– By Richard Bonte
This is a work of fiction inspired by a true story. Names, characters, companies, corporations, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
“Terry’s Upside”: mainstream/contemporary fiction; 100,294 words; family saga/financial thriller
PART I – THE SET-UP
Chapter I – HOOK
He’d always been afraid of looking down from anything, no matter how low it was. This was because he’d imagine himself hurtling forward, over the brink, and smashing onto the hard surface below with a loud splat. And as he looked down now, he imagined a woman’s willowy body gently hitting water and being taken under by the tow of the waves. He shook his head, slammed the window shut and sat down heavily.
A peal of laughter from below made him jump up and walk about in circles as he tried to adjust his breathing, but then he thrust both hands deep into his pockets and held his thighs protectively as he started panting anew.
– Rod?! You coming down for breakfast?
– Be right down, Hon’,
he managed to yell, in as natural a tone as he could muster.
Really, what other choice did he have but to meet her? It would have been rude not to do so. He hadn’t kept up with his and Terry’s extended family for years-in a way, she was a convenient go-between, even though he didn’t know her very well-and she had been the only person who seemed to care when he was forced to make a major decision about the Company’s cheapo stock redemption plan in the early nineties. Not only did she call him at the time, but she came to see him in Santa Barbara, explaining that she, like he, was a minority stockholder and subject to the whims of an oppressive Management. She was a caring businesswoman, a compassionate person who could sympathize with the minority stockholder and would treat his every dollar as if it were her own. And she was attractive, too, in her late forties and all-ballsy, her Jewish Chutzpah covering up the true, vulnerable nature he knew lay beneath.
But why did he view their future meeting with such trepidation? Was it the fact she hadn’t even bothered to say “Hello” but rather “Who’s this?” when he’d answered the phone?
Wasn’t that Rod’s prerogative to ask, not hers, especially as it must have been 1:30 am, her time, in New York? And then she’d talked about “getting some culture”, as if it was something to be purchased on the Champs-Elysées, or “doing Paris” in one day, as if the City of Lights was a power lunch you could gulp down with antacid. Then she’d prattled on about joining her kids who were “knocking off” a ski trip to Chamonix in the French Alps.
Rod jumped as his wife, Tina, walked in, a pink dressing gown and white towel packed atop her wet hair.
– Who was that?,
she asked suspiciously.
– Terry Roberts.
– Terry who?
– A.C.’s niece. She called me a year ago?
– Oh, her. What does she want now?
– That’s a good question…
– …And I’d like to thank myself for asking it.
Her teeth smiled at him, but her eyes were searching seriously for an answer.
– Probably wants to talk about the Allens, just like last time.
– Well, that’s good; you’ve got a flair for the obvious today.
– Last time I heard from her was last spring. She has a one-hour conversation with me, then I don’t hear from her until today when she tells me in one minute that she’s coming over to France to chat with us.
– I wouldn’t worry about it, but we can talk it over breakfast if you want. I’ll go make some coffee. Anna’s got to go to school. Oh, and hang up that phone, will you?
Rod stared wild-eyed as she left the room, his hair in points from where he was still pulling it. He kicked at the droning portable receiver, finally shutting it off. Then, he began picking at his nails but decided a nail clipper would be better as he thought back to only three years earlier:
…They were living in Santa Barbara, snuggled into a gated community only five minutes from the beach. There were a hundred plus condominiums and they shared three tennis courts, a pool, a hot tub and a weight room, and to get to them, one only had to stroll along bougainvillea-lined paths protected from the sun by Sycamore trees…
A gust of wind suddenly blew open the French windows looking out on to the street. Hordes of people were marching along to the sound of car horns and a fast-approaching siren. Rod quickly closed the windows to return to his daydream.
– Rod? What are you doing up there? It’s time for breakfast!
Rod found himself still staring at the portable receiver.
As he put on his bathrobe and slippers and ambled down to eat, he thought about how five years earlier, he had been making ten bucks an hour (and this with a Doctorate, no less) and now in his late forties, he was making thirty Euros an hour for teaching English drama to foreigners. He thought about his extensive university training, his knowledge of several foreign languages, the huge cost of this education in time and lost earning potential, all the different jobs he had done, both menial and research-oriented, as well as his general “all sow, no reap” type of life. And when he looked into the mirror, into his own soul, he would actually ask himself, “What have I reaped”?