Roy Bloom, Bit Player: Chapter 16

Bad Day at Black Rock

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” — Allen Saunders

Awakened by a troubling dream, Roy got out of bed and went into the kitchen to make breakfast. It was only four-thirty—early even for Roy. As his eggs cooked, his mind wandered. In the three weeks since Roy had unofficially received his walking papers from Alan at Charley’s Crab and three weeks less a day since he’d foolishly called Tommy, he’d made painfully little headway with Carolyn.

While she hadn’t said she wouldn’t go to New York, she hadn’t said she would and Roy thought it best not to push her. He was convinced she would eventually realize staying was impossible and that their time on the Outer Banks was over. Then again, maybe he needed to push since time was running short. Both Tommy and Ken wanted him gone by the end of the month and Roy needed her on board. He wasn’t leaving Buxton alone.

As Roy fumbled around in the kitchen, lost in thought, he grew increasingly impatient. Carolyn had had sufficient time to at least wrestle her demons to a draw. New York would be good for her and Roy. Where was her faith? But even without knowing the details of her early years, Roy understood she was scared—and fragile.

Remaining in Buxton, however, had lost its appeal for Roy. Although his three-year stint working for Ken had come to an unexpectedly abrupt end, it was time to move on. Roy’s severance package was still tied to Carolyn staying in Buxton, but both he and Ken knew that wouldn’t hold. Roy could be too much trouble if Ken didn’t honor the deal regardless of what Carolyn did. Without The Bungalows, though, Roy would have to find work elsewhere. He’d worked too hard to squander his hard-earned savings. Making a living as a writer was unrealistic, but Roy was sure he could find something in New York. He always had.

Breakfast over, Roy grabbed a beer despite the early hour and moved to the living room. His future consumed his thoughts, followed quickly by his past. He took stock of his forty-year-long professional life. His resume resembled an odd assortment of loosely scripted vignettes. Although every position he’d ever held had started with great promise, they’d always deteriorated over time. Roy’s solution had been to quit and find less problematic employment. He began to wonder if Ken had been right. Maybe he was just a drifter. God knows no one would have ever mistaken his so-called career for a success, even if it had been entertaining at times.

Initially, Roy’s Buxton opportunity had been a godsend. It had solved his personal financial crisis, afforded him time to write, and helped him forget the Alison debacle. He didn’t even mind being Ken’s patsy, if that’s what it took to buy a fresh start. But now he realized he was tired of managing The Bungalows. Tired of Buxton, tired of Claire and Danny, and especially tired of Ken. The only thing he wasn’t tired of was writing. And, of course, Carolyn.

On edge waiting for her to get up, Roy grabbed a second beer and headed to the beach. Walking along the shore—tired and alone—a nagging thought caught up with him. What if Carolyn didn’t come around? What if she refused to accompany him to New York? Not possible he decided, and quickly dismissed the notion.

When Carolyn finally did come looking for Roy, she was quick to notice the beer he held, and quick to register her displeasure. Nonetheless, they kissed briefly and she took his hand as they walked up the beach.

“Did you get up early again today?”

“What do you think?”

“I think you’re already into your second beer and it’s barely eight o’clock. You left your first on the counter in the kitchen.”

“Sloppy. Sorry. I didn’t sleep well. I thought a beer would take the edge off.”

“Since when do you need an excuse?”

“Never, actually.”

They looked at each other knowingly and smiled, then continued walking for a long time without speaking. Finally, Roy’s patience gave out.

“I think maybe it’s time to get this business decided. What do you say?”

“And that business would be…?” Carolyn asked, knowing full well what Roy meant.

“You telling me you’re coming to New York with me.”

“I can’t.”

“You can’t what? Tell me? Or come with me?”

“Both, probably.”

“Carolyn, I’m not in the mood to rehash all the unlikely scenarios that could somehow change our situation and allow us to stay put. Are you?” Roy asked, shaking his head. “Because there aren’t any.”

Carolyn stopped walking and dropped Roy’s hand. Turning to face him, she grabbed him by the shoulders.

“You don’t know that for sure,” she insisted.

“I do, Carolyn,” Roy said, frustration evident in his voice.

“But you haven’t given me enough time to work on Ken. I’m sure he can figure out something to do about Tommy.”

“What planet are you living on? Ken doesn’t want to do anything about Tommy. My leaving suits him fine. The question is whether you’re ready to move on.”

“Don’t put it on me, Roy,” Carolyn said, angrily. “Besides, you’ve done great for Ken down here. He’d be a fool to let you leave.”

“It doesn’t matter. He needs to placate Tommy. End of story.”

“Don’t give up so easily. Can’t you talk to Tommy again and convince him that revenge just isn’t worth his time?”

“I can’t, Carolyn. Stop it. If you’re afraid to try your luck on New York—and on me—just say so.”

When Carolyn looked away and didn’t respond Roy backed off. But he knew nothing was going to change the course of the conversation. Carolyn slowly returned her gaze to the man she’d virtually lived with for the past three years.

“Sorry, Roy. I’m not a gambler. You know that.”

Roy walked away from Carolyn, finished the few drops of his beer that remained, then turned and walked back in her direction.

“It’s not a gamble, Carolyn,” Roy said, not sure he meant it. Still holding the beer can, he folded his arms across his chest and rocked back on his heels. “I’ll make it simple. Are you coming with me or not? You said in the beginning you wanted to. Now you say you’re afraid. Afraid of what?”

“You.”

“Oh, that’s great. That certainly bodes well. So I frighten you. I had no idea.”

“Cut it out, Roy. It’s not like that and you know it.”

“What I know is that it sounds like you’ve heard Ken’s ‘drifter’ speech once too often. Maybe you actually agree with him.”

“I don’t,” Carolyn said, but it didn’t sound like she meant it.

She looked away from Roy and walked towards the ocean. With her back turned, she sighed loudly and balled her fists. Appearing to gather her thoughts, she calmly returned to where Roy was standing. He hadn’t moved.

“You know, you can be a real asshole sometimes. Why weren’t you honest with me about Gretchen? Your ability to close yourself off is disturbing. Scary, actually.”

“Hey, there’s a lot about you I don’t know,” Roy said in his own defense.

“That’s because you never ask. Not because I choose to hide it. What else should I know about you that I don’t?”

It was Roy’s turn not to respond. He’d never told Carolyn about Alison.

“Jesus, Roy. Life would be so much easier for you if you learned to open up.”

“I told you, I was embarrassed. I didn’t want you to think I was a jerk.”

“I do anyway.” Carolyn said, half smiling.

“You need to decide, sweetie,” Roy said, using a term of endearment he usually reserved for the bedroom. “I have nothing new to add to the conversation. Are you coming with me or not? How many times do I have to ask?” Roy paused for a moment, before adding, “Maybe you’d like a written invitation?”

“Sure. That’d be nice. You need the address?”

“Don’t play games, Carolyn.”

“Sorry, but I don’t have anything new to add either.”

“Every time I press you, you manage to avoid a direct answer. I understand—I really do. Leaving Buxton is way outside your comfort zone. But what do I need to do to convince you it might actually be good for you? Good for both of us. I don’t want to go without you.”

“So don’t.”

“Carolyn, we can’t keep going around in circles. You know I can’t stay here.”

“And you know I have to, so please stop asking. This is hard enough. Do you really want me with you? Have you thought about what that means? Do you want that responsibility?”

“What responsibility?”

“Sorry if this hurts, but I don’t trust you. And don’t tell me that surprises you because I won’t believe you. I’m just not willing to bet you’ll be around tomorrow. That’s not so tragic if it happens in Buxton. In New York, it would be a different story.”

“Carolyn. I’m not going anywhere. I love you.”

“Do you? I know you think you do. I know you’d like to. But I’m not altogether convinced you have it in you.”

“Pretty harsh, Carolyn. And you’re right. It does hurt. The more relevant question might be whether you love me enough to give our relationship a chance.”

Carolyn stopped walking and turned away from Roy. She paused for a moment, then swung back around, agitated.

“You know something, Roy, maybe I don’t. Maybe that’s what this is all about. It’s comfortable and easy down here. It’s not hard to be lovers; it’s not hard to be intimate. In New York it might not be so easy.”

Roy looked incredulous.

“I’d have to be a fool to go with you,” she continued. “Here we are questioning each other’s love. What’s that all about? Maybe we don’t love each other enough. But that doesn’t matter. Even without being sure I love you, I would go with you if I could. But I can’t. It’s a risk I just can’t take.”

The intensity of Carolyn’s pushback surprised Roy. Yesterday, he’d thought it was just a matter of time before she relented.

“I can’t believe you don’t want to come with me.”

“I didn’t say that. I do Roy, very much. But it’s not going to happen, not in this lifetime. Sorry.”

“You would do fine in New York if you gave yourself the chance.”

“Maybe, but the thought of uprooting my life is more than I can handle. I’ve found stability here—something I’ve known very little of in my life. Are you asking me to jeopardize that?”

Roy didn’t respond. There was nothing he could say. It wasn’t really a question. Besides, Carolyn hadn’t just made up her mind. She’d simply lacked the courage before now to tell him. Instead, she’d continued to hope he would stay, despite knowing that wasn’t an option. As Carolyn saw it, leaving Buxton presented Roy with yet another adventure. One in which he would, most likely, land on his feet. But it was a move she just couldn’t make. Fighting backing tears, Carolyn turned and headed to her bungalow.

Roy made no effort to stop her. Much of what she had said was true. He could never provide the security Carolyn required. It’s not who he was. And he wasn’t about to lie—at least not to Carolyn.

As Roy watched her cross the dunes to her bungalow, he turned and continued walking. A combination of sadness, regret, and disappointment took hold of him. But he also began to acknowledge a growing sense of relief. Taking Carolyn to New York represented a commitment. A commitment Roy would have tried his damndest to honor but wasn’t at all sure he would have been able to. His track record was no mystery to anyone—least of all himself.

Maybe, Roy thought, it might be better this way. But the truth was he had no idea. Dealing with life’s vicissitudes had never been his specialty. Instead, he had found it easier to avoid confrontation and remain unattached—personally and professionally. Doing so hadn’t always made Roy happy, but there was a pull to living life that way that was hard to deny.

His tenure at The Bungalows all but over, Roy thought briefly about trying to reverse course. But the time for that was long gone. Momentum was already pushing him forward. His future lay elsewhere. Roy David Bloom had been at this juncture before—too many times. He was sad to be here again. At thirty it hadn’t bothered him so much. Sixty-three was a different matter.

 

NOTE: I want to thank Victoria Brown without whose editorial skills and continual encouragement Roy Bloom would not have fared as well as he did. I am also grateful for the feedback I have received from readers. Roy Bloom’s story without an audience wouldn’t have been half the fun. 

Roy Bloom, Bit Player: Chapter 15

High Noon

“There is no such thing as paranoia. Your worst fears can come true at any time.” — Hunter S. Thompson

Although Roy had yet to provide any details of his conversation with Alan, Carolyn looked worried. She sensed trouble. Roy stood on the far side of the room smoking a cigarette. Carolyn had promised herself not to become too attached, but she’d neglected to follow through. Instead, she’d traded an isolated, lonely existence for some intimacy and companionship—and an inordinate amount of fun. Roy may have had his issues, but he knew how to have a good time. He’d kept her sane and she’d returned the favor.

“Your brother knows we’re sleeping together, Carolyn. He didn’t want that to happen.”

Carolyn sat down on the couch. Roy offered her a drink.  “Got a preference?”

“Anything’s fine,” she said, distracted. “You don’t think I said something, do you?”

“No. Danny’s been talking to him.”

“Danny?”

“I’ll tell you about it later.”

Roy handed Carolyn a glass of scotch and took his usual spot on the Eames chair across from her. Drink in hand, he put his feet up on the ottoman and crossed his legs, making a stab at appearing relaxed. He needn’t have bothered.

“He’ll get over it, Roy. He’s not cruel. And he’s not going to do something stupid.”

“No, but Tommy might.”

“Tommy? What’s Tommy got to do with it? You told me he wouldn’t become a problem.”

“Well, he has. He’s pushing Ken to sell him The Bungalows.”

“How do you know?

“The whole point of Alan’s trip was to try to soften the blow.”

“Are you sure?”

“Sure as you can be about anything. Tommy wants to buy Ken out, and Ken’s not in a position to refuse.”

“But you own The Bungalows—sort of. Don’t you? Can Ken do that?”

“Carolyn, c’mon. You know better than that. The whole property transfer was a fiction. I’m the owner in name only.”

“Should I talk to Ken?”

“Not going to do any good. Ken figures selling to Tommy is both good for business and might actually help end our little affair.”

“Little affair, Roy? Is that the way you see it?”

“Of course not. It’s only an expression. Don’t act so offended.”

“It’s hard, Roy. I’m worried.”

“Join the club.”

“Now, you’re scaring me.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to.” But it was already too late. Roy could see the wheels turning in her head, wondering where this might be headed. He glanced at his glass. Half finished already. “I just have a bad feeling, that’s all.”

“Roy, come on. I know Tommy doesn’t like you, but why would he fool with something that’s working?” Carolyn asked, sincerely. “You don’t have any recourse?”

“Not really. I have to assume Tommy now knows I ‘own’ The Bungalows.  And if that’s the case, I’m out. I thought everything would be fine as long as I delivered for Ken. Apparently, I was kidding myself. Now that Ken has problems, I have problems. And it isn’t really the loan that’s the issue; I just have no leverage. Tommy has it all.”

“Why is Tommy so insistent on buying The Bungalows? Surely it can’t be that much of a win for him financially.”

“With some work, it could net him a decent profit. But no, there’s something else.”

“Like what? Can’t you ask Gretchen to intercede? You always said she liked you. You were there for her when things got rough with Tommy. Maybe she can help.”

“To be honest, I embellished that story quite a bit. I wasn’t really there for her as much as I should have been. I was actually a bit of a jerk.”

Carolyn now looked puzzled as well as worried. Roy had never been straight with her about the extent of his relationship with Gretchen after she married Tommy and now wasn’t the best time to start. But he didn’t see that he had much choice. He put his empty glass down, got up from his chair, walked across the room, and leaned back against the glass door to the porch.

“I had an affair with Gretchen several years after she and Tommy married. Gretchen initiated it, but I was a willing participant. Tommy eventually found out. Needless to say, he didn’t take it well.”

“You slept with Gretchen after she married Tommy.”

“We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t. It wasn’t my most shining moment. It was a mistake, okay?”

“No, not okay. And how did Tommy learn about it?”

“Gretchen. She told him. They were having a fight and it got ugly. Tommy got violent. Instead of hitting him back—she knew she couldn’t hurt him physically—she told him about our affair. She wanted to get even. She wanted to hurt him. She succeeded.”

“Jesus, Roy. Why didn’t you ever tell me any of this?”

“It’s not the kind of thing you share unless you have to.”

Carolyn’s look changed to one of disdain. “Christ, Roy, I know you’ve always allowed yourself a lot of leeway, but that certainly crossed a line.”

“You’re right. What do you want me to say?”

Carolyn didn’t respond right away. She got up from the couch and began pacing.

“But you can still call her, right?” she asked, clearly anxious for help of any kind.

“Wrong.”

“Wrong?”

“She’s dead, Carolyn.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I wish I were.”

“How?”

“According to Alan, a stroke. That’s all I know. He told me last night.”

“No wonder you looked upset when you left Charley’s.”

“Well, that wasn’t the only reason. The smart money is on a new landlord for The Bungalows.”

Alarmed, Carolyn stopped pacing and looked at Roy.

“Would you consider living in New York City again?” he asked.

Carolyn didn’t answer. Instead, she just picked up their glasses and refilled them.

“What are you planning to do?”

“I’m not sure. Call Ken, I guess. Hear what the boss has to say.”

“Are you going to call him now?”

“Soon.”

“Want me to leave?”

“Eventually.”

*****

If Roy’s time at The Bungalows was up, leaving Carolyn behind wasn’t an option. He understood it might be hard for her in New York, but he thought she could handle it. He wasn’t prepared to believe otherwise. Typically, though, he avoided the harder question. Did she love him enough to take a chance on a life outside Buxton? Could he coax her out of her bubble?

Roy had no desire to leave the Outer Banks either, but if Ken sold to Tommy he wouldn’t have any choice. Staying would be impossible. After three years, Roy had assumed that if Tommy hadn’t become a problem he wouldn’t. It proved a bad assumption. Tommy was intent on exacting his measure of revenge. Roy stood for a long time on his porch staring at the ocean before calling Ken.

“I’ve been expecting your call, Roy,” Ken said in his annoyingly confident tone.

“Alan thought it might be a good idea to talk.”

“How’d your conversation go?”

“You should know. You scripted it. He said I should ask you about coming attractions.”

“Coming attractions, Roy?”

“I’m not in the mood for clever repartee, Ken. What’s with Tommy? I thought he was a dead issue.”

“Unexpectedly came back to life. Surprised me, too.”

“I doubt that.”

“Listen, Roy, I’m not going to bullshit you. I need Tommy’s help. He has capital and I need it. And he owes me. It’s that simple. He’s far better positioned than I am, and he’s willing to help—for a price.” Ken laughed. “With Tommy, there’s always a price.”

“And the price was me?”

“Not at first. Don’t flatter yourself.”

“I thought he didn’t even know I was involved with The Bungalows.”

“He didn’t.”

“So how’d he find out?”

“I told him.”

“You told him?” Roy asked, incredulously

“I did. You know, Roy, you’ve always been a bit naïve when it comes to business. I’m in a tricky spot. I need his help. He’s always been eager to sell his remaining piece of property in the Carolinas—and curious about how I resolved my issue with The Bungalows. I had two choices: let him do his own research and find out for himself or be up-front about it. Being up-front paid bigger dividends. So I told him.”

“He might not have checked.”

“I wasn’t taking that chance. I need his goodwill.”

“But not mine.”

“Correct. You may be naïve, but you’re not dumb. I’ve been very successful in real estate, Roy, but Tommy’s done even better. And when he learned of your involvement, he switched from wanting to sell the lot he owns adjacent to The Bungalows to wanting to buy them.”

“Why does he think you’re in a position to sell them to him?”

“Because he’s no dummy, Roy. He knows you couldn’t possibly own them.”

Roy walked back inside and topped off his scotch. Then he returned to the porch.

“You know, Roy, surprisingly the investigator’s report failed to uncover your extra-marital affair with Gretchen. Very sloppy work if you ask me. Had I known about it—and known that Tommy knew about it—I never would have let Alan convince me to take a chance on you.”

“How did you find out about it?”

“Tommy filled me in. It was to his advantage to do so. Don’t get me wrong, Roy. I have no illusions about Tommy. No one achieves the political clout he has without doing damage along the way. Stories abound. Most are probably exaggerated, but his violent nature is well known. If he could have gotten away with it, he would have killed you.”

“So much for the preliminaries, Ken. Get to the point.”

“I already have. Once Tommy heard your name, the game was over. The prospect of disrupting your life excites him. Don’t blame me, I didn’t screw his wife.”

“What if I told you The Bungalows weren’t yours to sell?”

“I’d probably fall over backwards laughing. Grow up, Roy. You never believed for a second you had any real ownership interest and you and I both know it.”

“Okay. So now what?”

“Now nothing. I’m not in a position to help you anymore, Roy—and I’m not sure I even want to. Tommy’s got a long memory and a vindictive streak a mile long. He’s not a forgiving soul. This is payback for him.”

“Great,” Roy said, seemingly resigned to his fate.

“Sorry, Roy. I really am. But unfortunately the price of fending off Tommy has become too high. My only concern now is Carolyn. I need her to be able to stay put. And correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you agree to stay away from her?”

“Things happen. Besides, Carolyn doesn’t seem to mind. I wouldn’t meddle if I were you.”

“My relationship with Carolyn is my business. Stay out of my business, Roy.”

“Seems I don’t have much choice. So tell me, Ken. Where are we?”

“Tommy and I just need to set a price, but we’re pretty close. If you want to do something constructive you might start packing unless, of course, Tommy decides to keep you on. Not very likely though, and I’m sure you’d agree.”

“If I start packing, Ken, Carolyn will as well,” Roy said, cocky as ever. “I’ve done right by you. I solved your “balance sheet problem” and made you a lot of money in the process—without you having to do anything. And, arrogant as it may sound, I’ve been good for Carolyn as well.”

“That’s your perception, Roy. It may not be shared by everyone.”

“Carolyn shares it.”

“So you think,” Ken said, pausing briefly. “Roy, you’re a drifter, a sophisticated drifter, but a drifter nonetheless. You’re unfocused and restless. You’ve never held a job for longer than a few years. Your whole life’s been one false start after another. I agree, you’ve done well with The Bungalows, but how do I know you won’t just up and leave tomorrow? You seem never to have had any human connection that you wouldn’t bail on if the need arose. Carolyn has had a rough time. I don’t think you know how rough. And I’m not just talking about her breakdown. What if she were stupid enough to go with you, and you proved unreliable? Not a difficult scenario to imagine. I’m not taking that risk. I would have to insist that Carolyn stay put.”

“With all due respect, Ken, it’s not your call,” Roy said, as leaned back against the porch railing and lit a cigarette. “Jesus, and I thought I was arrogant. No matter how good you may have been to her over the years, Carolyn doesn’t live her life at your discretion.”

“You’re right, Roy. Sorry about that. I shouldn’t be so presumptuous. But you know what, I’m okay with leaving the decision up to her. Are you?”

“If you are, I am.”

Eager to change the subject, Roy turned to the question of the severance package he believed he deserved.

“Listen, Ken. I’m well aware you don’t need my approval to proceed, but we both know how much simpler and easier it will be if I cooperate. Offer me a fair settlement and we can get this over with quickly.”

“Sounds an awful lot like a threat, Roy, but what the hell. Think about what you’d consider fair, and we’ll talk. Let me add, though, that should I be wrong and Carolyn heads north with you, no financial settlement will be forthcoming. Nothing, Roy. Understood?”

“Don’t back me into a corner, Ken. It’s not a smart place to put me.”

“I didn’t put you there. Tommy did, but you gave him a big assist.”

“Fuck you.”

“Bad attitude, Roy. Won’t win you many friends. Why don’t you call Tommy? Plead your own case,” Ken said, laughing that self-satisfied laugh Roy hated.

Considerably past polite pleasantries, Roy hung up. Fuming, he called Carolyn. He needed at the very least to tell her the conversation with Ken hadn’t gone well. He would wait until morning to provide the ominous details. Waiting wouldn’t make her happy, but Roy needed time to consider his options. And with the storm recently downgraded there was little else to do but consider his options, of which there were few—if any.

Roy wondered if Tommy realized just how costly revenge might be. Sadly, though, he knew full well financial viability wasn’t the issue. Making life difficult for Roy was all the justification Tommy needed. Ken hadn’t been serious about Roy calling Tommy, but maybe the idea wasn’t so far-fetched. Where was the downside, anyway? Roy considered waiting till the morning to call, but after another scotch he figured what the hell. In the morning it might not seem like such a bright idea.

*****

“Roy fucking Bloom. I don’t believe it. Finally, we speak. After all these years, I get to hear the voice that sweet-talked Gretchen into the biggest mistake of her life. To what do I owe this call? Let me guess. You’ve been talking to Ken. You’re concerned about your future. Well, perhaps I can clear that up for you,” Tommy said, contemptuously.

Roy knew instantly the call had been a mistake.

“How’s life in New York, Tommy?”

“Shit, Bloom. You trying to make this sound like a normal call?”

“Not possible.”

“Fucking right, it’s not possible. If I’d known it was you, I might not have picked up, but it would have been a shame to miss the pleasure of telling you what a stupid-ass motherfucker you are. The caller ID, however, read unknown caller. You’ll have to excuse me, but your name’s not in my contact list.”

“No offense taken.”

“So what the fuck do you want, asshole?”

“Well, now, nothing. I was going to suggest buying The Bungalows might not be in your best interest. I guess it was foolish on my part to think we could have a reasonable discussion.”

“It took hearing my voice to tell you that? You’re fucking stupider than I thought. Perhaps you were calling to offer your condolences? A little late, don’t you think? Well, better late than never, I suppose. Oh, by the way, Gretchen’s last words weren’t ‘tell Roy I love him’ in case you thought she was thinking of your dick at the end.”

“I didn’t know about Gretchen until a few days ago. And I am sorry. Alan told me she died of a stroke. Perhaps she was slapped around once too often?”

“Treading in very deep water there, sonny. I’d be careful.”

“I usually am. I must be slipping.”

“What the hell do you want, Roy?”

“To tell you that you don’t want The Bungalows. They’re not worth your trouble.”

“How right you are. I don’t want them. It must be something else that’s motivating me. Any thoughts?”

“Yeah. Calling you was a big mistake.”

“Right again, Roy. I have to say in the grand scheme of things, you’re little more than a bit player—you know that, right? Extremely insignificant—and I’m being generous because you seem like the sensitive type. Or perhaps you don’t agree.”

“No, you certainly could be right, Tommy. I was a fool to think I could persuade you not to buy The Bungalows. But since you’re unconcerned with what might be in your best interest, that’s not possible.”

“Right, yet again. You’re batting a thousand. It would have been a complete waste of your time and mine. Matter of fact, this whole conversation has been a waste of my time. Do me a favor; don’t call again. I won’t be so pleasant next time.”

 …to be continued…

Roy Bloom, Bit Player: Chapter 14

The Devil at 4 O’clock

“He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas.” — Benjamin Franklin

It was Saturday night at Charley’s Crab and Roy had failed to make a reservation. He and Alan were lucky to get a table—in the back by the kitchen. Alan wasn’t pleased. He’d arrived in a sour mood. His flight from LaGuardia had been delayed for hours by mechanical problems and a smaller plane—with a cramped first class cabin—had to be substituted for the original aircraft. Most of the amenities Alan expected were missing. And upon arrival he had to wait in line to rent a car for the two-hour trek to Buxton. Roy had been unwilling to make the lengthy round trip to pick him up.

Although Alan’s first drink had managed to mellow him some, he still ordered a second. Roy, surprisingly, was content to nurse his first. Three weeks had passed since Roy’s celebration with Claire had turned unpleasant, but he was still careful not to overdo it. Roy had been inviting Alan to visit for two years. Suddenly, he chose to make the trip just as fissures were forming in Roy’s private little ocean paradise. Hell of a coincidence, Roy thought.

Alan had been avoiding Buxton like the plague. Why the sudden change of heart? Certainly visiting the desolate beauty of the Outer Banks held no appeal for him. Alan had spent most of his life indoors. He preferred it that way. Staying in touch with Roy by phone and email had been fine with him. But now there was a message to deliver. Best to do it in person.

Carolyn stopped by their table to meet Alan—she knew him only by reputation—and to tell the waiter Roy and Alan were friends of hers. Roy never ate or drank at Charley’s, but Ken had insisted his associate be treated to a good meal. As for being seated at the worst table in the restaurant, there wasn’t anything Carolyn could do. She’d tried to help, but it was Saturday night and Roy wasn’t a regular. The maître d’ couldn’t have cared less.

“She doesn’t much look like Ken’s sister,” Alan remarked, as Carolyn left to attend to her tables.

“Half-sister.”

“Right. I forgot. Not my type anyhow, but clearly yours.”

“You got a problem with that?”

“No, but Ken might. If you need company at night, you’re less likely to get in trouble with Claire than Carolyn—even if Claire’s married.”

“‘Company at night,’ Alan? How quaint. Is that the party line? Ken didn’t send you here to tell me that. Or did he?”

“Ken didn’t ‘send’ me here. He suggested the trip might be good for both of us.”

Before Roy could respond, the waiter placed a two-pound lobster in front of Alan.

“And the salad’s for you, sir?”

“Right. Just set it down.” Roy said, unnecessarily curt. His conversation with Alan was already making him tense.

Putting on his lobster bib, Alan dug in. This was the happiest he’d been since leaving his apartment in New York.

“If that’s what you want me to believe,” Roy said, not bothering to hide his skepticism.

“Maybe I need to spell it out for you, Roy.”

“Maybe you do.”

“Listen, I know you suspect that Ken knows about you and Carolyn.”

“More than suspect, Alan. What now? Is he going to disown me?”

“You want to be serious or you want to fuck around?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Not really.”

“Okay then, how pissed is he?”

“Well, I think more than anything he’s pissed that Carolyn kept it a secret. Don’t get me wrong; he’d like it over. He’s always been overly protective of her, and while he may like you Roy—and, surprisingly, he does—he doesn’t trust you, especially with Carolyn. He doesn’t want to see her hurt and he knows your history.”

“You didn’t fly all the way to Buxton to tell me that. There’s more, right?”

“There’s more.”

Alan took a break from devouring his lobster to look around the room. The place was packed. Although casually attired, Charley’s guests were universally well tanned, well groomed, and well coiffed. Waiters scurried in every direction carrying mounds of crabs, lobsters, and shrimp to hungry diners at tables set with immaculate white linen. Expensive bottles of wine sat cooling in nearby ice buckets. Not your run-of-the-mill crab shack. Alan, for his part, now seemed happy to be sitting off to the side, away from the crowd. The decibel level was considerably lower and their location far more suited for a private conversation.

“Tommy’s rattling Ken’s cage.”

“How so?”

“You don’t sound surprised.”

“I’m not. What does he want?”

“He wants Ken to either sell him The Bungalows or to buy the adjacent property. He prefers the first scenario.”

Roy sat up, concerned.

“All of a sudden? But he still has no idea I own them, right?”

“You mean that your name’s on the deed?”

“Whatever, Alan. Yes, that my name’s on the deed.”

“Not really sure. And remember, your name isn’t really on the deed. An LLC is listed as the owner. Tommy would have to do some research—or someone would have to tell him—to discover the identity of the actual owner.”

“And has someone?”

“Maybe.”

“Is that why Claire got a call from him out of the blue three weeks ago?

“Possibly.”

“Okay. Skip the build-up. Why’s this coming up now?”

“Right,” Alan said, taking his bib off and wiping his mouth. He wasn’t quite finished, but he needed another break.

“Ken’s made a few missteps. We all do from time to time. But his were costly. Don’t start feeling bad for him, though. He isn’t exactly poor. It’s just that his financial position relative to Tommy’s has changed and he finds himself in need of Tommy’s financial backing for several construction loans. A few unwise investments on Ken’s part and he’s now beholden to the guy you like least on this earth.”

If Roy was rattled—and he was—he wasn’t about to let Alan see it. It wasn’t hard, though, for Roy to skip ahead and see where this was headed. Still, he needed Alan to be specific.

“So where does this go from here?”

“That’s partly up to you, Roy.”

“Oh, really? When did I become a player?”

“You haven’t, and being a wise guy doesn’t help your cause.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry.”

A lull in the conversation allowed the waiter to clear the table. Roy paid the check, and he and Ken adjourned to the relative seclusion of the bar in the next room. Alan ordered a couple of brandies.

“How’s the writing going?” Alan asked. “I see you finally got a story published.”

“I wasn’t aware it was out already.”

“It is. I read it. I liked it.” Alan said sincerely.

“Thanks,” Roy said—and meant it. But for once he wasn’t interested in talking about his writing. “Let’s stick with Ken. What are his intentions?”

“Not Ken’s intentions, Roy; Tommy’s. If he wants to screw with you, he will. Ken can’t afford to stop him. He needs Tommy a lot more than Tommy needs him—and certainly a lot more than he needs you. Big mistake this Carolyn business. Ken doesn’t really like Tommy and you’ve done the job at The Bungalows for him, but at heart he’s a businessman. Still, he might have gone to bat for you. Now, it’s a whole different story. If he needs to, Roy, you’re going under the bus. You sealed your fate when you started sleeping with Carolyn.”

“That was almost three years ago.”

“News travels slowly sometimes. As you say, the Outer Banks are fairly remote.”

“And how exactly did this news find its way to New York? Claire? Carolyn?”

“Claire loves your goddamn ass, Roy, and you know it. She’s not going to rat you out even if she hates Carolyn. Guess again?”

“Alan, just tell me.”

“Danny.”

Roy exhaled hard.

“Fuck. I knew insulting Peggy was a big mistake.”

“Who’s Peggy? Shit, Roy, Danny’s been feeding Ken information since your friend Rita, the exotic dancer, got busted.”

“Rita. Jesus.”

“I guess Danny wasn’t as unsophisticated as you thought. Besides, Ken pays his workers well.”

“You ought to know.”

“Most unkind, Roy. Especially since I’m down here trying to help.”

“Really? And what can you do for me now? Seems like my future in Buxton may be up for grabs.”

“Perhaps,” Alan said, just grateful that Roy had managed to remain calm despite the unpleasantness of the news he had just delivered. He motioned to the bartender for two more brandies.

“But you need to call Ken, although honestly I don’t think there’s much he can do. It’s Tommy’s move.”

“And when did all this come about?”

“Well, I think Danny only told Ken about you and Carolyn a few weeks back. Tommy didn’t actually start pestering him about The Bungalows until last week.”

“What provoked him?”

“Don’t know.”

“Don’t know or won’t say?”

“Don’t know.”

“Well, I don’t really believe you, but what the hell. Maybe I should just call Gretchen and have her plead my case.”

Alan paused. “That would be a little tricky.”

“Why? Don’t you think she’ll remember me?” Roy asked brusquely.

“I’m sure she would if she were still alive.”

Roy froze. “What?”

“Sorry. I hadn’t meant to spring it on you. She had a stroke. Doctors aren’t sure what brought it on.”

“How long ago?”

“Little over a year.”

“Christ, the last time I saw her was more than three years ago in my office. She was looking for a friend. Tommy was a bigger problem than ever. I didn’t really have time for her and I wasn’t particularly sympathetic. My attitude was you made your bed, unmake it.”

“Surprising for an old softy like you.”

“I know,” Roy sighed. “Kind of brings you up short, doesn’t it?”

“Death has a way of doing that.”

*****

Over breakfast the next morning Roy and Alan joked around, preferring humor to a rehash of the previous evening’s conversation. Ken’s message had been delivered. Enough said. It was time for a few laughs at Tommy and Ken’s expense. Better that than face the unpleasant realities the future seemed to hold. Gretchen, however, was strictly off limits. Roy was surprised how deeply he’d been affected by the news of her death. They’d been mismatched, of course, but he had almost married her. In the three years since she had recounted Tommy’s abuse, Roy had never betrayed her confidence. Maybe he should have.

Alan had originally planned to stay a few days, but the news of a rapidly developing tropical storm caused him to change plans. He would catch the next flight to New York. Despite Roy’s sullen attitude at Charley’s, he had appreciated Alan’s honesty. In turn, Alan was grateful Roy seemed to have taken the news in stride. He hadn’t been sure he would. A master at keeping his emotions private, Roy had kept the extent of his concern to himself.

As Alan headed to Norfolk—miffed that he had to drive himself to the airport—Roy went to find Danny. As long as the storm’s path remained uncertain, Roy needed to be prepared. The Bungalows were, after all, still his responsibility, and his only source of income. Now, though, he had money in the bank—a novelty for Roy.

“Danny,” Roy shouted, as he spied him arguing with his mother at the door of their bungalow. “We need to get cracking.”

As he watched Danny direct some final hostile words to Olivia, Roy couldn’t help noticing the Army Corps of Engineers’ equipment several hundred yards out at sea. Roy didn’t care that the view was temporarily spoiled as long the beach erosion was significantly slowed. But that might soon be of little concern to him.

“Where have you been?” Roy asked, as Danny caught up with him.

“Arguing with my mother. What’s it to you?”

“Whoa. Not a good way to get started. Do me a favor and lose the attitude.”

Roy didn’t appreciate the huge chip on Danny’s shoulder. There was no need for it. He’d apologized weeks ago for insulting Peggy.

“Fuck you, Roy. Don’t like my attitude? Fire me.”

“Jesus, Danny. Back off. If you want, I’ll fire you later. Right now we have work to do.”

Danny smiled.

“You hate the fact that you might actually need me, don’t you?”

Roy had been planning to wait until after storm preparations were complete to bring up Danny’s private arrangement with Ken. He didn’t want to be stuck doing all the work himself. But Danny’s attitude got the better of him.

“Fuck you, Danny.  I don’t need this. I know you’re Ken’s information pipeline, and have been for some time.” Roy paused briefly to monitor Danny’s reaction. “I’ll admit, though, I only learned of it recently. I didn’t think you were capable of that kind of subterfuge. Subterfuge, Danny, you know what that is?”

Danny didn’t respond. He appeared stunned. “Look it up later,” Roy continued. “Just please tell me Ken paid you well for your work.”

Danny’s bravado all but disappeared, replaced by a look of abject apprehension.

“Yeah, okay. So what? I never told him much. Nothing important. Just enough to make it seem worthwhile to pay me,” he said defensively.

“Don’t insult me, Danny, just be honest. Failing that, you and dear old mom are on your own once your lease is up.”

“I’m sorry, Roy. I really am,” Danny said, sounding as if he meant it. “I needed the money. My mom wouldn’t give me much and you pay me peanuts. I wanted to show Peggy a good time. Hell, I wanted to impress her. It was my first chance to get out from under my mother’s suffocating influence. Don’t begrudge me that.”

“Oh, I don’t. That part’s understandable. It’s your lack of loyalty that bothers me. I didn’t deserve to be undermined. I couldn’t have cared less about all the trivial information that you fed Ken along the way. But telling him about my relationship with Carolyn, and then the drunken street scene with you and Peggy last month. That was wrong, Danny. You shouldn’t have done that.”

“He was pushing me, Roy. He said he suspected something; he wanted corroboration. He told me that if I wasn’t honest with him and it came out later, I was off the payroll. I couldn’t risk that, so I did what I had to.”

“I get it, Danny. I do. I just don’t appreciate it. It’s made my life a whole lot more complicated. You should have thought about that. Try remembering who your friends are for a change.”

“Don’t lecture me, Roy. It doesn’t suit you.”

“You’re right. It doesn’t. Now let’s get the bungalows in shape.”

After briefly helping Danny, Roy returned to his place. Amidst a slew of marketing emails, two personal ones stood out. The first was from Max Pagent letting Roy know that one of the stories he’d passed along had been published—something Roy already knew.  The second, shockingly, was from Alison. Emma had died.

Roy had been sending Emma money regularly since he’d arrived in Buxton and she’d obviously left instructions for him to be notified upon her death. Although it was decent of Alison to follow through, Roy wasn’t tempted to fantasize. The email’s perfunctory tone clearly suggested she wasn’t looking for a response. Without notification, however, Roy’s automatic payments would have continued. Alison could have reaped the benefit, but she’d passed on the opportunity. Roy tried to be grateful for small favors.

Emma Becker was still on Roy’s mind when Carolyn walked into his bungalow. She had expected Roy to get in touch that morning. He hadn’t. After a curt hello, she inquired about his conversation with Alan at Charley’s the night before. The evening obviously hadn’t ended well and she was anxious to know why. Roy offered her a drink, but Carolyn declined. She hadn’t stopped by to socialize.

Roy didn’t like being interrogated, especially by Carolyn. Relationships, he believed, often made people feel unjustly entitled to know all about you. And in Roy’s case, there was a lot about his life he hadn’t shared with Carolyn. Now he would need to explain Alan’s warning about Tommy without unduly alarming her. Was that even possible when Roy himself was alarmed? The last three years in Buxton had been among Roy’s best. Now Tommy Thompson appeared poised to spoil the party.

“Avoiding me?”

“Not really. Alan left this morning and I helped Danny get the bungalows ready in case the storm does head towards Buxton.”

“No time to give me a quick call?” Carolyn asked.

Roy, already on edge, snapped at her. “I’m not in the mood, Carolyn.”

“Neither am I.”

“Okay, so then why’d you stop by?”

“Don’t be difficult, Roy.” Carolyn said, raising her arms as if to ward off trouble. “You want me to go?”

“No, but a little understanding might be in order.”

“Understanding?”

“We’ve got big problems, Carolyn.”

“Big problems?”

“You might say that.”

“How big?”

“Big enough.”

…to be continued…

Roy Bloom, Bit Player: Chapter 13

The Sweet Smell of Success

“Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.”  Alan Jay Lerner

Bubba’s Tavern, unlike Charley’s Crab, wasn’t in the high rent district. The two establishments anchored opposite ends of town. Bubba’s, a longtime fixture on one of Buxton’s run-down side streets, catered to the less affluent. Not known for its decor, Bubba’s featured small wood tables that wobbled and flimsy chairs. One could, of course, always sit at the bar with the regulars.

Although cigarette smoke and the smell of stale beer made for a less than festive atmosphere, Bubba’s had been Roy’s first choice to host his celebration with Claire. She had just converted the last seasonal renter to year-round. It was the culmination of a successful three-year collaboration. A party was certainly in order.

Always eager to spend time with Roy, Claire was disappointed it was a late-afternoon event, not a late-night affair. But Roy had selected the time and venue for a reason: there was little to no chance of bumping into Carolyn. She’d be busy waitressing and she’d never stepped foot in Bubba’s. Although Roy saw nothing wrong with a harmless celebration, Carolyn might.

While it was not yet dusk, Bubba’s was already dark inside. The overhead fixtures were off, so the only illumination came from the small amount of light that squeezed passed the neon Coors and Budweiser signs blocking the front window. Despite the hour, the place was packed with regulars. Roy and Claire had been relegated to a table in the back. But that was fine. Their celebration was private.

Having begun quietly enough, each shot of bourbon—cocktails not being Bubba’s specialty—raised the ante another notch. A diligent proprietor, Bubba had already made several round trips. This time, he suggested leaving the bottle.

“Sure. Why not?” Roy said. “It’ll save you a trip.”

“You sure, Roy? I’m half in the bag already,” Claire said. She held up her hand for Bubba to wait.

“It’s a celebration, Claire. The whole point is to overdo it. Besides, I’ve earned this.”

Indeed Roy had. Throwing off his concerns about Tommy Thompson and fighting an uphill battle to win approval for his year-round renters concept, Roy had been successful on almost every front. Tommy hadn’t reared his ugly head, annual tenancies had become the norm, Roy felt close to being published, and Carolyn played a bigger role than ever in his life. And the biggest surprise of all: the Army Corps of Engineers had managed to significantly slow the beach erosion. Maybe The Bungalows wouldn’t be swallowed up after all.

Roy was also—finally—sitting on a substantial pile of cash. He motioned to Bubba to leave the bottle.

“Maybe you have earned it,” Claire said, begrudgingly. “Especially after you were so sure something would go wrong, what with Tommy owning the adjacent property and all. You should have listened to me, Roy. I told you not to worry. He had bigger fish to fry, and none of them swam anywhere near Buxton.”

That, of course, was fine for Claire to believe, but Roy’s concerns about Tommy still hadn’t completely abated. And while Roy hadn’t had any contact with Gretchen since his arrival in North Carolina almost three years ago, he could only hope she’d forgotten about him. Tommy too.

Lost in thought, it took Roy a minute to realize Claire was trying to get his attention. Pointing to a short, significantly overweight patron at the bar, she asked Roy if he was the cop who’d created unnecessary problems during the Fred Mueller incident. Roy looked over his shoulder. Sure looked like the same guy, shaved head and all.

“Should I offer to buy him a drink? Unnerve him a little?”

“Leave the guy alone, Roy.”

“Hell, let’s have a little fun.”

“I’m all the fun you need. Besides you’re drunk and you don’t need trouble.”

“No one ever needs trouble, Claire. Sometimes it’s just unavoidable.”

“Settle down, Roy, or we’re going home.”

“Propositioning me, Claire? I thought we were finished with that.”

Drunk, Roy Bloom was his own worst enemy. Though he was just sober enough to realize he’d put his foot in his mouth, he was too inebriated to take it out. Claire, however, didn’t miss a beat.

“Only because that’s the way you want it. You’re free to change your mind. Three years is a long time to wait to consummate a partnership.”

Roy was angry with himself. He’d unwittingly opened a Pandora’s box. Closing it wasn’t going to be easy—or nice.

“Jesus, Claire, you never give up. And it’s not a partnership. Don’t go promoting yourself. And don’t breathe life into a dead issue. You must have found other dicks by now to satisfy you.”

“And I have, Roy. But the dick I want the most is the dick I can’t seem to have,” Claire said, having lost all ability to censor herself.

“It ain’t so special, Claire. It’s old and it’s tired. Its best days are behind it.”

“But I bet it’s still good in emergencies.”

“It is, actually. Too bad this isn’t an emergency.”

“Maybe not for you.”

“Okay, Claire. Enough.”

“You’re a hard nut to crack, Roy Bloom.”

“Forget it, Claire. It gets boring after a while.”

With that, Roy got up, slightly annoyed, and headed to the bathroom. He felt sorry for Claire. She was an attractive, smart, and unusual woman who was alone at a time in life when being alone was no longer fun. She’d dressed today to entice Roy. It hadn’t gone unnoticed. And Roy was tempted, but not enough to jeopardize his relationship with Carolyn.

Returning to the table, Roy changed the subject. Claire didn’t object.

“You’re right, that is the cop who hassled me during the FBI raid. He saluted me as I went by. Fucking S.O.B. And you say I’m the one looking for trouble.”

“Leave it be.”

“Fine, whatever. Chalk it up to fond memories,” Roy said, refilling his glass.

Fond memories, indeed. Roy should have listened to Alan. Pushing his year-round rental idea too aggressively had created problems from the outset. Not because it was a bad idea, but because it was poorly executed. By cutting the very corners Claire had warned him not to, Roy had inadvertently invited trouble into his idyllic community.

Immediately after instituting annual tenancies, Roy, eager for year-round renters, leased a bungalow to Fred Mueller. An acquaintance of his and Alan’s from their college days, Fred was a wealthy journalist turned right-wing conspiracy enthusiast. Unbeknownst to Roy, however, Fred had long ago tired of being a passive bystander. A simple background check would have given Roy reason enough to reconsider renting to him.

Fred had been under surveillance for months, and it was Roy’s misfortune that the FBI waited until after Fred moved to The Bungalows to execute their raid. At five in the morning, agents descended upon Fred’s bungalow, confiscating a large arsenal of illegal weapons along with several computers that contained links to far right websites. Sites littered with posts containing undeniable proof of a deep state conspiracy. Although the FBI incursion woke almost every resident of The Bungalows, it had been conducted professionally and was over in a matter of hours. Still, the residents were less than thrilled, and Roy was left on the hook for several months of Fred’s unpaid rent.

The raid made national headlines. Fred, a budding Rush Limbaugh, was already well known in his own right. Roy heard from Ken almost immediately. He was not pleased. And Alan called for no other reason than to say I told you so.

“You should have listened to me, Roy,” Claire said sharply, as Roy snapped out of his stupor. “I kept telling you to vet everyone. But you were lazy. You claimed to know these people. You’d vouch for them. No need for expensive background checks.”

“Claire, that was almost three years ago. What do you want me to say?  You were right? Okay, you were right. Happy now?”

“I am,” Claire said, slumping back in her chair.  “Thank you.”

But Fred was merely the first of several significant errors in judgment Roy had made as he hurried to fill The Bungalows with year-round renters. A few months after the fiasco with Fred, a well-to-do former colleague of Roy’s from his early days in real estate returning unexpectedly from a business trip shot and killed his wife, her lover, and, finally, himself in the couple’s bungalow. As in Fred’s case, Roy had let Jeffrey skip the usual rental protocols. He had money—lots of it—and Roy remembered him as a normal, down-to earth-guy.

Had Roy bothered with a simple investigation, Jeffrey’s instability would have been obvious. Police reports listed three separate incidents of domestic altercations and a short-lived restraining order in the last year alone. While specifics were lacking, it wasn’t hard to read between the lines. And the information the reports did contain might well have made Roy leery of leasing to Jeffrey. Needless to say, he heard from Ken again.

But by far the most egregious of Roy’s rental miscalculations was also the most avoidable. No check of any kind was needed to foresee the potential disaster to which Roy so casually opened the door. At a Bungalows resident’s bachelor party, he was introduced to an exotic dancer from a “gentlemen’s” club in Greenville. Roy fielded an inquiry from her about renting a unit. It wasn’t for her she said, but for a friend. Rita ran a two-thousand-dollar-a-night call girl operation and was in the market for another location. Initially Roy was extremely reluctant, but Rita eventually managed to convince him that it was really no more than a small-time professional services operation.  And when she offered to pay considerably more than the usual rent Roy couldn’t say no, choosing instead to look the other way.

After only a few months, though, a police sting ended the frivolity. Roy was lucky to avoid being charged as an accomplice. Greenville’s new sheriff—God-fearing and self-righteous—had made vice a top priority. Good local representation helped Roy avoid legal action, but Ken was insufficiently placated. He resolved to pay closer attention to the management of The Bungalows. In the aftermath of the incident, Roy decided to alter his criteria for acceptable tenants—no longer would the ability to afford the high annual rent be paramount.

Bubba hated to interrupt. Roy appeared lost in thought and Claire was resting her head on the table—no small feat given the table’s size. The bourbon bottle sat empty. While it was obvious to Bubba another bottle wasn’t needed, he asked anyway. Roy said he thought not. Then he turned to Claire, who managed to sit up to answer Roy’s question.

“How often do you speak with Ken?”

“Not often. He calls from time to time. Why?”

“He seems surprisingly in-the-know sometimes.”

“You’re implying someone is talking out of turn?”

“Possibly.”

“Well, it’s not me, Roy. What reason would I have?”

“You tell me.”

“Well, let’s not let your suspicions spoil the party,” Claire said, picking up the empty bottle and frowning.

But the party was over. Roy was tired. It was time to go home.

Dusk had fallen. Roy needed to find his car, say a quick goodbye to Claire, and head back to his bungalow. Unfortunately for all concerned, he noticed Danny across the street. He wasn’t alone. Throughout Danny’s two-year romance, Roy had never met Peggy. Despite Roy having warned Danny repeatedly that he was being reckless, Danny adamantly refused to end the affair. As Roy began to cross the street, Claire grabbed his arm to stop him. But Roy was intent on inserting himself where he didn’t belong.

“Danny! How you doing?” Roy yelled from the middle of the street as he approached the couple. Caught off guard, Danny unhappily, but politely, introduced Peggy to Roy, and then to Claire.

“Nice to finally meet you, Peggy,” Roy said, loudly. Embarrassed, Claire hung back. “I’ve heard a lot about you from Danny,” Roy continued, slurring his words and appearing unsteady on his feet.

“Thank you. Danny speaks highly of you. It’s nice to meet you as well,” Peggy said, although it clearly wasn’t.

Peggy looked older than Roy had imagined, a little plump, but attractive and well dressed. Considerably over the legal limit, Roy’s inhibitions had long ago deserted him. Left to fend for himself, he fared poorly.

“Your husband give you the night off?”

Claire turned away in horror. Danny quickly ushered Peggy into the restaurant they had been about to enter.

“Go on in. I’ll join you in a minute.”

Roy, not finished making an ass of himself, continued speaking, albeit to Peggy’s back as she disappeared inside.

“Nice meeting you, Peggy. Maybe sometime I’ll get to meet your husband.”

“Cut it out, Roy,” Claire said, sharply. “You’re making a fool of yourself.”

“I’m not the fool here, Claire. Go on home if you want. Feel free.” Claire took him at his word and wasted no time heading to her car.

“Roy, you’re drunk,” Danny said. “Why don’t you go home as well? I’ll forget you said anything.”

“Don’t do me any favors, Danny. Do yourself a favor. Get out of the line of fire before it’s too late. I guess you’re not afraid to be seen in public with someone else’s wife.”

“It’s none of your business, Roy. How many times do I have to tell you that?”

“You tell me, asshole.”

“I’m not the asshole,” Danny said, calmly turning away and walking into the restaurant.

Several people who had stopped to watch the exchange quickly dispersed, leaving Roy alone to ponder how right Danny had been.

*****

Roy’s cellphone stopped ringing just as he picked it up. He didn’t recognize the number. He lay back down to take the measure of his hangover. After a few minutes, his curiosity got the better of him. He hit the redial button.

“Hi. This is Roy Bloom. You just called me.”

“Yes, Mr. Pagent wants to speak with you. Hold a minute while I connect you.”

“I don’t know any Mr. Pagent,” Roy said, but he’d already been put on hold. Actually, Roy did know Pagent; he just hadn’t remembered the name.

As he waited on hold, Roy hoped this wasn’t going to be a problem. He wasn’t sure he was up to dealing with one.

“Roy, this is Max Pagent. You submitted some stories for our magazine.”

“Right. Right.” Roy perked up.

“Well, they’re not bad. Not really our style, but quite good. I can’t use them, but I know several people who might. I didn’t want to pass them along without speaking with you first.”

“No, thanks. That’d be great.” Roy said, trying to sound low-key, not wanting to appear too eager. But it was better than great.

“Listen, Roy, I can’t really talk now. I have an editorial meeting in a few minutes. Give me a call first thing tomorrow morning and I should have more time. I just finished reading them so I wanted to connect.”

“Sure. No, that’s fine. I’ll give you a call first thing. Thanks.”

“Okay, then. But don’t go getting your hopes up. Usually when I refer material it never sees the light of day.”

“Sure. I understand. Thanks again.”

Roy lay back down in bed. If nothing further came of Pagent’s call, Roy felt his writing was at least being taken seriously. He called Carolyn. After all, she was the one always pushing him to submit his work.

“Hey, I think I just got some good news.”

“Okay,” Carolyn said without much emotion.

“That Pagent guy called. He liked my stories. He can’t use them, but wants to pass them on.”

“I told you,” she said, again lacking any enthusiasm.

“‘I told you.’ That’s all you can say?”

“I’m happy for you, Roy.”

“You don’t sound happy.”

“I ran into Danny this morning.”

Roy winced. “Shit. Sorry about that. I was out of order. I know it.  I’d had too much to drink. I haven’t done that in quite a while. I’ll call him in a bit and apologize.”

“Are you also going to apologize to Claire, or doesn’t she care how you behave?”

Roy knew there was no good way out of this, but he would try anyway.

“Carolyn, Claire’s a colleague. We were celebrating our success with The Bungalows. Nothing more.”

“Nothing more? You stumble out onto Main Street at seven in the evening drunk, with Claire, who’s also drunk and who you like to pass off as a business associate, and proceed to make a fool of yourself. Christ, Roy. You’re sixty-three. Grow up, already.”

“There’s nothing to get so upset about.”

“Oh, really? Okay then,” Carolyn said, as she hung up.

Roy knew not to call back. He needed to let her cool down. He showered, decided not to have a drink, and turned on the TV. Just then his phone rang. He was surprised Carolyn was calling back so quickly. It was unlike her. But it wasn’t Carolyn.

“Roy, I didn’t make it back to Norfolk last night. After two miles on the road, I realized it wasn’t a good idea. I pulled into the first motel I saw. Are you hung over?”

“A little. Not too bad. Sorry about last evening, Claire. I know I was out of line.”

“It happens, Roy. Don’t beat yourself up about it.”

“Right.”

Roy debated bringing up Pagent’s call, but decided against it. He would have liked to share his excitement with someone, but since Carolyn had been the driving force behind contacting Pagent he decided bringing it up might be inviting trouble.

“You sitting down?” Claire asked.

“Lying down.”

“Even better. You know who called me late last night?”

“I’m afraid to guess.”

“Tommy Thompson.”

Roy sat up. “Out of the blue?”

“Out of the blue.”

“What did he want?”

“I’m not quite sure, to be honest. We didn’t talk long. He sounded drunk, and God knows I was. He asked if his lot was an overgrown bed of weeds, but he wasn’t fooling me. He couldn’t have cared less about his property. He was just letting me know he was still around.”

“Shit. That’s not good.”

“Don’t jump to any conclusions.”

“Hard not to,” Roy said, as got out of bed and headed into the kitchen.

“I know. It’s odd that he called.”

“That’s an understatement.”

“What do you suppose he really wanted?”

“To upend my life in Camelot.”

“Camelot?”

“Yeah, Camelot. Never heard of Camelot? Just keep your phone handy while you’re driving back to Norfolk. Who knows, I might need you.”

“Wouldn’t that be nice.”

…to be continued…

Roy Bloom, Bit Player: Chapter 12

To Have and Have Not

“Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your hearth or burn down your house you can never tell.” — Joan Crawford

Roy never made it to Carolyn’s. After leaving Danny to board up number eleven, he headed to his own bungalow. The storm had been downgraded, but the rain had begun in earnest. Roy closed his hurricane shutters just in case. Inside, he checked his unread emails; the backlog was significant. Maintaining daily contact with the outside world had been an early casualty of Roy’s life in Buxton. Most of the emails were unsolicited marketing pitches. One, however, was from Wyeth Books.

Dear Mr. Bloom:

Thank you for your recent submission.

Your work is unusual, refreshing, and, for the most part, amusing. However, while quite clever, your stories fall significantly outside the parameters of the material our firm publishes. That is neither a judgment on your writing nor an assessment of your talent. The stories are simply too offbeat and too irreverent.

 You need to consider that your subject matter—and especially your story titles—may not play well in today’s politically correct environment. While I understand that satire is the essence of your style, others might not see it that way.

 Again, I enjoyed your stories. Just be prepared to offend some people.

 Your original materials will be returned by post.

 Respectfully,

T.  J. Wyeth — Publisher, Wyeth Books

Roy was disappointed, but not surprised. He’d known from the beginning he was taking a chance. Satire doesn’t work for everyone, and was clearly not what T. J. Wyeth needed. Roy also had had second thoughts about the humor. Would it ring true? It had for Wyeth. But making him laugh hadn’t gotten Roy a publishing contract.

Roy’s stories were irreverent, but they were intended to be. Still, Wyeth’s comments deserved reflection. Now Roy feared his work was little more than the idle musings of an amateur. After filling his glass with ice from the automatic dispenser on the front of his new refrigerator, Roy poured himself a generous measure of scotch.

Maybe Wyeth was right. Despite a strong affinity for the unconventional, Roy might have been better off beginning with less offbeat material. Leave the more unorthodox storylines for later—after he’d made a name for himself, if, in fact, he ever did. Nonetheless, Wyeth had given him hope. Not so much that he felt he was on the right track, but enough to make him feel that he had a chance of finding it.

Eager to rework his stories, Roy sat down to write. Knowing he might be at it for some time, he texted Carolyn. His meeting with Claire had lasted longer than expected and now he needed to work. He would see her in the morning. He then called Alan. His old college friend had read the stories prior to Roy sending them to Wyeth.  Alan loved them, but he had a macabre sense of humor so maybe he wasn’t the best judge. No matter, Alan wasn’t home. Roy left a message.

Despite laboring through the night, Roy had little to show for it—except a nearly empty bottle of scotch. He again texted Carolyn telling her she needn’t stop by until mid-afternoon the earliest. Compatible as lovers, Carolyn and Roy had chosen not to live together. There was no need. Their bungalows were practically next to each other. Besides, they preferred their relationship remain as uncommitted as possible. At forty-seven, Carolyn had already spent the majority of her years alone. She valued her independence and felt safer without entanglements. And change was not her strong suit. As for Roy, he maintained a distance from people in general—especially anyone who might access his vulnerabilities.

Not surprisingly, though, Roy harbored concerns about Carolyn. And it wasn’t just that she was Ken’s half-sister. Carolyn was a troubled, unpredictable woman, not unlike Alison. Her mood swings were prodigious: upbeat, sarcastic, and fun one minute, detached, retiring, and scared the next. Roy never knew which Carolyn to expect. He also tended to believe Alan’s speculation (by way of Ken) that something traumatic had happened in her youth. Women like Carolyn and Alison intrigued Roy. Not so much in spite of their issues, but almost because of them.

Roy was grateful, though. Carolyn had removed Alison almost entirely from his psyche. For his part, he tried to be an attentive lover, a supportive friend, and an enjoyable companion. Roy believed their relationship was good for Carolyn, but he also knew he could be difficult. Occasionally unreliable and moody, Roy was prone to excessive bouts of negativity although he tried his best to keep his apocalyptic vision of the future to himself. Still, despite their issues, they willingly acknowledged to each other the importance of their relationship.

 In the five years Carolyn had lived at The Bungalows, she’d built a life that worked for her. She’d kept it low-key, making a little money waitressing, engaging with only a few friends, and spending the bulk of her time painting. Roy admired her art and thought she could probably sell her work. But Carolyn had no interest in trying. For the first time in her life, she had found a little peace and had no desire to add an element that might be unsettling. Roy had been the lone exception and he knew she wondered if that had been a mistake. In the short time he’d known her, Carolyn had never expressed any interest in a life beyond her narrowly defined comfort zone.

Lying on his new couch, Roy was nursing a hangover when Carolyn walked in mid-afternoon. She sat down across from him in the Eames chair. Annoyed about having been stood up the night before, she wasted little time needling him about his drinking.

“I thought you were supposed to be cutting back.”

“I am.”

“It doesn’t show.”

“Looks can be deceiving.”

“Not in your case, Roy.”

“I worked all night. I needed something to keep me going.”

“Ever think about coffee?”

“I thought about it, scotch won out.”

“Not inclined to be serious, huh?”

“Not really. Not today.”

“Or any day for that matter.”

“Pissed that I’m hung over?”

“What makes you say that?”

“Because it’s pretty obvious.”

Carolyn was irritated and didn’t bother to hide it. Originally wary of mentioning Roy’s meeting with his rental manager, she no longer seemed concerned.

“That was a long walk yesterday with Claire,” Carolyn said, pointedly.

“There was a lot to discuss. Some year-round tenant possibilities. Afterwards, I stopped to help Danny.”

“Then you got hung up writing and left me high and dry.”

“If you like,” Roy said dismissively, adding “I got an email from T. J. Wyeth about my stories.”

“And?” Carolyn asked, genuinely interested.

“The good news is that Wyeth liked what I sent. The bad news is that it’s significantly outside the parameters of what his company publishes.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means he’s not about to launch my career.”

“Well, that’s too bad. Try not to take it to heart like you usually do.”

“Too late,” Roy said, as he got up, walked across the room, picked up the bottle of scotch, and held it out to Carolyn. She shook her head. He poured himself a glass.

“All that time to discuss rental possibilities? Must have been something else on the agenda,” Carolyn asked, ignoring Roy’s earlier comment about helping Danny.

“No, that was pretty much it. And do me a favor. Don’t get on me about Claire today. I’m not in the mood. Claire’s a business associate and a friend and that’s it. She did actually feign surprise that you and I have more than a landlord/tenant relationship.”

“A little late to the party, don’t you think? How naïve is she? And why’d that come up anyway?”

“I don’t know. She brought it up.”

“Why?”

“Not sure exactly. I think she’d like to have an affair.”

“With you?”

“No, with you. Of course, with me.”

“How romantic. Did she say as much?”

“She didn’t have to. And you might want to check, I think your insecurity is showing.”

“I hate when you say things like that, Roy, and you know it. Please don’t.”

“I like Claire, Carolyn. She’s a big help. I’m not looking for any other kind of relationship with her other than the one we already have. And you know that.”

“I do?”

“I said not today, Carolyn. Okay? Even though Wyeth’s letter was essentially a rejection notice, it actually gave me some hope. So keep your misplaced concern about Claire to yourself. Everything’s going well in my life for a change—including my relationship with you. I’d like to keep it that way.”

Roy got up from the couch and walked across the room.

“Yes, I’m fixing myself another scotch, still don’t want one?”

“Already? You just had one.”

“I know. But it was a short one. I need to kill this hangover,” Roy said, as he disappeared into the kitchen for some ice.

Roy knew Carolyn was jealous of Claire, but she had no reason to be. That she trusted Roy at all was a surprise to both of them, given the number of times people in her life had let her down. But Roy needed Carolyn to keep her jealousy in check. Despite its short duration, their relationship had become a priority for both of them.

When Roy returned, he joined Carolyn on the couch. She’d moved from the Eames chair to her usual spot.

“What else did Wyeth say?”

“I think he enjoyed the writing. The stories were a bit over the top for him. He thinks I might have talent, but wasn’t interested in what I sent.”

“You’re getting closer, Roy. Maybe next time.”

“Maybe,” Roy said, without much enthusiasm.

“That’s all you can say?”

“Yeah. You got me thinking about Claire. I feel bad for her.”

“Why? Because she fucked up her life?”

“Little harsh, don’t you think? You’re not exactly the poster girl for success.”

No sooner were the words out of his mouth than Roy wanted them back.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Carolyn asked indignantly.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it, but you have to admit you had a bad run of luck early on.”

“Certainly a quaint way of putting it, Roy. You know you’d do a lot better if you censored yourself more often. Something you seem unable to do when you’ve been drinking,” Carolyn said sharply. “I did have some very difficult years. You have some perverse need to remind me?”

“No. I said I was sorry. I just thought you were being unnecessarily unkind.”

“Well, for a change, you happen to be right. What I said about Claire was unkind.” Carolyn placed her hands behind Roy’s neck, intertwined her fingers, and pulled his face close to hers. “I like what we have, Roy. I don’t want to see it threatened.”

“Have I given you any reason to feel insecure?”

“No.”

“Okay then. Let it go.”

Looking to change the nature of the conversation, Carolyn turned in the wrong direction.

“Why didn’t you ever get married, Roy? Didn’t you want kids?”

“Not particularly,” Roy said, sounding irritated. “How many times are you going to ask me that?”

“Probably until you give me an answer I can believe.”

“Okay. I thought I was doing my parents a favor. Harry and Ethel would have made lousy grandparents.”

“Why do you find it so difficult to be serious?”

“Not entirely sure, to be honest.”

“I don’t understand you, Roy. You would have made a good father.”

“How would you know?”

“I see how patient you are with Danny. You teach him things. You talk to him about stuff that has nothing to do with his job. You give him guidance. He looks up to you.”

“The kid asks me questions. What am I supposed to do, not answer?”

“Of course not, but you know you’re a first-class avoider when it comes to questions you don’t feel like answering.”

“Apparently, you seem to think so,” Roy said, deciding it was time for a break.

“I need to check on some of the other bungalows. Even if it wasn’t much of a storm, I’m not at all sure Danny prepped the units as thoroughly as he usually does.”

Roy got up and headed to the door.

“I’ll be back for happy hour.”

“Funny, it feels like you already had happy hour.”

“Happier hour, then.”

A few minutes after Roy left, Carolyn went back to her own bungalow. She needed to call Ken. Their conversations as of late had been more fraught since she felt the need to keep her relationship with Roy private. She and Ken were close, but unlike Roy she hated not being truthful. Carolyn often considered confiding in Ken, but every time an opportunity arose she lost her nerve.

 Roy hadn’t really needed to check the other bungalows; he’d used it as an excuse to have a cigarette. Although he only smoked occasionally, Carolyn disapproved. After a perfunctory check of some of the other units, Roy returned to his own. Not finding Carolyn, he walked across to her bungalow just as she was hanging up the phone.

“You didn’t tell me you were going back to your place.”

“Sorry, I assumed you figured I’d go home.”

“Who was on the phone?”

“Ken.”

“Christ, you talk to that guy a lot.”

“Roy, he’s my brother. He pays my rent. Besides, I don’t consider every three weeks or so a lot.”

Carolyn’s conversations with Ken made Roy uneasy. He didn’t begrudge her the relationship, but it was one reason he found it difficult to be entirely open with her. Were Ken to learn of their affair, it could be problematic for both Roy and Carolyn. But what if she did tell Ken? Would he stop paying her rent?  Call the loan on The Bungalows, effectively firing Roy? Neither he nor Carolyn thought Ken would do much of anything except get angry. But who could be sure? Roy had high hopes for the next couple of years and he wanted Carolyn with him. She kept him grounded and focused. And he loved her, even if he had trouble admitting it to himself, let alone to her. Besides, Carolyn had never been particularly vocal about how she felt.

When Roy’s cell phone rang, he walked outside to take it.

“Alan. Thanks for calling back.”

“No problem. What’s up?”

“I wanted to get your opinion again on those stories I sent to T. J. Wyeth, but now’s not a good time.”

“Oh, yeah. Why not?”

“If I told you, you wouldn’t like it.”

“You know, Roy, if you’re still hanging out with Carolyn you’re just asking for trouble.”

“One man’s opinion, Alan.”

“Okay, have it your way. I’m not in the mood to argue. But speaking of trouble, I had dinner the other night with Tommy Thompson and his wife, your old girlfriend.”

“Tommy and Gretchen? Just the three of you?”

“Of course not. Ken had a dinner party. I was one of the lucky invitees.”

“What did Tommy have to say for himself?”

“Not much, but they both asked to be remembered to you.”

“Not funny, Alan.”

“Okay, they didn’t ask about you. They couldn’t have been less interested in Buxton or The Bungalows. Your name never came up. Try not to take it personally.”

Roy didn’t. He was grateful there’d been no talk about The Bungalows. If word of his “ownership” hadn’t leaked by now, it wasn’t going to.

“And just a heads-up, Roy. After the Thompsons left, Ken mentioned your idea of renting the bungalows year-round. He doesn’t want you fooling with what’s working, but I don’t think he’d try especially hard to stop you.”

“That’s good because I don’t intend to stop. And by the way, when exactly were you planning to tell me I wasn’t your first choice for the Buxton assignment? I thought we were friends.”

“We are, Roy, but I consult for Ken. He pays me extremely well to be completely honest. He helps supports a lifestyle I never thought possible. When was the last time you even bought me a present?”

Roy wasn’t amused by Alan’s attempt at humor.

“Be pissed if you like, but I was only doing my job.”

“Right. Fine. I get it.”

“Good.”

Roy saw no point in pursuing the matter. He just wanted to be sure Alan knew he knew. He doubted Ken had shared the fact he’d told Roy about the other “Roys”.

“Just so you know, renting year-round brings in a hell of lot more money. Money I might add that supports a lifestyle Inever thought possible. Besides, I already have two renters lined up, and guess what, you even know one of them.”

“Yeah, who’s that?”

“Fred Mueller”

“Christ, Roy. Fred Mueller? Are you kidding me?”

“Why, what’s the problem?”

“Fred’s trouble Roy. He was during college and he’s even more so now. Don’t fool around with the guy.”

“Why, because he’s a right wing conspiracy nut? He’s a journalist, Alan. He has money. He’s harmless.”

“I’d keep my distance, Roy.”

“Well, that’s going to be a little hard. I already rented him the bungalow next to mine.”

“Give him his money back, Roy. You don’t need renters that badly.”

“Why are you’re making such a big fucking deal out of this.”

“Because it’s going to be a big fucking headache for you.”

“Damn, I had no idea you were such an alarmist.”

“Only when I see fire on the horizon Roy. You want that kind of renter; be my guest. It’s your funeral.”

“A bit dramatic, don’t you think Alan? Fred’s money is green. It’s bankable. Besides, he’s moving in next week.”

…to be continued…