Thursday, October 23, 2014

The March, Chapter 40: Tre's Humiliation Lifts a Spirit

Chapter 39

Yeah, I’m all right. Don’t worry.  I’m all right.  Fortunately, the ground broke my fall
-        Nightshift

Tré was in trouble.  The financial mess left in the wake of his wild clubbing days just would not be resolved.  He’d maxed out his credit card and failed to pay his rent for three months.  Since he stopped clubbing, he’d managed to pay his rent every month, but couldn’t catch up on the months he hadn’t.  If he paid extra to his landlord, he didn’t pay enough on his credit card.  Debt collectors were calling.  So he stopped paying his phone bill.  But even with that extra money and without those calls, he was still really stressed.  He was desperate to clamber out of his financial hole. 

Rosie still spent most of her nights at Tré’s apartment, but their relationship was slowly drifting into this weird amorphous thing where they passed each other and exchanged cordialities on their respective ways in and out.  Rosie got home from the clubs shortly before, and sometimes after, Tré was waking up for work.  When Tré got home, Rosie was barely awake, thinking about her look for the evening, just getting started.  Rosie spent a great deal of time honing the fine art of being Rosie. And she was getting really good at it.

She liked her weekend DJ shifts at The March.  She spun very cool records, bantered wittily with the crowd, looked fabulous, and was turning The March into the place to be for cool (but not as cool as Rosie) Chicago youth.  She was making a name for herself and turning The March into a very different bar than it had been.  At least on Friday and Saturday nights. 

Rosie had never really grokked Tré’s financial mess.  Such is the nature of a child of privilege.  There was always money to be had.  Tré couldn’t stand to talk to her about it anymore.  He just let it go.  On the days when Tré woke up to find Rosie asleep next to him, all he wanted to do was to lie there with her and soak up the comfort of her warm body in bed.  He wanted to wake her up, pleasantly, and think of other things than the money he owed, the mistakes he’d made.  Neither of them wanted to talk about money anymore.  And so they didn’t.

 But pressing debt will not be starved by silence.  And on one of those pleasant mornings, as Tré left his apartment with a little spring in his step, he was accosted by his landlord about the rent he was due.  The landlord harangued Tré in a thick Polish accent as other tenants hurried past, embarrassed or amused.

It was so humiliating.  Tré strode down the street on his way to work, fiercely thinking about a solution.  He had to do something to get this greedy, grappling landlord off his back.

It wasn’t a happy idea, but he did have one.  He could ask Bulstrode for a loan, an advance on his salary.  If Bulstrode could give him two months salary in advance, he could make things right with his landlord and could then pay Bulstrode back over the next couple of months.  He’d been doing right by Bulstrode.  Good, solid work. Bulstrode had to say “yes.”  Sure, Tré would have to suffer through some patriarchal advice, some benevolently disappointed headshakes.  Tré would have to call him “sir” and look grateful.  But Tré could play obsequious as well as the next guy.  And the idea of satisfying his greasy, rapacious landlord was tantalizing.  Tré was determined to make the request.

As Tré was walking to work and trying to figure out how best to phrase his request, Bulstrode was sequestered in his office with Rafferty, who was insisting on another thousand dollar payment.

“I can’t keep doing this, Karl,” said Bulstrode.  “You’re bleeding me dry.”

“I think you got a ways to go before dry,” said Raff.  “You’re a rich man.”

“When does it end, Raff?” 

“I got some ideas,” said Bulstrode.  “I got some ideas.  I’m just working them out.  Besides I like watching you squirm.  Makes me feel better about all them years I spent downstate.”

“You’re a twisted little fuck, Rafferty,” said Bulstrode. “One day…”

“Yeah, one day,” said Rafferty.  “Whatever.  I’ll see you around, Bully.”

When Rafferty left, Bulstrode pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his desk drawer and lit one.  Another bad habit, he thought. Something else that I thought I’d left in my past.

Tré knocked on Bulstrode’s door a bit later and was waved in.  Bulstrode was sitting behind his desk, scanning through management schedules, looking for salaried employees who were working less than 50 hours a week.  That was taking advantage, Bulstrode thought.  And Bulstrode did not like being taken advantage of.

Tré cleared his throat and began, “Mr. Bulstrode, this is embarrassing, but I have a favor to ask.”

“What is it,” said Bulstrode, without looking up.

“Well, I’ve run into some money troubles and I was wondering if you could see your way to a two month salary advance.  If you reduce my salary after that by a third, then I can be right with you by the end of the summer.”

“Jesus Christ,” said Bulstrode.  “Does everyone think I’m made of fucking money?”

Tré responded with a stunned silence.

Bulstrode reined himself in, took a deep breath and continued. “I apologize for the outburst, Tré.  You’re looking for two months salary in advance.”

“Yes sir,” said Tré.  “I made a couple of bad decisions and am having some difficulty getting clear of them.”

“You were not engaged in any criminal activity, I trust,” said Bulstrode.  “I won’t be involved with that.”

“No sir,” said Tré, feeling hopeful  “Nothing criminal.  I overspent on social events and got behind on a lot of bills.”

Bulstrode looked up at Tré’s young and hopeful face.  He knew how embarrassing this was for him.  
And he knew how much Tré must have needed the money to ask him like this.  So he made a decision.

“I don’t think I can help you,” he said, looking down at his papers. “You’ve gotten yourself into trouble and, like people your age do, you expect someone else to bail you out.  I’m afraid that won’t be me.  How can I even be sure you’ll be drawing a salary from me in six months time?”

“I thought you were happy with my work,” said Tré.

“I am now,” said Bulstrode.  “But there was a period there where you were less professional.  I have no way of knowing whether or not you’ll stay on the straight and narrow.  No, I think we’ll keep our arrangement as it stands. Now, do you have the schedule together for the bar closings throughout the rebrand initiatives?”

“Yes,” said Tré, seething.  “I put them in your box last night on my way out.”

“Thank you,” said Bulstrode.  “Hmmm, looks like Don over at FourSouth in the Loop is only putting in 45 hours a week.  He’s going to need to stop treating his employment like a country club.  He can be replaced.” 

Bulstrode didn’t look up, but heard Tré leave.  He found himself smiling.  It felt like the first time he’d smiled in a while.

Tré sat in his office, so angry he trembled. 

Bulstrode had plans to meet Susan for lunch that day in the Walnut Room at Marshall Fields.  When he got to the 7th floor of the department store, he paused as the host stand for a moment and took it all in.  His internal inventory: He was in good health.  He still had a lot of money. He’d be an elder in the church any day now.  By the end of the year, dozens of bars and restaurants across the city would bear his logo, authoritatively declaring him a major player on the Chicago scene.  He had a beautiful, sophisticated wife, whom he loved dearly.  And there she was, sitting at a table, sipping white wine and examining an Hermes scarf she’d purchased that day.

He was loved. He was rich. He would find some way out of this situation with Rafferty. He was bound to.

Bulstrode decided to have a steak for lunch and drank two glasses of good wine with Susan.  He slept well that night for the first time in months.

Tré began grinding his teeth in his sleep.  He woke up with a terrible headache.

Raff didn’t sleep at all that night.  He spent it blowing through the piles of cocaine he’d purchased with Bulstrode’s money.