“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.”
“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.
“She’s dead, Carolyn.”
“I wish I were.”
“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?”
“Want me to leave?”
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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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…