"Son, it could all be yours, you just work hard and pay your dues
Don't be content with what you've got,
there's always more that you can want
Everybody's on the make"
Well that's not much to ask, it's really not
It's not much to ask, just the same as anybody else
Great Expectations, New Model Army song
It was a Gatsby-like thing, a long limousine going down the street, stopping in front of her, as she stood bewildered on the sidewalk, and the door of the car opened. She glanced inside – silver-colored cushions, clink of champagne glasses, and he was sitting in a dark blue suit, his legs crossed, drinking. She sighed and went in, sat next to him, and the car proceeded down the avenue. They were sitting in silence, without looking at each other, then he mumbled: It’s been a long time. Yes, it was. She smiled, her lips, long red ones, opened suddenly, her eyes sparkled. You have changed a lot, she said, touching his arm, yes, he agreed, he had changed so much, and now he was as if a totally different person. Tall, having lost weight, with aristocratic beard round his face, there was a certain gentleman feeling around him, a perfect cavalier, very handsome and magnetic. She leant to his side, smiling, resting her head on his shoulder, as the limousine passed by the blurry lights of the midnight megapolis. The conversation was redundant, the silence hung above them, impenetrable, still and overbearing. Then the car stopped, the chauffeur opened the door, and they both went out, in the warm evening air. What is this place, she asked, pointing at the gate of the restaurant, leading to a small pond with graceful swans floating on the water. A waiter led them to the far side of the restaurant, where the table was prepared for them. She sat down, her eyes were fixed on him, yes, he was so tall and majestic, the flavor of elegance was wafting round him, and she could not lower her stare.
The night was fantastic, with the white swans moving to and fro on the water, illuminated by discrete limelights, and the moon was full overhead. The car brought her back to her flat, and she stood, alone in the midst of the darkness, watching its red lights disappear in the far end of the avenue. She groped for the keys in her bag, opened the front door, and sat next to the sleeping body of her dog, caressing the fluffy back, muttering slow words – brilliant, lovely, enchanting…There she fell asleep.
I was living with her at that time. Well, let me first introduce myself. I am not her brother, I am not her lover, I am a friend, about her age, a bit of an athlete, very ambitious one, sometimes dreaming of becoming a writer, but far from it yet, and in the meantime I work for a magazine, lifestyle-fashion-Vogue-like posh thing. And no, I am not gay, I simply live with her, as a friend, please do not rise your eyebrows, no hidden stories, no confusing drunken incidents, I have never seen her naked, she hasn’t seen me either, so we are just friends. I loved baseball as a kid, but I gave it up, after a severe trauma at 16, and moved to the city, read quite a few books – though I am not too bookish – and said to myself – well, if not a great baseball player, why not try to be a great writer, a new Faulkner, no, a new Tolstoy, I hope! But, to be honest, I got rejected at several places, and I decided to go into the magazine bull**** I am still in. That’s all.
But back to the girl. I met her when I was 20, she had just arrived and she was a “move to the city” chic, that’s a good phrase, a “move to the city” girl. Raised in a small countryside place, always got the eyes of the boys on her, but she was short on finance, and worked when at school, pushing all the, you know, narrow-minded stuff back home, her parents, very religious people, the stupid teachers, dumb friends, and when she left college, all that she wanted was to hit the road. She got the money in the bank, bought the greyhound ticket, and that’s how she came to the city, well, without any taste in clothes, without any taste for good company, but she was a fine cutie, and fine cuties always work their way. She lived near the coach station, still thriving on the bank account, sometimes secretly watching the ladies on the road, in their shorts and red lipstick, and long blond curls, yes, I guess she saw it as a way out – I don’t claim it’s really a way out but who knows – and searched the papers for the job she wanted. Because she wanted a great job, something fabulous and glamorous, the dream of all countryside high school beauties. Well, she found us, we needed girls for some monokini photos, and she was right there in the studio, half-naked, nothing special, nothing unique, but I liked her. Yes, at first glance I liked her, we went out, we went to a foolish movie which she loved, and I thought gosh, she is too stupid, therefore, okay for my purposes, but she closed the door in front of me that night and I had to walk back home, having spent the evening wishing a quite better ending. So, I admit, I never managed to sleep with her at that time.
Five years later. I am still working in the same posh magazine, with a little pay rise, but I feel alright ‘cause, hey, I have all my life before me to become Steinbeck or Fitzgerald. But she, she moved from silly photos to a silly acting school. She has decided to be an actress, an Audrey Hepburn, you know her, the Holly Golightly thing, and she worked hard for it. She wanted to be independent, no men around her, just occasional sex buddies, but that’s only a distraction, so she learnt by heart the Juliette role with no permanent counterpart in her bed. I avoided her, still recalling that silly night the door slammed in front of me, but, you know, under the magic lights of the megapolis, souls tend to seek comfort in other souls, and we got used to having a drink at the bar, chatting, and yes, she was not a countryside girl anymore.
So she graduated, and was quite short of money while searching for a role in third-rate sleazy movies, she got kicked out of her flat and we decided to move to my place. That’s how we started living together. I used to wake up early and go out, while she was sleeping until noon, then walking about the flat, drinking coffee, watching tv, and when I got home she was still in front of it, sometimes with a glass in hand, she loved the stupid series of the stupid tv dramas. But, fortunately, one agency found her very attractive, she was so excited (oh, god, I will be like Liz Taylor, she exclaimed) and hired her for a historical drama where my lovely friend would be a prostitute in Ancient Athens. Alright, she was up to the schedule, very energetic, and used to leave the flat before me. Then came this moment, which starts the real story I want to tell you, sorry for the introduction, but hey, all great authors have to set the scene for their characters, right?
And yes, I told you it is a Gatsby-like story. One morning the door bell rang, a sudden ring, and I was still sleepy when opening the door. There was a tall man in a grey stylish suit, with blond hair and beard, but young – 25-27-30 or so. There was a white sport car – Ferrari? – parked next to the alley. He looked over my shoulder and asked: Is Ruth Gordon living here? His pair of eyes was looking straight at me, I swear he wanted to burn me to death. Ruth, Ruth, she was called Becky, or Rebecca, I just guessed that her God-loving parents had given her one Biblical name too, and now she preferred Ruth rather than the common Becky, Becky was not a starry name. So, I said yes, but now she is out. The man took out a letter in an envelope and asked me to give it to her. Okay. He looked at me for the last time – gosh, he stared at me filled with hate – and headed to the car. I gave the letter to her as she came back home. For a second she laughed ungracefully, like an arrogant countryside kid. Then she opened it and could not belief her eyes. She read it twice and made a margarita for herself, then told me the story.
Again, here comes the Gatsby bit. Back home, in the small town where kids were taught at the age of 5 to praise Jesus and the saintly gang, and were expected to get a nice job and make nice kids when they grow up, there was born Becky Ruth but also Jimmy, a plump, clumsy boy, not the brightest one, certainly not a gifted communicator, but very good with the numbers. Nevermind. They were both at one and the same school, Becky was popular with the boys, and Jimmy was not popular with the girls, but he, apparently, strived to get closer to the blondish beauty. But to no avail, he could not meet her starry standards (you know, money, success, prosperity, handsome elegance, and all the rest), and was sidelined, especially after she disappeared from the dull town. That’s all. She laughed, perplexed by the conundrum – who is Jimmy now? Well, I said, he is not a plump clumsy guy, and he smells of quite a lot of money ( I can always estimate it by the odour of the perfume and the look of the suit – that’s my posh magazine education). Before she was ready to call him, I was entrusted with the task to find out who the hell was Jimmy now. I looked at the name on the letter, googled it, thought for a while, and two days later went downtown, in the district of fast money, in the jungle of skyscrapers where, at the 28th floor of the Iceberg building, I found Victory Capital Management. A woman was sitting under the big plastic letters opposite the lift. I asked for Mr James Dupree, and she looked at me with great suspicion – who the hell was I to ask for Mr Dupree, the CEO of the company? But then a door opened and two men in suits went out, and one of them was James, heartily talking to the other, heading to the lift. James noticed me, froze and told the other to go down alone, he had to talk with me. That’s how I found myself in the luxurious office of the CEO of one of the most lucrative investment funds in the capital of investments. Well, I could not even imagine James had been Jimmy. Elegant, graceful, athletic, rich guy, a prominent lover of yachts - he had lots of photos on the walls – and parties, he stood in front of me, taller and stronger and self-confident. He sat behind the desk covered by tens of rambling papers, and asked me: first, does she seep with me, and I said no, and second, what is she like now. She is an aspiring actress, I replied and he smiled. Actress. And he? I looked at the photos of yachts, a small private plane, a vast villa, certainly on the Mediterranean coast, and well, I needed no explanation. I just described all of this to her when I came back home. She was waiting impatiently. Gosh, the poor idiot has become a magnate! Again, the Gatsby feel crept up my spine, he was now rich and around for her. She was not rich, but certainly she would become but, she said, I would become rich through acting, and raised her chin high in the air – gracefully. I will. Okay, darling, but now the wealthy guy is here so you’d better call him as soon as you can. Two days later I watched as the limousine took her from the sidewalk in front of the building, and I was asleep by the time she arrived, but in the morning I saw her stunning dark blue dress, and yes, she was a beautiful girl, not the most beautiful in the city or the world, but apparently James wanted her, and had wanted her for so much long.
But, as a good and experienced girl, she knew that she should not give herself away too easily or too fast, so the big limo got used to stopping in front of the building in order to take her to another fantastic dinner somewhere in the mecca of expenses and riches. So far, so good. She liked it. I did not care. However, James, when coming to take her out, would always stare at me as if his eyes were capable of burning holes into my body. I could rarely see a smile on his face. Yes, at first glance, I told you, he looked so good, but there was something very gloomy in him, his face, as far as I have seen it, was a monolith mask of severe seriousness. Of course, she did not bother to notice these features; she has never been interested in such things. But I was intrigued, and my inner voice of a journalist (yes, I am!) told me that this man was quite an interesting subject. I made my research, called a friend in Wall Street Journal and we went to a bar where, after a couple of drinks, he told me that this guy appeared on the scene 3 or 4 years ago, quickly raising capital for his company, trading on the securities and futures markets, and he gained quite a fortune, his fund climbed to the tops. But he was relatively obscure, no great media stories around him, no cocaine or prostitutes, no governmental investigations. I wanted to know more so he agreed to check in the archives of the newspaper. That’s what I received soon afterwards – a short biography: state college, degree in economics and sociology, some sport achievements (he had apparently become a swimming champion), then a postgraduate course in business studies, still no prominent elite institution of education, then he had started in a small private equity firm down south, the firm merged with two other, he was on the board of the new company, then a coup d’etat, he was elected a CEO, drove his firm into the hands of a big Wall Street asset fund, and bang, again on the board, then a CEO for 2 years, some risky investment on the short term markets, some speculative actions with equity finance and securities, one year retirement, then he was back again, acquisitions of large shares in pension funds, wow, quite a long chain of successful deals. I know how sharky the waters of the city are, I know how sharky the particular waters he has been surfing in the past years are, and his was quite an achievement. It seemed countryside Jimmy had died somewhere in college to be substituted by a new figure, as I see it, of a lot of strength and will.
About that time Ruth moved out of my flat and into the mystique apartment of James in a skyscraper high in the air. We stopped seeing each other, only sometimes for a drink or a chat, but she would not tell me much about her new life. And I did not care. Well, I was quite lonely now, except for the dog, but hey, all that was in the normal course of events. Her role as an ancient prostitute was quite a success, she moved to a new one, again in the epic historical genre (apparently it fitted it) – daughter of a barbarian king in a mediaeval story of castles, dragons and sleazy love scenes. So she was anxious to call me and explain this great success to me in an exhilarating voice, well, I congratulated her. Otherwise, our friendship went into decline. But then one morning the door bell rang, I opened the door and saw her, in her grey coat, with no makeup and a bag in hand. Her face was twisted by tears. She sat on the sofa in the living room, the dog lying next to her left leg, and told me a short, not really surprising story. James was really in love with her – flowers, dinners, jewellery, weekends in Florida or even better, Paris, a big diamond ring implying serious intentions – well, she said, he had obviously loved me ever since school age ( I told you it is very Gatsby-like )and now it was time to impress her, to seduce her, because he thought she would like what he gave her. And she liked it. But she liked quite a lot of things as well. A sealed envelope arrived at his desk in the office in the Iceberg building, and the envelope contained some 30 photos of her in an afternoon rendezvous with a colleague. The problem was that the rendezvous was in his flat and they were naked. That’s how Kenny appeared on the scene. Ken, hefty giant, the brother of the barbarian princess in the movie, was a third-rate actor whom she knew since the arts school, they have had a short affair, and it was revived again. I have seen him several times, always fashionable, with wide starry smile, sometimes rude, always funny and jocular, I would have loved him if I were a woman, really. And she started to love him three times a week in the hot summer afternoons. How could she know James had a team of detectives following her around the city? When she came home after the séance, she found James, with his impenetrable mask on his face (now she had noticed it) sitting by the window. There were screams and shouts and cries, he pushed her, hit her, she was devastated; my flat was the first place she could think of. The diamond glittered on her finger. She slowly left it on the table. It is very expensive, she said, I’d better return it to him.
But, apparently, she quickly forgot her intentions, and kept the ring. He did not call her, no limos, I did not see his face with burning eyes round the front door in the early mornings. Then my friend from the Wall Street Journal called me, and said – open the newspaper on page … and read. It was the time of the downturn, Lehman had just collapsed so the financial world was in full-blown frenzy but I was not really bothered – hey, I am an artist, I should not care about all this. There was an article on frauds. And a photo – a tall strong handsome man, in grey elegant suit, in a big chair in an office, with monolith facial expression and cold emotionless eyes. He had been arrested and charged with several offences, mainly relating to insider dealings and other fraudulent transactions. That was James. I read the article three times, and I called Ruth – she was now in depression and quitted the movie, sometimes going out just to see Ken, he was so relaxed and distracting – to tell her. I guess she hoped that James’s strange long-standing love for her will overwhelm his anger and bitterness and she would return to him. So the news was a devastating shock. Bye bye Paris Saturdays.
While she was slowly recovering from the blast, James was tried without much ado and was found guilty. I read it in the newspaper. The slump of the markets caused many deceitful schemes to appear on the surface and that’s how he was caught, too. She was very angry - as if she had been deceived, thinking that this was the man to carry her into the magic land of success. Now she had no movie and started calling the agencies, waiting for another chance while occasionally meeting Ken again. I saw her once with him and on the next day, while we went in the park with the dog – he is very playful, this really disturbs me – and I asked her – why do you go out with him? She frowned. Why? He is okay. I like him, nice guy, funny, ambitious actor. I walked for a while in silence, then decisively said – but he is an idiot, dear, I can read it on his forehead. No, she exclaimed, you don’t know him! I pointed at the ring that was still on her finger. And he? We never said his name, as if there was a secret spell hanging on it. She frowned again. What? He was the idiot. Gosh, I replied, he was very good-looking, don’t mention the money. You should have sticked to him without sleeping with Kenny. But she disagreed. There is something repulsive in him, she said. I recalled a photo in his office, him lying on the deck of his yacht, glancing at the red sunset, and these two anxious eyes, this face frozen and still, well, I guess she might have been right. The little Jimmy might not have died entirely.
Several months ago I received a letter. Ugly handwriting. I tried to decipher the words, then I gave up and was about to toss it in the bin when I recognised the name at the bottom – James. I made the effort to read it. He was asking me how Ruth was, how did she feel, was she alright, was she sick or healthy, was she happy, etc. There was no anger, just a list of random questions. He dared not to write to her straightly. I showed the letter to her, she read it twice, lit a cigarette (she got very nervous and started smoking) and said that the poor wretched fool still loved her. Amazing, I said, after all this…Once, she replied, he told me he struggled a lot, because, you know, when you are a kid, you watch it on the tv, you hear it on the radio, it is everywhere, they all say – get your piece, dear, run for the job, run for the woman, run for the money, all they do it ‘cause running is the game, run for it, it is there for you, for everyone. So, he said to me then, he thought he should have his part, so he ran, and ran, and ran, and he thought he had almost caught it. Then Ruth left the room with the smoke following her.
Guys, I will tell you, he might have run, but he stumbled and fell. Yes, when I was a kid, they told me - play, play, play the game, baseball I mean, and you will end up in the Yankees. Right. Then came the trauma. But now I am sure, guys, I will write, write, no way to slip away from me, that’s how it goes, you know, it has to work out if I do it, if I write, I am good, you know it ‘ cause you’re reading this piece, yes, I will get there, to the land of great writers, you will see me, some new Hemingway or Shaw. Ruth, she is on the run too, she runs to the stage, to the movie scene, and she is searching for a good agent because most of them are well-paid idiots, yes, and she will find one with the great role in his deep pocket. She believes it. Meanwhile, we talked and she decided it is no use walking around the flat in her gown day and night, she went for a couple of photos for an advertising agency, good ones, then looked for a job again and, as she waits for the agent and the great role (she would happily play ancient prostitutes, mistresses, princesses, whatever – if you know a good role, just call me, I will pass it on to her), she started in a nice French restaurant two avenues down from here, now she is writing the names of the guests on the lists, occasionally looking at the screen of the mobile, anxiously expecting the call of the agent to offer her the great role she came for in this city. No way, she will get it, she should get it, they all get it, always get it, just run dear, run, and she will get it.