REPLAY
by Ken Grimwood

 

SIX

Jeff didn’t involve himself in much after that except making money. He was very good at making money.

Motion-picture stocks were one fairly easy pick. The mid-sixties had been a time of heavy movie attendance and the first multimillion-dollar sales of films like The Bridge on the River Kwai and Cleopatra to the networks. Jeff shied away from small electronics companies, though he knew many of them would multiply tremendously in value; he just didn’t remember the names of the winners. Instead, he poured money into the conglomerates he knew had thrived through the decade on such investments: Litton, Teledyne, Ling-Temco-Vought. His selections were almost uniformly profitable from the day the stocks were purchased, and he ploughed the bulk of that income back into still more shares.

It was something to do.

Sharla had enjoyed the fight, despite the fact that she’d perversely bet on Liston when Jeff told her to go with Cassius Clay. Jeff’s reactions to the evening had been decidedly more mixed: not so much to the fight itself, but to the setting, the crowd. Several of the high rollers and bookies in attendance had recognized Jeff from the publicity that had spread through the gambling world after his record World Series win; even some of the men who’d had to pay off large portions of that multimillion-dollar pot gave him wide grins and ‘thumbs up’ signs. He might have been excommunicated from their circle, but he’d become legendary within it, and was accorded all the honour due a legend of that magnitude.

In a sense, he supposed, that was what had bothered him – the gamblers’ visible respect was too clear a reminder that he had begun this version of his life by pulling a massive, if unfathomable, scam on the American underworld. He would be remembered forever by them in that context, no matter what his subsequent successes in society at large. It made him want to take a long, hot shower, get rid of the implied stench of cigar smoke and dirty money.

But the problem was something more concrete, too, he thought as the limousine sped down Collins Avenue past the vulgar façades of Miami Beach’s hotel row. It was, specifically, Sharla.

She had fitted right in with the fight crowd, had looked perfectly at home among the other pneumatic young women in their tight, flashy dresses and excessive makeup. Face it, he thought, glancing at her in the seat beside him: She looks cheap. Expensive but cheap; like Las Vegas, like Miami Beach. From the most cursory of appraisals it was clear to anyone that Sharla was, quite simply, a machine designed for fucking. Nothing more. The very image of a Girl Not To Take Home To Mother, and he grimaced to think that he had done precisely that: They’d stopped in Orlando on their way down here for the championship bout. His family had been overwhelmed and more than a little intimidated by the extent of his sudden financial triumphs, but even that couldn’t hide their contempt for Sharla, their anxious disappointment at the news that Jeff was living with her.

She leaned forward to fish a pack of cigarettes from her purse, and as she did so the black satin bodice of her dress fell slack, giving Jeff a glimpse of the creamy expanse of her generous breasts. Even now he desired her, felt a familiar urge to press his face into that flesh, slide the dress up and over her perfect legs.

He’d been with this woman for almost a year, sharing everything with her except his mind and his emotions. The thought was suddenly distasteful, her very beauty a rebuke to his sensibilities. Why had he let this go on for so long? Her initial appeal was understandable; Sharla had been a fantasy within the fantasy, a tantalizing pièce de résistance to go along with his restored youth. But it was an essentially empty attraction, as juvenile in its lack of substance or complexity as the bullfight posters on the walls of his college dorm room.

He watched her light the cigarette, her deceptively aristocratic face bathed in the dim red glow of the lighter. She caught him staring, raised her slender eyebrows in a look of sexual challenge and promise. Jeff looked away, out at the lights of Miami across the still, clear water.

Sharla spent the next morning shopping on Lincoln Road, and Jeff was waiting for her in the suite at the Doral when she returned. She set her packages down in the foyer, moved immediately to the nearest mirror to freshen her makeup. Her short white sundress set off her glorious tan, and her high-heeled sandals made her bare brown legs look even longer and slimmer than they were. Jeff ran his thumbs along the sharp edges of the thick brown envelope in his hand, and he came very close to changing his mind.

‘What are you doing inside?’ she asked, reaching back to unzip the breezy cotton dress. ‘Let’s get into our suits, grab some sun.’

Jeff shook his head, motioned for her to sit in the chair across from him. She frowned, pulled the zipper closed over her tawny back, and sat where he indicated.

‘What’s with you?’ she asked. ‘Why the strange mood?’

He started to speak, but had decided hours ago that words would be inappropriate. They’d never really talked anyway, about anything; verbal communication had little to do with what passed between them. He handed her the envelope.

Sharla pursed her lips as she took it, tore it open. She stared at the six neat stacks of hundred-dollar bills for several moments. ‘How much?’ she finally asked, in a calm, controlled voice.

‘Two hundred thousand.’

She peered back inside the envelope, extracted the single Panagra Airlines first-class ticket to Rio. ‘This is for tomorrow morning,’ she said, inspecting it. ‘What about my things in New York?’

‘I’ll send them wherever you like.’

She nodded. ‘I’ll need to buy some more things here, before I leave.’

‘Whatever you want. Charge it to the room.’

Sharla nodded again, put the money and the ticket back in the envelope, which she set on the table beside her. She stood up, undid the dress, and let it fall to the floor around her feet.

‘What the hell,’ she said, unhooking her bra, ‘for two hundred thousand you deserve one last go.’

Jeff went back to New York alone, back to his investments.

Skirts, he knew, would be getting shorter for the next few years, creating an enormous demand for patterned stockings and panty hose. Jeff bought thirty thousand shares of Hanes. All those exposed thighs had to lead somewhere; he bought heavily in the pharmaceutical houses that manufactured birth-control pills.

Eighteen months after they’d moved into the Seagram Building, Future, Inc’s holdings had risen to a paper value of thirty-seven million dollars. Jeff repaid Frank in full, and sent a long personal letter with the final cheque. He never received a reply.

Not everything worked exactly as Jeff planned, of course. He wanted to acquire a major portion of Comsat when it went public, but the stock was so wildly popular that the issue was limited to fifty shares per buyer. IBM, surprisingly, remained stagnant all the way through 1965, though it took off again the following year. Fast-food chains – Jeff chose Denny’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and McDonald’s – went through a big slump in 1967, before sky-rocketing up an average five hundred per cent one year later.

By 1968 his company’s assets were into the hundreds of millions, and he had approved an I.M. Pei design for a sixty-storey corporate-headquarters building at Park and Fifty-third. Jeff also mandated the purchase of extensive parcels of land in choice commercial and residential areas of Houston, Denver, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. The company bought close to half of the undeveloped property in LA’s new Century City project, at a price of five dollars per square foot. For his personal use, Jeff bought a three-hundred-acre estate in Dutchess County, two hours up the Hudson from Manhattan.

He went out with a variety of women, slept with some of them, hated the whole meaningless process. Drinks, dinners, plays and concerts and gallery openings … He grew to despise the rigid formality of dating, missed the easy familiarity of simply being with someone, sharing friendly silences and unforced laughter. Besides, most of the women he met were either too openly interested in his wealth or too studiedly blase about it. Some even hated him for it, refused to go out with him because of it; immense personal fortunes were anathema to many young people in the late sixties, and on more than one occasion Jeff was made to feel directly responsible for all the world’s ills, from starvation in the inner cities to the manufacture of napalm.

He bided his time, focused his energies on work. June was coming, he reminded himself constantly. June 1968; that was when everything would change.

The twenty-fourth of June, to be precise.

Robert Kennedy was not quite three weeks dead, and Cassius Clay, now stripped of his title and reborn as Muhammad Ali, was appealing his conviction for draft evasion. In Vietnam the rockets from the north had been striking Saigon since early spring.

It had been midafternoon, Jeff recalled, on a Monday. He’d been working nights and weekends at a Top 40 station in West Palm Beach, playing the Beatles and the Stones and Aretha Franklin and learning the essentials of broadcast journalism on his own time, selling his interviews and stories to the station and occasionally to UPI audio on a per-piece basis. He remembered the date because it was the beginning of his Monday/Tuesday ‘weekend,’ and when he returned to work that Wednesday he’d somehow managed to arrange the first big interview of his career, a long and candid telephone conversation with retiring US Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. He still didn’t know why Warren had consented to talk to him, a noncredentialled novice reporter from a small-time radio station in Florida; but somehow he’d managed to pull it off, and the great man’s pithy ruminations on his controversial tenure had been picked up by NBC for a healthy sum. Within a month, Jeff had been doing news full time at WIOD in Miami. He was off and running; his entire adult life, such as it had been, could be traced back to that summer week.

There’d been no reason for him to choose Boca Raton; no reason not to. Some Mondays he’d drive north, to Juno Beach; on others he might head down to Delray Beach or Lighthouse Point, any of a hundred interconnected strips of sand and civilization that lined the Atlantic coast from Melbourne to South Miami Beach. But on June twenty-fourth, 1968, he’d taken a blanket and a towel and a cooler full of beer to the beach off Boca Raton, and now here he was again in that same place on that same sunny day.

And there she was, lying on her back in a yellow crocheted bikini, her head propped on an inflatable beach pillow, reading a hardcover copy of Airport. Jeff stopped ten feet away and stood looking at her youthful body, the lemony streaks in her thick brown hair. The sand was hot against his feet; the surf echoed the pounding in his brain. For a moment he almost turned and walked away, but he didn’t.

‘Hi,’ he said. ‘Good book?’

The girl peered up at him through her clear-rimmed, owlish sunglasses and shrugged. ‘Kind of trashy, but it’s fun. It’d make a better movie, probably.’

Or several, Jeff thought. ‘You seen 2001 yet?’

‘Yeah, but I didn’t know what it was all about, and it was kind of draggy up to the end. I liked Petulia better, you know, with Julie Christie?’

He nodded, tried to make his smile more natural, relaxed. ‘My name’s Jeff. Mind if I sit with you?’

‘Go right ahead. I’m Linda,’ said the woman who had been his wife for eighteen years.

He spread his blanket, opened the cooler, and offered her a beer. ‘Summer vacation?’ he asked.

She shifted on one elbow, took the dewy bottle. ‘I go to Florida Atlantic, but my family lives right here in town. How about you?’

‘I grew up in Orlando, went to Emory for a while. Living in New York now, though.’

Jeff was striving for an air of nonchalance but having trouble; he couldn’t keep his eyes off her face, wished she’d take off those damned sunglasses so he could see the eyes he’d known so well. His final memory of her voice reverberated in his skull, tinny and distant, a telephone voice: ‘We need – We need – We need –’

‘I said, what do you do up there?’

‘Oh, sorry, I –’ he took a swig of icy beer, tried to clear his head. ‘I’m in business.’

‘What kind?’

‘Investments.’

‘You mean, like a stockbroker?’

‘Not exactly. I have my own company. We deal with a lot of brokers. Stocks, real estate, mutual funds … like that.’

She lowered the big round sunglasses, gave him a look of surprise. He stared into the familiar brown eyes, wanting to say so much: ‘It’ll be different this time,’ or ‘Please, let’s try it again,’ or even simply ‘I’ve missed you; I’d forgotten how lovely you were.’ He said nothing, just looked at her eyes in silent hope.

‘You own the whole company?’ she asked, incredulous.

‘Now I do, yes. It was a partnership until a few years ago, but … it’s all mine now.’

She set her beer in the sand, scrunching the bottle back and forth until she’d dug out a space to hold it upright.

‘Did you have some kind of big inheritance or something? I mean, most guys I know couldn’t even get a job in a company like that in New York … or else they wouldn’t want to.’

‘No, I built it up myself, from scratch.’ He laughed, starting to feel more relaxed with her, confident and proud of his achievements for the first time in years. ‘I won a lot of money on some bets, horse races and such, and I put it all into this company.’

She regarded him sceptically. ‘How old are you, anyway?’

‘Twenty-three.’ He paused a beat, realized he was talking too much about himself, hadn’t expressed enough curiosity about her. She had no way of knowing he already knew everything about her, more – at this point in her life – than she knew about herself. ‘What about you; what are you studying?’

‘Sociology. Were you a business major at Emory, or what?’

‘History, but I dropped out. What year are you?’

‘Senior this fall. So how big of a deal is this company of yours? I mean, have you got a lot of people working for you? Have you got an office right in Manhattan?’

‘A whole building, at Park and Fifty-third. Do you know New York?’

‘You have your own building, on Park Avenue. That’s nice.’ She wasn’t looking at him anymore, was drawing daisy-petal curlicues in the sand around the beer bottle. Jeff remembered a day, months before they were married, when she’d shown up unexpectedly at his door with a bunch of daisies; the sun had been behind her hair, and all of summer in her smile.

‘Well, it’s … taken a lot of effort,’ he said. ‘So, what do you plan to do when you get out of school?’

‘Oh, I thought maybe I’d buy a few department stores. Start small, you know.’ She folded her towel, began gathering her belongings from the blanket and stuffing them into a large blue beach bag. ‘Maybe you could help me get a good deal on Saks Fifth Avenue, hmm?’

‘Hey – hold on, please don’t go. You think I’m putting you on, is that it?’

‘Just forget about it,’ she said, cramming her book into her bag and shaking sand from the blanket.

‘No, look, I’m serious. I wasn’t kidding around. My company’s called Future, Inc. Maybe you’ve even heard of –’

‘Thanks for the beer. Better luck next time.’

‘Hey, please, let’s just talk a little longer, OK? I feel as if I know you, as if we have a lot to share. Do you know that feeling, like you’ve been with someone in some previous life, or –’

‘I don’t believe in that kind of nonsense.’ She threw the folded blanket over one arm and started walking towards the highway and the rows of parked cars.

‘Look, just give me a chance,’ Jeff said, following alongside her. ‘I know for a fact that if we just get to know each other we’ll have a lot in common; we’ll –’

She wheeled on her bare feet and glared at him over the sunglasses. ‘If you don’t stop following me I’m going to yell for the lifeguard. Now, back off, buddy. Go pick up somebody else, all right?’

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