Keeping Them Happy Ch. 4

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“Diane told me she talked to an attorney.” George had his head down, fully dejected, chin resting on the top of his chest. They were sitting in Mason’s car, parked at the curb a few houses away from a party they were planning to attend at the home of Mason’s friend Darlene. The two men were each finishing a can of beer.

Mason shook his head in response to this latest development. “Okay, so she’s got herself an attorney. Did she tell him to file anything?”

“It isn’t a him. It’s one of those female attorneys.”

“Oh, shit. That could be bad. You know the name?”

George pulled a slip of paper from his wallet and squinted at it under the car’s dome light. “Karen Schuman. You know her?”

It took a few seconds for Mason to recall the plain features, the lack of makeup, the pants suits, the declined date. “I appeared opposite her in a personal injury case once. She was OK in court, her demeanor and all. I think I’d characterize her as determined.”

“Determined?” George laughed uneasily. “That doesn’t sound good. For me, I mean.”

“I don’t know. She wouldn’t go out with me. Maybe lesbian.”

“I think Diane is just trying to let me know she’s serious. I don’t think she’ll really do anything.

“It was funny, too, because she said things that caused me to think that she wanted to have sex with me. I don’t know, maybe she was just too busy.”

“Diane talked about it before, I mean filing for divorce. But I don’t think she’ll do it. I think she was just trying to rattle my cage. What do you think?”

Mason shrugged. “I don’t know, George. Sounds like she might really mean it this time. Women don’t have unlimited tolerance for the things men do.” It occurred to Mason that he might call Karen Schuman again, maybe try to eliminate the possibility that she was lesbian.

“Do you think I ought to file first? Just to protect my interests and maybe bring things to a head.”

“Do you want a divorce?” Mason thought he already knew the answer, but he wanted to make it clear to George where he might be headed.

George flinched and answered quickly. “No.”

“Then don’t file anything. It’d probably just aggravate her and it wouldn’t protect anything anyway. Any court will probably decide in her favor regardless of who files first.”

“No shit?” George sighed deeply and killed the remainder of his beer. He dropped the empty onto the floor of the car.

“You paying her now?”

“I’m paying all the bills, a thousand dollars since we split. I’ve given her some cash and I just made the house payment. I suppose I’ll do the same next month if we don’t get back together. She told me if I didn’t take care of expenses she’d file immediately just to make sure I supported her. I thought that was really disloyal of her. There was no reason for her to say that. Besides, it seems like blackmail to me. Can they do that?”

Mason recalled how much his own ex-wives had cost him. And he still had a couple more years of child support for his kids by his first wife.

He turned sideways in the car seat to face George. “It might be a good idea to start thinking in terms of what this might cost you, I mean if it actually does happen. If you give her a lot of money now, that’s what she’s going to expect. But if you get her accustomed to less and always make it a little late, then she’ll be more grateful when she gets it and you won’t have to pay as much.”

“Sort of like conditioning her, huh?”

“She’ll skin you, George. You’ve got that real estate, and all that stock that you own, and your money market account….”

George squirmed uncomfortably. “I don’t think she knows about all that stuff. I just won’t tell her.”

“The court will require you to disclose your assets.”

“Isn’t there some way to hide the stuff she doesn’t already know about?” There was the sound of disbelief, even desperation, in George’s voice.

“George, I’m an attorney. I can’t tell you to hide your assets. The best thing to do from a legal point of view is to work out a settlement with her, rather than fighting it and having the court decide.”

“From a legal point of view,” George repeated and stared at Mason.

“If you wanted to hide assets you would need to convert it all to cash, move it to an offshore account, and then leave the United States for another country. I’m not recommending that.”

“But what if she won’t be reasonable?”

George paused for an answer, but Mason only looked at him.

“Will you represent me, Mason. I mean if anything really happens?”

“Oh yeah. We’ll deal with it.” Mason knew the fear that George was facing. Things could go in any direction, and some of the possibilities could be pretty unpleasant. There was nothing that could be decided in the current moment without the risk of making circumstances worse. “Right now tonight,” Mason began as he started to step out of the car, “let’s just go to the party.”

Like almost everyone Mason knew, Darlene the party hostess was herself a veteran of divorce. She had not done badly. She had a large house and gave good parties with plenty to drink and an abundance of fancy snacks.

Darlene greeted them in the entryway. Mason introduced George, and Darlene pointed them in the direction of the tended bar and then flitted off to other hostess duties.

The house was crowded with about an equal share of men and women who all seemed to be in their 30’s and 40’s. They were successful looking people wearing smart clothes and fashionable hair styles. But as Mason glanced around he saw a couple people he had put through bankruptcy, a couple he had represented in divorces, and a few that he regarded as professional goldbrickers, both men and women, people who tried to pass themselves off as consultants or designers or architects or just “between jobs”, people who no doubt were wearing their most expensive possessions.

George was gregarious and went on the prowl as soon as he had obtained a drink. Mason preferred the role of an observer, but a woman he had taken out a few times saw him and came over. He hadn’t asked her out for several months because he had stopped being fascinated with her slightly harsh personality. He had been looking for any soft counter-points she might possess but could not find any.

“How’s it going, Mason?” She held up a cracker for him to take a bite. It had some kind of green spread on it. He declined.

“Haven’t seen you for a while,” she said, launching the cracker into her own mouth while looking around the room.

She told him about her new job selling real estate and he tried to appear interested, but he only felt trapped by her. Her eyes constantly roved while she talked and, when she had finished speaking, they fixed on David Jessup. “Do you know him?” she asked, nodding toward Jessup.

Mason knew Jessup as one of the most naive and self-deluded people he had ever encountered. “David Jessup? Yes, I think I’ve met him. Don’t really know anything about him. Is he a friend of yours?”

She laughed and put a hand on his arm. “Let me tell you about David.” But first she interrupted herself. “You’re sure he’s not a friend of yours?”

“No. I’ve only met him is all.” He wanted to give her a clear signal to assassinate Jessup with whatever stories she might feel compelled to tell.

She resumed. “I met him at a party a couple months back, since I last saw you. And he seemed OK at first. He was kind of serious, but I figured that it only meant that he knew what he was about. You get what I’m saying?”

“I think so.”

“I mean, he held himself well. I can spot that. Some people have that quality. So when he offered to take me home – to his home, of course – I was actually a little flattered. Boy!” She rolled her eyes at her error in judgment. “Well, that night he wasn’t actually all that bad. He wasn’t what you’d call original or inspired or even enduring, and he did need a little encouragement to get started – but who doesn’t these days, except you, of course, Mason. You’ve never had that problem.”

Mason smiled because he could not think of any better response.

“Anyway, he did seem to know the basics. So, it was not what you’d call a real memorable experience, you know, but it wasn’t a disaster either. And I’m familiar with what those can be like.” She rolled her eyes once more.

Listening to her story, Mason resolved to never get personally involved with her again.

“So here’s the really goofy part. In the morning after we’re both dressed he tells me that it had been a fantastic experience and that he wants to give me little something to remember it by. I thought that was a little extreme, but I liked what I was hearing, if you know what I mean. My bad. I knew from the size and estimated cost of his modest apartment that he wasn’t going to present me with a diamond necklace, but I figured maybe something about in the same league as a Timex. I mean, otherwise why bother at all?”

“He takes me back to this pantry off the kitchen and says, ‘Go ahead, help yourself to a can.’ I didn’t do anything because I wasn’t sure I heard him right, so he says ‘It’s salmon. I caught it myself last summer.’ The sonuvabitch offered me a can of dead fish for sleeping with him! Can you believe it!?” Her voice had risen to a pitch loud enough to cause a few nearby guests to notice her.

Mason felt sorry for Jessup. “Salmon’s actually very tasty, and also expensive.”

She ignored his comment. “You know what,” she went on. “I was so baffled by the whole thing I reached out and took one off the shelf and then said ‘thank you.’ I didn’t speak to him all the way to my place. And by the time I got there I was just furious, but it was too late to do anything about it so I just went inside. Something, huh?”

“I see,” Mason said. He recognized it was his moment to escape. “I’ve got to go to the restroom.”

“Want me to hold it for you?” She actually winked at him.

Mason thought she might actually be serious. He laughed nervously and declined. He found the bathroom and went in and locked the door.

When he had urinated and flushed he put the lid down and sat on it for awhile, sipping his drink and studying the pattern on the shower curtain. After awhile, there was a knock on the door and a female voice asked if there was anyone there.

“Just a minute,” Mason called out. He flushed the toilet again, just to make everything sound normal before he opened the door. There was a young woman standing there, probably in her mid-twenties, and a little bit husky, kind of headed toward a voluptuous tomboy look.

“I didn’t mean to hurry you,” she said.

“No problem, no problem.” Mason smiled and scooted sideways past her, avoiding any contact that might be mistaken as deliberate.

He found George at the portable bar, telling the bartender how much better this party was than the last one he had attended, while the bartender limited his responses to “Oh?” and “Uh huh” and mixed George another margarita.

“How’s it going?” Mason asked.

“There are some very fine ladies here. I got a couple phone numbers. I think this is going to be a notorious event.”

Mason was on the verge of warning George that his behavior was not going to make reconciliation with his wife any easier. Then he noticed that George’s feet were bare.

“George, where are your shoes and socks?”

George looked down, as though he had not previously realized he was barefoot.

“My feet were kind of hot. And the ladies like it. They think I’m real interesting for exposing my bare feet. I left the shoes under a chair.”

“This is kind of a fussy group, George. You probably shouldn’t take anything else off. I don’t think they’d appreciate it.”

George grinned and took another swallow of his drink. “Everything’s going to be fine. I feel great. Better than I’ve felt in months.”

One of Mason’s clients across the room moved into his field of view. Mason knew it was too late to avoid being recognized. He broke away from George in an effort to find some alternative to his client approaching him with complaints about the slow course of action on his case. The client had called two or three times in the past week and Mason had not returned his calls, justifying it by a lack of anything new to tell and by a disinclination to cause his client any disappointment. Out of the corner of his eye he saw that the client was moving through the other guests and coming toward him. As Mason retreated, he nearly collided with the young woman he had encountered while leaving the bathroom. He immediately converted her into his first line of defense.

“Excuse me,” he said. “I was distracted. There’s a very objectionable person approaching me right now, and if you would just let me stand here and talk to you for a few minutes I think it would discourage him.”

She was by herself, holding a drink and looking bored, so he didn’t expect her to decline. But she was clearly puzzled by his request. “Which one?”

Without looking at his client, he mentioned his distinctive black-rimmed glasses. She scanned the room and briefly locked eyes with the client.

“What’s so objectionable about him?”

“He just wants to complain that I’m not doing some work for him fast enough.”

“Are you?”

“By his expectations, no. But some people don’t understand that time isn’t the only thing that’s important. It’s quality that counts.”

“What do you do?”

“Is he still coming?”

“If it’s the guy you described he’s just standing there looking at us.”

Mason was delighted that she joined his subterfuge by shifting her own gaze around the room so that his client couldn’t be sure that she was watching him.

“Now he’s turned around and he’s talking to some one else. I guess you’re safe.”

“OK. OK. That was really close. You were very good at that. You could hire out. I’m Mason, by the way. What’s your name.”

She told him that her name was Gail and admitted that the slight accent she had was from Texas. “I’ve only been in these parts for about two months now. I don’t know many people.” She also explained that she had been brought to the party by a recent acquaintance she had seen only briefly since arriving. She pointed him out across the room. Mason saw a man about 30 years old, razor cut, shirt open halfway to his waist, gold chain around his neck. He was talking to a woman whose neckline also plunged, revealing ample cleavage which she kept feeling with her forefinger as though it did not demand enough attention without also being pointed at.

“You never told me what you did,” Gail said

“I’m a lawyer. And a college professor.” He said it as though he expected to have to defend his choice of occupations, perhaps using “college professor” to make “lawyer” sound more acceptable.

Gail said she was impressed. Without being asked, she said that she was a manufacturer’s representative for a line of shock absorbers.

“You mean those things that keep cars from bouncing?”

“Yes. My area is the east side of the city and on out for about fifty miles.”

“So you’re a salesman… saleswoman?”

She didn’t like the designation. “Well yes, except that I only show the line and take orders. The people I meet have pretty much already decided what they want to buy. Most of them are past customers. I don’t have to convince them.”

Mason thought that her description fit all sales people, and sounded a little defensive He didn’t care if she was a protective of her self-image. He just wanted to hear her talk some more. The hint of Texas in her voice sounded exotic to him.

In fact, they talked for another two hours, sharing personal histories and exchanging opinions and criticisms about other people at the party. They agreed that big cities were the best places to live, that travel was stimulating, that most people wanted only superficial relationships. He felt surprisingly relaxed with her and realized that he was saying more about himself than he usually did. She too seemed relaxed and good humored; and there was an air of propriety about her, perhaps the Texas belle influence, which was different from what he had become accustomed to in women.

Her escort never returned. When Mason made another trip to the bathroom he had a final glimpse of the escort, who was closing the door of the bedroom he had just entered behind someone else. Their eyes met momentarily before the door intervened. Mason wondered whether there was any meaning in the look. He assumed that the escort recognized Mason as the one who had occupied his date, freeing him for other entertainments.

A little after eleven o’clock Mason asked Gail if she would like to have him take her home or to a restaurant or anywhere else. She consented to a ride home. Mason said that he would have to tell George to get another ride back to the house and eagerly set out to find him. No one had seen him for awhile. The house was big and Mason decided that if he made a quick pass through, without opening any closed doors, that he could at least tell George that he had tried.

Upstairs he found six people smoking dope in a brightly lit bedroom and laughing wildly at their insatiable hunger for a loaf of white bread they had brought up from the kitchen and were already devouring. Mason took only one hit of the dope, mostly to be sociable, before wandering further down the hall. He stepped around a tightly embracing couple who ignored him.

The upstairs bathroom door was ajar and the light was on. Mason pushed it open delicately and looked in. There was an empty glass on the floor next to the bathtub. George was asleep in the tub, lying on his side, knees jammed against the interior of the tub, a thick expensive towel under his head for a pillow. Mason backed out of the room, leaving it as he’d found it, light on, the door slightly open.


“Did you talk to him?” she asked as they left.

“Yeah. He said everything would be fine.”

“What was he doing?”

“He was asleep in the bathtub.”

“Then how could he have said anything?”

“Well, he didn’t really. But that’s what he would have said if he had been awake.”

Looking back later on that conversation, which for some reason always remained fresh in his memory, Mason felt that there was something about it that set the tone of the relationship that was to follow: the interrogations, the distrust that sometimes pretended to be feigned, the excuses, the need to be together.

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