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MOBSTERS,

SPIES,

MILLIONAIRES…


And The Girl From Palm Beach



ASHLEY WOODS



























The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any

similarity to real persons, living or dead, is

coincidental and not intended by the author.

      

 All rights reserved, no part of this publication may be

reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher. The publisher is not responsible for websites or their contents that are not owned by the publisher.

 

© Copyright 2013   

Ocean Cat Publications

Chicago/Palm Beach


© Copyright 2018   Ashley Woods

Digital/ISBN: 978-0463877296



DEDICATION


For Peter

And

All My Other Angels









































TABLE OF CONTENTS

* PROLOGUE: REVELATION

1 TWO BROTHERS

2 STEVEN

3 SPIES R’ US

4 JOHN

5 SHARK BEACH

6 CAMPAIGN

7 CHAT LINE

8 DARK GAMES

9 POLICEMEN, MOBSTERS, MILLIONAIRES

10 BOTTOM FEEDER

11 THE PYRAMID FALLS

12 SUGAR DADDY 101

13 ANGELS IN SODOM

14 DINO

15 LIEUTENANT MURRAY

16 TRAFFIC COURT ELVIS

17 TURNED TO SALT

18 RETURN TO SHARK BEACH

19 ANTHONY FIORE

20 A.K.A. “TONY”

21 ONE GREAT LOVE

22UNDER WATER

23 SIX MINUTES



PROLOGUE:

REVELATION


It was 6:55 in the morning.

 

     Lauren Summers sat on her couch, head in her hands. She had a horrible hangover from the unforgiving mixture of cocaine, vodka, multiple shots, and a very long night of club hopping. She was too messed up to stay asleep, and too tired to be awake.

     She was feeling a lot older than the 26 years she turned last August. She knew she was going to feel sick all day. She had no energy to get up and do what she had planned, including cleaning her dingy apartment. Another day wasted. She walked into the washroom, slumping her face one inch from the mirror and took a long-squinted look at herself…


 Lauren was born into old money. Both her parents were silver spooned and were only children. Her mother was descended from fine English lineage with not just one, but two occupants from the Mayflower that were officially documented.

The Matriarch was blue-blood WASP all the way and never failed to let everyone know it. Her father was the CEO of a major Aerospace company and very active in politics.

 She was the youngest, and of course, the most spoiled! In the Summers family, each new birth was greeted with resentment from the others. Even at those young ages, they realized the meaning of greed and having to share the wealth. Lauren had always wished she was an only child.

Since Lauren had won the baby lotto, it meant she was supposed to be living the American dream with the perfect husband, Mercedes, four children, and the majestic house in Chicago’s affluent suburbs on the north shore of Lake Michigan. This is what “North Shore Brats” grew up to expect. It was deemed to be a non-stress life of the Women’s Club, charity balls, week-end jaunts to Marco Island, and an ATM card that never came up declined. 

There was never to be a struggle to just merely exist…

Now life sucked! It wasn’t hers anymore; there was no control over it. She had just finished spending her first round of inheritance that she received when her mother died. As her money had dwindled down for the last two years, she had been forced into living in the real world more and more.

     She was now completely broke until the StepWitch croaked. Only then, would she receive the “big” money from her father’s estate. It was tied up in a trust and untouchable by Lauren, not even for a hardship loan.

     The old Gold Digger, who her father married a few years before he died, was currently living off the interest on the principal which was quite substantial. 

     It seemed the money’s impending arrival was the only thing that kept Lauren from ending it all. But it was crippling and it stunted her aspirations. She never developed a sense of responsibility and was incapable of holding a job for more than three months. 

     She was only used to living like she had always done. The easy way! Just like when she was still at home receiving her allowance, credit cards paid by her father, and no obligations to anyone!

     All of these thoughts scattered through her mind this Saturday morning. This “Day of Reckoning”. The day Lauren realized that she had hit rock bottom and this time, she might not make it back like she had so many times before.

1 TWO BROTHERS


  Lauren was a beautiful blonde with deep blue eyes and perfect facial structure. She was 5’7, all legs, and very fit. Like her mother, she had been groomed to marry a successful man and let him take care of things.

     Her boyfriend Steven Hansen was destined to fulfill that role. Steven was also from a wealthy family and she had known him since grade school. As an adult, he now stood at six feet, was very good-looking, tan, and had sandy hair. His medium build and his beach boy looks complemented Lauren’s. They appeared to be the perfect couple, and in the same fashion that Lauren always sarcastically said when it came to her wealth, they “looked forward to producing their clones some day.”

     She originally knew him only as a casual friend and started getting closer to him in high school. He was always her date for the dances and graduation.  

     Steven was a typical Gemini and Lauren never knew which personality she was dealing with on a daily basis. Steven had a soft side that was very philosophical and very creative. He often wrote her spacey poetry that made absolutely no sense. He was very smart and an extremely talented guitar player and singer. He was an absolute sweetheart until you badgered him. 

     Steven had childhood friends that were still a bad influence on him and Lauren never liked most of them. They were all a bunch of typical rich boys that were always bored and they didn’t want her to be his girlfriend. They preferred much younger and dumber girls and were always forcing them on him.

     Lauren also resented that they had too much peer influence on Steven because they just kept getting more daring. She knew some of them were even recently checking out stronger drugs. She tried to get along with them and was always invited to their parties, but she just found it hard to trust them.

Lauren always knew she could do better than Steven. She often reminisced about her teen years, particularly about her crush on his brother Michael. Although, Michael was only one year older than him, he was so much more mature. He was also three inches taller, had darker hair and strong model looks.

     When Michael was the Quarterback on the high school football team, Lauren and her friends went to several of the games just to watch him move around in those tight white football pants.

     Michael was always busy dating the cheerleaders and prom queens. Whenever Steven showed up with him, Lauren would straighten herself up and always tried to act classy in front of him. He didn’t drink or do drugs and had a steady part-time job at the local sailing beach.

     Even though Michael had enough girlfriends to keep him busy, he always had a soft spot for Lauren. There were no girls in the Hansen family and he treated her like his little sister.

     After spending a day sunning at the beach, Lauren would often find herself wading over to the boat shack to visit him. She would help Michael pull in the smaller boats across the sand and mount them on their racks. They would sit there closely together and tell each other their dreams.

     When it wasn’t too busy, Michael would take Lauren out on his Sailfish and teach her how to sail. She loved it when the wind blew through his dark hair and would watch his muscular body loom above her while he adjusted the ropes.

     She excelled at boating and her father soon bought her a smaller Sunfish boat for her fourteenth birthday. Michael met with her the next day and they took it out together to break it in.

     They were far out on Lake Michigan. It was a peaceful day, so Michael lowered the sail and let them drift. Lauren had gotten wet and was feeling a little chilly. Michael sat down next to her and pulled her in close to keep her warm. He then took off his blue windbreaker and put it around her.

     She thanked him and he looked at her and gave her a warm kiss. Her lips begged for him again and they embraced. They kept at it until they needed air.

     Lauren had just received her first romantic kiss! She had never shared one with Steven and she felt like a woman now! Feeling his heat, she wanted him to be her first for everything; they could be so much more together than his meaningless girlfriends.  

     Michael felt strongly for her, but he restrained himself because she was too young. He also thought about his brother, Lauren belonged to him.

     He held her as they sailed together back to shore. When they reached the beach, he pulled away, like nothing happened. Lauren was hurt by his action. Then she looked to the distance, saw Steven approaching them, and understood Michael’s sudden coldness.

     Steven came up to her and held her hand. “How was sailing?” Lauren innocently said “It was fun, Michael is a great teacher!” She looked at Michael fondly. He was busy taking down the rigging on her boat and avoided talking to Steven. Steven had no clue what had transpired. Lauren was still his girl and he had birthday plans for her.

     That night, Steven took Lauren to a movie. As they walked home from the theater, he began kissing Lauren and became carried away. She rebuffed his advances. “I’m not doing this Steven, I’m not ready.” Steven complained “A lot of girls your age are doing it, I’m not going to wait much longer for this!

     Lauren just kept thinking of Michael and didn’t care what Steven wanted or what he had to say. But she did have true feelings for him and they kept on as the happy couple, since it was sadly obvious, Michael didn’t want her.

     When Lauren was fifteen, the Hansen family took her on vacation with them to the Caribbean. Mr. Hansen had arranged to have a private yacht at their disposal.

It was a beautiful day! Lauren stood on the dock awaiting the dinghy to take them out to where it was moored. The small boat pulled up and Lauren tried to get in it and manage her small overnight bag at the same time.

Steven stood next to her and watched her struggle, only concerned with waiting for his turn to board. Michael saw her plight and took her suitcase from her hands and helped her into the boat.

     Mr. and Mrs. Hansen were off elsewhere on an island excursion. The boat had a Captain, but he kept well away from them, so the teens had the yacht all to themselves.

     While Steven was below deck raiding the liquor cabinet, Lauren was on the top with Michael learning to fish. She leaned over the railing, casting out her line. Michael kept his strong arm around her slight body, preventing the wind from carrying her off. 

     She loved his scent of cocoa butter and musky cologne. He stayed with her patiently, coaching her until she reeled in her first fish. He removed it for her and handed it over. She proudly held up it up as he applauded her and then reached over towards her and gave her a kiss.

     No one was there with them, except the ocean. Again, they couldn’t stop once they started. The magnetism was so strong. This time, a more mature Lauren challenged him. “Michael, do you like me?” Michael gave her a cocky look “Of course I like you Lauren, you’ve always been my buddy!”

     Lauren pressed on “Not like that Michael, you know what I mean.” Michael stood back from her like a bee had just stung him; he didn’t have a chance to answer her.

     Steven came from below, holding a beer. “Here you go Bro,” he handed the bottle to Michael. Michael handed it back and walked to the other side of the boat. Steven was tipsy and he grabbed Lauren. “Let’s go down in the cabin! This is our only chance!”

     Again, Lauren said “It’s not going to happen Steven, maybe you should find a new girlfriend who will do it with you!” Spurned again, Steven sulked off.

     There were several other incidents where Michael and Lauren would find themselves alone, but Michael still wouldn’t let anything happen. There were no more kisses, nor any opportunities to lead her on. Lauren was still crazy about him, she couldn’t help it!

     Through the years, Lauren’s heart fluttered and she became shy whenever she was near him. Steven always gave her a weird look whenever he caught her gazing at Michael.

     Michael would be the perfect husband for any lucky girl. There was no drama when it came to him, he knew where he was going and “took no prisoners”. He eventually went away to an Ivy League school and had a place of his own.

     After high school, Steven’s mother died and his dad started drinking more. He kicked him out of the house to replace him with his young bimbo mistress.

     Steven had been moving in and out with different friends relying on their parents or themselves to keep him fed. He was out of his element not having easy access to money and was now absolutely broke! It was such a shock to him; he was totally lost and angry and took it out on Lauren.

     Lauren decided to remain in the area and attend Northwestern University, which was only a few miles from her house. She did very well in college and her relationship was now off and on with Steven. She tried to get away from him and dated frat boys and football players, but she always remained true to him.

     Her college years were a blur of ten cent tappers and wild parties. Lauren still lived at home instead of the dorms, and her parents were glad to have her there. They weren’t ready for an empty nest.

     In her junior year, Lauren finally gave herself to Steven for his twenty-first birthday. She was pretty sure that she wasn’t his first. After they did it a few times, they had sex like rabbits. She now kept Steven in her room, hidden from her parents and they pulled that off for an entire winter!   

     She was spending way too much time with him and she grew tired of it. It seemed to her that Steven was becoming a pathetic figure and she did not like that she was obligated to now take care of him, even though she could easily afford it.

     A few years ago, she didn’t mind his free-loading at all and she would go and charge clothes for him on her credit cards. She took him to the Country Club all the time for dinner and charged it to her father’s account.    

     She was increasingly becoming annoyed with him. Lauren’s personality changed whenever she was expected to do something, she always had an immediate reaction to do exactly the opposite. The more Steven needed her, the more she didn’t want him around at all. She didn’t even want to have sex with him anymore!

     Like Lauren, he was very immature, so they had always gotten along well. That worked fine until the present. She was now outgrowing him and his boyish looks. She became very restless and wanted to see the world!

     During Lauren’s last year at college, her mother passed away. She had a heart condition which had weakened her through the years. Lauren lost her best friend and cried every night for a year.

     After college, Lauren didn’t need to work, but she liked to keep busy. She became involved with the charities her mother had worked with. Since, she now had a degree in Journalism and Business, she volunteered countless hours doing marketing and organizing events. She remained in her own private wing of the house and still had all her credit card bills paid by her father. Lauren now looked forward to becoming closer to her father and get to know what he was all about.

It almost happened. A few days after the funeral, her father asked her to go to the Navy Reunion Ball with him. Lauren told him it would be more appropriate if he found a date his own age.  

     He almost started to cry, “How am I going to be able to go out anymore? I can’t go out alone!” It now seemed to Lauren that maybe her mother had been valued as a necessity, almost a business prop.  

     The model wife had been married to him for a very long time. Maybe, as the marriage progressed, and the children entered the picture, the original spark of love fizzled a bit, and other social needs became more prevalent. Lauren thought to herself, “Don’t we all use each other?” 

     Luckily, for her father, her Jet Set second uncle, from her mother’s side, set him up with a dreadful woman with a French accent. Lauren talked to her on the phone the first time she called. She had the snootiest tone to her voice and she thought Lauren was a servant when she answered.

      “The Baguette” went to the ball with him and then, only a week later, she took off with him in Lauren’s uncle’s private jet to the French Riviera. Her father started living the lifestyle of her uncle.

     Her uncle, who was now retired, had a very large yacht on Lake Michigan in addition to his jet and other toys. He had a great life and knew how to live it. Lauren had always admired him and wished that she was his daughter.

     For the next two months, Lauren barely saw her father. He seemed to forget that he was the head of a large company. One day he was home for a rare week-end and seemed a little glum. 

     He had announced to “The Baguette” that he could not keep up with her pace and ended it with her. Lauren guessed this did not go over too well with her uncle and aunt, because she never heard from them again. They didn’t even send her a Christmas card.  It made even less sense, because they were her mother’s relatives, not her father’s. It really hurt her feelings.

     Her father continued to date off and on. Then a Country Club Manager introduced him to Diane, a sixty plus socialite who had been a widow for a while. She had two grown children who were married and very successful.

     Diane had the term Gold Digger nailed down to perfection. She was far away from her ho-dunk roots deep in Georgia. She was a real southern belle. A real snake! Her unsuspecting father would never know what was about to hit him, she definitely had plans for him.

     Lauren had only seen her from afar and had reported to a friend “She looks pretty wrinkled, she’s definitely not young, and that is the only good thing about her!

    Her father began to spend nights away from home and Lauren was jealous, on behalf of her deceased mother. She just wasn’t comfortable, it was too soon! She couldn’t picture him having sex with anyone, it just seemed gross. She told him this and he said “I have my own life now.”

     Lauren took this as a cue to maybe start thinking about getting her own place. But she didn’t think Diane would be a “Keeper”, so Lauren stayed. Who could pass on the type of arrangement she had?

     One day Mr. Summers informed Lauren that it was time to get a “real” job. She tried her hand at different things, but it usually lasted for only a few weeks, and she stated a different reason every time for why she had to quit.

     Her father threatened that her allowance would be cut-off if she kept it up. Nice try! Maybe he thought this would scare her into keeping a job? She wondered “Where was this poison arrow coming from? It had to be from Diane!”   

     Lauren knew it for sure the next week when she begged her father for the new BMW he had promised her months ago. He went ahead and bought her one, but said she had to keep it a secret from his girlfriend.        

2 STEVEN

    

     Though, there was nothing good about her mother dying, it had come with some extra perks. Her mother had set up a trust fund for the children. Each one was to receive a lump sum and then a distribution each month. Her mother’s primary money would then be available upon her father’s death.    

     These were the early beginnings of Lauren’s completely insane obsession with spending money. It was like she was uncomfortable with it and wanted to go through it as fast as possible, she did not even try to save it or invest it.

     The day she received her first trust check, she hopped a plane first-class to London in the evening. It was a long flight, so when she arrived, it was early morning. She did not sleep on the plane and she felt a little queasy from the turbulence. When she arrived at Heathrow, she took a limo to the suburb of Kensington, checked into her hotel and went to sleep. 

     She woke up around 2 PM and still felt bad. She didn’t want to be in London anymore, it lost the thrill! So, she went back to the airport and flew home.

     The gate agent looked suspiciously at the same date stamp in her passport but waved her on. She slept the whole way back. When she arrived back at home, no one even knew she left, her father wasn’t even around. 

     Lauren recovered from the trip a few days later and spent large sums of money on clothes and shoes. She then decided that she really did want to spend more time in London, so she bought another ticket.

     This trip lasted five days and she had a great time checking out all of the punk rock and trendy night clubs. The highlight of her adventure was running into Prince Andrew while he was out on a very early morning jog in St. James Park. Lauren was so startled when he ran up to her, that she just froze and didn’t even take his picture. Too bad he was married, he was just her type!

     Upon her return, she impulsively decided to move out of the house and bought a condo in Schaumburg, a suburb about forty minutes away. 

     This took her father completely by surprise and Lauren knew that it would probably propel him even closer to The Witch. At least now, she would not have to run into her anywhere. 

     Of course, Steven figured he was going to be welcome in the new digs too. He moved his belongings in and she told him he had to keep them in a back closet. She did not want him to feel at home.

     He was nothing but irritating and lasted exactly three weeks!  All they did was fight! He knew he wasn’t enjoying it there either, so he packed up his stuff and called Michael, who was now living again in the area, to come pick him up. 

     Lauren took a look in the back closet to make sure he had gotten all his things out of there. What she saw in there was several empty bottles of scotch and foil packets all over the floor. This explained a lot! 

     Lately, Steven had been aggressive towards her when he was drunk, and he would always deny that he was. Now she had proof that he had been secretly drinking and doing coke or “God knows what” all the time he had been living with her. All along, she had been thinking that he was sobering up like he promised. What a liar!

     He was outside on the sidewalk, smoking a cigarette and waiting for his brother. Lauren carried a couple of the empty bottles out with her and waved them at him screaming.

     He yelled “I am done with taking all this shit from you. I am going to kill you!” He threw her on the ground and started beating her up, hitting her repeatedly.

     Suddenly, Steven was grabbed from her body and was thrown up in the air and over into the grass a few feet away!

     Lauren looked up through a swelling eye and saw that Michael had arrived. Michael said to him “What are you doing to her? Get out of here!” He started running after Steven.

     Michael yelled “Go find someone else to pick you up!” Steven rushed over to the main road and frantically stuck out his thumb to hitchhike as he jogged along the side.

     Michael came back to Lauren and helped her off the ground. He walked her into her place and sat next to her on the couch. Her face was bleeding. He looked at her and gently brushed her hair from her eyes and held her closely while she sobbed “I hate him so much!”

     Michael soothed her saying “He is such a jerk and you are too nice of a person to have wasted so much time with him.” Lauren sniffled “I’ve known him forever, I have always loved him.”

     Michael said sadly “You know that Steven has changed. You need to get away before he drags you down with him, he’s a lost cause.” Michael then said “You need someone who will always care about you.”

     She looked up at him. Michael gazed warmly into her eyes, held his hand to her cheek, and then gave her a kiss. Both of them were surprised and held each other tightly and kissed each other deeply. They gazed at one another, smiling in silence. Lauren’s heart was pounding wildly against his body.

     He said softly “Maybe you picked the wrong brother.” Lauren replied “I never knew I had a choice.” Michael said nothing.

     Lauren was bleeding pretty badly and broke the spell “I need to go wash this off my face.” She got up and walked into her bathroom. When she came back, she saw Michael outside the window gathering up Steven’s stuff. 

     She went out to talk to him. He said “I’m going to go bring him his things, he’s probably still on the road somewhere.” He opened the door to his car and started filling up his back seat.

     “It was good to see you Lauren, take care of yourself.” He got into the front seat and backed up slowly. “Good bye” he smiled shyly and drove off.

     Lauren had just realized she had very strong feelings for Michael. She thought out loud “It should have been him all along. “He’s the one!” She just knew he felt the same.

 

**************

 

     It was over a month later and Lauren was getting tired of her place being situated so far away from the clubs downtown. She sold it fast, and took a big loss, and moved back into her wing at home. Of course, Steven managed to find his way back to her. They both decided it would be better to keep love out of their relationship and hung out just as friends.

     They now were busy making recordings on his new Porta-Studio that he somehow managed to afford. Though, Steven was one of the best guitarists around, and Lauren had been the lead vocalist for a few popular bands, she had no interest in ever starting one with him.

    The couple got along for several more visits, were back in love, and there was serious talk about getting married. But it wasn’t long until their reunion took on violent tones again.

One afternoon, while they were enjoying recording, they got into an argument and he punched her very hard in the shoulder. Lauren said “That’s it! You have to leave!”

     He knew he was wrong and started to go without any protest. He then asked nicely “Can you give me a ride to the train?” Lauren said “OK,” and Steven picked up his beloved Porta-Studio and loaded it into her car. 

     While driving, they started arguing. She stopped at a traffic signal and screamed “Get out!” He said, “NO, YOU GET OUT!”

     He grabbed her keys from the ignition, punched her in the face, and shoved her to the pavement. He then drove off with her BMW towards the east. He immediately hit another light, and she calmly walked up to the car and got back in.

      Steven stayed at the wheel. He wanted to make sure he made it to the train. When Lauren could see the station in sight, she screamed “You’re here! NOW KEEP THE HELL AWAY FROM ME!” He got out and started walking to the train platform but forgot his Porta-Studio.

     She drove ahead of him, opened the door and lowered his equipment by the stairs. She then drove back, screamed at him that she dropped it off, and watched him to make sure he got on the train. 

     Since Steven hadn’t seen her carefully lay it down, he thought she had thrown his machine out of the car. He went over to his Porta-Studio, and enraged, he ran up to her car with it raised above his head and threw it violently through her windshield.

     It was breakaway glass, but shards still flew into her face and mouth. She started crunching on it, cutting her herself. He then came around to her driver’s door.

     He gave her an awful look while he stood there and slowly rocked it back and forth until it caved in her front panel and came half off its hinges. He then ran up the stairs and caught the train right as it pulled up.

     Two commuters getting off the train came to her rescue. They made sure she was alright and helped her ease the door back on so it partially closed. They then walked off to their cars in the parking lot. Lauren drove home and called the police on Steven. 

     She heard that he was arrested and that his estranged father bailed him out the next day. And amazingly enough, he moved back home with him!  They hadn’t talked in a long time! Lauren was too mad to feel happy for him and felt the two drunks deserved each other. 

     She had her car repaired, but it really bothered her, because it wasn’t still like brand new, so her father bought her another one. Now that he knew what had been going on, that was it. It was over!

     Lauren never saw Steven again. Even worse, she never got to see his brother either and often thought of him.

 

3 SPIES R’ US

 

     A year had peacefully passed. Lauren no longer hung out with her old crowd. She still partied and did drugs, but with a more sophisticated group. They were interesting to be with and had classy get-togethers.

     Thankfully, she also had a new set of girlfriends that were more into high-end fashion and looking for upscale men, not immature party boys.

      She was surprised when one afternoon, her high school friend Bob called her. Without even saying hello first, he said outright “Steven just died!” Lauren went blank while Bob kept on with the details.

     “He did a ‘Jimi Hendrix.’ He was high on coke and heroin and very drunk. He threw up on himself while lying on his back passed out on a bed and choked on it. No one at the party in the other room even heard him!”

     Lauren was floored by this, she cried out “Oh, no, not Steven, Oh God!” She demanded, “How did you hear this?” Bob said “A friend of mine was told by a girl that we all know from high school. She said that she was there when it happened.” Lauren said “Why the hell was she there, he didn’t hang out with her, she doesn’t even get high?” It was very strange…

     Lauren had always loved Steven and took it very badly for days. She was even more upset that it was also rumored that he had been cremated and his Dad told the Crematorium to keep the ashes and didn’t even buy a headstone for him! She knew this was third party information and doubted it happened. But if it was true, she hoped that the ashes were at least put in the same cemetery where his mother was buried.

     Lauren knew that Steven was her great love and that as long as you have the one great love in your life, you can go on without ever having another. She thought of him all the time. She was in love with a ghost and loved him more than ever. All was forgiven!

 

**************

 

     More time went slowly by. Lauren started checking out the Single’s Dance circuit after one girlfriend had reported going to one the week before. She said it wasn’t “half bad” and it was only twenty per cent geeks. The other men were looking good and were wealthy. 

     The dances were held in the banquet rooms of different hotels each week. They had a live band and everyone wore suits and party dresses.  Lauren loved spending money every Friday to buy a new outfit for it. It was kind of corny and similar to being at a high school dance without the white gloves. 

     The women sat at the tables while the men lurked around. They would tap them on their shoulder if they wanted to dance with them. It was a great time for getting loaded and people-watching, but it was a cruel experience for the men.

     Sometimes you would see the same undesirable man go from table to table, continuously get rejected, and not too kindly. The worse off a man looked; the meaner the women would be in turning him down. This was because they were insulted that someone that dorky would dare talk to them. Then the man would continue on like he didn’t know why he was refused.

      One night she felt a firm thump on her back and she turned around to see a very rich looking man. He was tall, dark and handsome and carried himself with great confidence, Lauren was enchanted.

     She was now finding these days that she enjoyed a dominant personality who would keep her in her place. She detested men she could walk all over. They were boring and she needed a continual challenge, or she would often flee relationships with no warning. 

     The stranger had a thick accent and she couldn’t tell if he was Russian, or maybe German. He led her to the dance floor with a strong hold on her wrist. She asked him what his name was and he replied, “Charles Manson.”

     She laughed nervously. Obviously, this was a fake name and especially stupid and in bad taste, because it was the name of the crazy California Helter Skelter guy. His English was bad enough that he probably didn’t even know what Manson was famous for.

     As she danced with him she felt like she was dancing with Yul Bryner in the ‘King and I’, he was barbaric and bossy. This was too dominant and started turning her off. Cutting the dance short, she went back to her table. He sat down too, turning his back to her and started flirting with another woman.

     That was it. Now she did want him! She nudged his back but he just ignored her. She then went to the bar, bought him a drink, placed it in front of him and walked off. 

     Her girlfriend was busy dancing and Lauren waved at her to tell her she was leaving. As she walked to the door she felt two hands around her waist. Charles Manson turned her around and kissed her.   

     Now, she was under his control. He convinced her to leave her car there and get into his Lincoln Town car.  It was a nice-looking car except that he had a small flag hanging from his rear-view mirror. It wasn’t a Russian flag, at least she knew what that looked like. He also had woven-colored floor rugs instead of car mats which gave the car a cheap foreign look to it. She was becoming more unimpressed with him by the second. Perplexed, she thought to herself “What crazy country was he from?”

     He drove out of the suburbs, onto the expressway, through Chicago and into Cicero. Cicero was a blue-collar town, which among other tributes, was once fondly known for its hookers and mobsters. Now, in her opinion, it was just a town running out of steam.

     He pulled up to a bad looking apartment building. At this point, she really regretted not driving her own car, or for coming with him at all. Now she feared she had met up with a serial killer.

     It didn’t add up. His clothes, his looks, the new car, it did not seem to co-exist with the rest of it. Something was off…

     They walked into the small lobby. There was an office with an older disheveled lady sitting behind a cracked window. You could tell by her look that she hated him and was very suspicious. She probably was thinking that Lauren was a hooker because she was a lot younger looking than him. 

     They went upstairs into his very small one-bedroom apartment. She noticed newspapers sitting on his table that looked like they were printed in Russian. He had a calendar on the wall with pictures on each page of hairy and shady looking men who looked like the “Revolutionary of the Month.” She was afraid to ask him anything. 

     He first brought her some crackers and cheese and put her at ease before they started making out. Lauren was drunk and feeling easy. She spent an unremarkable night with him. He was her first older man and he was a lousy lay.

     The next day he drove her back to her car and gave her a small framed picture of himself where he was standing next to a grocery cart in K-Mart. She wondered who had taken the picture. It was pretty corny.

     Lauren wasn’t sure if she liked Charles Manson and still could not figure out what nationality or what his real name was. She did not hear from him for a couple of weeks until they ran into each other at another dance.

     For reasons unknown, she kept dating him on and off over the next few months. One day he had her follow him to a very, very nice house in one of the ritzier suburbs.

     He went in for a while and then came out with a teen-age girl and gave her a package from the trunk. The girl never even bothered to look at Lauren in her car. Charles Manson told her that was his daughter and then pulled out a picture of his family from his wallet. He said that he was happily married and he even lived there full-time with them.

     Lauren did not know how to react. She liked him even more now because she knew how rich he was. She didn’t care that he was married, because he didn’t act like it. She just wondered why the heck he kept that Cicero apartment and she wished they were hanging out at his house instead of there. 

     After a brief lunch, she followed him back to Cicero and went upstairs. Charles looked around like he was very upset and out of the blue he said, “The CIA was here again!” He went to his phone and unplugged it. He then got on his cell phone and went into his bedroom. Lauren was starting to think this was not just his love nest; it served some other type of purpose and things were starting to fall into place.    

     She walked after him and saw him sitting on the bed with his top night stand drawer open. There was a gun lying in there. He saw her and abruptly hung up the phone without saying Good-bye. He then pulled out the gun and started stroking the end of it like he was deep in thought.

     Suddenly he blurted out in his thick accent, “I am a Spy!” Lauren looked at him and said “What are you saying? A spy from where, are you Russian?” He said, “No, I am a government representative, that is my cover.”

     All he told Lauren was that his country was on the Adriatic Sea and that they were always in conflict with other countries near them. She asked, “Who are you spying on?” He did not answer.

     Picking up the phone, he dialed a long series of digits and started speaking in a hushed, hurried manner. “Here you can talk to her.” He smiled and put the phone in her ear. 

     There was a male voice on the other end who sounded more like Russian than Charles Manson’s dialect. In broken English, she heard “Hi, how are you…want to meet you, I see you next week.”

     Lauren handed the phone back to Charles, or whoever he was. “He wants to talk to you”, she said sounding worried.  He put the phone down. “This is my friend from the United Nations. I have to go see him next week. You are going with me.” It was more of a command than an invitation. “So, now do you believe that I am a Spy?”

      Lauren had no reason not to believe him. It was too bizarre and unexpected for him to be anything else and it didn’t make sense. As long as he wasn’t spying on the United States, it didn’t bother her anyway. Usually, she thought a spy wouldn’t reveal his trade, but Charles Manson was very arrogant and had a need to prove he was someone special all the time.

     Lauren had absolutely no interest in going to New York and maybe, learning the truth. And if it was real, she didn’t want any hassles with the CIA. Spies weren’t as exciting as she thought, once you have met one, if she had? She surmised he “Walked like a duck and talked like one.” That saying wasn’t that far off in most cases.

     Charles pulled out some videos from a drawer and played one for her. It was some kind of festival with people that looked like Gypsies singing and sounding high-pitched and awful.

     She walked over and looked more closely at his calendar. He said these were actually pictures of martyrs who died for the cause. She thought to herself “What cause?” Again, he seemed to have his act together too much to be kidding her.

     Lauren was ninety-five per cent sure that he could be what he said he was. He didn’t seem to be a liar and he didn’t have a job, what else could account for things?

      She looked at one of his magazines on the table. It was addressed to someone with a very long name containing a lot of vowels and the first name starting with a ‘V’. She pointed at it “Is that your name?” “I am Valmir. My last name is not important to you.” Lauren felt very uncomfortable with all of this new knowledge and said, “I’m going to go home now.” He did not protest and seemed pre-occupied looking out the window.

     She left his building and looked up at the one across the street. She thought she saw someone inside one of those windows with a camera pointed at her.

     She nervously started her car and started to back it up when she noticed two foreign men. They were wearing dark suits and had their hats pulled down low. They walked down the sidewalk and into Valmir’s building. She looked again at the window and saw a hand quickly pull the blinds down!

     Lauren wondered what was going on and was ready to drive off when she saw Valmir run out of his building carrying a small box. One of the foreign men was running after him shooting.

     She saw Valmir run for two blocks and then turn a corner with the man still following him. She could hear more shots. Lauren was scared and started to call the police. The other man came out and looked straight at Lauren. He started to reach inside his suit coat. She threw her phone on the floor and nailed the gas pedal to escape. She was too afraid to look behind her.

     She tried to call Valmir as she drove, but he never answered. Four days later, she was relieved when he called her. “I am ready to take you to New York, pack and come to my apartment by 5 PM.” Lauren exclaimed “What happened the other day, who were those guys?” He said “You saw that? I can’t talk about it! Don’t ask again!”

     Lauren was afraid, but she also thought it would be great to go to New York. She was curious what was going on with him and wondered how long he planned to keep her there.  

     She packed a small suitcase figuring that she could get more things there if she needed them. She was on time to meet him and they drove to the airport.

     When they were circling JFK, Lauren looked below at the city and all the buildings. It was too congested and too tall for her to ever want to live there. Those skyscrapers, packed in so tightly had always intimidated her, she needed wide open spaces. She needed a house on the ocean!

     Valmir had kept himself busy the entire flight looking at papers and writing in a notebook. Lauren had looked him over and didn’t see any apparent bullet holes, she kind of thought it was funny.

     She knew she wouldn’t mind ditching him and go off to explore New York on her own. It had been a while since she was there.  Lauren wondered why it was necessary for her to come with him, she didn’t want to get killed.

     They landed and he immediately cabbed them over to a restaurant in Manhattan. It was near The Plaza where they were staying. They sat at a table for six and Valmir ordered dinner for them. As they were eating their salad, she was surprised when they were joined by three men. They were all older than him and also looked foreign. 

     Valmir introduced Lauren. All she could gather was that everyone’s name seemed to start with the letter X. She thought that one of the men looked very important since he was very well dressed with a lot of bling on his hands. She wondered if he was an Ambassador. They all listened intently to him and conversed throughout dinner in their own language. Lauren was very bored and kept the vodka coming.

     At the end of the night, the men hugged good-bye and one of them handed Valmir a cell phone and a briefcase. He looked at Lauren uneasily, then tucked the briefcase under his arm saying “You are going back to the hotel now.” He gave her cab fare and then left with two of the men.

     Lauren puttered around the hotel room, watched a movie and then went to bed. Valmir did not return that night and she was somewhat displeased.

     In the late morning, as she looked around the room to see if her return airline ticket was there, her cell phone rang. It was him. He said “I am sorry I was not with you last night, I had important business. I am eating lunch at the United Nations in an hour. When I am done I will come and pick you up, we are flying back today.”

     Lauren was so mad at him that she just hung up the phone and went shopping to calm herself down. The stores here were amazing compared to Chicago and had more designer boutiques.

     She had to buy an extra suitcase to be able to lug it all back on the plane. When she was in one of the dressing rooms, her cell rang again. Valmir sounded rushed “Where are you? I am at the hotel now, we have to go!”

     Lauren had not shopped as much as she wanted, she was just getting started. She said “My things are packed, bring them with you and pick me up in front of Saks in a half-hour.” She didn’t care what his answer was. 

    His cab pulled up in only fifteen minutes and Lauren gave a frown as she saw him through the store window. She went outside and the cabbie helped put her items in the trunk.

     As they rode, she meanly said “Why the hell did you even bring me here for just a day? That’s weird!” Valmir was sullen “I did what I came here for and had to do it all in person, not on the phone, now we go back.” He then seemed to swear at her in his dialect.

     Lauren noticed he no longer had the briefcase that was given to him and as far as she knew, he was also back to having just one cell phone too.” She thought about all the facts and that it was strange that he did not even bring a suitcase from Chicago. All he had was his own briefcase and the notebook. She gave him a long, suspicious look as he just stared out the window.

     When they got to the airport, Lauren was still mad at him and asked for a seat change. While Valmir sat in first-class, she went as far back as she could in Coach. When they landed, she walked up to his section to re-join him, but he was gone! She looked for him at the gate and figured he actually ran ahead to disappear that fast. Lauren took a cab back to his apartment to get her car.

     She did not talk to him for two days until he called her from a pay phone. He said he was going to New York again and then to his home country for two weeks. He said he would see her when he returned. Three weeks went by, then a month. She continuously called him, but there was not even an answering machine. Then one day, a recording said the number was disconnected. 

     Finally, a week later, Valmir called her from somewhere overseas. There was a lot of static on the line. She thought he said that he had “Gotten married to a woman from his country.” Lauren yelled “But you’re already married, what are you talking about?” 

     He kept talking like he hadn’t heard her and said, “I will be bringing her back and keep her at the apartment.” Lauren was mystified “What are you talking about? Is this an arranged marriage? What is wrong with you?”  She slammed down the phone.” 

     She couldn’t take rejection, whether she liked him or not. It absolutely maddened her, because it was absolutely ridiculous. She was furious at herself for ever letting him touch her. He was never worth it, why the fascination? 

     Sometimes she just liked men because they were there and she made herself like them. She wrestled with these thoughts for the rest of the week and never heard from him again. She wondered if she would ever see him on the news involved in some international incident.

     Lauren kept going to the dances half-hoping she would run into him again. All she did was go through an array of men, all who seemed like long-term date material, but then just fizzed out after a few dinners. The year was proving to be a dud.


**************


Into the next year, Lauren’s money from her mother started to diminish. She had gone on some awesome spending sprees and trips and had even spent the money from selling the condo.

Even though it was too far from the city, she liked it in Schaumburg, and she returned there to rent an apartment. What a difference! Now forced to sell her BMW, she took another big loss and only had that to live on.

     She usually had paid cash for everything, but she also had some big recurring credit card bills. The fact that she quit using her father’s money long ago and supported Steven, her friends, and all the bartenders, was taking its toll.

     As the summer went on, the desperation that she was going broke was wearing on her and it made her want to spend more in order to make herself feel secure. She went on trips to California and Hawaii and was choosing even more expensive couture in order to keep up with her new friends. She had spent a lot of money and had nothing to show for it besides a full closet!

     She knew she could never go back to her life that she had when her father paid for everything. He had been married to Diane for a while now. The StepWitch was always in his business and Lauren had a hard time just getting in touch with him. He was retired now and was old-fashioned about owning a cell phone.

     Lauren never saw a family holiday again since Diane always made sure they were on a cruise or with her children whenever the season popped up.

    By the time fall came, Lauren was sinking even deeper. She was now two months behind in rent, driving a beater, and out of favors with her father. She was incapable of holding a job for even one week and usually started hating either the boss or her co-workers three days into the job.

     She knew that she was underemployed, was much smarter than everyone, and could be doing better elsewhere. The truth was, she just didn’t want to work! She had never learned the discipline that went along with it. It seemed so easy for everyone else, why not her? Worst of all, her phone had been shut off and her father was now so tired of her excuses for not working, that he seemed to avoid her.

      One afternoon, Lauren searched for change in her seat cushions so she could call her father and ask him what he wanted for his birthday, which was next Tuesday. She perceived it would be a big event because it was his 75th birthday, which he shared with her brother.

     She went down to the lobby and dialed his number. The phone rang a long time and the machine did not pick up. She was about to hang up and was pulling the phone away from her ear when she heard a familiar voice. It was her brother John.

     Lauren practically yelled in utter fear “What are you doing there?” She knew John hated Diane, even more than her, and it was rare he would ever go there.    

     “Lauren, Dad is dead,” he said quietly. Lauren felt her heart absolutely rip apart inside. A cold mass of air filled her lungs. She almost went black. She started crying, emitting a primal noise “Oh no, not my baby, not my baby, no, no!” 

John continued “Lauren, he died Tuesday morning, he had a heart attack. We’ve been trying to reach you, but you don’t have a phone! We don’t even know where you live!” 

“I have my girlfriend Amy here with me. We were going to drive around to every apartment complex in Schaumburg until I found you. The funeral is tomorrow at 10 AM. I can’t talk right now, I will see you there.”  

Lauren sadly climbed back upstairs and felt lonelier than ever. The fact she had no phone made her feel desperately isolated. She softly cried for most of the night. It wasn’t like the deeply rooted wounded animal cries for one week straight when her mother died.

     Lauren had been through quite a journey since then and was running out of tears. She was definitely not looking forward to tomorrow, mostly because she did not want to see Diane. There was really no one left in her life that she truly cared about.

Once again, Lauren dressed in black and drove to their church. She hated funerals. She was always in such bad shape at them and couldn’t stop crying. She ran into her brother and her two sisters before the service started.

     Her sister told her that the night before, a big water pipe crashed through a guest bedroom ceiling at her father’s relatively young house. Also, a swarm of bees invaded the living room.

     John was probably a little drunk and said “Do you think she black-widowed him? That’s too weird all that stuff happened to her. Maybe, Dad was trying to tell us something from the grave! You know, it was exactly a week before his 75th birthday, when I think his life insurance expires and Diane is the beneficiary!”

     Her sisters, who liked Diane, groaned and Lauren had to choke out a laugh from underneath her tears. John looked like he really believed it. Lauren said sarcastically “Maybe it’s true!” She looked at John’s face. “Oh, come on John, you know she didn’t. Go sober up, will you?”


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