Roy Bloom, Bit Player: Chapter 6

In A Lonely Place

“I sometimes think that God in creating man somewhat overestimated his ability.” — Oscar Wilde

“North Carolina? Alan had to be kidding,” Roy muttered. While the isolation of the Outer Banks appealed to him, Roy had no intention of leaving New York City and heading south. True, he needed a change. But not just any change. Besides, the money would have to be exceptional for him to even consider it. After a half-hour of pointless musing, Roy picked himself up and headed home. As he passed Wanda on the way out, she cheerfully told him he looked awful. Great. If anyone knew what awful looked like, it was Wanda.

Roy hoped Alison would be home. He needed a friendly face, some companionship, and a little compassion. But the apartment was empty. Collapsing on the couch, exhausted, he glanced around the room. It took him a minute, but something felt wrong. Not only was Alison not home, her things appeared to be gone. When she’d moved in, Alison had brought very little with her. It had struck Roy as odd at the time, but he hadn’t said anything. Now, he slowly began to look around. There was no evidence Alison had ever lived there.

He quickly kicked his search into high gear, pulling drawers open and looking deep into closets. Much to Roy’s dismay, not only was Alison missing, but so was his not inconsequential “cash stash,” his extra credit cards, and some expensive jewelry he never wore. Stunned and angry, Roy knew he’d been played. Alison may have taken her time, but she’d done a good job. He immediately called to cancel the cards, but it was too late. Alison had already been on a shopping spree. Roy had trusted her. Loved her actually—in an odd sort of way. Now all he felt was betrayed.

On the kitchen table, wedged between the salt and pepper shakers, there was a note. Roy wondered why she’d even bothered. Did she have some perverse need to justify her deception? Why not just get the hell out if that was the plan from the beginning? Tempted to toss it, his curiosity wouldn’t let him.

Roy —

I am truly sorry. I know you don’t believe me, but I am. I never expected to like you as much as I did. I’ve never had a “normal” relationship and I allowed myself to believe that maybe I could. But what I do is too ingrained in me. At the end of the day it’s always about my needs. No one else ever attended to them, so I have to.

I’ve used the open house gambit before, although usually at higher-end properties. Real estate agents—the men, that is—are especially gullible and needy. Usually the sex—when it comes to that—is tolerable at best. You, I enjoyed. I realize that’s not much solace. I intended to make quick work of the grift, as I generally do, but staying at your place agreed with me. It almost seemed like I had a home. And you seemed to enjoy my company.

I actually contemplated telling you the truth, or just leaving and not taking anything. But, unfortunately, that was impossible. Grifting is what I do. It’s who I am. So when I started to become attached, I knew it was time to get on with it. I liked you, Roy. You’re a good guy. You didn’t deserve this. I know I hurt you. That was never my intention.

I was going to take your laptop, but I was afraid some of your work might be on it and not backed up. See, I do have a heart. I’m also sorry that I wasn’t more enthusiastic about your writing this morning. I was already planning my exit and not in the mood to be complimentary. You’re good, Roy. You should keep at it.

Don’t bother with the police; it would just be a waste of time. Besides, you don’t seem like the type. I’ll be long gone by the time you read this. It’s not often when I care, but I did this time. Life plays nasty games with us all.

 — Alison

After reading the note several times, Roy stashed it in a drawer. Someday he might need to remind himself that anyone can be a patsy. Slowly, though, the hurt began to subside. Replaced—strangely enough—by a small sliver of understanding. Roy was all too familiar with getting by the best you knew how. And it wasn’t long before a genuine feeling of sadness at the thought of never seeing Alison again nudged aside his anger at having been deceived. He even allowed himself to be touched that Alison had acknowledged she liked his writing—a small consolation perhaps, but not unappreciated.

It took only a few calls the next morning. The jobs listed on Alison’s rental application were phony—every last one of them. There would be no way to trace her. Roy remembered the apartment Alison claimed was her parents’. He splurged on a cab. A woman’s voice answered the buzzer. In a heavy German accent, she asked what he wanted. He had questions about Alison, he said, having not the slightest idea if the name would mean anything to her. Emma Becker, Alison’s aunt, buzzed him in.

Alison had been staying in her apartment, Emma said, while she was recovering in the hospital from a collapsed lung. She really needed to give up smoking, but found it close to impossible. Short and excruciatingly thin, Emma had white hair pulled back in a bun, bright blue eyes, and a warm, engaging smile. In a surprisingly deep voice, she said she knew Roy probably had a lot of questions, quickly adding that she had no idea where Alison might be. Then she offered him a cup of coffee.

“Thanks. Coffee’s fine, unless you have something stronger?”

Emma smiled and pointed to a threadbare armchair. Roy sat down, as Emma reached into a nearby cabinet for a bottle of cheap scotch.

“This will have to do,” she said. “I haven’t tasted the good stuff in years.”

“Anything’s okay. Thanks.”

“Quite the shock, huh,” Emma said good-naturedly, grabbing two glasses, sitting down, and lighting a cigarette.

She seemed to sense Roy’s surprise.

“Alison confides in me. There aren’t a lot of people in her life, and she knows I don’t judge her. Mind you, I don’t approve, but I almost understand.”

“I liked her. It’s especially tough to be taken in by someone you like.”

“I’m sure it is. But don’t be too hard on yourself. You weren’t the first and you won’t be the last.”

“I still feel like a fool.”

“You shouldn’t. Alison’s good at what she does. Sadly, she’s been doing it for a very long time.”

“Why?”

“Who really knows? Alison’s childhood was chaotic and lonely. Her parents were serious alcoholics. She had to fend for herself much of the time. Her prospects for a normal future were always slim. An older boyfriend introduced her to grifting at a young age. She was a natural.”

“How could I have been so wrong about her? I mean I knew she was troubled. But she could be very sweet. And she was smart, entertaining, and very appealing.”

“She is all of those things, I suppose. A little young for you, though, don’t you think?”

“Hey, she picked me. Not the other way around. I was flattered.”

“You were suckered,” Emma said, smiling. “What name did she use?”

“Alison Meier. At least that’s what she put on her rental application.”

“That was her mother’s maiden name in Germany. Her last name is Becker, same as mine. Are you planning to go to the police?”

“I don’t think so. What’s the point? Get my money back? Not going to happen.”

“It’s a shame, really. Alison’s parents—my brother and his wife—couldn’t be bothered to raise her. It took a heavy emotional toll. She withdrew into herself. I wasn’t even allowed in for a long time. But Alison can be loving and generous when she’s willing to chance it. She’s always been good to me. Grifting just became a compulsion for her, an obsession. A way for her to get back at a world she believed had treated her badly.”

Glancing around the room as Emma spoke, Roy noticed the miniature sculptures again and asked about them.

“Another time, another place.” Emma said wistfully.

“Did you make them?”

“Yes, I made them. But it’s a long story and I’m not in the mood.”

“Understood. They’re quite beautiful, though.”

“Thanks.”

Emma seemed momentarily lost in her thoughts. Roy let her be as he finished his scotch. Thinking perhaps it was time to get going, he started to get up.

“Don’t leave yet,” she said, lighting another cigarette.

Roy sat back down. Nodding slowly at Emma he said, “I hope you realize I’m very grateful to you for being so forthright. You didn’t have to be.”

“No. I did,” Emma insisted. “Besides, I haven’t had company for a while.” She looked down for a moment, then back at Roy.  “I’m a lonely old lady, Roy, and I haven’t lived my life very well.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means I regret many of the choices I made. Unfortunately, there are no do-overs in life.”

Emma would get no argument from Roy. He distrusted people who claimed to have no regrets.

“Care to elaborate? I’m in no rush. I got up to leave because I thought I was overstaying my welcome.”

“Hardly, Roy. I have nothing but time these days. I’m just not up to it. Another time, perhaps.”

Too bad, Roy thought. He doubted there would be another time.

“Okay, then. How about one for the road?”

Emma was happy to oblige. Halfway through her second mid-day scotch, her reticence disappeared. She started to recount stories from her early childhood in Berlin during the war. Emma had vivid recollections of the Allied bombing and her parents’ frantic escape to South America in the summer of 1945. Then, in the autumn of ’46, her family bought their way into the United States, or so she’d been told. But that’s where Emma’s storytelling left off. Memories beyond that point somehow seemed off limits and Roy wasn’t about to push.

The second time Roy got up to leave, Emma didn’t stop him. Besides, staying would have meant another scotch, and Roy had had enough. He thanked Emma again for her honesty. She told him to forget it. She should be thanking him for breaking up the monotony of her day. Roy took out his business card and handed it to Emma.

“You’ve been a big help. Call me if the mood strikes you. Let me return the favor some time.”

“Don’t be silly. Just don’t forget about me. God only knows when I’ll see Alison again.”

On his way down four flights of debris-littered stairs, Roy wondered what Emma had meant by asking him not to forget about her. He felt pretty sure he’d never see her again. Alison was a different story. He knew he’d never see her again, but she’d be hard to forget.

Unable to sleep that night, Roy relived his other failed relationships, silently absolving himself of responsibility for their demise. Now he had another to add to the pile. Tired and depressed by morning, he spent the day at not one, but two exceedingly long and boring real estate closings. The back-to-back events put Roy more on edge than usual. He’d finally made some money, but the commissions were paltry. As he headed to Ken’s office for the meeting Alan had worked so hard to arrange, he thought about grabbing a drink, then decided it was a bad idea.

Ken’s receptionist—bearing no resemblance to Wanda—announced his arrival.

“You can go in now, sir.”

Ken greeted Roy warmly and immediately offered him a drink. Roy smiled, but declined.

“You don’t mind if I do?”

“No, of course not. Usually I’d join you, but I’ll pass for now.”

“Anything else I can get you? Soda? Water?”

“No. I’m fine.” Roy said, friendly but reserved.

“Give me a minute,” Ken said, as he hiked to the other end of his office. “Check out the sights.”

Floor-to-ceiling windows constituted three of Ken’s office walls. Central Park was visible fifty-four stories below. It was a spectacular view. After several minutes, Roy turned to take in the rest of the elaborately decorated office. He watched as Ken poured himself an expensive single malt scotch. He thought about buying a bottle for Emma as a thank-you.

Handsome, fiftyish, and trim, Ken had chiseled features, penetrating brown eyes and a full head of grey hair. Unlike Roy, he appeared relaxed as he walked back across the room. This was Ken’s show.

He motioned for Roy to sit.

“Nice place, if you have to hang around an office all day,” Roy offered.

“I don’t, but thank you.”

Perched on the edge of an expensive Italian leather armchair, Roy’s apprehension showed.

“I know this is your meeting Ken, but I need to ask a favor.”

“Sure. Good ahead.”

“Let’s skip the small talk. I’m much too curious about what I’m doing here to have to wade through polite but unnecessary conversation. Besides, I’m pretty sure you already know a lot about me.”

“I do.”

“I’m sure you know Alan was extraordinarily vague about everything. He mentioned moving out of New York City, the Outer Banks, bungalows, and significant compensation for the ‘right guy.’ But he didn’t connect the dots and he didn’t specify what constituted the ‘right guy.’ He had to do a lot of coaxing just to get me up here. So the sixty-four-thousand dollar question is: Why am I here?”

Ken didn’t hesitate.

“Because I think you can help me, and I know I can help you.”

“Really?” Roy asked, skeptical and sounding it.

“Really, Roy,” Ken said, adopting an excessively serious tone. “Alan knows you pretty well and I’ve been doing business with Alan for years. We’ve made a lot of money together. I trust his judgment implicitly. That’s why you’re here.”

“That’s what Alan said.”

“I know who you are, Roy—and not just from Alan. It’s not unusual for any smart businessperson to research the people with whom he might work. It’s common sense. I’ve been successful in business because I haven’t taken unnecessary chances. There’s risk in any deal without adding to it. I wasn’t about to start working with a total stranger.”

“Research?”

“Research.”

An interesting euphemism, Roy thought. He wasn’t especially happy that Ken had checked into his background, but he wasn’t about to say anything. Instead, he wondered what Ken might know that he wouldn’t be putting on the table.

The investigator’s report had, in fact, contained information that made Ken consider reversing course, but Roy had no way of knowing that. For his part, Alan was certainly aware of Gretchen’s involvement with Roy, but hadn’t known she’d gone on to marry Tommy Thompson with whom Alan was acquainted through his work with Ken. And Ken, having had numerous business dealings with Tommy, knew Gretchen, but was unaware of her earlier relationship with Roy. Learning from the report about the connection between Roy, Gretchen, and Tommy pleased neither Ken nor Alan. Nonetheless, they had decided to proceed, believing it unlikely problems would result from Tommy’s ownership of the land adjacent to The Bungalows. And what Roy didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him, although both Ken and Alan knew it would only be a matter of time before Roy found out should he accept Ken’s offer. Of greater importance, however, would be keeping Tommy in the dark about Roy’s potential involvement.

“So who am I?” Roy asked, slightly indignant.

“Honestly, Roy, someone down on their luck. Someone who could use a break.”

Roy objected to Ken’s patronizing tone, but again chose to remain silent.

“You’ve had an unconventional career to say the least—a lot of impressive jobs, but almost all with relatively short tenures. That’s a bit troubling. Now you’re busting your ass for a third-rate real estate firm—and not liking it much—because you need the money. You’ve never been married, no kids, currently unattached, I believe. But most importantly, Alan assures me you’re not afraid to take chances, and not afraid to bend the rules.”

Roy looked bemused. Pointing at Ken’s drink, he requested one of his own.

“An interesting assessment,” Roy added, as he got up, walked across the room, and gazed out the window.

Ken appeared pleased. He’d gotten Roy’s attention. He knew there weren’t a lot of Roys out there willing to overlook the messier parts of the proposal he was about to present and, equally important, who also possessed an incentive to do so. He wanted to hang on to this Roy.

Handing him his scotch, Ken asked if he could get him anything else.

“Yeah. Some details would be nice.”

“Coming right up,” Ken said, jokingly. “You know, Roy, it doesn’t do either of us any good if only I think you’re the right guy. You need to agree. Hopefully you will.”

Roy wasn’t so sure.

…to be continued…

Roy Bloom, Bit Player: Chapter 5

Out of the Past

“The past is never where you think you left it.”  Katherine Anne Porter

Roy waited impatiently for Gretchen to begin. He hadn’t wanted to see her or to hear another grim chapter in her never-ending saga with Tommy. But the nice guy in him prevailed. He’d reluctantly consented to a meeting he could easily have done without. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about Gretchen. He did. But she’d made her bed and he wasn’t in it. Tommy was her problem.

But Gretchen sat silently, unable to get started. Agreeing to see her had been a mistake. Roy swirled the scotch around in his glass to kill time. Better, he thought, than drumming his fingers on the desk or telling her he didn’t have all day, which, in fact, he didn’t.

“Gretchen,” Roy said, trying to get her attention.

“I’m sorry, Roy. Maybe I shouldn’t have come.” Roy silently agreed. “I just didn’t know where else to go. Practically all of our friends are Tommy’s. I’m pretty isolated these days.”

There was bitterness in her voice. Roy was surprised. When they’d been together, he’d seen Gretchen hostile and angry, but never bitter. It wasn’t unusual, though, for her to begin with an apology. Gretchen had been apologizing as long as he knew her.

“Whose fault is that?”

“Mine, I suppose,” she responded wearily.

Quickly forgetting the promise he made to himself not to be critical of Gretchen, he immediately took her to task for choosing Tommy as his successor.

“God, Gretchen, Tommy Thompson. I might have been difficult at times—unnecessarily negative, I know—but underneath it all, I wasn’t a bad guy. I’m not so sure about Tommy. Or don’t you agree?”

But Gretchen didn’t answer. She appeared focused on maintaining her composure. Whatever was coming wasn’t good.

“Look,” Roy said. “We’ve been over all this before. I know you’re unhappy, but there must be something new going on or you wouldn’t have traipsed all the way down here. You’d have told me on the phone. We haven’t seen each other in almost two years. Why now?” His tone had an air of irritation.

“Compassionate as ever,” Gretchen snapped, looking at Roy for almost the first time since entering his office.

Good, he thought. At least there was a little fight left in her.

“I’m sorry,” Roy said, softening his tone. “If you have something you need to say, just say it.”

“I’m trying, but your patience hasn’t improved either.”

“Gretchen, we’re not here to discuss my character flaws. Do me a favor. Tell me what’s going on.”

And with some difficulty, she did.

“Tommy’s gotten physically abusive.”

Roy put his drink down and sat up.

“I knew it had to be something bad. I’m sorry.”

“Night before last I foolishly brought up adoption again after Tommy had been quite emphatic earlier in the day that he would never consider it. He looked at me for a brief moment then slapped me across the face with the back of his hand—hard. And every time I tried to say something, he hit me again. I don’t know; he just seemed to snap. I was scared.”

“And?”

“What do you mean ‘and,’ Roy?” Gretchen raised her voice in astonishment. “He goddamn beat me up.”

 Roy took a deep breath, unsure of what he should do.

“This the first time?”

“Pretty much. He’s been rough before, but nothing like this.”

Roy sat back in his chair. He didn’t really care to hear any more, but he had little choice. He was a friend and he intended to act like one.

Despite having been struck in the face, Gretchen showed no sign of Tommy’s abuse. Roy assumed she’d worked hard to hide the evidence. As he sat listening to Gretchen’s story, Roy’s thoughts were about Alison. For all her craziness, she was easier to deal with than Gretchen, and certainly far less needy. Neediness, after all, was what had driven Gretchen to marry Tommy in the first place.

Roy had never actually met Tommy. He knew him only through Gretchen’s stories and by reputation. He hadn’t been invited to the wedding. As a wealthy New York City real estate developer, Tommy belonged to an exclusive club—membership restricted to the well-connected, rich, and powerful. As a consequence, Tommy’s reputation was especially important to him. He wanted to be known as tough, savvy, and, ironically, a ladies man. The truth was very different. To hear Gretchen tell it, Tommy was an unhappy, frustrated, and violent man—a lousy lover and, unfortunately, impotent to boot. Gretchen could forget about kids. Not only was Tommy’s sperm not up to the task; he refused to even consider adoption or any other alternatives. Since she’d left Roy, Gretchen had shared much about her troubled marriage, but physical abuse was something new.

Drained after her surprising lengthy account of Tommy’s assault, Gretchen fell silent. . Roy took the opportunity to offer her another chance at some scotch. Again she declined.

“Is there more?” he asked nervously, hoping there wasn’t, but pretty sure there was.

Gretchen looked scared. Her cheeks were colorless, her face tense, as she strained to get out her next sentence.

“I told Tommy about us. I hadn’t meant to. It just came out. I was frightened and angry.”

“What do you mean, you told him about us? He already knew about us. It was no secret we’d had a four-year relationship that ended shortly before you married him.”

“But I told him it hadn’t ended.”

“Jesus, Gretchen, you did what?” Roy yelled, as he stood up and leaned across the desk. “I don’t fucking believe it. What possessed you? I thought we’d agreed that would always remain just between us.”

“Fuck you, Roy, I was getting beat up, goddammit. You try being rational when someone’s slapping you around.” Gretchen glared at Roy. He sat back down.

“Very stupid, Gretchen, very stupid,” Roy said angrily. “How many times have you told me that Tommy’s the most vindictive person you know?”

“I know, I know. I’m sorry. He was hurting me. I wanted to hurt him back and I succeeded. At what cost, though, I’m not sure. I knew it was a big mistake as soon as I said it.”

Gretchen stood up, walked across the room, and faced the window. Roy knew she was silently crying. Again, he wasn’t sure what to do. Consoling her could easily put him in a place he didn’t want to be. Better to feel guilty about being seen as cold-hearted than get involved in a situation where he really couldn’t be of any use—and didn’t want to be. Feeling the need to say something, he finally suggested that she get some professional help. Not a particularly astute comment, but it was the best he could do.

Walking back across the room, Gretchen sat down again. She said she wasn’t sure why she’d come. She thought at the very least Roy deserved to know he was more than ever in Tommy’s crosshairs. Maybe she just needed to talk to someone she could trust, even someone whose compassion, at times, was lacking.  Roy wondered, though, if perhaps she wasn’t looking for a safe place to stay, a place Tommy couldn’t invade. If so, Roy wasn’t prepared to provide it.

Gretchen didn’t stay much longer and they spent most of that time rehashing their own relationship, which made Roy uncomfortable. He couldn’t help her, and dredging up the past served no purpose. He was visibly relieved when Gretchen got up to leave. The goodbyes they exchanged were awkward.

Roy sat silently for a few minutes before glancing at his watch. He briefly considered an early exit, but had a mid-afternoon appointment with Alan Epstein that he couldn’t cancel. As much as he liked Alan, he wasn’t looking forward to the meeting. He knew it was Alan’s intention to convince him to meet with Ken Ashley. Roy couldn’t imagine why a big-shot real estate developer like Ken would have need of his services.

Nursing another scotch, Roy sat with his shoes off and his feet on his desk. He had an hour to kill before Alan arrived. He spent the time berating himself. He’d shown an appalling lack of sympathy for Gretchen’s plight. Now he felt bad. Bad about Gretchen, bad about her situation, and, frankly, bad about his own: sixty years old and eking out an existence as a freshman real estate agent at a two-bit firm. Maybe Ethel had been right after all. Maybe he hadn’t amounted to anything.

As Alan walked off the elevator, Wanda buzzed Roy. He went to meet him rather than make Alan navigate TPR’s maze of hallways. Roy found him standing off to the side in the reception area watching Wanda and Vinnie insult each other. Alan appeared amused by the show. Not so, Roy. As they went back to Roy’s office, Alan noticed dozens of file boxes, stacked floor to ceiling, running the length of every hallway.

“Hell of an office, Roy. Your firm fail to sign up for the digital age?”

Roy wasn’t amused.

“What were you expecting, Million Dollar Broker?”

“Not really, but not this.”

“Okay, so I’m not working with the high flyers. What else is new? I did right by you until your divorce attorney interfered. Want to advance me the commission that’s on indefinite hold?”

“Not really. But I have no complaints, Roy. You’re an old friend. We’ve known each other for a long time. We just never needed to meet at your office.”

“Would that have mattered?”

“I don’t think so, but you have to admit the place isn’t impressive. And those clowns up front don’t do a lot for your company’s image.”

“Okay. You made your point. Let’s not dwell on it. And it’s not my company.”

“Jesus, Roy. You’re touchy today.”

“Fine, Alan, I’m touchy today. Not much I can do about that at the moment.”

Roy shook his head, opened the bottom drawer of his desk, and pulled out the scotch. Refilling his own glass, he offered one to Alan. He declined.

“You know, I’m probably going to be a difficult sell today. Why don’t you just tell me what kind of favor you’re trying to do for your buddy Ken, because it seems clear to me that this is more for him than for me.”

Alan looked at Roy and questioned whether it made sense to continue.

“Perhaps this isn’t the optimum time for this conversation. Maybe we should reschedule.”

“There isn’t going to be an optimum time, Alan. You’re here now. Just get on with it. But do me a favor—considering my mood—skip the prologue.”

“Okay, but I need to ask you something first.” Alan paused briefly, searching for a diplomatic way forward. “What are you doing here, Roy? You’re better than this,” he said, as he gestured with his hand to indicate the office Roy now occupied. “Didn’t you have other options?”

“You want the truth? No. Not when I accepted this position.”

“Another reason you should talk to Ken.”

“Listen, Alan. For the record, I was offered a much better position just last month. A better working environment, better leads, better colleagues—a situation quite different from TPR’s amateur hour. I turned it down. If I’m going to make a change, it’s got to be something entirely different. This just isn’t my game. How does Ken’s opportunity take real estate sales out of the equation?”

“Talk to him.”

“Maybe,” Roy said, pausing to consider the prospect of meeting with Ken before launching into a completely unrelated story. “Last week, I received an offer on an apartment owned by TPR. They own several around the city. But no TPR sales person had an exclusive; any company agent was welcome to show it. It was a huge loft: high ceilings, tons of light, and terrific views. I got a good offer from a lovely couple—both architects. It meant a big commission for me. TPR accepted the offer. My clients were thrilled. What happened? The next day TPR received a better offer from a client of a different in-house agent, so they reneged on my deal. There was nothing in writing, so legally they were fine. I had to make up some cockamamie excuse to cover myself. But, Jesus, where were TPR’s ethics? I mean, I’ve done things I’m not proud of, but child’s play compared to that.”

“How many times do I have to say it? You should talk to Ken.”

Really, Alan? Is that what you think I should do?”

“Fuck you, Roy. Save the sarcasm for your clients.”

“Hey, I’m tired, okay. And I’m frustrated. I hate being a real estate agent. Try it sometime. See for yourself. Sure there are some decent brokers, but the industry’s full of people who have failed elsewhere and think it’s an easy gig. Still others see big money in a job requiring little education and less effort. And the clients, by and large, are an ungrateful bunch, and mostly a pain in the ass.”

“I get it, Roy. I do. But can you stop talking for a minute and listen?”

“Maybe.”

Alan looked at Roy and wondered whether he was still capable of paying attention.

“And at the risk of really pissing you off,” Alan said, “I think maybe it’s time to put that away.” He pointed to the bottle of scotch.

“Fuck you,” Roy said, smiling.

“Skip the attitude, okay. I’m here with a friendly suggestion.”

“Fine,” Roy said, as he put the scotch back in the drawer, but not before topping off his glass.

“Ken needs help with some real estate he owns in Buxton, North Carolina—on the Outer Banks. It’s a beautiful piece of ocean front property, with a string of high-end bungalows that rent for a fortune. The property needs to be sold and the only interested party is someone to whom Ken doesn’t want to sell. Besides, the guy’s offer isn’t close to what Ken wants, but he needs to do something quickly. So, he has a proposition for the right person.”

“And I’m supposed to be the right person?” Roy asked, disparagingly.

“Jesus, Roy, I’m on your side.”

“Really? It’s not like you to chose the losing side.”

“Knock it off. We’re friends in case you forgot.”

“Alan, let’s be honest. You’re here to recruit for Ken and I’m extremely skeptical. The last thing I need is false hope. Just tell me what the fuck this is all about.”

“Ken wants to be the one to explain how it works.”

“Great. Listen, Alan, I’m neither a developer nor a landlord. What the hell do I want with high-end bungalows on the Outer Banks?”

“It doesn’t involve being a developer or a landlord, but it would mean moving to North Carolina.”

“You got to be kidding. Move to North Carolina? Christ, it would take a hell of lot of money to get me there.”

“And Ken would give it to you.”

“I don’t know, Alan. I think it sounds like a huge waste of time.”

“It doesn’t hurt to find out. It’s definitely worth a trip uptown just to see Ken’s office. Is your time so valuable these days that you can’t fit a meeting into your busy schedule?”

Roy knew Alan wasn’t about to give up. He was on a mission for Ken and conceding defeat was out of the question. Besides, Roy wondered what it was really all about. More than any intrinsic interest, it was Roy’s curiosity that made him capitulate.

“Okay,” Roy said half-heartedly. “Set it up.”

…to be continued…

…in the meantime, if you liked the story consider forwarding it to a friend…

Roy Bloom, Bit Player: Chapter 4

That Old Black Magic

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” – Albert Einstein

Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood had been Roy’s home for years. He still lived in the same apartment he and Gretchen once shared. A working class area of Brooklyn, gentrification had made few inroads. The neighborhood remained run-down: tacky storefronts, dirty and decaying building facades, cracked sidewalks, and poorly maintained streets. Roy liked the gritty feel of it. His apartment, however, was another matter. At fifteen hundred square feet, it was a spacious loft with huge windows, a skylight, two working fireplaces, hardwood floors and art everywhere. Art Gretchen had purchased and graciously left behind. Since the apartment was far from the subway and the neighborhood dangerous at night, the rent was reasonable. Roy could almost afford it.

When not burdened by clients, Roy often sequestered himself in his top floor retreat, reading, listening to music, and, infrequently, writing. With only a handful of good friends in New York, and another dozen  scattered around the country, Roy was still very much a loner. While he occasionally frequented neighborhood bars, hanging out with other late-night drinkers, he found fewer and fewer reasons to be involved in a world he believed seriously on the decline. If only half jokingly, Roy had recently begun to predict the end of civilization. Although he respected his activist friends—even envied their optimism—he’d already concluded a tipping point had been reached. He wondered if Malcolm Gladwell would concur.

With Alison still in bed, Roy sat alone in his light-flooded kitchen, remembering how staunchly he had objected to her staying at his place.

“Alison, are you crazy?” Roy remembered saying, not quite sure what he meant by “crazy”—a word with enough subjective definitions to fill a dictionary.

“No. Why would it be such a problem?”

“Because, for openers, I barely know you.”

“That didn’t bother you last night. That should count for something.”

“It does count for something. It counts for a lot. But Christ, it was one night.”

“And you said you were a risk taker,” Alison taunted, poking him hard in the chest with her finger.

“I am, sort of,” Roy said, stumbling over his response. He believed he was a risk taker, but he wasn’t foolhardy and he plain didn’t trust Alison. But he couldn’t say that.

“It would only be for a couple of nights, three at most. I just need time to set something else up.”

“Sure. Right. Can I get that in writing?” Roy joked.

“Roy, I promise I won’t be a problem. I’ll help out. I can cook.”

“So can I,” Roy added quickly. “But let me ask you something, what do you really do for a living?”

“I told you. I’m a graphic designer—a good one. It’s on my rental application, if you remember.”

“And that’s on the up and up?”

“If you don’t believe me, Roy, you can check,” Alison said curtly, obviously annoyed.

“I don’t need to check, thank you. I believe you.” But he wasn’t sure he did.

With an impromptu cross-examination already underway, Roy figured he might as well inquire as to Alison’s motives in the first place. After struggling to carefully phrase his next question, he gave up and asked it straight out.

“Did you really invite me over last night just to get laid?

“A bit crude, Roy, don’t you think?” But Alison didn’t appear particularly offended. “I was lonely. I thought you might be good company. You seemed smart, reasonable. Nice enough. Certainly not the serial killer type.”

“What type is that? Ted Bundy seemed well-adjusted.”

“And he was cute, too,” Alison was quick to add. “Just like you.”

“At sixty? I don’t think so.”

 “Screw you, Roy. I was attracted to you. I invited you over because I wanted something to happen. I would have been disappointed if it hadn’t, and you would have too. We had a good time—and not just in bed.”

“Fair enough. But tell me, are you usually attracted to shy, older guys or should I feel special?” Roy asked.

“Get off it, Roy. You’re not shy in the least. Cautious maybe, but certainly not shy. Besides, you don’t look sixty, and you’re attractive and you know it.”

Roy smiled. He was shy and he wasn’t at all sure he was attractive.

“So last night wasn’t a fluke. You weren’t just satisfying some perverse impulse.”

“Christ. Leave it alone. Why do you have such a hard time believing I like you?” Alison asked, her irritation building. “That’s your problem, Roy, not mine.”

She was right; it was his problem—a long-standing one. Now he felt bad. He genuinely liked Alison. She was smart and considerate and endlessly entertaining. And he was more than a little intrigued. Alison seemed to sense Roy’s contrition.

“Never mind, Roy. Now I’m getting a funny feeling. Sorry I asked. I’ll figure something else out.”

“I didn’t say no,” Roy was quick to interject. “But I’m not good at sharing and I have a history of selfishness. Besides, I’m used to my privacy.”

“Hell, Roy. It’s only for a few nights. I promise I won’t disturb you. What do you do when you’re alone that’s so secret anyway?”

“Nothing. It’s the principle of it,” Roy said, declining to enumerate.

“Well, Roy, just decide. Because if the answer’s ‘no’ I have to scramble to find other accommodations. I’m not staying here one more night. So, what’s it going to be? Exceptional sex for a few more days or back to your usual tricks, whatever they are?”

“A tough choice,” Roy joked, but he was conflicted. He knew he might well be on the verge of making a big mistake. The smart Roy wanted to say no. The needy Roy couldn’t.

“Fine. You can stay for a few nights, but only a few nights. Just please don’t play up to me. It isn’t necessary and it’s condescending. Let’s agree that letting you stay at my place even for a short period of time is a bad idea and then let’s do it and not discuss it. Okay?”

Alison took Roy’s face in her hands and kissed him. She appeared genuinely relieved and happy. Roy, on the other hand, looked worried.

“Thanks, Roy. You won’t be sorry.”

Roy wasn’t so sure.

*****

By the time Alison’s two-night stay had morphed into two months—with no end in sight—Roy had grown used to having her around. He enjoyed their relationship and thought Alison did too. It was a very laissez-faire affair. They came and went as they pleased. And once ensconced at Roy’s, Alison lost all interest in finding a place of her own—if, in fact, she ever had an interest. Roy was just happy to have her there and didn’t much care anymore how it had come about. But he was already afraid he liked Alison too much for his own good. Especially since he still knew practically nothing about her.

Alison’s past—and, to a large extent, her present—remained a mystery to Roy. He’d grown tired of asking questions that went unanswered. Alison left the apartment most mornings after he was gone and often didn’t return until early evening or later. Freelance work was demanding, she would insist, but offered little elaboration. Roy chose to accept her story at face value. It was easier that way.

He cared little that Alison wasn’t conventionally attractive. As far as he was concerned, her unique personal style more than made up for it. He even welcomed the challenge presented by her unrelenting sexual appetite. Alison had, indeed, revived a dormant side of Roy, but that didn’t make him blind to her more erratic behavior. Prone to arguing over the slightest breach of social norms, Alison indulged in unnecessary, and dangerous, street confrontations with total strangers. She also engaged in long and intense tirades about the hypocrisy of Christian values with anyone polite enough to listen. Afterwards, she would often withdraw into herself for days, leaving little doubt she was a troubled soul. Surprisingly, her neuroses only contributed to Roy’s attraction. Despite his reservations, life with Alison was a welcome respite from the daily grind he endured at Three Partners Realty.

Eventually Alison joined Roy in the kitchen and made omelets for breakfast. Running late, Roy ate quickly, but still found time to complain about his work. In spite of himself, he’d managed to become a good agent although the ethical compromises he made, and watched others make, bothered him. Manufacturing non-existent offers to alter the bidding process, glossing over potential problems in rental units, or providing buyers with inside information made him particularly uncomfortable. The fact that most agents employed the same techniques didn’t make him feel any better. Of greater concern, however, was his lack of large commissions. He’d expected them by now. Hadn’t TPR’s partners assured him he’d see six figures before he knew it? Hell, he wasn’t even close. Seeing Alison roll her eyes—accustomed already to Roy’s morning rants—he decided to change the subject.

What did she think about the stories he’d written that he had asked her to read? She liked them, she said, but didn’t appear especially enthusiastic. Roy was disappointed. He thought they were good. Didn’t she realize he’d gotten an extremely late start, say forty years, and had had to work extra hard just to produce credible work? She could, at least, cut him a little slack.

As Roy brooded about Alison’s limited endorsement of his writing the phone rang, breaking the silence that had overtaken the kitchen. It was Bruce Watanabe. Roy was rushing to be on time for their morning meeting. But from the minute he heard Bruce’s voice, he knew he was calling—at the last minute—to cancel. Offering only a perfunctory apology, Bruce wanted to know if they could reschedule. Typical, Roy thought. At least he was still at home. Now he could stop wolfing down his food and relax—something that didn’t come easy for Roy.

Still bothered by Alison’s lukewarm reaction to his writing, Roy childishly felt the need to annoy her in return. He wanted to know how—precisely—she’d managed to get by before moving in with him. The question was as old as their relationship. Alison artfully dodged it, as always. But today it seemed to anger her more than usual. Frustrated, Roy dispensed with their usual parting intimacies, downed his third cup of coffee, and headed to the office.

In a lousy mood as he stepped off the elevator, Wanda only added to it by telling Roy that Gretchen had called to confirm their noon meeting. Roy had completely forgotten. After having abruptly cancelled the appointment they’d made two months earlier (shortly after Roy had met Alison)—without offering a reason—Roy had hoped that would be the end of it. But Gretchen had called again yesterday, asking to see him. While not overjoyed, he had again acquiesced. Mismatched as they were, it was odd they remained in contact at all.

Although passionate, Gretchen and Roy’s relationship had also been contentious—each highly critical of the other. The vast difference in their backgrounds didn’t help. Gretchen had been born into east coast wealth and entitlement and Roy—save for a few years spent in an upscale suburb—hailed from a strongly middle-class existence in provincial Ohio. But they shared a critical trait in common. Gretchen hid deep-seated insecurities with a surprisingly convincing veneer of self-confidence while Roy presented a self-assured image to the world, masking serious feelings of inadequacy. Honest communication was neither’s strong suit. They willingly bought into each other’s storylines. Continuing a long-term relationship was probably always out of the question, or so they liked to tell each other when it proved convenient. And yet they clearly shared a bond.

Roy’s morning was filled with irritating phone calls from clients expecting the impossible. One buyer insisted that a large, livable two-bedroom in Greenwich Village for less than eight hundred thousand had to exist. Roy asked if she was visiting from Pluto. His joke cost him a client. He was relieved when Wanda buzzed at noon, even if he wasn’t looking forward to seeing Gretchen. When he did, he was shocked. Despite a deep tan, Gretchen looked awful. She was disheveled, wore no make-up, and looked distressed. Usually dressed to display the maximum amount of skin, Gretchen showed none. It worried Roy.

He gave her a generic welcoming kiss, pulled out a chair for her, walked behind his desk, and sat down. He intended to keep the small talk short. He was anxious to know why she’d come.

“Nice tan. Been on vacation?” Roy asked, ignoring the rest of her appearance.

“Tommy was inspecting property he owns in North Carolina. I wouldn’t really call it a vacation.”

“Right, I forgot you told me his family was originally from the Carolinas. So Tommy still owns property there?”

“Yeah, some. He apparently has a problem he’s trying to resolve. Don’t ask me what it is. He makes a point of not discussing his business with me. I know he sold some oceanfront property a long time ago and I think he regrets it now, but I’m not sure.”

“Still making a lot of money, that Tommy?”

“I guess.”

“Don’t you even know that?”

“Not really. Like I said, he keeps his business affairs to himself. He doesn’t seem to lack for cash, though.”

And that was the end of Roy’s patience. He pushed his chair back, grabbed a bottle of expensive scotch and two glasses from a desk drawer, poured himself a generous amount, and offered to do the same for Gretchen. She declined.

“Too early for me.”

“Never too early,” Roy responded, tipping his glass toward Gretchen.

She was obviously hurting, but Roy had no intention of playing guessing games. She needed to tell him why she’d come. He was apprehensive. It’d been well over a year since they’d had a serious discussion. Did she still think he was obliged to be a safe port in her personal storm? He hadn’t volunteered to be on her rescue team. She’d married Tommy; he hadn’t. And Roy was betting heavily that Tommy was the source of her troubles.

“So?” Roy asked, expecting Gretchen to launch into her story. Instead, she sat quietly, her hands folded in her lap. She looked forlorn, but said nothing. Roy didn’t plan to wait her out.

“Gretchen, it’s been a while. Out of the blue you call? You got problems?”

…to be continued…

…in the meantime, if you liked the story consider forwarding it to a friend…

Roy Bloom, Bit Player: Chapter 3

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.”

“Afraid so.”

“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…

…in the meantime, if you liked the story consider forwarding it to a friend…

Roy Bloom, Bit Player: Chapter 2

Becoming Bloom

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” — Kurt Vonnegut

Born May 12, 1956, Roy David Bloom spent his formative years in a provincial, middle class suburb of Cleveland. The only child of Harry and Ethel Bloom—both only children as well—Roy had no brothers, sisters, aunts, or uncles. Forced from an early age to rely exclusively on his own view of life in the Bloom household, Roy was left to wonder if his perception of his parents told the full story. While the scarcity of family members made holidays low-key affairs, it also deprived Roy of any alternative view of Harry and Ethel—leaving him to see them as unhappy, difficult, mismatched people with whom he shared a house.

Harry Bloom worked as an accountant at Bloom & Hannerty, a small, exclusive firm. Ethel Bloom, in accordance with the ethos of the time, was a stay-at-home mom. Harry spent most of his waking hours at the office, working late most evenings and often spending entire weekends at his desk. Many believed Harry a workaholic. In truth, his absence from the home was a survival technique. Life with Ethel was tough. Demanding and demeaning, his wife was almost always unpleasant. Harry swore she hadn’t been that way when he married her, but he wasn’t so sure anymore. With Harry largely missing from Roy’s life, Ethel was in charge of child rearing. This proved disastrous for both of them. From Ethel’s perspective, Roy was stubborn, disobedient, and arrogant. From Roy’s, Ethel was overbearing, misguided, and clueless.

Life changed immeasurably for Roy when he was nine. Harry—an above average accountant with below average ambition—was offered a lucrative position with a big-eight accounting firm in New York City. Harry could easily have passed on the opportunity, but at Ethel’s insistence, he accepted. The Blooms moved to Scarsdale, New York, an upscale bedroom community within easy reach of the city. Roy went along for the ride. The Blooms traded their midwestern credentials for life in the sophisticated upper middle class, where keeping up with the Joneses was a daily activity. Roy’s efforts to conform to an unfamiliar culture met with limited success, creating problems from which he never fully recovered.

Roy attended a prestigious public school, excelling in academics, but otherwise leading an apparently uneventful life. Perceived by others as shy and unassuming, Roy, despite early efforts to fit in, had simply chosen to remain apart from the crowd. His parents and teachers worried that Roy had few friends and fewer interests. Neither was the case. He had friends; he just didn’t bring them home, believing—quite correctly—that his parents would disapprove of his associates. Many were older than Roy, some frequently in trouble with the authorities. And, since they were not school chums, his teachers had no knowledge of their existence. As for Roy’s interests, he kept them to himself.

He was especially careful not to discuss his ambition to be a writer, worried that he lacked the necessary talent. It wasn’t until his senior year that Roy began to write for the school newspaper. To his genuine surprise, most readers loved his work and Roy basked in the accolades it brought him. However, the editor-in-chief—a humorless, prudish sycophant—soon began to reject most of his submissions. She considered his style far too acerbic for their youthful readership. Easily discouraged, he put his literary dreams on hold and headed to college.

Roy began his higher education without a plan and finished much the same way. His father would have been greatly distressed had he not died of a massive heart attack the summer before Roy’s first semester. Roy assumed life with Ethel had killed him, ignoring the fact that Harry smoked three packs of cigarettes a day.

Often restless, Roy dropped out of college regularly—taking six years to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree from Cornell. He always returned to school, though, believing that without a degree he would be at a competitive disadvantage— especially since he felt he lacked any distinguishing talent that might otherwise bankroll his life. Taking easy courses, studying little, and partying hard, Roy stumbled through college on autopilot and a healthy dose of common sense. Learning little in his time on campus, he achieved his degree in English Literature almost by default. Along with many in his generation, he squandered his undergraduate years in a haze of sex, drugs, and rock and roll—minus the sex. Roy was a late bloomer. Unfortunately, it left him with a chip on his shoulder and an unhealthy sense of inadequacy.

After an unfocused college career, Roy began a chaotic and directionless professional life. Having purposely avoided on-campus corporate interviews, no employment prospects waited for him upon graduation, and Roy was forced to live at home. This meant contending on a regular basis with his mother—a most unfortunate development. With her previous sparring partner dead, Ethel would often cast Roy in that role—much to his dismay.

“I told you to apply yourself, Roy,” Ethel chided him. “But, no, you knew better. You always knew better. Your father, God rest his soul, would be sadly disappointed.”

No more disappointed than he was with you Roy had wanted to say, but didn’t.

“Well, Roy, you wasted your time in college. Now what? Any interviews? Any prospects?”

“Relax, Mom. I’m not going to hit you up for the money Pop left. I’ll find work sooner than you think.”

When exactly that would be was as much a mystery to Roy as it was to Ethel.

“I certainly hope so. I don’t plan on supporting you,” Ethel announced. “Did you ever bother to follow up on those contacts I gave you? Most of those people are close family friends, some highly successful. I’m sure they’d be happy to help.”

Roy knew, however, contacting Ethel’s “friends” would be an exercise in futility. But her persistence finally wore him down.

“So, did you call?”

He had, but had chosen not to share the results with Ethel in order not to antagonize her. Eventually, though, Roy opted for the truth. Hell, let her deal with it.

“I asked you a question. Did you call them?”

“I did.”

“And what did they say?”

“Roy who?”

Tuning out Ethel became a full time job for Roy. Six months had passed since graduation and she hadn’t let up for a minute. Do this, don’t do that. Roy was tired of it. Ethel’s life hadn’t turned out so great. Who was she to be giving him advice?  While she had willingly accepted the role of housewife when she married Harry, she’d always been bitter (and vocal) about not having had a career. And her relationship with her husband had been superficial at best. Now, she and Roy were as estranged as mother and son could be and still live under the same roof.

That was fine with Roy if it meant he didn’t have to find work. Let Ethel feed him while he attempted to determine if he had any talent as a writer. But Ethel wouldn’t hear of it. She wanted him out of the house. Letting him hang around without a job would only confirm her worst fears—her son Roy was on the fast track to being a ne’er-do-well.

“Hey, Roy, why so glum? Still can’t find work?” Alan inquired, as they began a long evening of drinking. A former college roommate, Alan, tall, with bushy hair, a plump face, and large ears, was already on the path to a successful business career. Roy wasn’t interested in a successful business career. He just needed a job and in an effort to find one had reluctantly agreed to meet Alan at Flash Dance, a strip joint Roy hated but Alan loved.

“Yeah. Not much I’m qualified for that sounds interesting.”

“Well, I’ve mentioned it before, Roy, but there’s an opening for an entry-level insurance investigator at my agency. It doesn’t pay much to start, but it also doesn’t require any prior experience, only a BA. You still not interested?”

“I’m coming around,” Roy said, half-heartedly. “Yeah, I’m interested. I kind of have to be.”

“Hell of an attitude. That’ll take you far,” Alan said, not hiding his annoyance.

Even with no other prospects, the job still didn’t appeal to Roy. He had always had unrealistic expectations and even now—under significant pressure—he didn’t like lowering his standards. Playing by the rules had never been Roy’s strong suit. He wasn’t even sure he knew what the rules were. But Ethel did. After arriving home that night from his evening of drinking, Ethel greeted Roy at the door. The conversation was brief and one-sided. She gave him a week to find work and a month to clear out.

*****

Despite Roy’s romantic notions about private investigators, the insurance job at Alan’s firm was a bust. Roy rarely got out in the field. When he did, writing up fender benders were his only assignments. He had foolishly expected serious cases, Double Indemnity type cases. Although often adept at deluding himself, Roy realized it might be years before a substantive case came his way, if ever. He wasn’t about to wait. He quit after only eighteen months, beginning a pattern that would come to define his professional career.

After Roy’s failed stint as an investigator, his jobs became more serious, if not more inspiring. He went on to work as an executive recruiter, an IT project director, an investment advisor, an e-commerce operations manager, and finally a senior financial executive—a position for which he was initially, and uniquely, unqualified. Despite an unfocused career, Roy had numerous opportunities for significant financial gain, but material success always proved elusive. His inability to control his deep-seated restlessness often resulted in abnormally short job tenures—even though his bosses were generally disappointed to see him go.

A valuable and dedicated worker, Roy had found it easy to move from situation to situation early in his professional life. Even well into his mid-fifties he’d managed to land important jobs that paid well, although he failed to save any money. Eventually, though, Roy’s erratic career caught up with him, as he knew it would. His résumé became a liability, lacking any sensible career trajectory. It was, however, the unexplained gaps—time off for exotic travel and personal exploration often lasting a year or more—that proved fatal. Roy enjoyed his time away from the daily grind, but potential employers weren’t impressed. More importantly, his network of contacts was now in serious decline as more and more associates became uneasy about recommending Roy, given his unpredictability.

In what became his final significant position, chief financial officer for a television production company, Roy had the thankless job of ushering the business into bankruptcy. After that, fewer and fewer people returned his calls, believing he was partly responsible for the company’s demise. At sixty years of age, with no formal training or education in finance and a black mark on his CV, Roy begrudgingly took what he could find. Although still quite capable, he was lucky to even be offered a position at Three Partners Realty, a property management firm with a small real estate brokerage operation on the side. Roy was one of just five sales agents.

Fortunately, the company’s owners didn’t care about Roy’s background. They saw a salesman—good-looking, affable, a smooth talker. They believed Roy had promise as an agent. And, despite Roy’s concern about escorting disagreeable strangers through an endless array of Manhattan apartments, he knew this might be an opportunity to make some real money—something Roy badly needed.

*****

Hosting an open house in a sterile, over-priced Harlem apartment was one of those annoying chores agents had to endure in order to earn more financially rewarding opportunities. This open house, however, came with a small bonus—Alison Meier. Despite her late arrival, Roy had happily showed her the unit and reviewed her rental application. Realizing Alison wouldn’t meet the co-op board’s requirements for a subtenant, he suggested she revise her application—an ill-advised idea.

At the open house Alison had appeared unreceptive to Roy’s advice, but later that evening called him. After innocently inquiring as to his marital status, Alison suggested a drink to discuss her situation. Roy accepted without hesitation. Not in the mood to travel, however, he recommended a bar around the corner from his apartment. As an alternative, Alison proposed meeting at her parents’ apartment, where she was now the sole resident. Although surprised, Roy was intrigued.

The apartment was on the top floor of a dilapidated five-story walk-up on the Lower East Side. The stairwell was narrow, with peeling paint and bare light bulbs. The apartment wasn’t much better. Small rooms. Few windows. Cracked ceiling. Outdated kitchen. Threadbare furnishings. The place resembled an old lady’s apartment more than the home Alison’s parents might have occupied. A tough unit to rent, Roy imagined. He had assumed, without basis, that Alison’s parents had money. Apparently, they hadn’t. Even if they were alive, they might not have qualified as guarantors.

“What would you like to drink?” Alison asked, after Roy had awkwardly shaken her hand as he entered the apartment. “There’s everything you could imagine. My parents were big drinkers.”

“So you told me.”

“Right. I forgot.”

“What are you having?”

“Vodka.”

“Fine by me.”

A different Alison had greeted Roy. Not the quiet, awkward Alison from the open house. Instead, she appeared self-assured, brash almost. Having put on make-up and changed her clothes, she looked even more enticing than earlier, but still razor thin. Her tight-fitting cashmere sweater accentuated her small breasts. Roy thought she looked great.

As Alison made their drinks, Roy wandered around the living room. On a sideboard he noticed some miniature works of art, tiny sculptures—unique and quite intricate. Roy assumed someone in the family had good taste.

“Nice little collection you have here,” Roy commented admiringly.

“You mean all the small sculptures? Yeah, they’re great,” Alison mumbled, busy trying to remove an ice cube tray from a freezer compartment that appeared never to have been defrosted.

Roy continued his tour of the living room, but avoided sitting down. He felt uncomfortable and was afraid it showed. He suspected what was coming and it made him nervous, even if he’d made the forty-minute subway ride half expecting it. Despite Alison’s attempt at subtlety on the phone, there was little doubt about her intentions. After handing Roy his drink, she wasted little time getting to the point.

“Was it inappropriate of me to invite you over?”

“Why would it be inappropriate?”

“No reason. Just asking. Would you have preferred a bar?”

“Depends.”

“On what?”

“How long we’re going to stand around here being coy.”

“Why? Do you think my plan is to seduce you?”

“If it is, I’m not objecting.”

“Tell me you didn’t expect this. You can’t be surprised. Why else would I invite you here rather than a bar?”

“You tell me.”

Roy stared at Alison. He hadn’t been surprised, but he was unprepared for the speed at which events were unfolding. She was thirty-five. He was sixty and out of practice. She’d invited him over because she wanted to get laid—by someone old enough to be her father no less—and seemed willing to dispense with any formal preliminaries. Roy was a bit panicked. The ball was in his court and he was uncertain about what to do. Alison wasn’t.

“Or maybe you’d rather discuss re-working the numbers on my rental application?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Okay, then.”

With that, Alison picked up their drinks and walked into the bedroom. Roy followed cautiously. Pessimistic as usual, Roy hoped he was up to the task. If not, he was, at least, consoled by the notion that humiliation went down easier with age.

…to be continued…

…in the meantime, if you liked the story consider forwarding it to a friend…