Rachel rapped on my screen door. “Hello!” she called. “Anybody home?”
Just back from my Sunday afternoon run, I wasn’t sure if I ever wanted to see Rachel again, let alone now, when I was sweaty, thirsty and tired.
“Please,” she called. “I need your help.”
We’d met through the Personals. She was everything I’d ever wanted in a woman: pretty, sexy, sassy and smart. And responsibly employed. For me it was pretty much love at first sight. It took Rachel several dates, until I clicked with her young daughter and charmed her mother. We became a couple. Heaven!
For all of two weeks.
She dumped me with a message on my answering machine.
“This isn’t working,” she said. “I’m sorry. I met someone…. ”
She wouldn’t take my calls. Was never home when I rang her doorbell. Didn’t respond to my letters.
Rejection is every writer’s companion and far from my worst enemy. I was hurt, of course, but at 35, with a terrible marriage behind me, I knew I would recover. I’m not the stalker type, so I moved on.
Now, two months later, she was at my door.
I gave her a can of soda and took a seat on the couch next to her, admiring, as always, her alluring yet modestly attired figure.
“It’s good to see you, Rachel,” I said, putting an arm around her.
She pushed me away.
“I didn’t come for that,” she said.
I gave her an expectant look.
“I’m married now.”
“Why are you here, Rachel?”
“I wanted to say I’m sorry. I should have had better manners. I should have told you in person.”
“Told me what, exactly?”
“That you weren’t the man I needed. I need someone with a regular job.”
“I have a regular job.”
“You’re a free-lance writer.”
I gestured expansively. “I own this house. Me and the bank. My car is paid for. I eat regularly, pay my bills on time.”
“It’s a townhouse. Your Toyota is three years old. You always wear jeans. And you know what? That’s smart, because you never know one month to the next how much you’ll make. I really admire you. You’re very talented and you work hard. …”
Yadda yadda yadda.
“… but I need — “
“Somebody with a lot of money,” I said.
“No, no, that’s not right. I just need… more stability. And then I met Michael, and he was….”
“He’s in sales — and he does very well.”
“Let me guess. Drives a Mercedes. Lives in Beverly Hills.”
“Newport Beach. And it’s a BMW.”
She fumbled in her purse for a photo.
Michael seemed to have stepped out of a GQ ad: tall, movie-star handsome, immaculately groomed in Armani.
I’ve never owned a suit that cost more than $100, and I bought that one in Hong Kong. I’m average looking…if there isn’t too much light. And short. Very short.
“And now you’re living happily ever after?”
“I need to borrow some money,” she said.
I laughed. Surely some revelation was at hand. “Surely the Second Coming is at hand,” I said.
I was thinking Yeats. She was thinking something else and shrank from me.
“Michael’s in trouble,” she shrieked.
“What kind of trouble?”
“He’s kind of…. behind in his child support.”
“‘Kind of behind’?”
“A year or so.”
I beamed her my tell-me-more. She began sobbing.
“So he owes his ex-wife a bundle?”
“Three ex-wives! Five children!”
“You dumped me for a deadbeat dad—now you want me to pay his back child support?”
“It’s not what you think! Anyway, I didn’t know about all that until….”
Rachel wept uncontrollably. Tissue was inadequate. I got her a towel.
I let her cry, trying to savor the irony. It didn’t make me feel better about myself. Or about her.
When Rachel was cogent, I prepared my lance, then jabbed.
“Tall, dark and handsome, Beamer, lives in a waterfront mansion and dresses to make your heart go pitty-pat—but too cheap to support his own flesh and blood?”
Round two. Rachel cried for another five minutes, long past the point where I regretted my cruelty.
“The house— the car— the furniture— everything's leased,” she murmured. “He got behind… I had to make last month’s payments—He's in real estate and he hasn’t closed a deal since…”
“How much do you need. And what’s it for?”
Dabbing at her eyes, Rachel told me that police arrested Michael for failing to pay court-ordered child support. He told Rachel that one of his listings was about to close escrow; once out of jail, he’d get an advance on the commission. In a few days he’d pay everything.
Bail was $10,000; 10 percent to a bondsman in cash, non-refundable. So, two days earlier, on Friday evening, she’d written a check for $1,000 to get Michael out of orange coveralls and back into Armani.
“Then what’s the problem?”
“All my savings went for car payments and rent!”
I nodded to show that I understood. I didn’t.
“I couldn’t let him stay in jail,” she wailed. “I took $1,000 in cash from the posting drawer.”
Rachel worked for a large bank; she supervised “posting,” ensuring that each deposit or withdrawal was debited or credited to the proper account.
“Before we closed for the weekend, I wrote a personal check,” she explained. “To balance my books. Tomorrow I’ll have to deposit that check, but there’s not even a hundred dollars in my account.”
“Why would you do that?” I asked, incredulous.
“Michael said that he had emergency cash hidden in his office. He said he’d pay me back right away.”
“And you believed him?”
Round three of the waterworks show. I waited until she dried her eyes. She looked more vulnerable, more appealing than ever.
I despised myself for still wanting her.
“Where’s Michael now?”
“Showing a house,” replied Rachel.
“So—a divorce? An annulment?”
“I love Michael and he loves me. We’ll get through this .”
“He lied to you, manipulated you into embezzling—what’s wrong with you?”
“It’s really more of a misunderstanding,” she said. “We’ll work it out.”
You can’t make this kind of stuff up.
“And if you don’t return the cash tomorrow,?” I asked.
“They’ll call the police,” she said. “Even if I don’t go to prison, I’ll never get another good job.”
That kind of a misunderstanding. But I didn’t say it aloud.
“Why come to me?” I asked, relishing the moment. “Surely your mother could help?”
“Mom hates Michael. Says she always knew he was a phony, that I was a fool to fall for his act and that I should have married you.”
Oddly, this did not make me feel better.
“Your mother would let you go to jail?”
“She said she’ll help with a lawyer, but she wouldn’t give me the money because I deserve to be punished.”
Wow, I thought. Tough love.
“I’m only a free-lance writer,” I said. “I live in this crappy townhouse, wear jeans and drive a crappy old Toyota. A thousand bucks is a lot to me.”
Actually, at that moment it wasn’t: I’d just scored a major reprint sale and landed a lucrative brochure project. I was flush.
Rachel worked the ring off the third finger of her left hand. The stone was easily three carats, its myriad facets refracting sunbeams as tiny rainbows.
“Take this for collateral,” she said.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was a zircon. No pawn shop would give her as much as $50 for it.
“I don’t want your ring,” I said.
“I’ll open a savings account for you and deposit $50 a month.”
I thought about it for a long moment, then wrote her a check.
“I can’t let you go to jail,” I said.
“Thank you! I’ll pay you back! Every cent, with interest. Thank you!”
I didn’t think she would — but I was curious: Years earlier, my then-wife committed a serious crime; although I knew nothing of it until her arrest, she tried to wriggle free by blaming me. Though shocked and horrified, I still loved her. I couldn’t let her go to prison, so I naively offered to sacrifice my freedom for hers; improbably, this became the twisting path to my own subsequent liberation.
All this cost me my savings and a promising career as an Army officer. And of course, I couldn't be married to someone that I couldn't trust.
Now I was watching a replay, gender roles reversed: Michael betrays Rachel; she risks her freedom for his. It almost restored my faith in womanhood.
It was worth a grand to see how things worked out.
A week later the mail brought a bank book with a balance of $10. Not $50. A month later Rachel deposited another $10. She was trying. Ten more the following month and ten the next.
Then nothing. Her phone was disconnected. New tenants occupied the Newport house. Rachel left the bank, though why, how or when they wouldn’t say. I never heard from her again.
Many years later, when I wrote my first movie– the first that was produced – I made my villain a tall, good-looking, well-dressed serial killer with a flashy car. He seduces a needy woman, manipulates her into embezzling, murders her for the loot. Then he does it again. My screen lothario’s last victim supervises accounts posting for a large bank. She takes cash on a Friday afternoon, believing that her lover will repay her before Monday’s reckoning. Right.
At the climax my hero swoops in, shoots the killer, saves the woman — and turns her over to the cops for embezzling.
That screenplay brought way more than $1,000.
I love being a writer: Nothing in my life goes to waste and every story ends as I choose.
Writing well is the best revenge.
© 2000 Marvin J. Wolf
FROM Marvin J. Wolf
On this page are true stories, magazine articles, excerpts from books and unpublished works, short fiction, and photographs, each offering a glimpse of my life, work and times. Your comments welcome. © Marvin J. Wolf. All rights reserved.