A lot of folks called my home, out on Noble Vista, a McMansion. Maybe that was supposed to be funny, since my money came from fast food, more than twenty locations in four cities. I promise you, though, nothing on Noble Vista reeked of grease, and I ate my meals off china, not out of paper wrappers.
It was the home I didn’t even know enough to dream of when I was starting out. Three stories, plus a finished basement, on a full acre of meticulously manicured lawn. A four-car garage, and a heated swimming pool, and a kitchen big enough to service any of my restaurants. It had a full gym, an eight-person whirlpool, and a screening room that could seat twenty. There was a library lined with books, the colors of the bindings complementing the cherry shelves. There were a bunch of guest rooms that would have been kids’ rooms if there were any kids. I think the maids who came three times a week were the only people who ever went in them. The first time my wife Glory saw the place, she asked me how Bertha liked things up in the attic. I laughed, but I think she knew I didn’t really understand the joke.
Sometimes in the middle of the night I walked around the house, my bare feet comfortable on the heated floors, counting light switches or power outlets or windows, just trying to get a fix on the scope of the place.
There was one feature that only I knew about. Somewhere in the walls was a shredder that chewed through money faster than I could make it, even with the extra I was skimming from Seamus Flynn. Diving into my pool felt a little redundant when I was drowning in red ink. Maids and gardeners. Landscapers and the six-day-a-week cook. Twice a year the property tax hit me like a boxing glove with a brick inside. There was always something that needed fixing or remodeling, and in a neighborhood like Noble Vista you couldn’t be seen in a car more than two years old.
I was a long way from broke. But I was an even longer way from what you’d guess, driving down Noble Vista and eyeing the place.
On many of my evening rambles, a bottle of whiskey dangling from my hand and merciless figures running through my brain, I paused outside the slightly open door to Glory’s bedroom and stood still until I heard the soft rhythm of her breath. We had separate bedrooms. Apparently I snore, when I’m able to sleep. That’s not to say my wife was a withholding woman. A couple of times a week I started the night in her room, slipping out when she drifted off. And I didn’t believe she married me for my money.
I didn’t want to believe she married me for my money.
I met Glory at a party at Seamus Flynn’s house. His place made mine look like a country shack. It wasn’t in a subdivision, but five miles out in the country by itself, at the end of a winding road with nothing else on it. Seamus Flynn liked his privacy, and he liked his comforts. He should, given the number of people he’d killed to get them.
I was invited because in the age of the credit card, a lot of people still pay for fast food with cash, which makes it a handy business for laundering money. I went to school with one of Flynn’s nephews, who arranged a meeting when my first restaurant looked like it was going to go bust a couple of months after it opened. He made me an offer I didn’t have any intention of refusing. Six months later I was doing well enough to open a second location, and we were off to the races. Looking back, I went too fast, took on too much debt, consumed by the idea of growth. The extra income from Flynn made it possible. By the time of the party, Flynn was running better than three million dollars a year through my fryers. I don’t think he knew that my cut was all that was keeping me afloat. We were just coming out of the big 2008 crash and I was a touch overextended, the way the Titanic got to be a little damp.
Flynn’s parties were something. Half society, half street. I wandered, moving from group to group. I was restless that night, looking for something. I didn’t know what it was until I saw Glory across the room. She wasn’t the youngest woman there, or the most beautiful, but as soon as I spotted her the room reorganized itself around her. Maybe it was because she seemed more real than any other woman in sight. She wasn’t wearing makeup, or if she was, it was so artfully applied that it was invisible. There was the faintest salting of gray in her auburn hair. Character. Her eyes were huge and arresting. From fifteen feet away those eyes flicked across me, came back, and held mine for a moment before she turned back into an urgent, whispered discussion with her companion, a rangy man with unruly blond hair and a blue suit.