Two Tons For Maria
Wayne A. English
Like this short story? Here’s a link to my book of short stories
It was the best day of my life. After twelve years in the army, I was getting out. First order of business was a train ticket to Connecticut to move in with my Louise. In the last six weeks, all we did was talk on the phone, and that was six weeks too long. We had discussed moving in and that we would share her place until we found something larger. Believe me being close to Louise would not be a problem. It was 11 am as we rolled out of the station with an arrival time of 4:54 pm. Perfect, I thought, just in time for dinner.
I’d met Louise in North Carolina, just before she was set to move to Connecticut and we hit it off right away. To help her, I’d bought her a new set of luggage and a bauble or two. And she went off ahead me to take a job working for a new startup. Hartford seemed a strange choice, but when she told that they picked it because it was between New York and Boston. It made sense, sort of. Anyway, I was off to Hartford and Louise.
As the train rolled north, I phoned her, but got only voice mail. Wow, her voice sounded good. “Louise, hi, sweetie, it’s your lover boy Red. I’m on the train and will be in Hartford at 4:54 today. Just in time for dinner.”
My phone needed charging, but it was lunch time. So, I stuck the cord in my pocket and went off to find the dining car.
After lunch, I plugged the phone in and called her again. Wouldn’t you know it? Voice mail again. “Louise, it’s Red. I’m on the train and will arrive Hartford at 4:54. Looking forward to having dinner with you. Call me.”
“Louise, it’s Red, just got into town. Can you pick me up? I’m at the train station,” I said. Thinking how good it was to hear her voice.
“Red?” she said, like she didn’t know who I was.
“Red Decker. Your boyfriend? The guy you’re going to live with.”
“Red, I… I never… thought… I’d… I’d hear from you.”
“Told you I’d call. Louise, we agreed to live together.”
“Red. Oh, Red. My situation has changed. I can’t see you. I’m sorry. Please don’t call me again. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Red. Don’t call me again. I’ve got to go. I’m sorry.”
“What? Louise, wait – ” I said to empty air. She was gone.
And so, there I was in Hartford, Connecticut. Didn’t know the town. Didn’t know a soul. It’d been a long ride and I was tired and feeling sorry for myself. Then I saw a woman trying to carry two bags of groceries while struggling to help a little girl walk. I went out to help.
“Ma’am, may I offer you some assistance? I’d be pleased to carry your bags, so you can help your daughter,” I said. Assuming the child was her daughter.
“No, no. Thank you. We’re fine,” she said.
“Ma’am, with respect, you’re not fine. Let me help.”
“Thank you, but you’ve got that heavy bag,” she said, dismissing me.
“Ma’am, this bag’s nothing. Nothing at all. Not when someone needs help.”
Then looking at the size of me, she smiled.
“You’ve nothing to fear from me, ma’am. Let me carry those bags and you can carry your daughter,” I said, with a smile.
She looked at how far the parking lot was, the bags, and how her little girl was struggling. She nodded, “Okay, thank you. My car’s in the lot over there.”
I shifted my duffel bag and took the groceries, “You lead, ma’am. I’ll follow. Red Decker, ma’am, just got into town. First day out of the army.”
“Nice to meet you, Mister Red Decker. Jennifer – Jen – Peterson. My daughter Maria,” she said nodding at the little girl. “Thank you for helping us.”
“You’re most welcome, ma’am,” I said, looking for traffic and saw that the parking lot was a hundred yards away and that her car would be even farther. I’m glad she let me help, I thought.
“Where’d you get all those muscles?” Jen asked, smiling at me carrying her groceries and my heavy bag with little effort.
“Came with the package, ma’am.”
“What did you do in the army? Physical fitness instructor?”
“No ma’am, nuclear weapon’s specialist.”
“That sounds ominous.”
“Not at all, ma’am. It’s like working on any other delicate complex machine.”
“Imagine that? Smart, handsome, and muscles too, or does our military put nuclear weapons in the hands of big, dopey, good-looking guys? I don’t think so,” she said, looking impressed and joking with me, chuckling as she shook her head. “Tell me, Mr. Decker,” she quipped. “Do you glow in the dark?”
I rolled my eyes. “Oooooh, haven’t herd that one in a while,” I said as we both laughed. Even Maria was laughing. “Which car is yours?”
“Beat up blue one, over there.”
As we walked over, I said, “Maria’s gorgeous, ma’am. Jen. She’ll be a heart breaker. How old is she?”
“Five in November,” Jen said sadly, looking at the sweet little girl she held in her arms.
I didn’t ask why Maria couldn’t walk. Jen looked worn out, like she carried the weight of the world. I guess, in a way, she did.
“Here we are,” she said, unlocking the car and buckling Maria into her child seat while I held the bags. “I’ll take those.”
I handed her the groceries.
“Thank you, Red. I – we – appreciate your kindness. And enjoyed your company.”
“You’re most welcome, ma’am. Happy to help,” I said, turning to go.
“Wait. I’ll give you a ride back.”
“Thank you, ma’am, but that’s not necessary,” I said. Knowing she was just being polite.
“Thank you again,” she said. “Stop by the coffee shop under the train station. Coffee’s on me.”
“Thank you, ma’am. I might take you up on that. Bye Maria,” I said.
“Bye, Mr. Red,” Maria said in her little girl voice, waving a tiny hand.
“Hey,” I said, to the first guy I met. “Where can I get a drink around here?”
“Two streets down, left on Jasper. Andy’s is on your right. Middle of the block,” he said, pointing with his chin. “Can’t miss it.”
“Thanks, Bud,” I said, crossing the road.
Pretty soon, I saw it. ‘Andy’s Bar’ in red neon was a clue.
Walking in, I said to the bartender, “You must be Andy?” I climbed up on a comfortable bar stool and dropped my bag on the floor.
“The same,” he said, smiling. “Looks like you just got in town. What’ll it be?”
“Rye and ginger,” I said, thinking of my foxy Louise and that I wouldn’t be sharing my life with her.
“You got it,” Andy said. Then looking at my bag and haircut, he added, “Just get out of the service?”
“Yeah, Fort Bragg. Was going to meet my girl, that’s why I came to Hartford, but she’s got other plans. That don’t include me.”
Andy looked at me, and shook his head. “Sorry to hear that. She just told you? After coming all this way?”
“Yeah,” I said, taking a long drink.
“So, you’re Army. Fort Bragg, I mean, army base.”
“Right again. You’re batting a thousand. You know, Andy? My rate won’t do me a lick of good in the civilian world. I mean nothing, zero, zip.”
“Why not? What’d you do for Uncle Sam?”
“Nuclear weapons specialist. Thermonuclear warheads. Hydrogen bombs. Know anybody who needs a bomb specialist?” I said, with a rueful smile.
“Um, not off hand,” Andy said, with a straight face. “Not a lot of hydrogen bombs in town. So, what’ll you do?”
“Well, I got some money saved. Enough to go into business, I guess.”
“What kind of business?” Andy asked, sincerely interested.
“Weight loss clinic. It’s the only thing I’m any good at. Other than working on bombs.”
“Weight loss? From bomb tech to weight loss guru?” Andy said, eyebrows going up, shaking his head at the incongruity of it.
“Yeah, I know how it sounds, but I’m really good at it. Helped a couple hundred people lose weight. Officers, enlisted, civilians, men, women. Even children.”
“Well, I’ll be. Going to settle here in Hartford? I’ll be your first customer,” he said, slapping his belly. “Lot more like me. Most of my regulars for a start. Red, I’ve tried to lose weight so many times I’ve lost count. Gets disheartening,” Andy said, sadly. ” Man, I’ve tried and tried.”
“Know what you’re saying. Being heavy can be hard on people. Real hard. Some of the people I helped were at their wit’s end. But I was able to help ’em. Every last one,” I said, swirling the amber liquid, then finishing the drink. “Got another one of these?”
“Sure do,” he said. “You’re going to need a place for your meetings and an office. Got just what you want in back. It’s perfect, wheelchair access, small office, high speed Internet, free parking, holds 40 people, tables and chairs. Even got a smart TV you can project to from a laptop or your phone. You get this weight off me, I’ll give you a year’s free rent.”
“Andy, you’re on. Let’s see the room.”
Andy turned and raised his voice. “Ella, would you watch the bar for a few minutes, please?”
“Cost you a quarter.”
Looking sheepish, Andy shrugged his shoulders. “She always says that.”
The room was perfect. I even had my first customer.
After a couple more drinks, Andy gave me a key to the my new office and directions to a hotel within walking distance over on Main Street. Then he said, “I’ve got another key, I’ll find it and get it to you in a day or two.”
Walking into the hotel, I said to the woman behind the counter, “Good evening, ma’am. I’d like a room, please.”
“Didn’t think you come in here for a tan,” she said. “How long will you be staying? We rent by the day, week, or month. Cash, credit, or debit only. No checks,” she said.
“A month, please,” I said, handing her my credit card.
“A month? Pricey. Well look at that,” she said, when the card was approved. “Will wonders never cease? You got yourself a room,” she said.
“Thank you, ma’am. Appreciate your kindness.” She could use my weight loss clinic herself, but I didn’t say so. “Would you be kind enough to tell me where I can get something to eat, please?”
She was getting up a remark, when a man walked behind the desk. She looked at him out of the corner of her eye, thought better of it, and said, “I suppose so. Right out the door,” she said. “Two blocks south. Turn left. Eatery’s on your right. You do know which direction south is, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do. Thank you, ma’am.”
“Just get out of the service?”
“Yes, ma’am. How’d you guess?”
“Your manners. Duffel bag,” she said. “Eatery’s open till midnight. Plenty of time
to grab dinner.”
“Thank you, ma’am, appreciate it,” I said, meaning it. “I’m Red Decker,” I said, extending my hand.
“Mrs. Gustafson,” she said, looking disgusted, giving me a limp hand shake. “Good to know you’re not using a stolen card.”
That’s when I knew that she was just plain nasty.
After putting my bag in the room, I headed over to the Eatery where I had a terrific dinner. Little did I know that it was widely known for the quality of its food.
The next day I was up, showered, dressed, and out by 06:30, thinking from now on it’d be 6:30 a.m. seeing as I was a civilian again. I needed to buy a laptop, software, get a checking account, and a medical scale like the one I used at Bragg and have it delivered to Andy’s Bar. As my lieutenant used to say, “No time like the present.”
Walking out, I stopped to speak with the guy at the front desk, “Morning, my man, would you be kind enough to tell me what time the coffee shop opens in the train station?”
“Six a.m. Through the main door, under the arch, turn right.”
“Thanks, you’ve answered that question before, I’d say.”
“Few times,” he said with a smile as he turned to help another lodger.
As I walked out, I did a search on my phone to find a stationery store. I figured I’d ask around about buying a scale. As I walked along, I noticed that the skies were threatening and I hoped it wouldn’t rain. I didn’t have an umbrella and was happy to see plenty of taxis as I entered the train station. I’d be needing one.
Walking under the arch, there was the coffee shop. They had every kind of coffee you could imagine and fantastic looking pastry.
“Good morning, Jen. We meet again.”
“Red, hi. I’m so happy to see you,” she said. Giving me a dazzling smile.
“Could I get a large black coffee and a plain doughnut please?”
“Sure can,” she said.
“Looks like I’ll be staying in Hartford. Opening a business, so today I’m going shopping. Oh, I’ll take a newspaper, too, please.”
“On the house,” she said, handing my order over the counter. “Thank you for stopping by. Just pick up a paper and come see me again.”
“I will, thanks. Sure it’s okay? Not charging me, I mean.”
“It’s fine, soldier,” she said. Holding the order just a second longer than necessary and making serious eye contact.
I read the paper over coffee and definitely intended on seeing her again. Leaving the paper for the next guy, I went looking for a cab. I got to the stationery store just as they were opening and I bought everything on my list except for the medical scale. Then I called a taxied back to Andy’s Bar and dropped everything off at my office.
Walking into the bar, I found Andy. “Andy, my man.”
“Red, how’s it going?”
“Never better. Didn’t rain. Been shopping. Oh, hey, I need to have a medical scale delivered. Once I buy one, I mean, but don’t know the address.”
“That’s easy, 152 Front Street. You’re 152 Rear. Got something for you,” he said, handing me a second key over the bar.
“Thanks Andy, I forgot all about it.”
“You would have remembered. So, you been shopping? Get everything you need?”
“Yeah, computer, software, office stuff, business checking account. Everything
but the scale. Any idea where I can find one?”
“Let me make a call. One of my regulars sells medical equipment. He’ll know. Want a coffee while you wait? Fresh pot.”
A few minutes later he was back.
“Here you go,” he said, handing me a piece of paper. It had the address of Medical Supply Company on it. “And they deliver.”
“Thanks Andy. Appreciate it. I’ll head over there directly. Oh, who does your ads and website?”
Andy chuckled, “His name’s on the back of the paper you’re holding. And you’re welcome.”
A week later I was in business. Andy was my best customer and we were both doing well. The problem I always faced: motivation. Despite my previous success, I struggled with some of my clients. As with many other things in life, the answer came wrapped in a problem.
“Hello? Anybody home?”
“Jen, hey. Come in. Come in,” I answered. “What a pleasant surprise.”
“Thank you, Andy tells me you run the weight loss clinic.”
“I clean Andy’s bar and I’ll clean your place as well. Want a price?”
“That’d be great. Can you send me a written estimate?” As I said that, she handed it to me.
“There you go. Twice a month should do it,” she said.
“You’re hired,” I told her, looking at the estimate. “This is very reasonable.”
“I need the work.” The look on her face said, Maria’s medical bills.
“Let’s make it once a week,” I said. “How much do you need to raise? For Maria, I mean.”
“Eighty thousand,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m working three jobs and I’m tired Red. I’m so terribly tired.” Then she turned away so I wouldn’t see that she was beginning to lose hope.
“You can clean the place anytime. Come into the office, I’ll write you a check for the first month.”
“You don’t have to do that, Red.”
“Yes, I do,” I said. “There’s people… there’s people that helped me that I can never pay back. I need to do this more than you’ll ever know.”
I handed her the check, “Thanks Red. Really. Thank you,” she said, putting the check in her purse.
“No worries,” I said. Thinking that our business was done.
“Look at these nails,” Louise said to herself, as she lifted three fifties and a couple twenties from her boyfriend, Ken’s wallet. “This will pay for the spa and lunch. Think I’ll take his car, since he’s not using it. Good, I’ve time for a latte. Then back in time for him to go to work. Then it’s into the city for some partying.”
The latte was perfect. The spa, divine. Then pampered, washed, waxed, and buffed she left for lunch at the Eatery. All paid for by Ken.
“Let’s see, where to park? Not there, no one will see me. Not there either. Ah,” she said. As she parked the red sports car. Unfolding herself from its plush interior, she strutted into the Eatery, giving everyone a show of her expensive shoes, hair, nails, outfit, and of course, her lovely figure. All while making sure that her designer sunglasses dangled just so.
“Welcome, Louise. Welcome, you look lovely, as usual,” the owner gushed, as he showed her to a seat by the window. “You look lovely. May I get you a coffee while you peruse the menu?” He didn’t treat everyone like this, only those who tipped lavishly. Like she did. And why not? It wasn’t her money she was spending.
“That would be lovely, Bobby,” she said. Thanking him with a smile.
While she waited, she read the paper. Her attention was captured by a quarter page ad on page three. Her coffee arrived, but she didn’t notice, so engrossed was she in the weight loss ad.
“Red Decker Weight Loss, I wonder,” she mumbled, as she typed its web address into her smart phone. “Are you my Red Decker?” She pressed the About page link, and saw Red’s picture. “You are my Red Decker. And just in time,” she said as the waiter arrived.
“I’ll have the fish, steamed vegetables, rolls and butter. No desert.”
“May I refill your coffee?”
“No, I’m fine.”
Nodding he left to place her order.
Then, looking at her reflection in the window and the admiring glances from the men in the room, she thought, how could he refuse? I’ll wear his favorite outfit. Best make sure he sees me first. Works every time. Then we do dinner. He takes me to the taxi stand. Thank you, nice seeing you again. Kiss good night. And he’s mine for the taking, she thought, as she worked out the plan. Ken was getting old. Meaning she’d taken him for about all she could get. It was time to move on. And nothing was easier than picking up an old boyfriend. Nothing at all, she thought.
Lunch was delicious.
As she walked out and got into the sports car, Andy’s eyes followed her every move. What a fox, he thought, that’s one beautiful woman in a beautiful car. “I wonder if she’d go for a barkeep? Not likely,” he said laughing to himself, eyes sparkling with mirth.
Jen was cleaning Red’s office and clinic while he sat with Maria.
“Jen, how about I take Maria to the Eatery for an ice cream. On the way back we can stop at the hotel. I need to pick up a thumb drive. That okay, with you?”
“Oh, yes, mommy. Yes, please. Please mommy,” Maria quickly said.
“You sure you can handle her, Red? She can be a handful.”
“No worries. If she gets out of control, we’ll wrestle it out,” I said, while tickling Maria’s chin. She giggled.
“Maria, you be good girl. No screaming. Uncle Red is being nice to you.”
Wow, I thought, ‘Uncle Red.’ I’m coming up in the world. That kind of comment is only reserved for people you like; really like.
“I will. I will,” Maria squealed, holding up her arms for me to lift her. “Bye mommy.”
“We won’t be long Jen, back before you know it. So, Sweetie, what flavor ice cream?”
“Chocolate strawberry with sprinkles.”
“Which one?” I asked.
“All of them, silly.”
I shook my head. Dumb question, I thought, out-foxed by a five-year-old.
Outside, I lifted Maria up on my shoulders as we made our way to the Eatery. Maria had a cup of chocolate ice cream with shots and I had strawberry. We sat in a booth while we ate, as I had no intention of wearing her ice cream. Leaving, she waved bye-bye to the counter crew, generating smiles all around, and we headed to the hotel.
Walking in, who do we meet on the desk? Mrs. Gustafson.
“Where’d you get the crippled brat?” she sneered.
Maria turned to face Mrs. G.
“You’re a mean old lady,” she said, right to Mrs. G’s face.
“Yes, she is,” I agreed. “Well said, sweetie. Well said.”
Gustafson turned bright red. She could dish it out, but couldn’t take it, I thought.
As we were leaving, I said, “Nice seeing you again, Mrs. Gustafson,” I said, laughing in her face. Maria glared at her under black knitted eyebrows.
Mrs. G didn’t say a word. She just turned red.
When we got back to my office, who do you think was there? Louise. And looking good she was. I mean really good.
“Louise tells me you’re old friends,” Jen said. “We’ll get going and let you two catch up. C’mon, Maria. Say goodbye to Uncle Red.”
“Bye, Uncle Red.”
“And what do you say?”
“Thank you for the ice cream.”
“You’re welcome, Sweetie. Jen, you don’t need to leave….”
“See you next week, Red. Nice to meet you Louise,” Jen said, without looking at me.
“Louise, what are you doing here?” I said. “You said you never wanted to see me again.”
“I said no such thing. I didn’t like the way things ended. What I did to you was wrong, but I had no choice. I was leaving to take a job on the West coast. It was a rotten thing to do to you and I’m sorry. Truly, Red. I apologize. Let me buy you dinner. Please say yes, it’s small recompense, I know, but at least we can part friends. I’ll get us a cab. I sold my car because I couldn’t take it cross country. And the job fell through. Still it’s no excuse for what I did. I just wanted to end things quickly and as painlessly as possible.”
“No need for a cab, let’s go to the Eatery. The food’s great and we can chat on the walk over. Can you make it that far in those heels?” I asked, happier than I’d been in a long time.
She laughed, “Yes, I can make it that far in these heels,” she said, playfully mocking me as she took my arm and accidentally – on purpose – bumped me suggestively.
As we walked in, I saw Andy and Ella having dinner. He waved at me, pointed to his salad and smiled. I gave him a friendly nod. Then I realized that they weren’t looking at me, but at Louise. But it was Ella that I noticed most. She was looking hard at Louise, then said something to Andy. He shrugged his shoulders. Then Bobby gave us the best seat in the house and I forgot all about it.
We were seated and got lost in each other’s eyes. It was good to be with her again and I hoped that this was the start of a rekindled relationship. Thoughts of living with her swirled through my mind.
I did not see it, but Ella’s eyes narrowed and she said something to Andy that he nodded agreement with.
I ordered cocktails. Rye and ginger for me and a vodka tonic for her.
“You remember my favorite drink? How nice,” she said.
“Of course. So, tell me about this job you almost had,” I said.
“It was on the west coast. Seattle actually. Working for a gaming company. I was to be a model for a character in their game. Lots of digital photography. Wearing these metallic things to track my movement that they would later digitize. Before you ask, I heard about it online. Sent them photographs. You know, girlie shots. They paid for everything and then at the last minute dumped me. Got a good severance check though.”
“Well, I’m sorry you lost the job, but I’m glad you’re still here. Why didn’t you just tell me.”
“Red, my sweet Red, do you think I could have left if I’d seen you again. I thought what I was doing was the best thing for the both of us. At least, that’s what I told myself.”
Dinner arrived and our conversation changed as we realized how hungry we were. After, we had coffee and then it was time to go. She was truly lovely and all I could think of was a long night all too short.
“Well, my dear, I’d drive you home, but I don’t have a car,” I said.
“I don’t either, sold it weeks ago,” she said, smiling. “Along with a lot of other stuff. Walk me to the cab stand?”
“Certainly will. Who knows, you might not get away,” I said.
“Oh, sure, that’ll work,” she said, with a lovely smile. “Little ‘ole me against all those muscles. I’ll have to use my feminine wiles to escape.”
Promises of things to come, I thought. We’d played this game before. I hailed a cab, saying, “I’ll ride with you.”
“Not tonight. Let’s do this slowly,” she said, her eyes pleading.
I nodded, “Okay. How do I reach you?”
She shrugged her shoulders, “Ah, you can’t. My phone disappeared in the packing. I’ll get back to you. Now that I’m staying in town, I’ll have another phone in a day or two.”
“Here Lou, let me give you my number,” I said, writing it down.
“Thanks Red,” she said, tucking it into her bag. Then she reached for me and kissed me her signature kiss.
I watched as the cab drove away. The night hadn’t ended as I hoped, so I headed home.
The next day I was in Andy’s Bar discussing marketing and advertising when he said, “Hear about Maria?”
“No, what happened. Is she okay?”
“No, she fell last night and Jen had to hospitalize her.”
“How is she?”
“She’ll recover from the fall, but her condition’s not getting any better. That’s what caused her to fall. She can’t walk anymore, or at best very little. If there was only a way – some way – any way – to raise the money….”
“That’s not good. I’m glad she was not hurt worse.”
“On a happier note, who was that beauty I saw you with last night?”
“My old girlfriend.”
“The one that dumped you the day you got in?”
“You know I saw her at the Eatery a few days ago. She looked great. So did her car. Whatever she does pays good.”
“You’re sure it was her? With a car?”
“Am I ever,” Andy said. “It was a treat watching her cross the street. Short skirt. Long legs. A real show. I think she likes being watched. Center of attention. You know?”
But I wasn’t listening. I was replaying our conversation. Lou said she sold the car some time ago. As I was leaving, Ella stepped in front of me, blocking my way.
“We need to talk.”
“Okay,” I said. This surprised me, as she hadn’t said two words to me. “What can I do for you?”
“That girlfriend of yours is a gold digger looking for a sugar daddy.”
“What are you talking about? No, she’s not,” I shot back.
“She lives with a guy. His car is what Andy saw. She’s got nothing and will always have nothing.”
“How do you know!?” I demanded.
“I know more about that life than anyone should know. It almost killed me. Now, I work in a bar with people and have friends and it’s a better life than what I used to have. What your Louise is having right now. Well, I’ve told you, not that it will do any good, but my mind is clear.
“You’re a good man, but you best be careful because she’ll take you for everything you got.” Then, spinning on her heel, she was gone, leaving me with my mouth open.
I was upset for the rest of the day and was thinking only about Louse and what Ella had told me. So upset that I was not thinking about Jen and Maria. Certainly not thinking about them in relation to my problem motivating my clients to lose weight.
Then, at three in the morning, I awoke from a dead sleep, shouting, “That’s it! That’s it!” My motivation problem was solved. Or would be. I had to talk to Jen.
At 6:00 a.m., I was waiting when Jen opened the coffee shop. “Can we talk?”
“I’m rather busy,” she said. “Can it wait?” She was not overjoyed to see me.
“It about Maria and funding her medical care.”
“I’m off at 11:00,” she said.
“See you then,” I said.
At 11:00 a.m. I was back and we walked to the Eatery where, over lunch, I said, “I
think I’ve got a way to pay Maria’s medical bills.”
Here eyebrows shot up. She was speechless.
“It’s like this, I charge my clients a monthly fee to attend my clinic. In addition, they pay twenty dollars per pound lost. I’ll donate the twenty-dollar fee to a get-well fund for Maria. Well, I say get-well find, it’s technically a charity fund. That’s what they called it at the bank.”
“Why would you do this? Maria is not your responsibility.”
After a moment, I said, “You know Jen, I was in bad trouble once and a man saved me from… well from a terrible life. I was just a kid. Ran with some bad people. Very bad people. My next door neighbor saw me going the wrong way.”
I looked away remembering.
So, anyway, one day these guys came to my house looking for me. To use me in a crime. Well. my neighbor met them with a baseball bat in one hand and a vicious looking .38 revolver in the other. He told them to leave and never come back. They left. I never saw them again.”
I stopped to take a breath.
“When I asked him why he did that, he didn’t know what to say. Just that someone saved him once.”
As I said that, I took out my wallet and removed a well worn scrap of paper. It had been folded and unfolded countless times. “Maybe it’s time for this to move on.” I handed it to her. “It’s your’s now.”
Life gets tough
know it’s so because life’s lessons
taught me so
And yet, this I also know
To fear not the darkness.
When dawn lights the way,
know that forever, my friend,
.. and you’ll be okay
“It’s lovely, Red.”
I nodded, saying, “For me it’s all about giving back.”
“You see, whenever I’ve needed a hand, there’s always been someone there for me. Just look how the people here have helped me. A stranger. And they’re not the only ones. Many of the one’s I owe have passed away, others are well off, or so old that there’s nothing I can do for them, but there’s something I can do for you – and for Maria.
“I talked with a manager at the bank. He recommended setting up a charity with a dual signature checking account. That way I can’t take money out without your permission, but I can make deposits. This will help me and you and Maria. It helps me by keeping my clients motivated to lose weight. That’s a big deal in the weight loss business. Believe me.”
In the end, she agreed to it all. So, over the next few days I opened the checking account and got a lawyer on board to do the state and federal paperwork.
As luck would have it, Louise called that night and I was so excited that I told her
about my plan to pay for Maria’s health care.
“Oh, Red, that’s such a lovely thing to do, but sweetie, how much money can you
raise. I mean, her care will be terribly expensive.”
“Wow,” she said. “Where will you keep the money? Not at your business surely,” she asked, probing for information.
“In the bank. I’ve opened a dual signature checking account and have a non profit charity set up. We get started this Saturday. Is this exciting, or what?”
“Exciting? It certainly is. What a wonderful idea, but then you’re a wonderful man,” she said, while thinking, I’m just two forged signatures away from an eighty-thousand dollar pay day. “But, my love, how will you raise so much money?”
She called me ‘my love.’
“I’ll donate the twenty dollars per pound. I can easily get by on their monthly fee. I figure I can raise the money in less than six months. Business is booming.”
After that conversation, our relation ship took off.
Some days later I saw Ella and Jen talking at Andy’s. Smiling as always, Andy walked over to join them, but an evil look from Ella sent him back behind the bar. I knew they were good friends and assumed that they were discussing Maria’s illness when I overheard Ella say, “She’s a beautiful woman and men are all alike. I’m only glad that the money’s in the bank where she can’t get her hands on it.”
Seeing me, Ella looked disgusted and turned her back on me, saying, “I told him she’s a gold digger. For all the good it did.”
Jen only nodded.
“What’s with them?” I asked Andy.
“Beats me. You need something or just passing through?” Andy said. He did not like being slighted in his own place. I couldn’t blame him.
“The extra key you gave me has gone lost. Can I get another.”
“Yeah, it’s marked – Do Not Duplicate – so don’t worry about it being copied. I’ll need to see the key guy at the hardware store. Give me a few days.”
“Thanks Andy, send me the bill.”
He only nodded.
On the Saturday our charity began, I called Jen to remind her to bring a picture of Maria to my clinic. I knew that a picture would be a real motivator. Jen said she would and that they would arrive well ahead of the two o’clock class.
Standing in front of the group, I said, “You folks know that I’m always here for you. Now, it’s time for us, myself included, to be here for someone else.”
They were confused, wondering what I was talking about.
I continued, spelling out what they already knew, “I charge you a monthly fee and twenty- dollars for every pound you lose. That changes today.”
Now they were really confused.
Maria and her mom walked up and stood next to me.
I picked Maria up, “Hi, Sweetie.”
“Hi, Mister Red.”
Then I said to the room, “This is Maria, and her mom. Maria needs medical care and her mom can’t afford it. So, here’s what I’m going to do. At twenty dollars per pound, four-thousand pounds will pay for the care she needs. From now on, your twenty dollar per pound fee goes to helping this beautiful little girl to walk again.”
* * * Six Months Later * * *
No one saw Louise slip into my office. She was dressed in drab loose-fitting clothing, wore a dark wig, cheap sunglasses, and gloves. She’d been in there before, of course, and knew what she wanted and where it was. She found and photographed the check book’s precise location and orientation, opened it, and photographed a check. Locating our cancelled checks, she photographed one so that she now had our signatures as well. She did not remove a check. There was no need. She would move the money electronically. Then she saw it. How could Red be so stupid, she thought, as she photographed the login ID and password and committed them to memory. Now she could login and see the account balance. This saves me the trouble of wheedling it out of Red, she thought.
She did all this in less than three minutes, and left soundlessly, closing and locking the door behind her with the missing office key. Then she nonchalantly walked toward Hartford’s east end; she’d never been there and would catch a cab, which she would pay for in small bills. Louise would do nothing that might cause the cabby to remember her. To that end, she had removed her expensive fingernails. After she scored, the cops would look into anyone associated with Red and the charity. The nails? She had an appointment booked to replace them later today. A thought struck, if she did this right, Red might take the blame. Oooo, she thought, wouldn’t that be delicious?
It became evident that motivating my clients would not be a problem by the way they responded. For the first time, I saw Jen worry-free. She looked lovely, and a pang of guilt tugged at my heart. If Louise hadn’t shown up again…?
Over the next five weeks, I added thirty-five new clients and my existing ones continued losing weight. I deposited thirteen-hundred dollars into Maria’s get-well fund, which was well on its way to providing for her needs. Every week saw more weight lost and another deposit into Maria’s account. Jen logged on every Friday night after I made the weekly deposit to see how we were doing. For the first time, she could see a way out of the nightmare of Maria’s illness.
Louise planned on logging in and transferring the money to an account she had made with an untraceable smart phone that she had paid cash for. Then she would transfer the money again and again in varying amounts until it was untraceable. All she needed to do then was lay low and watch Red try to explain how the money disappeared. She would stay in town, because to leave so soon after the crime would draw attention to her, her assumed name, and her actual background. And she couldn’t have that. So, tonight she would empty the charity account. The money would end up in the Cayman Islands in one of a dozen numbered accounts she created years ago.
It was ten p.m. when Louise opened her laptop and logged into the bank via Ken’s WiFi and computer.
Big mistake number one.
Next she logged into the charity account using its bona fide login ID and password. What she did not know was that the bank’s computer routinely checked the IP (Internet Protocol) address and MAC (Media Access Control) code of all machines logging in and compared them to machines authorized to access the account.
Big mistake number two: Her IP address and MAC code did not match.
The bank’s computer sent an alarm to the security company and immediately locked the account. It did not send Louise a message, her computer continued to look – to her – like the transfer was pending. This was to keep her in place until the cops got there. The security alarm included her IP address, her physical address in Hartford, and data on the WiFi system she was using. Ten minutes later, three police cars arrived.
Through the dining room window, the cops saw Louise bent over her laptop. They pounded on the door, “Police, open up!” Then pounded again, “Police, open the door.”
Louise checked her makeup in the hall mirror thinking, just some men to manipulate. Then it’s back to the computer.
The cops burst in when she unlocked the door. Two of them kept her away from her computer while the third checked it. Yes, it was accessing the bank. Louise was arrested. While two cops ran her in, the third waited for the forensic computer tech who would take charge of the laptop in such a way that its value as evidence was preserved. The tech would also interrogate the WiFi router, as its make, model, and configuration were also evidence. The computer and router were bagged and tagged.
It was past midnight when my phone rang.
“Hartford police calling for a Mr. Red Decker,” a voice said.
“Speaking. What’s going on?”
“Mr. Decker, we’ve arrested a woman for attempting to steal funds from your charity.”
I left for the police station and found – Louise.
“Louise, you were going to steal that little girl’s charity money? How could you? Who are you, Louise?”
She could see that I knew the truth about her. She said, “I want to speak to my lawyer.” She was way too smart to admit anything. That she had her lawyer’s phone number on speed dial was telling. And I got the message.
As I left, I thanked the police, understanding now what Ella had been telling me. And that I’d been neglecting Jen. When I got back to the hotel, there was an email message from the bank’s security company telling me that the charities account was locked. And that it would remain so until approved for activity by the bank’s senior management. Until then, no money would be released or transferred, and no checks would be paid.
The next day, I asked Jen to meet him me Andy’s after she got off work. Before Jen arrived I went in back to find Ella.
“Ella, would you be kind enough to give me a few minutes of your time?” I asked.
She looked at me, “Sure, why not.”
“You were right all along about Louise. I’m sorry. You can’t imagine how sorry I am that I didn’t believe you. Did you hear she tried to steal Maria’s charity money?”
“Well she was not successful and was arrested. Now she’s in jail.
“No, she’s not,” Ella said. “Guess you didn’t hear that, did you?”
“No, no I didn’t. How’d she get out?”
“Posted bond. Made bail. All you got to do is track her down and move in together. Just like old times. No?” Ella said.
“Yes, that’s a lovely idea. I didn’t know that sarcasm was your middle name. Thank you so much, Ella. You know when I came in here I hoped we could come out of this friends.”
“Red. We are. We are friends. I’m sorry for the insult.” Then she smiled, “I hear that Jen wants to be friends again, too. Just thought I’d mention it.” This delivered with a grin, “Just saying.”
“Thanks friend-of-mine,” I said. “I’m glad to hear that. Really glad. Thank you, Ella.”
“You’re welcome. Well, well, speak of the devil. She just walked in,” Ella said, looking into the bar. “Why don’t you go say ‘Hello?’ Let’s see if you can fix anything other than bombs.”
Giving Ella a wry smile, I left to meet with Jen.
Although I couldn’t see it, Ella was smiling as I left.
Jen and I took a table. “Jen, I want you to know how sorry I am that I allowed Louise to play me like that. I’m embarrassed. I’m ashamed. That I didn’t see it coming. I really thought she cared for me, but all she ever cared for was money. Had she been successful….” The thought of Maria’s funds being stolen was just horrible.
Jen said, “Speaking of your old girlfriend,” – she emphasized the word ‘old,’ – “I saw her running for the New Haven train before I opened the coffee shop. I ran after her, but she got aboard before I got my hands on her. I don’t think she’ll be back.”
“That’s okay with me,” I said, to a smiling Jen. “Don’t forget on Saturday we meet with my clients at the clinic.”
“I won’t,” she said.
On Saturday, I was talking to my clients when Andy raised his hand to get my attention.
“Red,” he said. “I just want to say how happy I am with you and this fantastic clinic. I’ve lost twenty-five pounds and could not be happier. Thank you.”
“Thank you, Andy,” I said with a smile. “You folks lost more than four-thousand pounds and funded Maria’s medical care. Come on out,” I said to Jen and Maria, who was now walking and running.
“Because of all of you, this beautiful little girl can walk. I’m proud of each and every one of you. And I can see that you’re proud of yourselves. As well you should be. You all worked hard in a hard place and won through. For Maria – and for yourselves.”
As I was saying that, a little boy in a wheel chair was pushed out toward me by his mom and dad. Maria scampered over to him and held his hand.
“This is Brian,” I said, “He needs an operation….”
About the Author
Wayne A. English is a locally, nationally, and internationally published writer and author. His work has appeared online and in major and minor magazines and newspapers. Wayne has published four books. See more about him at WayneAEnglish.com.