Phoning the Wife.
Long Distance Call
Peter Barnett rang up Carmella with some trepidation, but with his game-voice on. “Carmella!”
“Where the hell are you?” Carmella replied. She was just then placing a platter of biscuits and gravy on a customer’s table, and slammed it down so hard that the biscuits hopped, which made the customers heads hop. (You had to be there.)
“Same place, honey. Sorry it took so long. I got caught in a tight spot and couldn’t call. But all is right as rain now. And I’m bringing home the bacon.”
“Sorry!” Carmella said hushed, to the customers. “I’m talking to the mayor.”
Her customers, nodded. They were tourists, who wouldn’t know the mayor of Kimmel from the mayor of San Francisco or that he was Carmella’s husband. But they knew the appellate ‘mayor’ and so were a bit impressed.
“I don’t know if I worry more when you sound stressed or when you sound relieved Peter,” Carmella said, hurrying out to find a spot of privacy. “I just know that after 10 years of living with you, your high spirits don’t put me at ease. What has happened?” She hissed from behind the coats on the back coat rack.
“Just that my trip down here – though it has had its ups and its downs – has turned out a huge success! I’m bringing back industry and jobs to our little corner of the woods, dear. Kimmel’s mayor has come through! You can start spreading the word.”
“¡Oh, no, no. Mi pequeña comadreja de un marido,” (Au contraire, my leetle weeezul of a huzbeend!), Carmella hissed. “I am going to keep it well under my hat, until I hear the all of it, and I have you back here under my thumb where your story can be properly vetted, and sources checked and corroborated.”
“For goodness sakes, Carmella. Should I bring my birth records? Maybe a current photo ID?”
“You mean your hatch batch, you lizard. What are you selling me? And what have you been doing for two weeks?”
“I told you Carmella. I’ve been handling some very tough negotiations. But, handling them well, I’ll add, now that we’re through the worst of it.”
“The worst of it? What else is there?”
“Nothing we can’t handle,” Peter assured her.
“But why don’t we talk about the best of it, first?”
“I’ve arranged with a syndicate of backers to finance the development of a huge recreational area right there in Kimmel. We’re talking a construction budget in the millions. Do you realize what this will do for our small community?”
“A ‘recreational area’? You mean like horse rides and hiking and river rafting and camping and such?”
“Well, more like gambling and adult entertainment… and such.”
“Gambling and adult entertainment, in Kimmel?”
“Or just outside! We’ll have to go over the possible locations.”
“What’s the bad news?”
“They gave me $120,000. But we need $120,000 more.”
“$120,000. They gave you $120,000?
“It’s earnest money. Kind of like a ‘commission’, you know? It’s my job to help marshal this whole thing through the governmental process, get all the proper licenses and certifications and zoning allotments and such. I’ll be earning my money.”
“So why do you need $120,000 more?”
“Because I figured that is what it would take.”
“You figure doing all this is going to require $240,000?”
“And how did you arrive at that number? Right now the office of Mayor pays you around $5,000/year. How come all of a sudden someone from Las Vegas wants to pay you $240,000?”
Peter had no quick answer for that.
“It seems to me that there are all sorts of little nowhere towns with little nominal nowhere mayors who could be had for a lot less than $240,000, – conflict of interest or not,” Carmella observed dryly.
“I resent that characterization, Carmella,” Peter replied.
“Well, I’m not trying to butter you up Peter. So, answer my question. Why, in the world, do these people want to pay you $240,000?”
“Well, it’s because they don’t actually have to pay me any of it.”
“Oh, and why’s that?”
“Well. It’s because I already owe it, to them.”
“What?! Peter, where in the world have you gotten $240,000 to owe anyone?” Carmella was starting to feel a splitting headache coming on.
“Well, there’s where it’s been taking me the two weeks to get this all arranged. And why I didn’t want to call, before it was all secured.”
“Yessssssss? I’m listening,” Carmella said, and wishing she wasn’t.
“Okay. This is how it went down. But it was a good thing! Eventually, this is going to be a good thing.”
“Peter, do you realize that we are about three minutes into this conversation and I feel like I am just now getting to whatever it is has happened that you are going to finally tell me? And do you realize that this is how most every conversation we ever have is? Because I have to keep digging and digging and questioning and questioning until I can finally get to what the heart of whatever it is you have to say actually is!”
Peter had been holding the phone away from his ear, so he hadn’t heard much of this. But he felt he’d gotten the gist of it, enough, to reply with a little hurt in his voice. “Carmella, when you get going like this, it’s no help to anyone. Now just shut up and listen for a while.”
When Carmella didn’t reply, and Peter heard no ‘click’ of a disconnection, he continued. “What happened is this. After all those meetings with our sister city officials I needed some time off, so I figured I’d just drive into Las Vegas and just look around. All that glitter and stuff, you know. You can literally see the place glowing in the distance.”
“You drove into Las Vegas,” Carmella sighed.
“Honey, lots of people do it, everyday.”
“Yeah, but they don’t have a drinking problem and a gambling habit.”
“It was just for a look around!”
“Okay. So you drove in, looked around, and came back.”
“Well, no.” Peter sighed.
“God damn it, Peter! How much did you lose?” Carmella felt she might crush the phone. She massaged her forehead.
“Well, only $160,000 at first.”
“Only $160,000! Peter where did you get that kind of money? You didn’t sell our restaurant did you? I don’t see how you could have done that without my knowing.”
“No. No! Nothing like that. I would never do that, honey. I just borrowed some of the city’s money.”
“You stole money from the town?!”
“I borrowed, borrowed!”
“Then pay it back, back! Right now!”
“I am. I have! At least half of it, anyway.”
“Wait a minute. You lost $160,000, but you owe $240,000. What’s with the other $80,000?” Carmella kept rubbing her forehead, but more vigorously.
“Well, here’s the thing. I figured I’d lost the $160,000 because I’d made the mistake of gambling while I was drinking. I mean, who could lose that much sober? I went down to breakfast the next day and couldn’t even remember the night before. I mean, I had to walk to the window to check my winnings, before finding out.”
“Peter. How could you start drinking? Again? And in Las Vegas, of all places?”
“I know. I know. Not smart.”
“Not smart? Honey, what you have done is so far from ‘smart’, why, I can’t even figure out where it is. You asshole!”
“Look, Carmella. There’s no need to take that harsh tone with me. Drinking is a disease. Why, if I were dying of smallpox or something, would you be standing there calling me an “asshole”?” Peter replied, feeling hurt and a little self-righteous. “No! You’d be calling a doctor.”
“No, Peter. I think I’d watch you die, and be enjoying every minute of it.” Carmella hissed from behind the coats, watching the Sheriff suddenly walk in.
“I know you don’t mean that Carmella. So I’m just going to continue as if nothing had been said, as if you hadn’t shared that.” Peter sighed.
“So, I figured,” Peter struck back up, upbeat. “That sober, I could easily win it all back. So, I went back at it with a vengeance. I mean, I really worked hard, using all of the skills I’ve acquired, and playing it tight, playing it right. But. Lady Luck just wasn’t with me. And you know, when Lady Luck frowns, well, there’s nothing you can do. So I ended up $240,000 down.”
“Why $240,000?” Carmella wondered, fatalistically.
“That’s when the town ran out of money.” Peter shook his head.
“Oh,” Carmella replied, wrung out.
“But it’s a good thing! Carmella. Because this is where I was able to turn things around, you see, because without that debt hanging over my head, I would never have been able to entice these savvy, shrewd business peopled down here into investing in our small town way out in the middle of nowhere. But as it worked out, it’s as if I played them. Which, I guess I have! They are going to plunge millions into our little town, because they figure it costs them nothing! And all it took on our parts was to lose $240,000. Which, I might add, we plan to pay all back!”
Carmella didn’t know what to say. She was dead tired from working in the restaurant 24/7, from listening to the crazy fantasies of a crazy husband, and now what could be impending incarceration for embezzlement – plus, just to add another dollop of bad luck to it, possible involvement with shady gambling figures, probably mob-connected. She looked forward into her future and saw a shallow unmarked grave somewhere deep in the woods off a logging road, and her buried in a waitress smock or something. Maybe she’d go serve the Sheriff some free coffee. Yes. That’s what she’d do. She hung up.
“Leadership isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always carried out along the direct path,” Peter was touting himself into the dead phone. “But the victory is there to be had, and the achievement to be realized for the ones who have the cajones to reach for the ring, and stay the course through those tough times of adversity, Carmella. And let me tell you, I’m appreciative of your loyalty. And someday, you’ll be able to take that to the bank.”
Photo by Carl Nelson of professional model