Large Man with Dead Body: Who's that then?
The Dead Collector: I dunno, must be a king.
Large Man with Dead Body: Why?
The Dead Collector: He hasn't got shit all over him.
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Fred was in trouble. When he left school last May, Bulstrode had told him, “No more money until you’re back in school. None, young man. Not one thin dime!” So, Fred had cashed a bond and lived off that as well as a credit card his father was unaware of. But a few weeks ago, Bulstrode had exploded after reading the credit card statement and canceled it. So Fred, on the verge of broke, had attempted to turn things around by playing the ponies. As is so often the case, this started off well and then began heading rapidly downhill. On the verge of burning through all his bond cash, he decided to mix it up a little and started making baseball bets. That’s when things got really bad.
He was into his bookie for $5000 and had no idea of where to get it. His father would bluster and stomp and tell Fred “we reap what we sow” and “no one ever bailed me out” and then refuse to give him the money. His mother was under strict orders not to give Fred money. She’d sneak him some cash here and there, but five thousand was more than she could get away with under the wire.
Fucking Cubs! If it weren’t for the fucking Cubs he’d have won his last parley.
He had one hope. It was his 25th birthday and he’d told his mother he wanted cash. She assured him she’d pry open his father’s tight fist. He probably wouldn’t get enough money to make good on his debt, but it might be enough to buy him an extension.
Susan had arranged a birthday dinner for the three of them at Poise (one of L.G.E.’s posher presentations) to celebrate. Rosie had declined an invitation to join, claiming pressing social obligations. All Rosie’s social obligations were pressing. This sucked for Fred, though, since it meant their father would be in a bad mood. On the other hand, at least Tré wouldn’t be there for Fred to suffer in comparison to.
Fred did his best at dinner. Bulstrode was preoccupied and crabby about something. But Fred tried to weasel his way into good graces by being sweet and solicitous to his mother. He extolled the virtues of the food and talked about how great the ambience was. He was gratifyingly curious about the rebrand and the state of the business. And congratulated his father full-throatedly for his imminent ascendance to the 4th Presbyterian Board.
During dessert and cognac, Bulstrode handed Fred an envelope from across the table. “You wanted cash,” he said. “So that’s what you got. Although, I don’t know what you need cash for, living like you do.”
Susan laughed her merry laugh. “Young people always need cash, Bully,” she said. “You were always short of cash when we started running around together, remember?”
“I guess I was,” said Bulstrode, smiling (and sweating) a little.
Fred opened the envelope carefully, pinning all his hopes on his father’s slim generosity. Inside the envelope were five crisp hundred dollar bills. Not nearly enough. Disappointment registered on his face.
“So,” Bulstrode said, seething. “Five hundred dollars isn’t enough for you?”
“I’m sorry, Dad,” said Fred. “It wasn’t the money. The money is great! Thanks so much. It’s just …. something I ate disagreed with me a little. This is really terrific of you. Thank you so much!”
But it was too late. Bulstrode threw his napkin on the table and muttered, “I wish that girl at The March would take pity on you,” he said disgustedly. “She’s probably the only one who could straighten you out.”
Don’t let it surprise you that Bulstrode knows about Fred’s crush on Mary. Bulstrode has a real flair for recognizing the use that another person can be to him. This Lightweight Empire, after all, isn’t built on bricks and booze alone.
Bulstrode glowered and Fred suffered. After five minutes of a silence so tense not even Susan could break it up, Bulstrode left the table to speak to the manager about some issue he’d had with the menu or the service or anything that would restore his sense of being In Charge. Fred tried to avoid digging himself into an even deeper hole by handing four of the bills to his mother and asking her to keep it safe for him. Susan pocketed the four hundred dollars and told Fred she’d keep it safe for him.
They left, Fred shaking his father’s hand and saying, “Really, Dad. Thank you so much for the great meal and money.”
Bulstrode nodded briskly and then handed his valet check to the hostess.
Fred left after kissing his mother on the cheek.
Fred took his $100 to Sidetracks. There he bought himself a beer, tipped $2 and then promptly lost the remaining $95 on horses who would not run as they ought.
Fred was in trouble.
He decided to go to The March, where he was sure he could count on Caleb to stake him to a drink.
He could use one.
Fred sat down at the bar and asked Caleb for a beer. “I’m broke, though,” he said. “Can you spot me one?”
“What kind of a manager would I be,” asked Caleb, opening a Budweiser and placing it on a napkin in front of Fred. “If I begrudged the owner’s son a beer or two.”
Fred smiled and sipped his beer. “All things being equal, Caleb, I’m pretty sure Dad is more interested in keeping you happy than in keeping me happy. But so long as you’re in a generous mood, how about a shot of whiskey too?”
Caleb poured himself and Fred one. They clinked and drained them and then quietly watched the sports score crawl on ESPN together.
“Fucking Cubs,” said Fred, despondently.
“Yep,” said Caleb. “I think the official name change goes through next week: The Chicago Fucking Cubs.”
“Mary working tomorrow?” asked Fred.
“Every weekday,” said Caleb, grinning. “Same as the last two years.”
Fred smiled a little goofily and thought about Mary. He decided to bring her some good coffee the next morning. He’d go home now, get a good night’s sleep, and start off his morning with Mary tomorrow. Then he’d take his $400 to his bookie, Wayne. He’d give him the money and tell him there would be more coming. He could get a job or sell something. He just needed to relax. He just needed a little perspective.