Free Short Story

“HIDDEN ASSETS”  (copyright 2012)

(A Short Story That Would Have Made Hitchcock Smile)

 The bride and groom sat at the front table, beaming at their assembled guests like first-timers even though it was a late-in-life marriage—her second, his third.  A thirty-ish brunette waitperson in a short-waisted tuxedo jacket and black bow tie poured them their first glasses of champagne.

Mimi, the bride, turned to her new husband.  “I love you,” she said.

Paul, the groom, smiled like the sun.  “I love you.”

Cyanide? she thought.

Overdose? he thought.

They clinked glasses, but before they sipped, she snaked her arm through his so they were interlocked like two chain links.  They looked into one another’s eyes over the rims of their glasses.  The wedding photographer’s camera flashed twice.

A Kodak moment, she thought. Something to remember him by.

Not.

What she saw was a man in his late sixties with a paunch and not a whole lot of hair on his head and what he had was like steel wool.  Tanned but sagging under the chin.  Black tux with a long tie instead of a bow tie, always trying too hard to be “with it.”  That was him all over.  In complete denial that he was pretty much in senior-citizen territory.  Sad.  Worse than that, he looked like an accountant but thought of himself as a Rat Pack kind of guy.  Even had a signed group photo of Frank, Dean, Sammy, and Peter Lawford in his den.  Joey Bishop, the putz of the pack, was missing.   Probably went out of his way to find one without Bishop.  No sympathy for a fellow putz.

But what Paul saw when he looked at Mimi was equally disappointing.  A pathetic cougar.  Fifty-four (if she was telling the truth) going on nineteen.  Tragically influenced by Sex and the City and Lady Gaga.  Enough “age-defying” creams, emollients, and serums in her bathroom to lube a jumbo jet.  Not bad-looking at first glance, but all the telltale signs were there—the long bangs that covered the crow’s feet, the face-lift scars behind her ears, the worsening sag at the jaw line telling her it was time for another lift, crepe-y salon-tanned skin on her chest (the low-cut gown was a mistake), and the dead giveaway that apparently no doctor can fix, the hands.  Old lady hands with fashion-length French-tipped nails.  Hands that could stir a cauldron on the beach at St. Tropez.

He glanced past her so he wouldn’t have to look at her.  On the other side of the sliding glass windows, Central Park looked like a board game, and he immediately thought of Monopoly.  That little guy with the handlebar moustache and the top hat with gobs of cash stuffed in his pockets. This wedding was costing a fortune—ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton, flowing Cristal (at her insistence, two grand a case), $285-a-plate filet mignon or Chilean sea bass Provencal (even for her cousin’s goddamn brats who just frowned at it), Sylvia Weinstock wedding cake.  Ninety-two guests.   People he had just met that day; people he didn’t even like.  Wedding receptions at their stage of life should be classy, low-key affairs.  Prosecco, hors d’oeuvres, and cake—that’s it.  Guess no one clued her in to that one.  But he kept telling himself this was an investment.  Max out the credit cards today, hit the jackpot tomorrow.

The insistent clanging of flatware on water glasses sounded from one of the back tables, and it soon multiplied, like one bird in a tree waking up all the others at dawn.  Mimi gritted her teeth behind her smile.  She wanted to die.  Or kill.  These were his low-rent relatives, the ones from Jersey.  She couldn’t believe she had to put up with this at her own wedding.  Banging on glasses to get the newlyweds to kiss?  What did they think this was?  An Italian wedding?  God!

Paul whispered to her, “We better do it or they’ll never stop.”

She bit her tongue and dipped her head, like the blushing bride she was pretending to be.  “I don’t mind,” she said, tilting her chin up for a peck.

His moustache felt like a floor brush on her skin.  Enjoy it now, buster, she thought, cringing inside.  It won’t last.  No, you won’t last.

The tinkling pianist—a Bobby Short wannabe at $175 an hour plus a meal and drinks—launched into Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss.”  Cute, Paul thought, even though he wasn’t feeling this kiss at all.  He was thinking how not-him this whole affair was.  It was old.  1940s, Brooke Astor, Upper East Side old.  He had wanted a band that could play more contemporary stuff.  A little rock, a little reggae, some Beatles, some Jimmy Buffett.  Stuff people could get up and dance to, have a little fun.  There was nothing wrong with having fun.  But this was how she wanted it.  “Demure and elegant,” she’d said.  Her favorite word.  Demure.  Like a funeral, he thought.  Well, he’d make sure that hers was demure.

Her big fat brother—his best man, her idea—waddled over, the clink of the ice in his scotch glass preceding him like a cowbell.  “Congratulations,” he said, his breath a boozy fog.  “Both of you.  You deserve each other.  Really.  You do.”

Paul smiled and said nothing.

“Thank you, Stephen,” Mimi said and squeezed her brother’s flabby bicep affectionately.

God forbid we deserve each other, she thought.  We deserve each other just long enough to make it look good.  Happily married couple hit by tragedy when husband dies of massive coronary.   That’s what it will look like.  A special chemical cocktail formulated by the KGB.  That’s what they told her.  Not some nutty homemade tranquilizer milkshake like the one that nitwit in Hong Kong had used on her husband.  It didn’t work.  She had to bash his brains in with a statue to finish the job.  Stupid.  What was she thinking?  Hire professionals, for God’s sake.  That’s what Mimi was doing.

“Are you having a good time, Stephen?” Paul asked his new brother-in-law.

“The best.  The absolute best.  You guys really know how to throw a great party.”  Stephen laughed his phlegmy smoker’s laugh as he lifted his glass to his fleshy lips.

Sure, Paul thought, it’s always a great party when you’re not footing the bill.  And anyway how would he know a great party from a so-so party?  Stephen had been drinking steadily since he got here.  Everything looks great with half a fifth of single malt down the hatch. Freaking leech.  Well, keep drinking, my friend.  Console yourself before the fact.  You’ll be an only child soon enough.

Gemma, Paul’s daughter and the maid of honor, came up to Mimi and threw her arms around her.  The girl was blubbering—again—and Mimi had to fake a grateful-verging-on-tears expression.  Gemma was so annoying.  Thirty-one years old with a master’s in fine art and another one in peace studies, and she hasn’t worked a day for pay in her life.  Endless unpaid internships.  Thank God she divorced well because she isn’t going to see a cent of her dear old Dad’s money.  She and Paul had already hashed that out.  Mimi had no kids, and his two were doing just fine.  They had their wills rewritten before the marriage.  Paul’s two children, Gemma and Rob, get nothing if he dies first, but she’s obliged to leave two-thirds of her estate to them.  (If there’s anything left.)  Just goes to show what an idiot he is.    So smitten he actually believes everything will work out fine.  Well, it will, but not for them.

Gemma released Mimi from the hug, but the waterworks were still flowing.  “I am so happy for you two.  And, Daddy, I’m really really happy that you found someone special.”

Ha, Mimi thought.  She’s only saying that because she hated her mother.  The woman had died in a jet ski accident off South Beach with her not-so-secret Cuban sculptor lover.  It wasn’t pretty, and the pictures were all over the web, thanks to TMZ.  Compared to that slut, anyone would be a great match for Gemma’s old man.  In fact there had been several others vying for the chance to be Paul’s next bride.

Mimi remembered her competition.  A surprising number of unattached women of a certain age had brought plates to Paul’s West End Avenue apartment after his wife’s funeral—their ticket in to sniff out the goods—and Mimi had been one of them.  She had known his wife but not that well—they had both volunteered for a few of the same charities.  Two of the casserole queens came on to him particularly hard.   Couldn’t blame them.  What’s not to like about a successful film producer with a string of action-adventure hits in the ‘90s (movies that must still be generating income from television broadcasts) and a Jean-Claude Van Damme comeback in development.  Van Damme had been invited to the wedding but couldn’t make it.  Dolph Lundgren also sent his regrets.  Steven Seagal sent a prayer wheel.  Cheap Buddhist prick.

Paul worked up a proud smile when he saw Gemma hugging Mimi just to show that it warmed his heart to see his new bride getting along so well with his daughter.  But what Mimi didn’t realize was that Gemma cried for everything.  Somebody mentions kittens, she cries. You run out of Special K, she cries.  You try to talk to her about finding a job, she really cries.  But right now these tears were good.  He wanted people to see them.  And when her new step-mom kicks the bucket, Gemma will be weeping non-stop for days.  It’ll be a very nice effect and hopefully deflect suspicions that he’d had her killed for her money.  It won’t stop people from talking, of course.  He had no doubts that her friends would start quacking as soon as they found out she’d croaked.  But it won’t be based on anything.  The poison is supposed to be completely undetectable.

He had gone to the big Barnes and Noble downtown to find a book on poisons.  To read it there, not to buy it, of course.  That would be evidence, and he was being very careful about that kind of thing.  That’s why he was letting his hot petootie from Coney Island take care of the details.    She knew people who knew Russian guys out there who did these kinds of “jobs.”  He’d given her a key to Mimi’s apartment where they’d been living most of the time (he and Mimi had decided not to sell either of their places until the market improved) and told his sweet girl to get rid of it when the deed was done.  All he knew was that it would be a poison and that the cops would never be able to figure it out.  And that’s all he wanted to know.  Still he was curious.  He’d found a book in the reference section, a guide to poisons and toxins for mystery writers.  He had no idea there were so many.  His eyes blurred just flipping through the pages.  Castor beans, cuckoopint, moonseed, mandrake, monkshood.  So many.   It wasn’t worth trying to guess which one they’d use.  He put the book back on the shelf, browsed around for another twenty minutes for the benefit of the security cameras, then left.

Mimi’s face ached from all the smiling she had to do.  Thank God for Xanax, she thought.  I’d never get through this otherwise.  But something occurred to her.  How will the poison interact with his prescriptions?  She knew he took Lipitor.  And Cialis.  (He’d told her he was switching from Viagra so he’d be ready for action whenever she was.  “No more stinking windows of opportunity,” he’d said with an obnoxious Mexican accent.  Mr. Romantic.)  But do poisons work better or worse when there are prescription drugs in the system?  Or does it matter?  Now she was worried.  What if his dick pills cancelled out the poison?  Shit.  She should have asked about that.  But her person had assured her that this hitman had done this kind of thing before and has a perfect record.  Undetectable death was guaranteed.  Still her stomach was in knots.  It freaking better be guaranteed, she thought.  She needed Paul’s money.  Badly.

Her story was very sordid, she had to admit, and she was embarrassed to death whenever she thought about it.  She’d somehow managed to blow just about everything she’d had: her inheritance from her father, who had died with a few mil in the bank from his bra hardware business (hooks and snaps), and the sizeable settlement from her divorce from her first husband who’d made quite a bit managing 14% of all the parking lots and garages below Canal Street.   At one point she’d had a little over six million.  But things got out of hand.  She’d bought a place in Sag Harbor and renovated it.  Paid a third in cash, took a mortgage for the rest.  Then she’d bought the apartment next door to hers on East 83rd St. and knocked down the walls to make one big place.  Another big mortgage.  And of course she had to furnish both places.  And buy art for the walls—two Hockneys, a Krasner, a Lucian Freud, a Nevelson, a LeWitt.  In no time, it seemed, she was down to under a mil and was looking at scary monthlies.  But what was she going to do at her age?  Downsize?  She’d lose all the new friends she’d made.  And you don’t make new ones easily at age 58 and a half.  Sure, she’d had a nice life, but was she supposed to stop having a nice life?  Wasn’t she entitled to have a nice future, too?

Looking back, she should have unloaded the Sag Harbor house, but she had made some good friends out there, friends who all had places in Manhattan, so selling would have been a major embarrassment, an admission that she wasn’t on their level, that she was a poser.  They definitely would have abandoned her if she had sold the house.  It would have been social suicide.

She’d never had a good job, not one that paid real money, and sadly she wasn’t in an age group that attracts masters of the universe so she panicked.  And stupidly, what did she do?  She played the ponies.  Gambled on horse races, hoping she’d win enough to stay rich.  She’d won a little but not enough.  So she turned to football games.  And basketball games.  And baseball games.  Tennis matches.  Golf tournaments.  NASCAR races.  She won some but lost more.  Then lost more.  Then even more.  And the hole got deeper.  And deeper.  And then her bookie, Anthony, said to her one day, “Look, Mimi, you’re a nice lady, but you gotta pay up or you’re gonna make me do somethin’ you’re not gonna like.  I suggest you go see a friend of mine.”  He didn’t exactly say what that “somethin’” was, but she didn’t want to find out so she arranged to meet his friend.

Anthony’s friend was a loan shark from Brooklyn named Demetri, who agreed to lend her a million-five to cover her obligations to Anthony.  The catch was the interest—the “veeg,” he called it.  Two percent compounded weekly.  In less than a year unless she paid up, she would owe Demetri twice the principal.    But she had no choice.  Anthony, in his very polite, pinkie-ring way, made it pretty clear—at least in her mind—that some part of her anatomy would be irreparably damaged if she didn’t settle up with him in a timely manner.  So she took the loan and paid him off, but now she had to start making good-faith payments to Demetri to stay out of trouble with him.   So, dummy that she was, what did she do?  She borrowed more from Demetri to place more bets with Anthony.  And she lost.  A lot.  So now she owed a bundle to each of them, and it would be a foot race to see who rearranged her face first, the Italian or the Russian.  Sure, she could have sold the artwork, but her friends would have noticed and they’d assume something was wrong.  The way she saw it, the only solution was getting married to a rich guy, even though she’d sworn she’d never tie the knot again.  Fortunately this marriage wouldn’t last long. Demetri, in his heavily accented monotone, the perpetual cigarette smoldering in the corner of his mouth, offered her a way out.  “You use my friend, she make you widow.  Simple as pizza pie.”

She hoped so.

“A toast!” someone called out from the back of the room.  “A toast!”

Paul recognized the voice.  His son, Rob, stood by the piano, short dreads dangling over his brow, smiling through his thick goatee.  He hoisted a champagne flute.

The brunette waitperson swooped in with a fresh bottle of Cristal and topped off the bride’s and groom’s glasses.

“To my father and his lovely bride Mimi.  May they have love, health, and happiness forever.”

God forbid, Paul thought. How about two weeks, tops?

He gave his son a benevolent nod and sipped his champagne, wishing he wasn’t so disappointed in him.  But he had only himself to blame.  He had encouraged Rob to go into the family business.  But not as a director, for God’s sake.  Four years at USC, then two more at NYU, and five years in the biz, and what did he have to show for it?  Two barely watchable indies, only one of which got distribution and only because he had somehow gotten Paris Hilton to appear in two scenes as the heroine’s batty pyromaniac sister.  He’d also directed two episodes each of Willow Heights and Kat’s Crib, primetime teen soaps, both of which have since been cancelled, leaving him out of work yet again.  The kid was agitating to direct Kick, the Van Damme vehicle, but he has no experience doing action flicks.  Depression, suicide, anorexia, bulimia, Asperger’s, Munchausen by proxy, anything in the DSM—that’s his thing.  But to be totally honest, he’s not so good with that either.

Paul looked at the son he loved and sighed, but he couldn’t help but blame the kid—just a little bit—for putting him in the financial hole he was in now.  Rob had encouraged him to develop a project called Flying Tackle, promising to turn it into a boffo CGI blood fest.  A team of NFL pros by day, crime-fighting ninjas by night.  Couldn’t lose, Rob kept saying.  Paul had envisioned a film a little more modest, with The Rock if they were lucky and maybe Toby Keith to grab the red-state audience.  But Rob had argued, why pay big-name actors?  Get a bunch of hunky Australians who all together will cost a quarter of The Rock’s quote.  You don’t need star power for a movie like this, Rob said.  In the ninja sequences, which is two-thirds of the script, the actors are wearing masks.  People go to these movies for the effects not the acting, Rob said.  And he said he had some buddies from USC who could do the computer work on the cheap.  Paul loved his son dearly, but a day didn’t go by that he didn’t ask himself, Why the hell did I ever listened to him?

They made Flying Tackle, but the CGI bill was a lot more than the original estimates.   Hollywood kept upping the ante with the CGI crap and they had to compete, they had no choice.  So the film that Paul had budgeted for $45 mil ended up costing 75.  He had to sell off all the foreign rights to meet the costs, and that still wasn’t enough.  He needed another $11 mil and no other investors would bite, so at Rob’s urging he broke his most solemn vow–Never to use your own money on a film.  He smashed the piggy bank to get this thing made, figuring he’d make it back and then some on DVD sales.  But what the hell was he thinking?  Using his own money to make a big-budget picture without stars?  Freaking stupid!  And that’s exactly what the distributors said.  Where are the stars?  The CGI stuff was good, no question about that, but it wasn’t any better than anyone else’s.

Bottom line: Flying Tackle opened for two weeks in the US at the end of August, even though he’d begged the distributor to release it in the fall when football season was in full swing.  Naturally it tanked domestically.  It didn’t do much better in Europe.  They don’t give a shit about American football—they’re soccer nuts.  But Asia loved it.  Box office receipts went through the roof over there.  But he didn’t see a penny of it because he’d sold off the rights.  He knew it would do well there, but at the time he was up against the wall, he needed the money.  And who could have predicted that the DVD market would collapse?  So here he was without a pot to piss in, trying to get another movie made, one that would make some money.

But “you have to spend money to make money.”  That’s what that little prick at the studio keeps telling him.  But it’s not the studio’s money he wants to spend, it’s Paul’s because they have a cap on their investment.  But that doesn’t keep the little prick from going on and on about how Jean-Claude isn’t big enough to open a film anymore and the project needs a bigger name for the bad guy.  Bruce Willis, he keeps saying.  Get Willis.  Or Travolta.

How about Harvey Keitel? Paul offered.  Or Randy Quaid?

No, Willis, Willis, Willis, the little prick says every time Paul talks to him.  Or Travolta.  But do you know what Willis’s quote is?  Or Travolta’s?  It gave Paul angina just thinking about it.  But the smiley little prick with his weird blue-frame glasses was making it clear in his passive-aggressive way that he wasn’t gonna greenlight the film without Willis—or Travolta—which put Paul in a real bind.  He’d have to get more investors or maybe even get another studio involved, and that would leave him with a smaller slice of the pie, which wouldn’t get him out of the hole.  He needed to put up the money for Willis—or Travolta—himself to maintain his stake, but he didn’t have it, and with his lack of assets no one would lend it to him.  But Mimi had it.

He’d heard about her from Jeannie Mickelson, a friend who used to work in publicity for the Weinsteins.  Paul had met Jeannie in the run-up to the Flying Tackle release.  She’d told him point blank that it was gonna be a loser domestically, but she had a nice laugh and perky breasts and he respected her honesty.  He would have loved to jump in the sack with her, but she was already sleeping with a big wig from Goldman Sachs.  The day the guy proposed to her—big-ass diamond engagement ring over sushi at Masa—she went back to the office, found Bob (Harvey was on location with Scorsese), and told him in the nicest way possible that he could shove the job up his ass and Harvey’s too because she didn’t need the aggravation anymore.  After working her butt off for 22 years, doing Jackie Chan maneuvers on the corporate ladder to get ahead, she was gonna chillax for a while and just be a rich lady.  Jeannie and her hubby bought a waterfront five-bedroom in Sag Harbor where she met Mimi.  They got friendly the way rich women do—dinner parties out there, lunch dates in town—and Jeannie mentioned her to Paul one night at the premier of the latest Jason Statham flick—Transporter 19 or whatever the hell number it was, they’re all the same and they make freaking truckloads of money.  Anyway Jeannie suggested a small dinner party so that he could meet Mimi, thinking they’d be a good match.  (Turned out he’d already met her at the memorial service for his late wife, Sharon; he just didn’t remember her.  The house had been crawling with Sharon’s cronies, and they all looked alike.)  Jeannie had a pretty good read on his situation—he was widowed, horny, and on his way to the poorhouse—so Mimi was perfect.  Jeannie had seen her four-bedroom with two tennis courts in Sag Harbor as well as the 3 beds/3 ½ baths on East 83rd, and it was well known among the ladies who lunch that Mimi had divorced well from the downtown parking-lot king.  So Paul agreed to the dinner party setup and did his best to hide his disappointment when he saw that Mimi’s breasts had probably never been perky and her laugh was more like a cackle compared to Jeannie’s melodious titter.

He asked around about Mimi and discovered that Jeannie’s assessment checked out.  Mimi was single with primo assets, most notably a museum-quality art collection.  Exactly what he needed—the assets not the woman because he already had a woman, a great one, with breasts like honeydews, creamy white Slavic skin, and legs that went on forever.   And she was the perfect age for him, 36.  Five years older than Gemma and seven years older than Rob.  Paul could never get serious with a woman younger than his children.  That would be wrong.

He’d met her through Jeannie, too.  Her name was Dagmara, the niece of Jeannie’s facialist, Ruta.  Jeannie had asked him as a favor to read a spec script Dagmara had written.  Jeannie knew she shouldn’t have, but she had promised Ruta she’d get her niece’s script to a “real producer.”  Ruta was a miracle worker when it came to skin, Jeannie said.  She’d been going to her for years and swore she couldn’t live without her.  She considered Ruta a friend and said she’d do what she could.  It was an action-adventure script about Commie zombies working for Stalin, and so of course Jeannie immediately thought of Paul.  That was his thing.  Besides he owed her one for setting him up with Mimi.

Normally Paul avoided reading unsolicited scripts like the plague, but good producers are like Don Corleone in that they know the value of favors.  He suspected that sooner or later Jeannie would get bored with being a lady of leisure and end up back in the biz, and wherever she landed, he just might need her someday so he agreed to take a look at the script.  It came the next day FedEx.  He felt the envelope’s weight before he opened it, hoping the script was under a hundred pages and he could get rid of it quickly.  He flipped to the last page to see how long it was, and that’s when he saw Dagmara’s face.  She had included a short bio with a color picture on the last page.

He caught himself staring at her.  He flipped to the first page and started reading, but before he got to the bottom of the page, he flipped back to the picture.  He couldn’t stop looking at her.  She was pretty but not actress-trying-to-get-a-part pretty.  He saw rare qualities in her expression—sympathy, kindness, an accepting nature.  She was beautiful and still had the glow of youth but tempered by the glint of wisdom in her eyes.  She was a woman on the cusp of maturity, embracing it and making it work for her.   He tried to read more of the script, but he kept going back to her picture.  Somewhere in the murky depths of his reptilian brain where desires are born without reason, he decided that Dagmara was perfect for him.  Young but not too young.  Pretty but not in a way that would accentuate their age difference and embarrass him.    And he didn’t have to go to her; she was a wannabe coming to him with her little script.  She was a prize, a gift, and the way he saw it, accessible.

He forced himself to read the first five pages, keeping his finger on the page with the photo, but he couldn’t focus his attention on the words—something about a decent, hard-working Russian guy in Moscow whose wife and son are killed by Stalin’s secret Commie-zombie goons.  Paul could see the ending coming a mile away—the guy finds the undead bastards who killed his family, picking up a babe along the way, and has his revenge, kicking some major zombie butt and making their leader suffer something horrible in the big showdown.

Paul scrounged up three grand and offered Dagmara a six-month option on the script on the condition that she rewrite it under his supervision.  He suggested weekly meetings at his apartment.  Weekly meetings soon became twice-a-week meetings.  Then almost daily meetings.  Then intense weekend sleepover meetings.  For a brief time he felt bad for taking advantage of the situation—a spider pausing over the fly in his web, having a moment of regret—but his guilt soon evaporated when in his mind sex became love.  She was clever and capable in ways that American women rarely are.  She talked back to men—his friends and associates, some of them professionally obnoxious film people—especially the ones who passed her off as a foreign fluffbucket.  She’d tell them off in a flash, then charm them right back with a smile and a pat on the hand that lingered just long enough to let them think they might have a chance with her.  She even dickered with the counter men at Zabar’s.  And she loved the Beatles, sang “Back in the USSR” in Russian, naked in bed except for her big fur hat with the earflap strings dangling over her nipples.  Paul was smitten.  He saw a future for himself with her.  He renewed her option for another six months and gave her a key to the apartment.

But at a certain point he worried that her interest in him would fade and she’d leave him so he made her line producer on Kick.  It made perfect sense.  He’d worked on a lot of pictures, and he knew there was nothing like a woman with brass balls to keep a budget under control.  No checks would be written unless she approved them.

And he showed her his “secret weapon,” the little item he’d used to entice both his former wives.  He kept in a lock box built into the floor of his bedroom closet, which just added to its mystery when he went through the process of moving his shoe rack and the carpeting to get to it.  Dagmara’s eyes were as big as blinis as she sat naked on the bed, “Norwegian Wood” on the iPod docking thing.  She watched him turn the dial on the combination lock.  He handed her the little blue-velvet ring box and let her open it herself.   More effective that way.  She looked at him suspiciously as she pried it open, but her expression changed, as he knew it would, when she saw what was inside.  His maternal grandmother’s three-and-a-half carat antique diamond ring.  He’d had it assessed in 1979 before his first marriage, and it was worth about a quarter mil back then.  Had to be worth a lot more now.  But more than its cash- and sentimental value, he thought of it as his secret weapon for getting a woman’s attention.  It had worked with his wives as well as a few girlfriends.  It had even worked with Mimi.

He’d been dating Mimi while sleeping with Dagmara, but it was easy, at least in the beginning, to keep them apart.  Mimi insisted on being courted—dinners at Zagat-approved restaurants, Broadway shows, carefully measured levels of hanky panky and always at her apartment where she had a way of keeping her fingers on the spigots of passion.  He was honest with Dagmara about Mimi.  He needed her money, plain and simple, and Dagmara said having come from poverty in Russian, she understood perfectly and didn’t mind.  But, she said, why not have your cupcake and eat it, too?  Paul was confused.  Was she suggesting a threesome?

“No, don’t be stupid,” his beautiful Russki said, holding his manhood like a tiller and swirling her finger through his thick chest hair.  “Have her money and have me.  There is a way.”

“How?”

“Kill Mimi.”

To be totally honest, it had already crossed his mind.  To keep Kick alive, he had borrowed $800,000 from a Russian guy named Demetri.  It wasn’t the first time he’d gone to a shylock—find a producer worth his salt who hasn’t—but this time was different.  Jack Pap, his old standby, had gotten out of the business and moved to San Miguel de Allende, but he sent Paul an email recommending the Russian.   Paul knew from the git-go that he wouldn’t be able to pay Demetri back in six months as promised, but he figured he could get an extension the same way Jack had always given him time.  But after Paul took the money, Jack told him that Demetri was an old-school, kidnap-your-kids-and-send-their-fingers-back-in-an-envelope kind of guy and Paul had a grandson, Gemma’s little boy Ezra.  That’s when killing Mimi started to make sense.

When Dagmara first suggested murder as a solution, Paul pretended to be horrified.  She said she was just joking and didn’t bring it up again, but the more he thought about it the more sense it made.  Mimi wasn’t always the nicest person in the world, and that concerned him.  He could see her leaving his kids high and dry if he died before her.  Plus, she didn’t have kids of her own, hardly had any family at all except for her fat brother the lush and her cousin the breeder from Philadelphia.  Mimi would blow her money on crap—expensive tchotkes, re-redecorating, clothes she’d only wear once.  He, on the other hand, would use her money to make art.  Not everyone would consider Kick art, but it would get reviewed in the Arts and Leisure section of the Times, so there.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the piano player said into his microphone.  To get the crowd’s attention, he played a few bars of “Here Comes the Bride” with stentorian, two-handed chords.  “Ladies and gentlemen.  If Mimi and Paul will take to the floor, we’ll let them have the first dance.”

A gentle smattering of applause as the newlyweds walked hand-in-hand to the dance area near the piano.  They faced one another, poised for a waltz.  Paul smiled at the piano player who immediately started playing “Let It Be,” and they started to dance.

Goddamn Beatles, Mimi thought as she looked lovingly into Paul’s eyes, following his lead and swaying to music she detested.  The melody made her teeth ache she hated the song so much.  But Paul was a Beatles nut.  He had a large group shot of them in his den right next to the Rat Pack.  Talk about arrested development.  She stapled the corners of her lips into a beatific smile as she slowed her steps to keep pace with Paul who waltzed like a walrus, lumbering and teetering on his titanium knee replacements.

After the first chorus, the piano player spoke into his mic without breaking his stride on the keys:  “The guests are invited to join the bride and groom on the dance floor.”

Other couples started to dance, including goofy Rob, who free-styled it without a partner as if this were Bonnaroo, and weepy Gemma who somehow persuaded her latest boyfriend to dance—a taciturn mountain man with a huge red beard who restored stained-glass windows for a living, one of several beaus she’d had since her divorce.  He was as brittle as glass and managed to make Paul look graceful.

Mimi spotted the little hellion, six-year-old Ezra, skulking behind his mother’s dress, his fingers and cheeks smeared with white frosting.  Mimi could have screamed.  The brat had gotten his grubby paws on the wedding cake, and they hadn’t even cut it yet.

Paul guffawed as soon as he spotted the child and called him over.  Mimi cringed.  The brat was going to get frosting on her dress, and of course Grandpa had to coral the kid in between them so he could be part of their dance.  The big-happy-family shtick.  Ezra bobbed his head like a horse and shook his sticky hands, acting like a little ass for his amused grandfather.   Mimi forced herself to laugh and pretended to be delighted with little boy’s antics, but she could see a white streak on Paul’s black trousers and just knew there had to be frosting somewhere on her by now.  Jesus, she thought, how long will I have to put up with this?

But the answer came quickly, or at least the indication of an answer, as the brunette waitperson whisked onto the dance floor with a silver tray containing two fresh flutes of champagne.  She handed one to Mimi, the other to Paul.

Mimi smiled.  “Thank you,” she said.

My Russian savior, she thought.

Paul took his glass.  “Oh, thank you so much.”

My little hot petootie, he thought.

“You are such a beautiful couple,” Dagmara said with a thin grin.  “Congratulations to you both.  Drink up.”

END

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