Red Sky at Morning, Sailor Take Warning
“I never met a winner who didn’t bet.” – Merle Travis
As Alison slept, Roy fumbled around in the dark for his clothes. Tired and slightly hungover, he had early morning appointments he couldn’t ignore. He glanced at Alison buried beneath the covers. As far as Roy was concerned, last night had been swell—a corny perspective he knew, but a pleasant relief from his usual jaded view of life.
After leaving a note, Roy joined the morning rush. Standing in a stuffy, overcrowded subway car, he fantasized about life with an over-sexed thirty-five year old. He hoped last night hadn’t been a one-night stand. But who knew? Maybe Alison just liked sleeping with perfect strangers. Maybe that was her thing. Rather than speculate, he spent the remainder of his trip planning a return engagement, unable to leave well enough alone.
Alone was often how Roy found himself. His not-infrequent attempts at meaningful relationships usually ended in disappointment. Sometimes he chose prospective partners carelessly—often on an inexplicable whim—or he scared them off with an overly intense pursuit. In most cases, however, an initial infatuation faded quickly, and Roy simply opted out. There were two notable exceptions and Roy had been sad to see those relationships end. Both had seemed as though they might go the distance. But the work required sustaining them proved too much for Roy. His romantic adventures did, however, divert Roy’s focus from what he considered an unsatisfactory career. While others, for the most part, viewed his professional accomplishments favorably, Roy was unmoved by their assessment. In his own eyes, he was something of a failure.
It was raining and cold when Roy arrived at his office. Instead of finding relief from the elements, he sat at his desk freezing. The heat in TPR’s building was almost non-existent. Roy hadn’t even bothered to remove his coat. As he sorted through his messages, the good mood that had accompanied him to the office quickly dissipated. Between the lack of heat and a series of idiotic emails, he had half a mind to go home. Or better yet, return to Alison’s—although he wasn’t sure if that was an option.
The most irritating email was from Beverly Rosen, Roy’s least favorite client—although the competition was stiff. Beverly was stubbornly refusing to increase an embarrassingly low offer she and her husband had made on a large two-bedroom in Chelsea. Although she claimed they absolutely loved the place, Beverly refused to budge. Even a monumental effort on Roy’s part had failed to convince her that the seller wouldn’t accept anything below asking. Beverly, much to Roy’s dismay, insisted he take a harder line with the owner. No sooner had Roy finished reading her email than the phone rang. After a few unpleasant pleasantries, Roy tried once again to explain the situation to Beverly.
“These people don’t have to sell, Beverly. That means they can sit and wait for their price. Eventually, I believe, they’ll get it. It’s only been on the market two months.”
“But you said they haven’t had a lot of offers.”
“They haven’t. Most people know they need to be at asking or not to bother. Like I said, they’re willing to wait for their price.”
“Well, why don’t they just take the highest offer they can get, if they want to sell?”
“Beverly, you’re not listening. They don’t have to sell. They’re not in a rush. They can wait.”
“Well, Roy, I think they’re foolish not to take what the market is offering. Why don’t they drop their asking price?”
Beverly was not only Roy’s least favorite client; she might easily have been the dumbest.
“Well, Beverly, I can’t really answer that. I’m not a mind reader. They seem convinced they’ll get their price. Since you can’t talk to them directly, you’re just going to have to trust me. They’re prepared to wait. How many different ways can I say it? If you like the place as much as you say you do, I suggest you meet their asking price. That’s an additional five percent, or a hundred thousand dollars, more than you’re currently offering. Price appreciation over the next few years will easily cover it.”
“No, Roy,” Beverly said in an absurdly haughty tone, “That’s not what Frank and I are going to do. I think we’re offering a fair price, actually a very good price. You need to go back and tell them they’re silly not to accept it.”
Roy, convinced real estate brought out the worst in people, decided he’d wasted enough time already.
“As you wish, Beverly. I’ll get back to you.”
“Fucking idiot,” Roy said under his breath as he hung up the phone.
Unreasonable buyers, sellers, renters, and landlords were the bane of Roy’s existence. Dealing with other agents, mortgage brokers, and real estate attorneys was a close second. Unlike Beverly, though, many people liked and appreciated their brokers, and many liked Roy. But that didn’t change anything. He still thought it was a silly occupation and an extremely primitive way of exchanging property. Frustrated with his latest professional incarnation Roy would have loved to quit, but he needed the money.
As he sat in his office bemoaning his fate, Mary Robinson, another of TPR’s agents, stuck her head in.
“What is it this time, Roy?”
“Same as always: a difficult, know-it-all client.”
“Roy, most clients are a pain in the ass, and yours aren’t any different. That’s the God’s honest truth, and I’ve been at this game a lot longer than you. So accept it or get out of the business. But stop making yourself miserable because some client is a jerk. If you want to make some money, just figure out what it’ll take to close a deal and do it.”
Although Roy knew Mary was right, it was still a difficult pill to swallow. Dwelling on it only depressed him. After she was gone, Roy went back to answering his emails. It was almost noon by the time he shut off his computer. He needed to grab lunch before heading uptown. He had a two o’clock showing with Bruce Watanabe, another annoying client. Roy left his office and headed to the reception area. Opposite the elevator sat Wanda Jenkins, TPR’s third receptionist in as many months. She smiled broadly at Roy. Always well dressed and expertly made-up, Wanda weighed well over two hundred pounds, but stood only five-four. Why obese people chose to work around the periphery—hair, nails, and make-up—when addressing their weight problem would have a more profound effect mystified Roy.
Although appearing to have spent most of her first twenty-four years eating, Wanda wasn’t done. A large box of jelly donuts sat half-eaten on her desk, along with a radio blaring loud music, and a slew of used scratch-off lottery cards.
“Morning, Roy. You okay? You look a bit done-in.”
“Morning, Wanda. Yeah, I’m fine. A little tired.”
Wanda was always trying to engage Roy in conversation. He thought maybe she had a crush on him, so he did his best to keep any interaction short. But ignoring Wanda would have been a mistake. She was, after all, a conduit for new clients.
“Want a jelly donut for the road?” Wanda giggled. “I know I shouldn’t have any more, but there’s nothing else to do. I’m so bored. The phone hardly rings.”
Busy gorging herself on another donut, Wanda was startled when the phone did ring. And it continued to ring for a while, as Wanda needed to swallow the remainder of the donut before she could pick up. The sixth ring brought Vinnie Napoli, another of Roy’s colleagues, out of his office. Almost as large as Wanda, Vinnie was a former Home Shopping Network huckster turned real estate agent. In his day, he had been quite a closer, but that day was long gone.
“Answer the goddamn phone, Wanda. It’s what you’re paid to do. Eating jelly doughnuts isn’t in your job description. And turn down the goddamn music. Even if you only get one call an hour, hearing it matters.”
Wanda childishly stuck her tongue out at Vinnie, but picked up the phone. Her voice had an unusually high-pitched, singsong quality. Wanda thought it was pleasant sounding and mistakenly believed it made callers feel welcome. Unfortunately, she enunciated so poorly, barely opening her mouth when she spoke, most people had to ask if they had the right number. Roy figured she wouldn’t last the month. Wanda and Vinnie. Two more good reasons, Roy thought, to get out of TPR. How had he so mismanaged his professional life that these two characters were now a part of his daily routine?
“Gretchen Thompson for Roy,” Wanda announced. Roy headed back to his office. Gretchen had been one of Roy’s two notable exceptions. They had had a serious four-year relationship a decade ago. Although they’d stayed in contact, they hadn’t communicated in over a year, and hadn’t seen each other in almost two. Roy wasn’t overjoyed to be hearing from her.
Shortly after their break-up, Gretchen had married Tommy Thompson, a major real estate developer in New York City and the Carolinas. Tommy specialized in luxury apartment building and expensive coastal properties. He travelled in the upper echelons of New York society and while Gretchen wasn’t quite a trophy wife, she came close. Unaware of Tommy’s violent and erratic nature at the time of their nuptials, Gretchen would go on to pay a heavy price for her ignorance. She’d married Tommy on the rebound, succumbing to the promise of a moneyed lifestyle and his deference to her every whim. Although her husband was quite good looking, Gretchen had confided to Roy that Tommy wasn’t much of a lover. Roy wondered why she was calling now.
Gretchen had been the closest Roy had ever come to marrying. Although she was ready, he wasn’t—and Gretchen believed he never would be. Roy, for his part, was never able to shake the feeling that Gretchen’s interest in him was somehow perverse—almost like she was slumming. It was a prime example of Roy’s neuroses at work. At five-seven, slim, and well proportioned, Gretchen was an attractive woman. She had delicate features, medium length blonde hair, and shapely legs. Always stylish, Gretchen did forty-nine better than most woman did twenty-nine, while Roy still thought of himself as an ugly duckling. Gretchen had also wanted kids; Roy had not. He liked children well enough—but only some of the time. Since that wasn’t how it worked, Roy opted to skip the parenting experience entirely.
As soon as Roy answered the phone he heard desperation in Gretchen’s voice. She asked to see him, offering no reason for her unexpected call. With Alison occupying his thoughts he had wanted to say no, but didn’t have the heart. They arranged to meet at TPR the following afternoon. If there was going to be a scene, he didn’t want it to happen in public. Roy grumbled as he hung up, kicking himself for never having mastered the art of saying “no.” Heading out again, he passed Wanda and Vinnie engaged in yet another petty argument. Rather than wait for the elevator, he walked down the four flights of stairs to the lobby.
Roy’s client, Bruce Watanabe, wanted to see an apartment that Roy was sure he would find a reason not to like. He always did. Impossible to please, Bruce was a truly problematic client. If Roy could only find the right place for him, there was a sizeable commission waiting. Bruce had money and Roy stood to make a commission on both the purchase of a new apartment for Bruce and the sale of his old one. But Bruce had an uncanny ability to find something wrong with every unit Roy showed him. Some apartments, Bruce acknowledged, came very close. But then there was just that one thing that made it unacceptable. Roy had finally begun to realize this was a game for Bruce and a huge waste of time for him. Best to jettison Bruce, Roy thought. If only he could stop focusing on the fees he would lose.
As Roy suspected, the showing on the Upper East Side proved fruitless. With his day drawing to a close, he took one last phone call from Alan Epstein, his old college friend and former client. Alan had been almost as frustrating as Bruce Watanabe, but it wasn’t Alan’s fault. Equally wealthy, Alan had recently separated from his wife—something Roy had been encouraging him to do for some time. Alan had been in the last stages of choosing between two multi-million dollar units when Alan’s divorce attorney intervened. He insisted this was not the time to be spending that kind of money. Alan would have to wait until the divorce was final and so would Roy’s commission.
Alan was calling to suggest Roy meet Ken Ashley, a longtime associate. Ken had an unusual opportunity Alan thought might be of interest to Roy, but provided no details. Alan merely indicated Ken had significant real estate holdings, needed help with one of his properties, and was likely worth Roy’s time. Roy, however, was focused on seeing Alison. He thanked Alan and told him he’d think about it, trying hard not to sound uninterested.
At Alison’s, Roy was anything but uninterested. He was welcomed with a theatrical show of affection. A sucker for attention, Roy ate it up. As he started to speak, however, Alison put a finger to his lips. She didn’t need him getting sentimental on her. After briefly mocking Roy’s early morning note, Alison acknowledged she, too, had enjoyed the previous evening. That was all it took. Enamored after less than thirty-six hours, Roy would subsequently remain oblivious to all but the most benign of Alison’s motives.
After making drinks, she joined Roy on the couch, tucked her legs under her, and began to massage his neck. Roy knew he was being set up.
“Do I need to ask, or are you going to volunteer what’s on your mind?”
“Why should something be on my mind?”
“Jesus, Alison, I wasn’t born yesterday.”
Exaggerating a pout to stall for time, Alison admitted Roy was right.
“Okay. I do have something I want to talk about, but first I have to apologize for not being completely honest at the open house.”
“Really? How so?” Roy asked, sitting up, concerned, and removing Alison’s hand from his neck.
“My parents didn’t die in a car accident. They did die recently, though, but from cancer. First my mother; followed a few months later by father. They had both been sick for some time.”
“Why lie about it?”
“I thought it would elicit more sympathy from you. I knew my application wouldn’t fly, and hoped you might make an exception under the circumstances. And you did, sort of. You were great. I hadn’t expected you to be so nice.”
Roy still felt uneasy. He wasn’t at all sure Alison’s confession was over.
“What else should I know?”
“Unfortunately,” Alison said, putting down her glass, turning to face him, and placing her hands on his knees. “I exaggerated my new salary, I don’t start for another month, and it’s only a freelance assignment. It would have been a huge stretch for me to afford the apartment even if I could find guarantors.”
“So this notion of re-working your application is pointless.”
“So what was the point of going to the open house in the first place? I don’t get it. Why don’t you just stay here?”
“I can’t, Roy. I hated my parents. I can’t stay in this place. I grew up here. That was more than enough. Besides, the lease is up in just over a month. That’s why I went to the open house. I was desperate. I thought if I could get the apartment, I’d figure out some way to pay the rent.”
That didn’t make a lot of sense to Roy, but he didn’t dwell on it. He also continued to wonder why a thirty-five year old woman was still living with her parents, but decided to leave that alone as well.
“So what are you going to do now?”
Alison stared at Roy, and took a deep breath. Shit, Roy thought. Here it comes.
“Ask you a big favor.”
“Not too big, I hope,” Roy responded nervously.
“We had a good time last night, right? A really good time.”
“Get to the point, Alison, the suspense is killing me.”
“Okay. Here goes.” Alison hesitated for a second before continuing. “Can I stay at your place until I figure out what to do? Please, Roy. It would only be for a few days, I promise. I wouldn’t get in the way.”
“You’ve got to be kidding, right?”
But it didn’t take a genius to see she wasn’t.
…to be continued…
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