Margaret Lisle: Cash Lemont
Cash Lemont lowered himself into the plush black leather chair at the head of the enormous teak conference table. All eyes were on him. Twelve pairs of eyes. Eyes that tried but failed to mask the fear hanging heavy in the air. Clarence Snarky stood to welcome the Chairman, but Cash Lemont summarily dismissed him with a wave of his hand.
“Sit down, Clarence,” the Chairman said. “We will be forgoing the niceties at this meeting.”
Clarence almost fell back into his chair.
"Let’s begin,” Cash said.
And so the dissolution of Lemont Enterprises, Inc. became a reality. Blame was apportioned to deserving members of the Board, large sums of money were lost and long-time friendships among them terminated. The company was deceased in thirty minutes. Cash Lemont stuffed the pertinent papers in his briefcase and left the room without another word to his stunned colleagues.
Outside the Lemont Building (named for his father) his chauffeur-driven Lincoln waited to take him wherever. That was the rub. Where did he want to go now? Where would he be welcomed? Even his chauffeur seemed to have adopted a new air around him, or so it seemed to Cash. He’d had to open the car’s door himself earlier, while the driver pretended distraction and offered a half-hearted apology.
“How the mighty have fallen,” thought Cash. His disappointment in the man who had been with him for seven years would be reflected in his severance pay. But not yet. He still needed him for a few days.
“Where to, Mr. Lemont?” the driver asked.
“Just drive for now. Take Lake Shore Drive north.”
Traffic was heavy due mostly to the many Downtown construction projects and the approaching lunch hour. Cash didn’t notice. His mind traveled a different route, more than one, actually. His brain ached. Problems and possible solutions had been roaring through his mind for days.
Dissolving his company had been only the proverbial tip of his troubles, the camel’s straw, the real life ending to his fantastical dreams. Life was sending him a message c.o.d. and he didn’t have the money to bail himself out of the mess he had personally created, bullishly and so righteously positive of success.
Just when the traffic began to thin out, he told the driver to turn around and go back to the Hilton Hotel where he had reserved rooms overlooking Grant Park. He hoped his wife would be out shopping at Nordstrom’s or visiting one of her many favorite beauty holes. Another confrontation about money would be anathema to him at this point. And futile. Merrilee only understood having access to money, not the lack of it. How it came into her hands was immaterial and boring. She didn’t have a clue as to how he acquired it and cared less.
The news he would be filing for bankruptcy would befuddle and devastate her. Born and raised in the moneyed North Shore of Chicago, a graduate of Vassar, she oozed money both in fashion and manner. A bit of a snob in his view, she had surprised him by agreeing to date him, and even more so by accepting his proposal of marriage. After all, he came with no pedigree and very little to offer her except an abundance of confidence and roaring ambition. Her family frowned on their prospective union but eventually caved as Merrilee predicted they would. They accepted him, hiding their unspoken caveats, which only fueled his need to prove them wrong.
And he succeeded in raking in the dollars earned from real estate investments and various business enterprises. Merrilee had no trouble raising their credit cards to the max, and he never put any limits on her spending, even after the first signs of trouble ahead began to appear. Their marriage remained solid. A deep underlying loyalty to each other, or perhaps just a reluctance to prove her family right in their assessment of him, kept them united.
Neither succumbed to an affair, and after ten years of trying, they failed to produce any progeny. For this, Cash was sorry but grateful now that things had gone sour.
He would have to tell her tonight. His lawyers had tried unsuccessfully to isolate him from the government’s charges of fraud and he agreed to turn himself in on the eighteenth, three days from now, for arraignment and subsequent internment in a minimum security prison for a term yet to be determined.
He was unsure how she would take this news. Life had never really tested her as yet, except maybe for her inability to conceive, which he believed she blamed on his low sperm count and considered herself without fault in spite of her frequent bouts of endometriosis.
There had been no deaths or major illnesses of close family members to grieve over, no broken-hearted love affairs to suffer through before she met him. This crisis would be uncharted emotional territory for her. What would her reaction be to the shame and scandal about to be visited upon them? Would she stand by her man? He honestly couldn’t predict with any certainty.
“We’re here, Sir,” said his driver. “Will you need me any more tonight?”
“No. I’ll call you in the morning. Early.”
He exited the car and entered the hotel. As usual, the lobby was busy and animated. He rode the elevator to the fifteenth floor where he had reserved a suite for the week-end. They had checked in yesterday afternoon and gone to the theatre to see a return run of “Phantom of the Opera,” Merrilee’s favorite musical. She had already seen it three times, once in Chicago, once in New York and once in London. She owned two DVD’s of it, one in the car and one in their home in Lake Forest. She couldn’t get enough of it, and the music never failed to move her to the point of tears. It was like a musical obsession. He hoped her sympathy for the Phantom would carry over to him.
“Is that you, Cash?” she called out from the bedroom as he entered the suite.
“It’s me alright. I’m going to fix myself a drink. You want one?”
“I’d love a Bloody Mary if they have any tomato mix in the frig. Otherwise a Scotch on Rocks.”
“I’ll see what they have. Then come sit with me. We need to talk.”
That prompted an immediate response. She appeared in the bedroom doorway half undressed, probably trying on new clothes from her morning shopping tour he guessed. Her face was a question mark. “That sounds ominous,” she said.
“Merrilee, put on your robe and come sit with me,” he said again.
The next hour and a half was pure torture for them both as Cash tried to explain the gravity of his business failures, his inability to make things right again, and his eventual illegal attempts to wiggle out from under the financial crises he had created. Bottom line was everything they owned would be sold for restitution and he would be incarcerated in a minimum security facility.
“You mean prison, don’t you? Not a facility. Say it like it is, for God’s sake.”
“What’s going to happen to me? Will there be anything left for me? Will I lose my house, my car?”
“Everything will have to be sold for cash.”
“Cash, how could you do this to me?” she cried. Her words shattered any hope he may have harbored that she would stand by him. Merrilee’s middle name was “me”: Merrilee Me Lemont, no doubt about it. She was already backing away from him, putting distance between them until she entered the bedroom and slammed the door.
Funny how fast love can fly out a window, he thought, and was surprised to find he didn’t care all that much. He had expected this reaction. She would be okay, he knew, other than having to admit her parents were right all along. She would swallow her pride and appeal to her father for new credit cards and her old Lake Forest bedroom.
Her good looks would help her snag a new bank account eventually. No, he was more anxious about himself and how he would handle his new environs. Minimum or maximum security, it was still imprisonment. There was no way he was going to risk being a jail-house lover—no way. He decided to bolt.
Mexico seemed to be the easiest way to go. He had enough cash stashed away in a secret location that would last him a few years if he lived frugally, and he knew enough conversant Spanish to get around.
Flashbacks of the movie The Shawshank Redemption dashed across his battered thought processes, particularly the main character, Andy, who escaped from prison to a small village in Mexico. He could do that. He would assume a new identity after crossing the border at Laredo and avoid the tourist towns, as much as he would love to go to Puerto Vallarta or Cabo San Lucas. Too expensive and in-your-face. Too many tourists who might recognize him.
He remembered reading about a small fishing village called San Agustinillo in Oaxaca and set his sights. He would head out right now, leaving everything behind to avoid raising Merrilee’s suspicions. He drained a quick Scotch-on-the-Rocks and with nothing but the clothes on his back and his passport, left his wife and his soured life behind.
He is still there. In San Agustinillo, minus his Georgio Armani suits and designer shoes and shirts; he wears tee shirts and flip-flops. He is married to a local girl, Maria, who adores him and is pregnant with their second child. He works as a day laborer for the local fishermen or on a nearby coffee plantation when there is work, sometimes three days a week, but mostly two.
Maria sends him off in the morning with a kiss and a lunch bag. Their village is on the Pacific Ocean where he fishes a lot for their dinners. He is as brown-skinned as Maria now and more handsome than ever. His life is lazy and peaceful, without the crippling ambition that led him to this place. He is truly happy for his transition and is grateful to the money gods who turned his life around. His adopted name is Lucky Lancaster, but don’t tell anyone I told you so. DSS
Margaret Lisle of Lisle, IL lives in a senior community, where she says her writing was resurrected. She is a retired Administrative Assistant to a Cook County politician. Her short stories have appeared in several anthologies published by Outrider Press and other literary journals.
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