“You lost all the money?” Amy hissed across the table. “All of it?”
Kenneth glanced at the other diners in the restaurant, and hunched closer to her. “Well…not all of it.”
“How much?” Amy demanded, leaning into her veal. “How much is left?”
Kenneth hesitated, took his napkin out of his lap and refolded it. “About a hundred thousand.” He did not meet her eyes.
“A hundred--!” Amy realized she was talking louder than she intended and cut herself off abruptly, sitting up in her chair and glancing around. The dining room all dark wood paneling, white tablecloths and hushed voices. It wouldn’t do to call attention to the two of them. She took a deep breath and began again. “You turned seven million dollars into a hundred thousand?”
Kenneth continued folding his napkin into elaborate triangular patterns. The untouched lobster on his plate stared at Amy with blank dead eyes. “I made some bad decisions…ah, I held on to some stuff longer than I should have…the market changes minute to minute! You know that!”
She looked at him with disbelief and fright. “What are we going to do, Kenneth?” Her voice was even and controlled, barely above a whisper.
“I’ll fix it. I’ll build it back up. I just need some time.”
“Time?! Time?! That is the one thing you don’t have! What happens when Henry checks that account?”
“He doesn’t have access to it,” Kenneth replied. “If I can just have a couple of days before he asks to see the balance—“
“Or asks you for some money out of it,” Amy pointed out.
Kenneth looked at her, finally. “Yeah, that might be a problem. I’ll have to stall him.”
“You really think you can build it back up in just a couple of days?”
“I have to. What choice do I have?” Kenneth returned her gaze, his green eyes hooded with fear.
Amy stared at him. She did not ask the unspoken question hanging in the air: What if you don’t? What happens when Henry comes for you—and us?
When Kenneth had first gotten involved with Henry Paocini, Amy was suspicious at best. Through some connections at his trading firm, he met Henry, who had created a huge fortune somehow. He owned two prominent magazines, but wondered how those magazines could provide such an amazing return on investment. The timing seemed to be perfect—when he met Henry, Kenneth was frustrated with his firm and ready to quit the nine to five routine. Henry needed a trader to manage a specific account. And it turned out he didn’t just want Kenneth to manage, but to make even more money.
So Kenneth quit his job and Amy continued working at the same marketing firm she’d been with for several years. The market had always made her nervous. Amy wanted Kenneth to be happy and take on this challenge, but she also didn’t want to end up destitute because the market tanked one day. Kenneth was paid a regular salary from Henry as well as a percentage of what he earned on the account, so they weren’t relying solely on her paycheck and that eased her mind somewhat.
But the account Kenneth was trading started with seven million dollars—and that was just one of many. She kept thinking the whole operation wasn’t quite on the up and up. Amy told herself not to assume things about Henry and his network, based solely on their Italian names—though every time they watched The Sopranos a loaded feeling of anxiety hung in the air between her and Kenneth. She figured it was best not to ask.
The phone chirped in Amy’s office—twice, which meant it was an outside call. She snatched it up. “This is Amy.”
She tried to detect panic or defeat in his voice. “Well?” she asked, breathless. She tapped her keyboard with a pen…rap, rap, rap.
“I’m up $3,000.”
“Darling, that’s great…but that’s not really enough,” she sighed.
“Don’t you think I know that?” His voice had a hard edge.
Not only were they both frightened, they were turning on each other, Amy thought. She frowned and dropped her forehead to her hand. “Yes, I know. I’m sorry. I’m trying to be more supportive. I’m just scared.”
The line buzzed with silence. “I’m scared too. Just a couple more good days. Really good days…”
She nodded; they talked briefly about dinner and what time she planned to be home. She dropped the phone back to its cradle and gazed into her computer monitor, not really seeing what was on it. What would they do? Even if he made $3,000 a day for the next month—assuming he was up each day, not down—that wasn’t enough. It just wasn’t enough.
Amy passed the rest of the day by throwing herself into a project with one of her clients and ignored both her desk phone and her cell phone. She couldn’t handle a status report every couple of hours. She might go crazy if she thought about it too much. She was a chronic worrier—which is one reason that Kenneth was the one in his line of work, not her—and knew she had to keep her anxiety level down.
Her cell phone was ringing as she gathered her purse and shut down her computer for the day. She fished it out of her purse and answered.
“Where have you been?” Kenneth fairly screeched.
Amy was startled. She snatched up her keys and started walking to the parking garage. “What do you mean? At work.”
“I’ve been trying to reach you,” he said with an accusatory tone. Her normally easy-going husband suddenly sounded like he was in a jealous rage.
“Well, you’ve got me now. What’s up?”
“I need you. Henry and Angelina want to have dinner.”
Amy’s stomach flip-flopped and she nearly doubled over and dropped the phone. She passed by the security guard’s desk and smiled tightly; he returned her smile with raised eyebrows. “Fine,” she mouthed and waved to the guard. She must look as frazzled as she felt. “Tonight?” she said into the phone.
“Yes. We need to meet them at Coppola’s at 7:30. I’ve been trying to get you on the phone all afternoon.”
Amy reached her Porsche, unlocked it, and fell into her seat, the phone tucked under her ear. The parking garage had never looked so dark and forbidding. She glanced nervously around and tapped the automatic lock switch. “Shit. I won’t be home for another half hour, then I’ve got to change…God, I need a shower…” She was rambling with fear and nervous energy. How were they going to pull this one off? “Just tell me you had a good day,” she breathed.
“I did. I made another $6,000 after I talked to you this morning. That’s another reason I need you at dinner, honey. Keep him talking about anything but that fucking account. I’m sure this is just a personal invitation.”
Amy listened with one ear as she threw the Porsche in first gear and left the parking garage. “What if it’s not a personal invitation?” She tried to keep the panic out of her voice.
“Amy, don’t jump to conclusions. We do socialize with them on a normal basis.”
“I know, I know,” she agreed, watching the traffic. “I’m gonna get myself killed if I keep talking to you. I’ll see you in thirty.”
“’Kay. Love you.” He sounded hopeful.
“I love you too,” she whispered, and let the cell phone drop to the passenger seat.
Amy tugged at the hemline of her black silk dress. “Do I look all right?” she asked, hurrying to keep up with Kenneth’s long stride.
He barely glanced at her. “You look great.”
Amy rolled her eyes and shrugged into her wrap. “It’s going to be fine, Ken,” she said, softening her voice. She felt him reach for her hand, and gave his a reassuring squeeze. They waited together for the light to change to cross the street to Coppola’s.
Coppola’s was Henry’s favorite restaurant. He seemed to know most of the waiters, and always ordered something off the menu. And always for the entire table, without asking what anyone else wanted. Amy thought it was yet another way for Henry to show how powerful and impressive he was, which annoyed her to no end.
She and Kenneth arrived hand-in-hand, in what she hoped was their own display of power. The bartender looked up and waved a hello, then turned to the curly-haired brunette sitting at the bar.
“Ah, it is Signor y Signora Kenneth!” Bertuccio, the owner, declared loudly, sliding up to them in one fluid motion. He was dressed in standard Coppola’s uniform—dark black suit, white shirt and black tie. He bowed slightly and kissed Amy’s hand. “Here to see Signor Henry, sí?”
“Yes, sir,” Kenneth replied, tugging at his own tie with his free hand. “Is he here? Are we late?”
Amy squeezed Kenneth’s hand again, this time hoping to communicate that he needed to calm down. If even Bertuccio could see how nervous Kenneth was, how would they make it through this dinner? She gave Bertuccio a smile, hoping to divert his attention.
“No, no, it is fine. He and his lovely wife are at the customary table. I seat you, sí?”
Bertuccio led them past the bar, where the brunette was laughing quietly at something the bartender said as he lit her cigarette. The dining room was just beyond, a spacious room with dark paneling on the back wall, and mirrors lining the facing walls. The lighting was dim and romantic, each table neatly set with a white tablecloth, two candlesticks and fresh flowers.
Henry waved at them from the corner. As Bertuccio had told them, he was at his usual table—back to the corner. Henry liked to laugh that one off, but it was yet another link to Italian mobsters that made Amy uneasy. His wife Angelina looked up from her seat next to him and flashed one of her dazzling smiles, which was only slightly less luminescent than the ten-carat engagement ring on her left hand.
“You made it!” Henry boomed, unfolding his 6-foot-5-inch frame from the table, careful not to drag the tablecloth with him. Amy noted that he had already ordered bread, salads and wine.
“Yes, sorry, we’re a bit late,” Kenneth began to apologize.
“My fault, really,” Amy jumped in smoothly, smiling up at Henry as she sat in the chair he offered her. “You know how it is, trying to decide what to wear.” She rolled her eyes, trying to convey what a silly female she was, exchanging glances with Angelina.
Angelina’s long dark hair was piled on top of her head in an elaborate twist, and she wore a gorgeous sapphire and diamond choker at her throat. She touched it absent-mindedly with one manicured hand as she returned Amy’s smile. “I know, I know; Henry gets so frustrated with me.”
Amy wondered if it was difficult for Angelina to get dressed because of her multitude of choices. She always felt drab in comparison to Angelina’s expensive wardrobe, which was usually accompanied by a selection of exquisite jewelry.
“Can I get you anything?” Bertuccio asked, hands clasped in front of him.
Henry sat back down across from Amy. “We’re fine for now, thanks,” he answered.
Bertuccio nodded and backed away, practically disappearing again into the wood paneling. Kenneth poured red wine into his and Amy’s glasses. She wondered if he was fighting to keep his hand steady.
“How are you doing?” Amy asked. “It’s been since…what, a month ago that we saw each other last?”
Angelina cocked her head as if she was thinking, her diamond earrings sparkling as they caught the light of the candles. “Well, yes, I think you’re right…things are going well. I’ve been so busy…”
Amy half-listened as Angelina started talking about her charity work and their daughter Courtney. Courtney was eight and from what Amy had heard about her, quite a handful. She suspected the child was rather spoiled. With her other ear, she tried to focus on the conversation that Kenneth and Henry were having, wondering when it would turn to business. It always did, sooner or later, and she didn’t know how Kenneth would spin the situation. The level of wine in the bottle on the table was dwindling, and as Amy kept a protective hand on her glass, she watched how much was flowing into Kenneth’s. He tended to be overly confident with a little liquor in him.
“—and yours?” Angelina was saying. Amy blinked and looked at her. She had been completely ignoring Angelina.
“I’m sorry, mine?” Amy said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.
“Yes, how do you like your car?”
“Oh! My car? I love it!” she told Angelina. “It’s always been a favorite car of mine. It still feels like a dream when I get into it!”
“What’s that? You like your Porsche?” Henry said, picking up the wine bottle and shaking it side to side to test the amount left in it. “Bertuccio!” he called. “Another bottle of Aldo Conterno!”
Bertuccio appeared moments later with not only a bottle of wine, but also four plates of food for everyone. Amy looked down at her plate: shrimp linguine. God, how she hated shrimp. Henry obviously had a selective memory.
“Uh-huh,” she answered both Henry and Angelina. “Corners like it’s on rails.” She smiled.
Henry beamed across the table. “Well, you can thank your finance-minded husband for that one! Smart guy, taking care of my money, eh?” He chuckled loudly, patting Kenneth hard on the back.
“Yes, yes,” Kenneth almost choked while Henry pounded his back. He was working on some risotto and chicken. Amy wished his plate had come to her. “The market was rocking and rolling today.”
“That’s right. I was watching that earlier. I’m so busy sometimes though, that I can’t follow it,” Henry said, and picked up the full bottle of wine to refresh all the glasses on the table. “That’s why I pay you to mind it for me.”
Amy smiled and watched the wine flow to the top of her glass. “He is a smart guy.” She stole a glance at Kenneth, who took a forkful of risotto and chewed it slowly. “Speaking of smart, Angelina was just telling me how well Courtney is doing at school this semester. That’s fabulous!” Amy could feel palpable relief from her right, where Kenneth exhaled and gulped wine. She wondered if it was obvious for the rest of the table. She figured she knew Kenneth the best, knew the situation and could read him better than anyone else.
By the time the tiramisu came out, they had finished the third bottle and had successfully avoided the topic of the fund again. Henry appeared too drunk to care, and had reached the point where he kept trying to pinch or otherwise molest his wife under the table. Amy laughed nervously and exchanged glances with Kenneth. Kenneth took out a credit card to contribute to the tab, which Henry promptly refused.
“Don’t you worry about that!” he said loudly, one arm loosely resting on the back of Angelina’s chair. “I got it taken care of…”
“Well, I appreciate that, Henry,” Kenneth said, and stood up, helping Amy with her wrap. “But you’ll have to let us take care of it next time.”
Henry nodded and Angelina giggled. “Sure. We have to get together more often,” she purred, gracefully resisting Henry’s drunken advances. “It was so good seeing you, Amy,” she said warmly. Amy returned the sentiment and she and Kenneth made their exit. She noticed the bartender was talking with a new female patron—this one a bleached blonde--as they left the restaurant.
Once on the street, Kenneth grabbed her hand and they started walking quickly, both of them practically bursting with nervous energy. Four blocks down the street, he stopped walking and pulled her tight, burying his face in her hair. She held on to him, closing her eyes.
“We did it,” he breathed. “Just a couple more days.”
“Yes. Just a couple more days. Right?” Amy pulled back slightly and looked up into his face.
“Thanks for being there tonight,” he said. “There’s no way I could have steered the conversation without you.”
“Well, that’s why you married me, right?” she grinned teasingly.
“And you married me for the Porsche,” he said.
Amy laughed as they began walking again. “Yup.” Kenneth kept a strong, reassuring arm around her and she leaned into him, thinking already about the day ahead.
Despite her anxiety about the market, Amy watched it constantly over the course of the next week. She couldn’t seem to take her eyes off the numbers; though what they really meant she didn’t know, since depending on the way Kenneth played various stocks, a down day could be good or bad. Yet somehow she felt by watching she could somehow influence the outcome. She knew when her phone rang each day around four, it would be Kenneth calling with the numbers. Each day the account balance crept up, but slowly. She was happy for a small increase rather than any more losing numbers. And she tried to do her own job in the meantime.
She found herself thinking about the first time she met Kenneth; how far they had come in just five short years. Her friend Alexander had been working for the same investment firm and invited her to the company Christmas party. Alex was downstairs in the smoking tent sampling cigars with his buddies. She had elected to stay at the bar and sip on her vodka tonic. She was watching somewhat wistfully while couples spun around the dance floor. “Care to dance?” The voice was smooth, mellow. She glanced up.
“Sure…” she said, setting her glass on the bar. The man guided her gently toward the dance floor.
“My name is Kenneth,” he told her, leading with grace and ease. She looked up into his hazel eyes and found something warm and sincere.
“Amy,” she grinned, trying to follow him. Though he made it rather easy, he appeared to be a much more experienced dancer than she.
“How’s your date going to feel about me sweeping you off your feet on the dance floor?” he asked, and then spun her away from him.
She attempted to regain her senses—she had downed more than one of those vodka tonics—and reached out for his opposite hand, completing the turn. She was proud—after all, she was wearing her highest stilettos. “I don’t think he’ll mind.”
He raised one eyebrow and cocked his head at her. “How’s that? Leaving a gorgeous girl all alone out here? Tell me, do I know this guy?” He scanned the ballroom.
“I don’t know. Do you know Alex Prindle?”
Kenneth let out a deep and hearty laugh. “Sure, I know him. Lucky for me he’s gay.”
Amy laughed with him. “Well, he’s still very proprietary for a gay man. And catty as hell. He’ll tell me if you’re not worth it.”
Kenneth pulled her a bit closer and leaned into her. “I’m worth it. Stick with me, baby.”
She smiled up into his grin and wondered just what kind of hot-head this guy was. She had time to find out because he ended up taking her home. Alex had found himself another date as well, so it worked out for everyone.
She had called Alex the very next day insisting they meet for brunch and he give her all the dish he knew about this Kenneth Youngblood.
Alex showed up for brunch with dark sunglasses on and carrying a New York Times under his arm, wearing a pair of silk pajama bottoms and a fitted t-shirt.
“Love the look,” Amy commented wryly, tugging the drawstrings of her own pajama pants tighter.
“And what were you doing all night, my young lady friend?” Alex asked, nodding and looking her up and down.
Amy fairly sank into a wrought-iron patio chair. “I’m sure my night was much more innocent than yours. Kenneth saw me home; I invited him in for coffee…”
“You don’t have a coffee pot,” Alex helpfully pointed out.
She smacked him with the front page of the New York Times he had set on the table. “Well, you know what I mean. Anyway, we just talked…really. We talked all night. Next thing we knew, the sun had come up.”
Alex was smiling at her. “Oh shit. You’re getting married.”
“Alex!” she said. “…well, I do like him. But I want your approval—or warning—first.” She tried to give him a very serious look from behind her sunglasses.
He signaled to the waiter; ordered them both the brunch selection—which was equipped, of course, with Bloody Marys. “Look, Miss Thang,” he said, taking both her hands across the table and looking over his Ray-Bans. “I have known this Kenneth character for a year. I have never known him to take a lady home and talk all night.”