After work, I took the bus to the address that Kenji had given me. It turned out to be a gold shop. I was bewildered. Plum said that I wouldn’t have to sell the locket. I hadn’t even brought it with me. It was too late to try to catch a bus all the way home, just go get the necklace. I decided to keep the appointment. If nothing else, I’d just have to go back the next day.
The inside of the gold shop didn’t look much better than the outside. It was an antiquated storefront space with scratched glass cases running from one wall to the other, alonng three walls. The hardwood floors were stained and worn uneven by years of foot traffic. I was beginning to have doubts about Kenji. It didn’t look as though he had the finances to buy any of the hulking buildings on my books.
I told myself not to get my hopes up or get too bent out of shape, if things didn’t pan out. Push come to shove, I could still pawn the locket. An elderly Japanese woman in a flowered dress was standing behind the left counter holding up a gold bracelet for a customer to admire.
I approached them and waited for a pause in the conversation. The customer was a tall, emaciated looking guy with big, showy rings on four fingers of his right hand. I could probably pay my rent with just one of those rings and have plenty left over for groceries.
When he laughed, gold teeth flashed in the front of his mouth. My eyes drifted down to the thick fourteen carat gold rope bracelet hanging from his bony wrist, then over to the smart phone strapped to his belt. He was leaning on an alligator skin briefcase. Definitely a drug dealer.
The woman eventually glanced in my direction and I told her I had an appointment with Kenji. She gave me the once-over, turned towards the sheet covering the doorway to the rear of the store, and yelled something in her native tongue. I shifted uneasily, as her eyes raked across my face once more.
My nervous smile had no effect on her. She dismissively turned back to her customer. A moment later, Kenji emerged from behind the dusty sheet. I was surprised at how young he looked. He was skinny, but otherwise resembled the woman so closely that she had to be his mother.
When Kenji smiled, he looked even younger. He offered his hand and I shook it. Tattoos peeked out from underneath long-sleeved shirt, when he extended his hand. I remember thinking how they contradicted his overall appearance. Kenji looked like a college student. Wire-rimmed glasses perched on the bridge of his flat nose enhanced the impression.
“I-I have some pictures of the properties that I felt would best suit your needs,” I stammered, handing over the printouts. A few tense moments passed, while he inspected the photographs. The man with the gold teeth began looking at an assortment of gold rings.
“Can you show me these properties tomorrow,” Kenji asked.
“Huh? Oh, sure I can. What time works best for you?”
The appointment was set for the following afternoon. I left feeling elated. Not only would the commission on any one of those properties pay my rent for a several months, it would help me regain some of my boss David Canfield’s confidence in me. Unloading one of my rundown properties might even raise me a few notches in his estimation.
Maybe I could even get enough of an advance to cover my current rent and utilities. I hastily reminded myself not to get too excited. Kenji hadn’t seen the actual building yet. There was a big difference between a grainy snapshot and the real thing.
I went home and took the fire escape up to my apartment, not wishing to bump into my landlord until I had cash in hand. He knew that payday had come and gone. Needless to say, I didn’t get any sleep that night. By morning, I was a bundle of nerves.
Kenji arrived at the appointed time and drove us to the buildings in his gold sport utility vehicle. I held my breath, when he leaned forward and looked through the windshield at the first old house. Kenji explained that he was looking to purchase a few homes to rehab and turn into section eight rental properties. He didn’t say much during the tours. His face was expressionless, but I could see his eyes taking note of everything.
I trailed behind him, as he moved from room to room. We went to my office and Kenji retrieved a briefcase from the trunk of his car. He wanted to buy all three of the houses we toured! It took every ounce of willpower not to leap from my seat and dance around my cubicle.
He wanted to start the transaction immediately and I was only too happy to oblige him. It would be nice to look my landlord in the eye, when I paid him. I decided to spend my entire commission on rent and utilities. A couple of months to breathe, without worrying about those bills would seem like a vacation. I drew up the paperwork and began filling in the necessary information.
“How would you like to pay for the property,” I asked.
“I’m paying with cash,” came the cool reply.
My hand froze over the keyboard. Perhaps I hadn’t heard him correctly. Altogether, the houses cost over two hundred thousand dollars. My confused mind scrabbled for an explanation. I decided that he must have meant that he wanted to make the down payment in cash.
“You mean you’re making a cash down payment?”
“No, I want to pay for the properties today in cash. Is that going to be a problem?”
“Well, I…it’s just that I’ve never had anyone offer to pay such a large amount in cash before. Let me clear it with my boss.”
I rose, trying to ignore the sinking sensation dampening my mood. Mr. Canfield’s door was closed, so I knocked softly. He bellowed permission for me to enter. I opened the door on an office that hadn’t seen a new piece of furniture since the seventies. Everything was orange and avocado green.
He was pouring over ledgers. I hated talking to the man, while he was working on the books. It always made him surly. Not that he was ever really in a good mood, when I talked to him. I got right to the point and to my astonishment, not only did he grant permission for the transaction, he praised me.
His bulldog features actually softened into something that closely resembled a smile. He followed me back to my cubicle and introduced himself to Kenji. Mr. Canfield accepted the payment and I finished the paperwork. Kenji walked out with the bill of sale and I got my commission in cash.
Being able to pay my bills felt nice. So, why did I still feel so empty? I climbed into bed Friday evening and slept until Saturday afternoon. That’s when my cell phone rang. It was Plum with an invitation to lunch. She knew it was short notice but could I join her? Plum’s relief sounded genuine, when I accepted the invitation.
My apartment looked like a tornado hit it, by the time I settled on an outfit. Rather than let Plum see how I lived, I waited for her downstairs. My nosy neighbor Mrs. Phelps just happened to be leaning out of her first floor window. She was always riveted to that spot. The woman must have slept standing up, with her nose pressed against the glass.
I had the pleasure of informing her that I was waiting for a friend. Naturally, the suspicious old bat didn’t believe me. Plum did not arrive at the appointed time and I felt myself beginning to panic. What if she had been toying with me?
The thought of her ending the call and laughing made me cringe. In that instant, I became a miserable, friendless child once more. Maybe telling my neighbor that Plum was coming had been a mistake. She would never let me live it down. I looked over at her creased face and those greedy little eyes crawled all over my face.
“When did you say your uh…friend was coming dear?”
“She should be here any minute now.”
Just then, Plum’s purple Mercedes pulled up to the curb. I threw Ms. Phelps a triumphant smile and took my leave of her. I took my time walking to the car, my back getting straighter with every step. By that same time the next day, Mrs. Phelps would have notified the entire neighborhood about Plum.
I realized then that I would do anything to hold onto my new friend. It was a reckless thought that quickly got pushed to the back of my mind. I don’t know which was more disturbing, the thought that I would sacrifice everything to stay friends with her or the knowledge that I couldn’t stop myself from doing it, if I tried. After all, Plum probably had hundreds of rich, influential friends.
What did I have to offer her with no money and no power? I had only the same deep, abiding devotion that my mother offered up to my father. Of course, that’s no less than what a woman like Plum demands. Looking back on our relationship, I realize that is what made it work; I worshipped Plum and she graciously accepted my adoration.
The rest of the month was blissful. Plum called me every day and we hung out together, when her busy schedule permitted. To someone who never had a friend before, the feeling was indescribable. She eclipsed my life. I was willing to go to absurd lengths just to make her laugh. If I said something that displeased her in any way, I couldn’t sleep until I made things right.
I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong. It was not physical attraction that made longing well up in me, until it caught in my throat. I’m not sure I can make you understand. To a certain extent, everyone longs to possess a thing of beauty whether it’s a person, a work of art, a precious jewel or something else. It is gratifying to feast your eyes upon it. For those moments, your troubles seem far away.
That’s what it’s like to be around Plum. She was beautiful and intelligent with a killer sense of humor. Plum had a way of looking directly at you and seeing you for who you are, underneath your public persona. She also had a way of tilting her elegant head to the side while you talked to her and nodding with the sweetest smile slowly spreading across her face. You feel important, because she’s drinking in every word.
I won’t even attempt to describe her laugh, except to say that it assures you that you are the wittiest person on earth. The combination of so many pleasing elements is quite bewitching. I was torn between never wanting to let Plum out of my sight and wanting to trade places with her. Adoration and jealousy were constantly at war inside of me.
My life now had a purpose. Instead of dreading lonely evenings, I looked forward to nightly contact with her. She was my passport to a world that had previously been off-limits. I’m almost ashamed to admit literally sitting by the phone. Waiting for it to ring was agonizing. Imagine offering a cool drink to someone dying of thirst. What can I say? I was extremely thirsty.
Things weren’t all sweetness and light though. My relief at feeling vital, after walking around numb, was tempered by frustration. The more I saw of her life, the more jealousy chipped away at me. Why did Plum get to be beautiful, popular and successful?
I was a good person. At least, I tried to be. Didn’t I deserve some modicum of success? The unfairness of it all caught in my throat. I felt guilty all of the time, because my feelings for Plum were deepening. It was undeniable though, I wanted power with the naked desire that only the downtrodden can feel.