’t be worth the hit to the premiums to alert the insurance company.  Best just to carry on.  Thank you and enjoy the rest of your day.

Wally reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of bourbon he kept there for emergencies.  He poured a stiff measure into three coffee cups and passed them around.  “May he rest in peace, I guess,” said Wally.

When the drinks were empty, Wally said, “I’m going home now, Bully.  I’m going to go home and drink a bottle of wine in my underwear, watch TV and do my best to avoid thinking about the sight of that dead man in your office.  I think you should both do the same.”

“Wally’s right, Tré,” said Bulstrode. “Just go home.  I think we could all use a day off.”

“OK, Mr. Bulstrode,” said Tré.  “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Tré turned to leave and noticed Bulstrode heading back to his own office.

“Aren’t you leaving too,” Tré asked.

“No,” said Bulstrode.  “I need to get a few things together.  You two go on.  I’m not far behind you.”
After they left, Bulstrode leaned against the desk in his office and picked up the overturned bottle of Courvoisier. It was only about half empty.  Bully took a long pull from the bottle and tried to square his feelings about what had happened.

Karl Rafferty, the blackmailer, the embarrassment, the man who’d made his life a living hell for months now was dead, out of his life.  And it was none of his fault.  Raff’s death was his own responsibility.  He’d snorted poison up his nose and down his gullet.  He’d killed himself.  Bulstrode was innocent.  He ought to feel relieved.  He tried to feel relieved.

But he didn’t feel relieved.  He felt guilty and sad.  He hadn’t meant for Raff to die.  He’d meant for him to be arrested, to head back to prison. 

But instead he was dead.

Bulstrode took another long pull off the bottle.

It felt like just a few days ago that he’d been young and handsome and fun.  The cool bartender at The March.  He could see skinny little Karl Rafferty grinning up at him, worshipping him, laughing out loud at all Bully’s jokes.  They were like that old Looney Toons cartoon with the yappy little dog who hero-worshiped the bulldog.  Bulstrode had loved Raff’s admiration; hell, he’d courted it.  And Bully had treated Raff like a pet, tossing scraps of attention his way back then when he was young and handsome and all the girls liked him. He’d never treated Raff like a friend.  Raff had always been easy to mistreat.

When things went bad for Raff, and the drugs came into the picture, it was right as Bulstrode was becoming successful.  On the verge of all that success, Bulstrode couldn’t have Raff hanging around, his already big mouth loosened up by booze and cocaine.  And Raff had done drugs and sold drugs at The March.  But the accusation that led to his arrest?  That was made by a down on his heels actor that Bulstrode had hired. 

Once Raff was gone, Bulstrode forgot him.  It was like he’d never really been there at all.

He’d treated Raff badly.  There was no denying it.

And Raff wasn’t even the person that Bully had treated the worst.

He took another long pull from the bottle.

He’d liked Ellinore Ladislaw, at the beginning.  At the beginning, she was younger than he was now.  Maybe Susan’s age.  She’d been a little faded, a little too eager, but she was still pretty and she was still sexy.  And she was fun.  They’d had a lot of laughs, tucked away in the narrow bed in that little flat of his.

He remembered her lying in that bed.  After, she’d sit up and wrap the sheet around her in just the way that hid the parts she didn’t like and showed off the ones she did; a shapely leg emerging just so from the white-ish sheet.  He could see her leaning forward to accept a light, hair mussed but hanging, just so, gorgeously over one eye.  Bully knew she was arranging herself, but he appreciated it.  And now, all these years later, he found himself touched to the point of tears remembering her.
She was as fleeting as his memories of her were.  It was as though she were still standing with her hand on the doorsill, almost out, but lingering, taking one last, longing look.

He felt a heavy regret settle over him.  He’d broken her poor, tender heart and he’d stolen money from her dying daughter.  He couldn’t expect to be forgiven for that.  He’d built his beery empire on the ashes of people he’d failed and betrayed and constructed a respectable, disciplined facsimile of a decent man over his old, careless self.

He was a fraud and he knew it.

Another pull from the bottle of Courvoisier.

All the people he’d defrauded were dead now (save one… save one he’s not thought of).

Now he had his own family to look out for, his own beloved wife to keep safe.  It made no sense for any of it to come out now.  He had to keep safe what was his and he was glad that Raff was no longer around to threaten him.

He regretted what he’d done. Sure.  But it was done. 

Bulstrode stood up and put the top back on the bottle of Courvoisier.  He left it sitting on the credenza behind his desk.  He neatened his papers, straightened his jacket, smoothed his pants and left.

He made sure to lock the door on his way out.

The March, Chapter 55: An Opportunity Arises

Chapter 54

Let's have a bachelor party with chicks and guns and firetrucks and hookers and drugs and booze

-Bachelor Party

Mondays were a day for various March related administrative chores: scheduling, inventory, paycheck pick-up, etc.  On any given Monday afternoon, you’d most likely find an irritated Caleb sitting at the bar or in the office with papers and a cup of coffee in front of him.  March employees came in and out, usually grabbing a beer along with their paychecks, chatting with Mary before heading on about their day.  John Farebrother liked to visit The March on Monday afternoons.  He whiled away the hours in a comfortable corner, sipping beers and observing the hubbub of tavern-y administration.  It was a little like being backstage.

On this particular Monday, John Farebrother was enjoying an Old Style and watching the Cubs.  Mary perched on a barstool behind the bar, highlighting a brief.  Caleb wandered in and out of the office.  Karl Rafferty sat at the small table by the jukebox, working his way through a pitcher, agitated.  Rafferty was tired of waiting.  He was ready to unload.

He kept looking up at John Farebrother.  Farebrother looked like a man who’d be receptive to a story. Raff was right, Farebrother was a man who was receptive to a story and he’d noticed Rafferty’s frequent glances in his direction. He ordered a shot of whiskey and then nodded over to Rafferty, “Care to join me, friend?”

Rafferty nodded cheerfully and carried his pitcher over to the bar.  Mary poured another shot of Jameson for Raff and then returned to her brief.

They drank their shots, Farebrother toasting to easy Monday afternoons.

Raff rolled a cigarette and the two sat in friendly silence for a bit, sipping their beers, watching the game.  After a few minutes, seemingly by way of icebreaker, Rafferty said sort of generally, “I used to work here, you know.  It’s been a long time, but I used to.”

“Mm hmmm,” Mary said noncommittally.  She was used to people from the Before Times strolling in and trying to recapture the glory days.  She was usually charitable enough to indulge them in their remembrances, but there was something about this guy that put her off.

“It was different back then,” said Raff, looking around.

“Everything was, my friend,” said Farebrother.

“My name is Karl Rafferty,” said Raff.  “Most people call me Raff.”

“John Farebrother,” rejoined Farebrother, more in tune than Mary to the potential for a good story.  “How about another Jameson, Raff?  Mary set us up, would you?”

Mary grabbed the bottle and shot an irritated look at Farebrother.  Why was he encouraging this weasely guy?  Farebrother was such a shit stirrer.  He ignored the look and turned his attention to Raff.

“Thanks,” said Raff, tipping the shot back without waiting for Farebrother.  And then, with a pitiful attempt to feign casualness, continued. “There was a bartender here, back in the day, named Bulstrode.  We called him Bully.  He still around?”

“Owns the place now,” said Farebrother, certain that Raff knew that already.

“Really,” said Raff, enjoying his strained subterfuge.  “That’s a neat trick. Didn’t have two nickels to rub together back when I knew him.”

“Doing pretty good now,” said Farebrother.  “Owns this place and a slew of others.  He’s a very successful man.  Hard to picture him slinging drinks.  He’s not really a people person, if you know what I mean.”

“He was back then,” said Raff.  “The ladies loved him.”

“Really,” said Mary, surprised.

“Oh yeah,” said Raff.  “He’d do this thing where he lit a girl’s cigarette while looking her straight in the eye. They’d practically throw their panties at him.”

Mary rolled her eyes and decided she was done with that conversation.  “That’s fucking lovely,” she said, gathering up her things and moving down to the far side of the bar.  She determined to make drink orders an onerous task for the creepy little man.

“Mary,” said Caleb, who’d stationed himself at the far end to work out the schedule.  “Can you hand me the phone?”

Caleb was uninterested in joining a walk down memory lane.  He was too busy navigating the irritating corporate interest L.G.E. had taken since the rebrand.  Tré had scheduled another one of his little promotions at The March and Caleb was unsure how to staff it and unhappy to have to deal with it. 

Tré was always scheduling these promos at The March these days, trying to increase business from the yuppie crowd.  It wasn’t a group that Caleb was particularly eager to court and Tré’s promotions always seemed like more trouble than they were worth.  This one was a goddamn martini event.  Martinis were a pain in the ass to make. Martini glasses broke if you stared at them too hard.
Caleb took the phone from Mary and called Tré.  “Do I need extra staff for this martini thing?  And I’m going to need more goddamn shakers and martini glasses.”

“Love the enthusiasm, Caleb,” said Tré, sarcastically. “Regular staff will be fine. I’ll bring you down some glasses and shakers myself.  I was planning to anyway.”

Tré was growing weary of the resistance to his events from staff.  Martinis were making a comeback and the L.G.E. flagship needed to be out in front of these trends.  Caleb was a nice guy, but he cried foul if asked to do anything beyond pouring shitty domestic beer out of a tap.  It was working on Tré’s nerves.

Caleb would have balked at Tré’s assessment of his professionalism.  But it is true that Caleb believed that no drink should include more than three ingredients.  And ice is an ingredient.  He handed the phone back to Mary and glanced down the other end of the bar at Raff and Farebrother.  Raff was talking a mile a minute and Farebrother was clearly very interested in what he was saying.  But Farebrother collected stories the way other people collect stamps.  Caleb doubted Raff had much interesting to say.

Caleb was wrong.

Tré walked into The March about 15 minutes later, followed by Gio and Brooke, who’d come in to collect paychecks.  Gio and Brooke sat down next to Caleb.  Tré stood behind them with his box of glasses and shakers, looking around, marveling at how great the place looked.

“Everyone hates a fucking martini promotion, Tré,” said Mary, breaking into his reverie.

“Here we go,” thought Tré. 

“Seriously, man,” said Gio. “They’re pretentious and people who drink them tip for shit.”

“Tip for shit and get wasted because they don’t understand it’s four bounces of straight booze,” said Mary.

“I hate those glasses,” said Brooke. “When you wash them, it seems like the stems just fall off.”

“Jesus Christ, you guys,” said Tré, feeling besieged.  “It’s just a fucking martini, it’s not that hard.”

“You sound just like a guy who’s never tended bar in his life,” said Gio.  “They’re a pain in the ass.  There’s always someone complaining that their dirty martini isn’t dirty enough or that they wanted vodka instead of gin.”

Brooke felt sorry for Tré.  “Well, we’ll survive,” she said. “It’s not like Tré is trying to piss us off.” 

“Yeah, you’ll survive,” said Tré, misreading her tone. “And if any of you have other ideas for promotions, all you have to do is let me know.”  He set the box of martini glasses down on a stool and looked behind the bar.  “Hey! What happened to the blender I sent down?”

“It broke,” said Mary, smiling slyly.  “Someone dropped a fork in it and when I turned it on, it just broke.”  

“That’s the third blender to break here,” said Tré, silently giving up on blended drinks at The March.  “Must be some kind of blender curse.”

“Must be,” said Mary, gratified to sense him admitting defeat.  She liked Tré, but he was a company man, Bulstrode’s boy.  She didn’t trust him.  Gio was a little leery too.  Tré was too tight with the corporate types.  Gio was attached to The March, as much an idea as a place, and he didn’t want it fucked up.  Brooke liked Tré and she trusted him.  She was abidingly grateful to Tré for sensing the value in her recycling idea and had faith that his corporate endeavors came from a place of good faith.

“Do you need any help rolling out the recycling plan at the other places you’re rebranding,” she said.  

“I could help.”

“No, I’m good,” Tré said, grateful for the change in subject.  “Bulstrode is totally on board, which means it’s happening.”

As he spoke, Raff walked past them and into the bathroom again.  He didn’t notice Tré. When he came out, he was wild-eyed, picking at the shirt in front of his chest.

“Shit,” said Tré.  “I don’t think that guy is supposed to be here.”

“Do you know him,” asked Mary.  “He looks pretty rough.”

For some reason, Tré didn’t feel like he ought to tell Mary how he knew Raff.  He suspected Bulstrode wouldn’t like it.  “He looks wired, is what he looks,” was all he said.

“I think you’re right,” said Mary.  “What do you think, Dad?  Should I give him the boot?”

“Yeah,” said Caleb, checking him out.  “Go take his pitcher.”

Mary walked to the end of the bar and removed Raff’s pitcher and glass, saying, “Sir, I think it’s time for you to go.”

“What the fuck,” said Raff, rubbing hard at the skin over his chest.  “Why are you taking my fucking beer?”  He looked at Farebrother.  “Can you believe this shit?”

“I tend to side with Mary in situations like this,” said Farebrother.  “Perhaps you’d better move on.  But I have really enjoyed talking with you.”

“Fuck you,” said Raff, outraged. “I’ve barely had two beers. Do you know who I am?  I know Bulstrode.  I fucking own him.  This is on its way to being my bar.  You’ll be working for me soon, you bitch.”

Mary was a pro at cutting people off and wasn’t too bothered by the invective.  Caleb was bothered.  He approached Raff and said in a steady, warning voice, “It’s time for you to go, sir.”  (Ever notice how people only get called ‘sir’ when they’re in trouble?) 

As he spoke, Gio and Tré moved to stand behind Caleb.

This is an effective technique when it comes to removing an obstreperous guest from a bar.  Don’t touch him, don’t use harsh language, just make sure he can see he’s outnumbered and that there’s no way he for him to win the fight.

Tré tried to keep his face behind Caleb’s head, worried about what would happen if Raff recognized him. Fortunately, Raff was focused on Caleb..

“Fine,” he said, face florid.  “I’ll fucking go.  But I’m going to tell Bully what you guys did and you’ll all be fucking fired.”

Farebrother shook his head.

When Raff left, Brooke asked, “Do you think we should call the police?  He didn’t look so good.”

“How much did you serve him, Mary,” asked Caleb.

“Half a pitcher of beer and a couple of shots of Jameson that this fucking idiot bought him.”  She pointed at Farebrother.

“Hey, I was just listening to a pretty entertaining story,” said Farebrother.  “It was definitely worth the cost of a couple of shots of Jameson.

Caleb ignored Farebrother. “Well, I’m pretty sure whatever he was taking in the bathroom had more to do with how messed up he was than the booze we served him.  Regardless, he’s gone now.  Lookit, Brooke, can you pick up a waitressing shift on Thursday?”

People getting kicked out was part and parcel of running a bar. No one thought too much about it after he was gone.

Caleb and Brooke huddled over the schedule. 

Mary and Gio carried on complaining about the martini promo.

Farebrother sipped his beer and weighed the likelihood of truth behind the titillating tales that Raff had told him.  They seemed oddly likely.

Tré suspected that Raff would make good on his threat to visit Bulstrode, so he headed into the office to use the phone.

“Mr. Bulstrode,” he said when Bully answered his direct dial.  “Rafferty is on his way to see you.  He was hanging out here at the March, doing a pile of shit in the bathroom.  I think he either did too much or did something bad.  But he’s messed up and on his way to the office.  Maybe you should just lock up and leave.”

Bulstrode hung up the phone.  It was just going on 4:30.  There was no one else in the office.  Tré was right – it would be best to avoid the confrontation.  But, before he left, Bulstrode unlocked one of the liquor cabinets, the one that held the expensive stuff. He left a bank deposit sitting on his desk.  When he left, he made sure to click on the security camera.  He neglected to lock the door.
Finally, though Bulstrode, walking out the door.  An opportunity.

When Bulstrode came into work the next morning, he expected to find the money and some booze gone.  Instead, he found Karl Rafferty slumped over his desk, a bottle of good cognac on its side, the bank envelope in his fist.

Karl Rafferty was dead.  His heart had stopped beating three sips into the bottle.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Chapter 54: All of the Bulstrodes are Miserable

Chapter 53

Why don’t you make like a tree and get outta here
-Back to the Future

Fred wished Rosie were at home more.  She sucked up all the air in the room, but she also kept the attention focused away.  She was someone else his father could be disappointed with.  And his father was so hard to deal with these days, always pissed off, looking for fights.  So Fred spent as much time in his room as possible, but sometimes he needed a break.  It was usually safe to watch Oprah with his mother.  His father was usually at work then.

Fred and Susan Bulstrode had slipped into a rhythm.  Fred would come into the TV room with a coke for himself and a Perrier for Susan.  They’d sit on opposite ends of the couch and Susan would remind Fred of today’s Oprah topic.

During commercials, they’d discuss whatever Oprah was discussing. Sometimes, she interviewed movie stars.  Sometimes she talked about domestic violence.  She talked about her weight a lot.  Fred decided not to be embarrassed about his daily Oprah sessions with his mother.  It was about the only time he didn’t think of how bored he was at school, what crap he was at law, or how Mary remained cordial, but not close. Instead, he just thought Oprah thoughts.

Susan enjoyed the time with her son.  Fred was handsome and sweet and easy to be with.  She had no doubt that he would finish school, become a lawyer, find a nice young woman to settle down with and then there would be grandchildren.  Eventually things would settle down with Rosie too.  Maybe she’d marry that nice Tré boy.  He seemed to be a hard worker and on his way to a good future.  Her friends would be scandalized by the interracial couple, but Susan could show how liberal and above it all she was by smiling at the match.  Once married, Rosie would give up her crazy clothes and makeup and then everyone would see how beautiful she was.  And those biracial kids are gorgeous!

Susan, as was her wont, thought everything was just fine.

Isn’t that annoying?  Susan’s propensity for manufacturing alternate reality is the stuff of legend.  Her daughter had just that morning been weeping in a diner, paralyzed by fear of striking out alone. Her son has given on any hope of finding his own path, is miserable in his unrequited love for Mary and growing more and more resentful of his father every day.  Her husband, whom she should know was not nearly as virtuous as he pretends to be, was being blackmailed.  But she managed to imagine all this unhappiness away.  She lived in an artificial reality, craven and meager.

But, if you’d been watching Oprah with Fred and Susan, you’d have been almost as content as Susan was.  Her determined sense that absolutely everything was all right permeated so intensely from her that she somehow made every environment she was in as peaceful and harmonious as she imagined it to be.

Oprah could have done a whole hour on this unique talent.

After all these years together, however, Bulstrode had developed a sometime immunity to Susan’s peace mongering.  It all depended on his mood. Some days, he just went with it (like Fred did during his morning Oprah sessions) and enjoyed the pretense.  Other days, his stress level wouldn’t allow it.  And these days, Bulstrode was stressed the fuck out.  The cocaine thing had seemed like something he’d be able to use.  But no opportunity for cashing in on that had presented itself.  Instead, he kept doling out dollars to Raff in drips and drabs, managing, by the skin of his teeth, to keep Rafferty from exposing him while insisting all the while on The March.

He couldn’t give up his flagship bar.  It was impossible.

Bulstrode was home this morning, having tried to sleep through a bad stress headache which had been exacerbated by too many whiskeys before bed.  He wandered past the TV room, and looked in silently.  He was hungover and annoyed.  Seeing Fred lounging in front of the TV sent him careening into rage.

This fucking kid is drinking the pop that I fucking paid for and watching that ridiculous TV show.  He’s not at work, he’s not studying. What the fuck did I do wrong that some black kid from god only knows where has more work fucking ethic and drive than my own fucking son?  I gave him and Rosie too much and now they’re worthless.

Even though his back was to the doorway, Fred knew his father was there.  And he knew exactly what was running through his head. If Susan had a talent for generating peace, Bulstrode had one for fomenting enmity.  So while Bulstrode stood in his doorway, focusing his rage on Fred, Fred stared at Oprah and focused his right back.

I am so fucking sick of trying to live his fucking life. I am IN fucking school.  I am getting GOOD fucking grades.  I’m doing EXACTLY what he fucking told me to do and it’s still not good enough.

Bulstrode interrupted his thoughts by saying, sarcastically, “Having a productive morning, Fred?”

“I’m having a great morning, Dad,” spat Fred.  “Just watching Oprah with Mom.”

“Why are you two so grumpy,” said Susan.  “It’s a perfectly lovely day.”

“Especially if you have no place to be,” said Bulstrode. “Especially for a grown man still living off his parents.”

“Oh, great, Dad,” said Fred.  “Just fucking great.  I go to school, I get good grades, I’m doing the goddamn summer internship.  I’m following your plans exactly as you laid them out and you’re still not happy.  There’s nothing I can do to make you happy. So, fuck off and let me be.”

“Fred!” said Susan.  “Don’t talk to your father that way.”

“You could have done something to make me happy,” said Bulstrode.  “You should be practicing law now.  You’re 26 and just finishing up an undergrad.  That’s pitiful.”

“Bully!” Susan cried.  “What is going on with you?”

“I’m not the pitiful one,” said Fred.  “You fake everything.  You’ve faked your whole life and now you’re pissed off because I don’t fit into your little narrative.  Me and Rosie.  We were never your children.  We were just footnotes to your own fucking greatness.”

“I guess that makes me a shitty writer,” said Bulstrode.  “My daughter is a freakshow and you’re a lazy little boy.”

“Rosie is not a freakshow,” said Fred.  “And I am working hard. There’s no pleasing you because you’re a miserable person.”

“Oh, right,” said Bulstrode.  “It’s all my fucking fault.  I should just…”

“Stop it right fucking now,” said Susan.

Bulstrode and Fred stopped, shocked.

“Well, I figured the only want to get your attention was by cursing,” she said.  “So I cursed.  You two apologize.”

They stood silently and glared. Susan sighed.

“Bully,” she said.  “Sometimes it takes people a little longer to get started.  Fred is trying. He’ll be fine.  And, Fred, sometimes a father gets impatient with his children because he wants the best for you.  Now, you two shake hands.”

Fred look at his mother sadly, shook his head, and left the room.  Bulstrode looked at Susan as if to 
say, “See what I mean?”

And this made it official:  all of the Bulstrodes were miserable. Not even Oprah could make it better.

The March, Chapter 53: Things Start to Fall Apart

Chapter 52

And before you know you're feeling old
And your heart is breaking

Rosie knew that she was going to have do something to get this future she planned on started.  She wasn’t expected to win the lottery.  She wasn’t expecting a talent agent to stop her on the street and say, “Baby, I’m gonna make you a star.”  Madonna wasn’t going to pop into The March on Saturday and exclaim, “At last!  A worthy successor!”

Rosie knew if she was going to end up famous and fabulous, it was going to have to be of her own volition, and was entirely her own responsibility.

But she didn’t know what to do.  So she carried on doing what she did, but always with her eyes cast to the future.

The night she figured it all out, she was DJ-ing at The March.  She wore a tight olive tank top over a pair of fatigues she’d bought at the Army Navy store.  She wore a bandolier strapped across her chest, but instead of extra ammo, she’d pinned wrapped condoms to it.  Whenever a couple kissed or groped in front of her booth, she tossed one out.  The crowd loved it. It was salacious and socially responsible at once.

She played Salt and Pepa.  The crowd moved and Rosie lit a cigarette, blew smoke rings at the crowd.

A girl danced her way up to the DJ booth to request a song.  When she fed the tip jar that Rosie pointedly looked at, the girl drunkenly said to her, “You’re so cool.  You should totally be on MTV.”

“MTV,” thought Rosie. “I should be on MTV.”

MTV was a different beast back on those days. In those days, it wasn’t non-stop reality TV.  Instead, they featured VJ’s, super cool girls and boys who did on camera stints in between videos. Rosie was perfect for that.  How had it never occurred to her before?

When she went home that night, she turned it on.  She watched it all the next day.  She paid special attention to the women on it.  The more she watched, the more she saw herself there.  She started to put a plan into place.

L.A. was out.  New York, where MTV was headquartered, was in.

Rosie had plans to meet Tré for the grand opening of the second re-branded L.G.E joint, which was a place called Redhead’s.  Tré had repackaged it as a piano bar and was excited to show it off.  So, Rosie began costuming herself for the evening, thinking all the while of a future on MTV.

She put on a little black dress matched with patent leather stiletto pumps and stockings that were seamed up the back.  She donned a black lace fascinator over severely coiffed hair.  And red, red lipstick.

She got to Redhead’s a little early where she was greeted by her mother. They swapped an air kiss.  She tossed a light hug to her father and then sidled over to Tré and winked at him.

“Come here often, sailor,” she said.

“Damn, girl,” said Tré.  “You look fine.”

“I feel fine,” she said.  “But what’s a girl got to do to get a drink around here?”

Tré escorted her to the bar and ordered her a dirty martini.  Despite tipping generously for the drink, Rosie noticed that the bartender shot the stinkeye at Tré.  Tré didn’t notice.   When they walked away, the bartenders began complaining to each other, “Bultsrode’s boy…” their complaints began.
Rosie ignored them.  They were just jealous.

Throughout the evening, Rosie was on her best behavior.  She asked questions about the bar and was effusive in her praise.  She was polite to her father, receptive during introductions.  She chatted pleasantly with her mother, hooked her arm through Tré’s, tipped the piano player and acted, all in all, like a model corporate partner; despite the fascinator and the red, red lipstick.

At 11:00 she whispered in Tré’s ear, “Can we get the fuck out of here now?  Let’s hit Lobo.  I want to dance with my handsome man.”

Tré kissed her on the cheek and said, “Lead the way, baby.”

When they got to Lobo (cruising in past the line, natch), Hector escorted them to their favorite table.  Rosie sat down, shook her hair out of its severe bun, slipped her shoes off and put her feet up on the chair across the table.  She ordered tequila shots.  One of their club buddies came over and insisted that Tré dance with her.

“You go on, sweetie,” said Rosie.  “I’m going to give my feet a few more minutes and I want to talk to Hector anyway.”

“Hector,” she began when it was the two of them alone at the table.  “I have decided it’s finally time to get the fuck out of Chicago.  I’m going to New York.”

“It’s not like you’re living in some one horse town, you know” said Hector, whose opinion of Chicago jibed more closely with Tré’s than Rosie’s.  “I can get you a job here, DJ-ing.  You’d make some real money doing it and more of a name for yourself than you have at that little beer and shot joint you’re working at now.”

“No, Chicago’s not for me,” said Rosie.  “I’ve set my sights higher.  I’m getting a gig at MTV and you’re going to help me.”

“Oh, I am,” said Hector, smiling.  “How exactly am I going to do that?”

“There’s a Lobo in New York, correct?” said Rosie.  “Same owner and everything?”

“Yes,” said Hector.  “That is the case.”

“So the next time that owner is here,” she said.  “You’re going to let me guest DJ and tell him that you tried to give me a job here, but I wanted to go to New York. He’ll give me a job in New York.”

“It seems simpler,” said Hector.  “For you to just take a job here and then put in for a transfer.”

“My way is splashier,” said Rosie.  “And I’m ready to go now.”

“Well, all right,” said Hector.  “I’ll let you know when he’ll be here next.  Anything for you, Rosie.”

She leaned over and kissed Hector right on the mouth.  And the she headed out to the dance floor, tapped Tré on the shoulder and then jumped into his arms, wrapped her legs around his waist, and kissed him passionately.  If she had an in with the scene maker behind Lobo, Tré was bound to come with her.  They danced the night away.

Tré and Rosie left the club at a little after 4:00 and decided to get some breakfast. When the waitress approached, Tré ordered pancakes, sausage, scrambled eggs and coffee.  Rosie asked for coffee and an ashtray.

“Eat something, Rosie,” said Tré.  “You have to be starving!”

“Sure,” she said, smiling at the waitress.  “I’ll have an English muffin, plain, no butter.”

“Rosie,” said Tré.  “You have got to start eating more.”

“I’ve got some exciting news,” said Rosie, lighting a cigarette.  “Very exciting.”

“What’s up,” said Tré, reaching over to bum a cigarette from her.

“The next time the Lobo owner is there, I’m going to do a guest set as DJ,” she said.  “Hector thinks I’m right and that if he likes me enough, he’ll get me a job in the New York club.”

“I thought you wanted to move to L.A.,” said Tré.  “You want to go to New York now?

“I want us to go to New York,” she said.  “You’ve done what you set out to do. The rest of the rebrand will be easy now.  Dad can manage it on his own.  And you can get a job with Lobo.”

“Oh, I can, can I?” said Tré.  “I’ll just follow my girlfriend out to New York and get a job from her new boss.”

“Why not,” said Rosie.  “You have experience.”

“Rosie, listen to me,” said Tré.  “I have a job.  I like my job.  I like where I live.  I don’t want to go to New York.”

The waitress came by with coffee and Rosie’s English muffin.  They were silent until she left.

“I don’t want to stay here,” said Rosie.  “I can’t do what I want to do here.”

“You could DJ at Lobo,” said Tré.  “Why not there?”

“I’m not going to get on MTV if I stay in Chicago,” said Rosie.

“MTV?” asked Tré.

“Yes,” said Rosie.  “I want to be on MTV.”

“Shit,” said Tré.  “You’d be great on MTV.”

“I know,” said Rosie.  “I would be. Come with me to New York.”

“I’m not following you to New York, Rosie,” said Tré.  “I’m going to stay here and finish what I started.”

“What about what you started with me?” asked Rosie.

“I’m 25 years old, Rosie,” said Tré.  “You’re only 23.  We’re not going to spend the rest of our lives together.  Go to New York without me. You’ll be amazing.”

And then Rosie shocked Tré by bursting into tears.  She was only 23.  She was in love.  She was tired and hungry.  She was scared to be on her own in New York.  She wanted Tré to come with her and he just wouldn’t.  It was too much.  It wasn’t fair.  She cried like her heart was breaking.  Her heart was breaking.  And she was so hungry.

Tré had never seen her cry before.  He felt terrible and like crying himself.  He crossed the table and sat down next to her, wrapped his arms around her.  “Just stay with me, then” he said.  “Stay here.”

“I don’t want to stay,” she said. 

“I know,” said Tré.  “I know. I don’t want to go.”

“I know,” said Rosie.  “I know.”

The waitress came over with Tré’s breakfast.  She was unfazed by the emotional scene unfolding at her table.  They happened all the time.  She’d seen countless relationships crumbling in the dim dawn air.

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