Thursday, November 13, 2014

The March, Chapter 48: An Ally Is Always Handy, Even If You're Not Sure Why

Chapter 47

Heather, why can't you just be a friend? Why do you have to be such a mega-bitch?

When he first got the idea to kick off the revamp at The March, Tré had felt confident in his choice.  He’d always liked The March, always felt comfortable there.  But, contra Caleb, Tré never credited the general seediness that lingered around its edges with The March’s welcoming vibe.  As a matter of fact, Tré had always felt that The March was welcoming and comfortable despite its seediness.  Clean it up, class it up, make the bathrooms less of an adventure and it would still be The March.  It would still be a place people wanted to go.

But over the past few months, Tré’s confidence had taken a beating. Between his increasingly worrisome financial situation and Rosie’s abiding unhappiness at his refusal to pull up stakes and move, Tré was like an open vessel into which Caleb and Bulstrode could pour their competing anxieties.  On Monday, he worried that The March would end up too fancy for its customers and turn into a shell of its former self; a place where three or four guests sat of an evening, quietly sipping martinis and checking their watches.  On Tuesday, he worried that the shiny new fixtures and tasteful artwork were no more than an inconsequential band-aid over gaping squalor.

But then the party had happened, and it had gone so well.  Bulstrode’s fancypants friends had enjoyed their expensive scotches and pretty good Chardonnay.  They’d had fun with the exquisite (but safe) thrill of upscale slumming.  By the time Rosie had come and turned up the volume, they’d been about to head home anyway.  They couldn’t wait to tell their kids away at Cornell or Brown about their evening and that girl with the wild makeup and crazy clothes and that loud music.

In the meantime, Rosie had kicked it into high gear just in time to salvage The March regulars from feeling resentful and usurped.

God, Tré thought.  Rosie had been great.

Going forward, there’d probably be fewer upstanding Art Institute docents and corporate CEO’s enjoying happy hour at The March.  But they might well end up a more welcoming happy hour destination for bankers and corporate middle management.  And if Rosie kept doing what she did, it could carry on as a destination spot for late night party people.  In the meantime, the old school regulars would be content filling the gap.

Tré had done a good job.  The day after the party, he’d walked into the Lightweight offices, buttons about to burst.

Bulstrode didn’t hear him come in.  He was lost in a correspondence.

Bully – a long time ago you stole my life from me.  You set me up and got me sent to jail.  You owe me and you know it.  But I know I can’t keep asking you to give me money forever.  So, I have a solution.  I been drinking at The March, just like the old days. And I like that place.  You give me that bar, sign over the deed to me or whatever, and I’ll leave you alone.  If you don’t, I’ll tell everyone what you did to get that place in the beginning.  I’ll tell them all about Ellinore and how you kept the money she asked you to give her daughter.  And then what will all your fine friends think of you? 
- Rafferty

Blackmail is an evil taskmaster.  It’s desperate and squeezing.  Rafferty had something over Bulstrode and so long as Raff was around, he’d be able to carry on extorting from Bulstrode.  This time he wanted Bulstrode’s flagship bar.  And not only did Bulstrode not want to give that away, he had no confidence that once given ownership of The March, Raff would actually leave him be.

Bulstrode had to get rid of Raff.  He needed a plan. 

Amidst his anxious pondering, Tré knocked on the door and stuck his head in.

“We had a good night, huh, boss?” he said. 

Bulstrode looked at Tré and the seeds of an idea began to germinate.  Bulstrode began to wonder if there were not some unknown benefit to a more robust alliance with Tré.  He wasn’t quite sure why, but the idea had a grip on him. 

“It was a rousing success,” said Bulstrode, in a cheerful, booming voice.  “Excellent work.  As always, excellent work.”

Tré grinned. “Thanks, Mr. Bulstrode.  We’re on our way now.  By the end of the summer, we’ll be done and The Lightweight Group will be one of the most recognizable brands in Chicago.  We are on our way now.”

“Indeed we are,” said Bulstrode.  “Now, come on in and sit down.  I want to talk to you about something.

Tré came in and sat down, smiling but wary.

“Tré,” said Bulstrode seriously.  “A while back you asked me for an advance on your salary in order to extricate yourself from some financial stress.  Are you still feeling that stress?”

“Well, yes,” said Tré, embarrassed.  “But I’m confident I’ll find my way out soon.”

“It’s terrible,” said Bulstrode.  “To feel so trapped by circumstances.  I remember being young like you once, with big dreams and not enough money to make them happen.  I may have made some mistakes too, when I was young.”

“Oh,” said Tré, wondering where this was going.

“I have a lot of faith in you, Tré,” said Bulstrode.  “You’ve really proved yourself of late.  I’ve decided to help you.  Will $5,000 get the situation resolved?”

“Yes,” said Tré, hopeful.  “That would resolve the problem.”

“All right,” said Bulstrode, opening his checkbook.  “I’m writing you a check for $5,000.  The terms are straightforward enough.  You’ll pay me back $425 a month until we’re even.  Should take about a year.  Can you manage that?”

“I can,” said Tré.  “But what about interest. I should pay interest on a loan like that.”

“I don’t think so,” said Bulstrode, handing him a check.  “We’re partners in this endeavor.  I’m invested in your future.  Let me do this for you.”

“Wow,” said Tré, staring at the check.  “I don’t know what to say.  You’re saving my life. Thank you, Mr. Bulstrode.  Thank you so much.”

When Tré came home that night, he found Rosie in a bathrobe, watching TV and painting her toenails.

“Hey there, rock star,” he said, settling beside her and kissing her deeply.

“Hey there yourself, you Titan of industry,” she replied, smiling.

“Guess what,” he said, nuzzling her neck.  “Your father gave me a loan today.  I paid off my landlord and sent a check to my credit card companies.  I’m back in good shape.”

“He just gave you a loan,” she said, surprised. “Out of the blue?”

“I proved myself to him with The March rebrand,” said Tré.  “He has some faith in me again.”

“I don’t think so, Tré,” said Rosie.  “My father doesn’t have faith in anybody and he doesn’t just give people money without expecting something back.”

“But he is getting something back,” said Tré.  “He’s got me back and fully on board.  Thanks to me, Bulstrode will get exactly what he wants from the L.G.E. rebrand.  I’m good at this job and he knows it and wants to keep me happy. “

“But, Tré,” said Rosie, shaking her head.  “You were working your ass off for him without getting the money.  It’s not like he was worried about losing you.  You need to be careful.  I bet he wants something from you that you won’t like to give him.  If he gave me money, I’d have to go to college and start dating a frat boy.  Fred has to go to law school.  Dad always wants something for his money.”

It was hard to ignore the logic there.  But what did he have to offer Bulstrode?  He didn’t have any money, any family connection.  And he wanted to feel good.  It had been a while since he felt good.

“Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” said Tré.  “I don’t want to fight.  Let’s celebrate.  I want to drink and dance and walk into a club with the hottest girl in Chicago.  Let’s go to Lobo.”

“Well, you don’t have to ask me twice,” said Rosie.  “I bought a new dress today.  But promise me you’ll be careful.”

“I will,” said Tré, sliding his hands into her bathrobe.  “But before you put that new dress on….”