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Not the Cheap Seats

Posted by cdonegal on November 29, 2012 at 7:05 AM

The crash and sound of grinding metal froze Marian almost in mid-step. She ran to the front window, fearing the worst.

“Oh, no,” she cried. “Not the Ferrari!”

Money wasn’t the issue. She did all right. Well, well enough to rub it into the faces of those she had passed on her way up, anyway, which is what mattered most to her. With her modest inheritance and her successful law practice, Marian had more money than anyone she knew. Anyone she knew in the old neighborhood anyway. Not that she talked to them or would acknowledge that she knew them. Her life has been a history of quietly clawing her way up, wearing her face of sunny optimism to conceal the crippling need to amaze and impress the people she grew up with, the people she had scraped off her shoes long ago as she severed ties to her modest roots.

At the country club, where everyone she knew had more than she, she was on the lower end of the scale, but she was a member. In this as in all things, she clung to the superficial trappings of status that accrued to being in the right groups, the right clubs, the right neighborhood. Of course, she had scrabbled into each by a fingernail and membership in each prestigious group was more tenuous than anyone might guess. Behind the show, she was a shell, deeply in debt, shedding those she left behind and alienating those above her on the social scale, those who saw her social climbing as desperation, those who mocked her intrusion as a pathetic effort to elbow her way into the society of the right people. An infiltration of the lifestyle that was their right.

In this area, millionaires were not an exclusive club. Hers was the least expensive home in the exclusive neighborhood, but it was in the neighborhood, in proximity to wealth. Her jewelry was excellent costume jewelry or bargains from distant pawn shops and bazaars, designer clothes from discount houses. The “classic” Ferrari that she had bought at an automobile auction allowed Marian to pass among the über rich as one of them while actually costing much less than it appeared. But it was the most authentic of her costly disguises.

She had sunk much more of her “wealth” into the car than she should have but Marian was determined to claw her way to the top, and she knew that the only way to get there was to appear to already have arrived. Besides, she loved to flaunt her success.

With the rented art that adorned her walls and the mortgage that reduced her to a quivering mass, she was making the right impression, but she knew how tenuous was her hold on the trappings of wealth.

Being posh had driven Marian since she was a girl. She had resented the families that had better cars, better homes, better clothes and better vacations. Her father’s car dealership had made him very comfortable, but he was still a car salesman and that shamed her. She was embarrassed that he did not have a college degree, never mind a degree from one of the prestigious schools their neighbors had attended.

But even the most affluent of her neighbors was beneath what she considered her her due, proper station, and she quietly took pride in knowing that she had exploited every opportunity to step on them as she could to rise above them.

Best of all, only the brightest of them understood that she was doing so; she was smarter than them all. She took as her personal motto Hamlet’s observation “that one may smile and smile and be a villain.”

She had mastered the act and scorned those stupid enough to buy it. She believed that that included everyone else.

She saw herself as a modern Scarlet O’Hara, except instead of never being hungry again, she vowed never to be upstaged by people who had better pedigrees or made more money, every relationship she invested in, and every decision she made revolved around how it would affect her social standing, now and in the long run.

At law school she knew that she had found Mr. Right as soon as she realized that the classmate was the scion of one of the most respected and feared law firms in the city. It didn’t hurt that he was gorgeous and athletic. In fact, she first was drawn to his smile, which seemed to start in his heart and radiate through his doe-like eyes. Add his self-deprecating humor, kindness, and natural good taste that he wore like comfortable jeans, and he was a catch any way she considered him.

She pursued him as relentlessly as she could without being obvious. How fortunate that they were in the same study group (how unfortunate that there had been an opening that resulted from another classmate having an unfortunate accident that forced her to drop out for the semester.) How fortunate that it turned out that she loved the same restaurants that he favored, the music he enjoyed, and the authors he favored. She was always so lucky, no matter how much work it required.

How fortunate that he was gallant enough to marry her as soon as he learned that she was carrying his child, despite her apparently bewildered assertion that she had faithfully taken birth-control pills. Even when he learned that it was a false pregnancy, he had stood by her. Noblesse oblige, he thought. He loved her, he said.

How unfortunate that he had died so young – and so soon after Marian had been brought into his family’s law firm.

And now this, she thought, as she ran out to see what had happened.

The woman standing next to her vehicle – well, their respective vehicles, as they now were conjoined—was impeccably dressed. Her perfume was subtle and gently floral. Her expression was well beyond woe-begone.

As Marian approached the woman looked up and turned her head toward her. “Is it yours?” she asked without preamble.

Marian nodded and her heart fell as she took in the damage to her classic beauty.

“I am so sorry,” said the woman, searching though her bag. “I was so excited about good news that my attention wavered.”

“Good news,” asked Marian, as she surveyed the damage with folded arms.

“Yes, and now especially embarrassing, I’m afraid. My husband had just called to tell me that he believes that he is about to be appointed Attorney General….My husband!” She dashed to her car and searched around the floor until she came up with a cell phone.

“Daniel? Hello?” she paused. “Oh, no, I am fine darling. I know that it sounded horrible, but it isn’t as bad as it sounded. I am so excited for you! And I am so sorry to ruin your news with…”

“Well, no, of course. No. No one was hurt; the other car was parked and no one was in it.”

“Yes she is here.” She looked up at Marian. “You are the owner, you said?” Marian nodded again, studying the woman as her mind raced to find how best to leverage the opportunity that had just presented itself.

She had been worried that the deductible would wipe her out. The only way that she could afford insurance for the Ferrari was to opt for a ridiculously high deductible. Certainly these people would have insurance that would cover it…and she might make some excellent contacts.

“Of course,” she continued into her mobile. “No I have not!” she added with quiet intensity. “It is the middle of the day, Daniel and I have not had anything at all….Of course. Yes, I understand. Yes, I will see you tonight, darling.”

She smiled wryly at Marian. “He is not pleased with me,” she said. “In fact, as I have had a one or two other minor accidents, he would prefer that we not report this to our insurance company, if that is all right with you. She pulled out a card and began writing on its back. Looking up at Marian she smiled. “I always make sure to have a few of my husband’s cards with me,” she said. “People seem more impressed by a prominent lawyer than a woman whose resume includes only a string of charity work.”

She finished writing and her tongue made a soft clucking noise while her head bobbed from side to side as she considered whether she had provided all the necessary information. “I have put my own name and personal contact information on the back of the card. Obviously, I would rather that we handle it between us rather than bothering him with the details.”

“Frankly, although he wouldn’t say it, I think that he is growing a little tired of my being such a klutz.”

She handed the card to Marian. “I am Rosaline, she said. Rosaline Reilly. This is my cell phone, so you can always get through to me, and I would love to get this cleared up right away.”

“If you will get the repairs made and send me the bill, I will take care of it immediately. I am so embarrassed to cause you the inconvenience….In fact, I would be happy to pay for a rental while yours is being repaired, if you will allow me.”

Maybe this would not be so bad, thought Marian.

“That is very kind of you,” she said. “I would appreciate that.”

“Now that I think of it,” said Rosaline, finger to her lips, “I could have the fellow who does our repairs do your work and he could drop off a loaner when he comes to pick it up.”

She looked around as if about to share a great secret. “You will understand that -- especially now – I am eager to attend to this as quickly as possible with as little fuss as we can manage.”

“I do understand” said Marian, who had not said so little in as long as she could remember. “I hate to put you out, though.”

“Not at all,” Rosaline interrupted. “I appreciate your allowing us to keep this between ourselves.”

Rosaline saw Marian look again at her crumpled car. “I will ask Jimmy – the man we use for our body work – to call you as soon as he assesses the damage to tell you how serious he thinks it is and how long he expects the repair work to take. The man is a genius! You won’t be able to tell anything happened.”

Marian looked from the card in her hand to Rosaline’s earnest face. “Of course. Thank you, Mrs. Reilly.”

“’Rosaline,’ please. My goodness, we are sharing an experience, after all.”

“Rosaline,” repeated Marian. “Marian Stainer.”

“Miss Stainer.”

“Marian,” Marian corrected.

“Marian,” Rosaline said smiling awkwardly. “Despite the circumstances, I am glad to meet you, Marian.”

Marian snorted a laugh. “Same here, Rosaline. If someone had to wreck my car, I’m glad that it was you.”

“Well, I’m afraid that makes one of us,” Rosaline responded wryly.

Rosaline looked at her watch. “Oh, dear, I am afraid that I am running late. She looked again at the conjoined cars, her Mercedes and Marian’s Ferrari. “It looks as if your Ferrari got the worst of it,” she said. “I think that my bumper just crumpled that rear panel, but the bumper sill looks good.”

“Oh.” Rosaline exclaimed. “You know what we should do?” Reaching into her glove box, she extracted a digital camera. “We should take some photos before we do anything else. Even without the insurance company, it makes sense to record the damage for whatever reason.” And she started snapping pictures from several different angles, checking them as she went.

“Oh, I even got one of you,” she said. “We can compare the expression on your face, before and after the repairs are done.”

“Now let me call Jimmy and see how soon he can get here.” Scrolling through the numbers in her cell phone, she nodded briefly and pushed the speed dial. While she waited, she looked up at Marian. “You don’t have to tell me how embarrassing it is to have a body shop on speed dia…. Jimmy?”

“May I speak to him, please? This is Rosaline Reilly….Thank you.”

After a brief pause, Rosaline’s head snapped up. “Jimmy? Jimmy, this is Rosaline Reilly. I am afraid that I need your help.” She paused and listened for a moment. “Yes, I am glad that helped buy you your new car, but I need some…special treatment.” She paused again to listen and then laughed a throaty laugh.

“Listen, Jimmy, can you work on a Ferrari?”

A pause.

”Of course, I knew you could, I just wanted to be absolutely certain before we went any further.”

“I’m afraid that I have ruined the back of a lovely old Ferrari, but the owner and I have agreed that Daniel and I would pay for it instead of taking all the time to go through insurance.”

Another pause.

“Yes, well that might be good news for you, but it probably means keeping my “classic” Mercedes a little longer than I had planned…If Daniel allows me to continue driving.”

“I told the owner – her name is Ms Marian Stainer – S-t-a-i-n-e-r—that we would provide her a rental while you are working on her car. Can you arrange for that and deliver the rental when you pick up her Ferrari?”

She listened briefly.

Looking to Stainer, she said, “He has that Jaguar that he is selling for the owner. If that works for you, he can bring it over right away.”

Stainer thought briefly before asking “What year?”

“What year?” Reilly repeated into the phone.

“This year? Why is he selling it?”

She listened. Then, laughing, she said, “Must be nice.”

Looking to Stainer she said “His wife hates the color. It is red and she wanted champagne.”

Stainer considered. “A red Jag? Sure, it’ll be fun for the interim.”

“Okay! That’s fine. Thank you, Jimmy. And we’ll cover the cost for that as well, for everything, so you won’t even need her billing information” She gave him the address and said listened for a moment before disconnecting.

“He said that he can be here in about a half-hour. I am so glad that this will work out! I want you to have as little inconvenience as possible.”

She looked again at her watch. “Oh, my! I am so late!” She returned her gaze to Stainer

“Marian, I hate to appear rude, but this is very important for my husband and Jimmy is on his way. Would you mind if I were to leave you alone?”

She saw Marian’s uncertainty and added: “You have my cell number – and let me give you Jimmy’s number.” She scrolled through her directory again and read the number to Marian, who wrote it under Rosaline’s number on her husband’s card.

Marian smiled and returned Rosaline’s pen. “Thank you, Rosaline. You have made what could have been an unpleasant situation an example of how civilized people can behave.”

“I caused the problem, “returned Rosaline. “The least I can do is try to take as much of the burden as possible from your shoulders.”

Marian followed her to the car and watched as Rosaline gently reversed from where she had implanted her bumper in Marian’s Ferrari. She was surprised at how little the collision had damaged the Mercedes, and looking at her own car realized that the damage was contained to one panel. The horrendous sound of the collision seemed entirely out of proportion to the actual damage.

“Does it look as if anything is rubbing on the tire,” Rosaline asked.

Marian hastened to look at the front tires. “No, you are good.”

“Wonderful,” said Rosaline. “Thank you for being so understanding, dear.”

“You are welcome Rosaline. I hope that I will be able to meet your husband.”

“My husband? Why on earth would you want to meet him?”

Marian laughed. “I guess that I didn’t mention that I am a lawyer as well. I would be honored to meet the next attorney general.”

“Aah,” said Rosaline. “Another one of those….Now I am as surprised as I am relieved that we could settle this so quickly.”

“Of course, I would be happy to get the two of you together; it is the least that I could do.”

As she drove off, the two women waved to each other as if they were old friends, Marian’s mind already racing to calculate how she could capitalize on the incident.

As she waited for Jimmy, Marian grew increasingly uneasy. Just as she was about to call to check on him, she saw a bright red Jaguar pull up in front of her house, followed closely by a large flatbed truck.

Exhaling a breath she didn’t know she had been holding, she went to meet the bodyman and collect the key to the Jag from its driver. She almost dropped it when it caught on the driver’s glove, but she caught it in the air and smiled at the man who delivered it. She watched him help Jimmy gently load her Ferrari on the back of the truck and felt a sudden sadness as she watched them drive off with it.

But... she had the use of a cherry Jaguar and she could look forward to meeting the next attorney general of the United States.

~~~

Marian was eager to take the Jag through its paces on the way to the office. She was going a few miles over the speed limit when she spotted the police car coming up steadily in her rear view mirror.

Immediately easing off the gas to return to the speed limit, she was dismayed to see the police lights begin flashing at her rear bumper. She was more dismayed to see a second police car coming up fast.

She pulled over to the side of the road and saw the driver of the first car approach her with his hand on his gun.

“Driver, step out of the car and keep your hands where I can see them.”

Marian hesitated. This is not the way a police officer typically responds to a car going a few miles over the speed limit. In fact, Marian believed that there was a tacit agreement between police and drivers that the speed limit really meant three or four miles above whatever is posted.

“Driver, step out of the car now and keep your hands where I can see them.”

She saw a second police officer moving stealthily along the off-road side of the car and opened her door.

“Easy,” said the first office. “Come out slowly with your hands in plain sight.”

She did as directed, but as soon as she was standing, the first officer said “Face the car and place your hands on the top.”

“Officer, what is this…?”

Her question was aborted in midsentence as the policeman slammed her against the side of the Jag.

“There is no reason for…”

“Quiet!”

She felt his hands briskly checking her for weapons as a second officer opened the passenger door and began searching the car.

“Officer. I did not give permission to search my car. I am a lawyer and I do not give you permission.”

“If it was yours, we’d need it, but not for a car that is reported stolen.”

“Stolen?”

She began to turn toward him.

“Keep your hands in the car,” said the first officer as he slammed her against it again.

“Officer, obviously there is a mistake. This car is a loaner while my car is being repaired.”

“’Loaner,’ hunh?”

“License is clean,” said his partner.

“You see, Officer,” said Marian, turning toward him.

“Yeah, I see. First time you got caught,” said the officer as he guided her roughly into the back seat of his patrol car.

Marian was bewildered. More so when she learned that Jimmy’s number was a prepaid phone, no longer in use. Astonished to learn that Rosaline’s was not a working number. Embarrassed to realize that the new attorney general’s wife had been visiting family at the time of their “accident”….and she had a different surname…and broken-hearted to learn that the Jaguar was indeed stolen and her beloved Ferrari was gone without a trace, probably sold for parts, the police said.

Worst of all was the next morning when she saw her photo in the newspaper with an article about her having been charged with auto theft. She was stunned at how much personal information could be gleaned in such a brief time. Gone with her Ferrari was her reputation, her image and the house of cards she had sacrificed so much and so many to build.

Sickened by the article about her, she turned quickly to the employment pages. The partners in her firm couldn’t afford the association.

From Falls the Shadow, (c) 2012 Craig Lancto

 

Categories: Falls the Shadow

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