The following excerpt is from Jack Eidt's story in Volume 7, Oh, Fortuna! which is available on Amazon or through our bookstore.
Once upon a time, there was a real estate developer named Gastón, a builder of high-rise apartments, who had a lovely wife named Cassie. They had met in an online match site for corporate singles, as she repped for a flavored bottled water company, and had been named the most successful salesperson in her company last quarter. They jointly owned a historic Victorian beach home in Atlantic Highlands in Jersey with a view of the Sandy Hook Bay and the New York City skyline and had considerable investments in stocks and mutual funds.
Gastón knew he was blessed but also operated as though at any moment the real estate bubble economy could send him back into his working-class poverty roots, growing up in crime-ridden North Camden, where his pap used to work in production at the Campbell’s Soup cannery until the early ‘80s when things began to fall apart. To this day his favorite lunch was tomato soup and crackers, with a grilled cheese and an iceberg lettuce salad with a dollop of mayonnaise. Cassie did not really approve, as she decried the toxins from canned food, the bisphenol A and other endocrine disrupters, how the tomatoes mixed with the plastic liners and steel from the can, but Gastón really did not care. That was food to him, and tomato soup from scratch, well, who has time for that?
One spring morning the sky had covered over with a dark pall of clouds that he did not recognize, like a patchwork north wind that might turn into a hailstorm. He knew that hail in May meant some really foreboding things, at least according to his French Gascony ancestors, who used to tell his pap stories of how an entire vineyard could be destroyed with one freak hailstorm. Maybe this was the sign his luck was about to change.
So, to test the waters, he did what any forward-thinking real estate executive would do—headed to the casinos in Atlantic City. Sure, he took a beating right away on the roulette wheel, thus he thought it useful for his luck to air it all out on the boardwalk. He felt that power of vision of the spinning numbers coming back into focus when a small white egret landed on the railing and would not let him pass.
“Hey, get the hell outta my way, birdie-pie!”
It forced him over to one of those pop-up booths where a diviner in a print dress and serious swoopy eye makeup held a crank on her big Wheel of Fortune, an old spinnable metal-spoked celestial sphere marked by the signs of the zodiac.
Unsolicited, she said, “Who do you really think you are?”
“I’m just a humble man, darling.”
“You need to return home to your wife. She needs you now. You are courting disaster, young man. Stay off the wheel.” The white-plumed bird converged behind him, ready to peck a hole in his head with its long beak. The foreboding breeze whispered hints of hail, of destruction from out on the Atlantic, roiling like a Nor’easter coming to assault the coast. He was betting on spring flowers, no matter the updrafts of heated air meeting downdrafts of cold from the sky, the sea churning, and the bird demanding for him to step back now.
He shushed the bird away. He saw these warnings as merely innocuous heat lightning, scaring you to think you might get struck, when it is just an effect. When she jostled her wheel, yes, he felt dizzy, but he nevertheless turned away from both and made a break back to the casino tables. Sure, he ended up losing money that day, but that’s part of the game.
The hailstorm blew in off the Atlantic like an enigma without reason, and his May dogwoods lost all their flowers. The next day, Gastón received a call from his financiers of Maple Ridge, his development project in North Jersey, and yeah, they pulled out, citing stock market volatility. Thus, his months of work on acquisition of the land went out the window. Moreover, he had a thing for investing in tech startups, and Cassie had pleaded maybe twenty times for him to diversify, to hide some money in a mattress that couldn’t be taken from them, but how could he, with surreptitious blinks of the market netting him tens of thousands of dollars?
This morning Cassie walked into the room, not out plying her customers, and announced she had been laid off because of the downturn. Gastón feared this and even further her severe bouts of anxiety and depression. Sometimes she would be swamped for days with the melancholy for life.
“I see us crashing. Everything crashing. Bottled water is a scam anyway. I’ve been living a lie and I will not go back.”
“Nonsense,” said Gastón.
“We need to sell this house today, not tomorrow,” she continued, even a bit louder, revealing to Gastón the malaise had taken over her judgement. “It’s over.” She went so far as to find a buyer for their house who had cash on hand, and they would need this to pay rent in an apartment somewhere through the coming downturn. “If we don’t sell now, we’ll be ruined.”
“Ty, our favorite billionaire, has assured me he will back me in this project.” He had not yet told her that they informed him they were pulling out. Yet, he suspected Ty was double-talking, and what he really meant was the money would be there, they would just have to make the banks think they were cutting back. He thought Ty might give him a loan to subsist until the banks would come along with the dream for Maple Ridge.
“What are you, crazy?” was Cassie’s response. He had forgotten she was home and heard the whole drama he had been through on the phone for the last hour. “You lost the Maple Ridge parcel. Ty is a scumbag billionaire who has been using you, and now when things get sticky, he dumps you. To hell with Ty.”
Gastón’s head was spinning. Cassie might be right, but businessmen kicked ass if they took risks. Suckers played it safe, selling their house after a bad day at the market. Suckers never changed the world, never housed the population in mid-rise multifamily dwelling units that are affordable to middle class families that looked out on the skag-weed fields near the Jersey Shore.
“No, Cass. We aren’t selling.”
Her eyes widened with anger, but he overwhelmed her with positivity, the only way other than medication to win this discussion.
“I’ll go to Ty tomorrow to advance me a loan. He promised to cover me, so I’ll get his attorney on the phone and have him sign some papers, and we’ll be okay. You needed some time off. This is your chance. Let’s go get some butter-braised scallops on the pier deck and a round of margaritas. We’ll be just fine.”
Ty was 95. Ty had congestive heart failure. Ty’s wife summarily hated Gastón and had no faith that Maple Ridge would ever pay off. Ty’s wife wanted them to return to their beach house down on Marathon and putter around at the Florida Keys Country Club. All Gastón brought Ty was stress and problems.
“Ty won’t give you a cent,” said Cassie.
“Oh, just you wait and see.”
He slicked back his short-cut dark brown hair and stepped out for a run down by the harbor. Cassie was not in the mood for scallops. He was expert at working out his misgivings with extreme cardio along the Atlantic Highland trails, keeping him mesmerized by Raritan Bay and the view toward Staten Island. His jumpy legs carried him down where the ferry departed among the fishing boats. A humid smell of salty sea, marsh wetland rot, diesel fuel, and rotting fish made him feel at home.
First a laughing gull, black head and white breast, screamed at him—it was not laughing. It dive-bombed, seeming to want to knock him off the docks. Another strafed him from the side, and he had to jump out of the way. Did they want to maim him? Or just get his attention, the intrusive scavenging aerial rodents? He saw a pack of them huddling about an old fisher boat down toward the end of the docks. He should have run the other way, but instead advanced on the marauders. Deserted of humans, he spotted a large container on the back deck, so he jumped onto the boat to investigate.
The fiberglass bin was filled with water and what he thought was a 90-pound carp, a gargantuan exotic spawn of the tidal sweetwater of the Raritan outflow. The gold-green fish flopped about, mouth gaping, and splashed him. The gulls shrieked louder, guardians of this hallowed regal palace of captive-fish-reality.
When Gastón turned to leave, a woman appeared to him. He had the distinct impression he was talking to the carp. After that egret the other day, this was feeling sorta déjà vu. Yet this madame, solar-burnished white skin, dark long flowing hair, and squinty eyes from too much ultraviolet light reflecting off the salty sea, belonged to the fishing crew on board. She wore a worn windbreaker and rubber boots to prove it.
“Well, well, well, look who we have here.” She eyed him and stood behind the wooden nautical steering wheel. She did not demand he step off the boat at once. Usually, he ignored all the fisher folk who lurked around the harbor; in fact, he avoided everyone he did not know, unless it was business.
“What do you want?” he asked her, beating her to the question. He felt the boat rocking in flowing waves, things kinda moving on him. He noticed she was turning the steering wheel as things went sideways. Yet, she merely regarded the sea horizon and not him.
“You’re out, buddy,” she said, not shifting her gaze from the distant Atlantic beyond. She held the wheel still for a moment, but then jerked it clockwise.
He lost his balance and fell to the bench, along the outer rail of the deck. Another invisible wave bounded through the harbor, but it only seemed to throw him into a loop again, birds and fish mesmerized him. She jerked the wheel again, taunting him and everything else. He caught the ancient, weathered wood railing and held on.
“I’m not out,” he countered her. “You are wrong. I’m in the game to win.”
“The keeper of the wheel is never wrong,” she said quietly, holding the wheel still for another moment.
“Give me another chance to take my own spin. The financing for Maple Ridge is in the bag.” His development project in North Jersey, yes. He perceived the cacophony of laughing gulls all around him and a massive captive carp spitting at him. “I don’t care about the market,” he said to no one in particular. “The economy is a roulette wheel, to game capital you gotta hang low in the cold north until the days get warmer in spring, making heavy inside bets in summer to be shored up by outside bets on the hottest day of the year.”
She shook her head. “Nope. Stop spouting nonsense. The sooner you realize how wrong everything you think is, the less people will be hurt. Go back to your wife. Take care of her. Show her you love her. Do you love her?”
“Of course, I love her. And how does a man show a woman he loves her? He wins. I’ve been studying the wheel my whole life.”
The woman of the carp added, “The house controls the wheel. You can think what you may, but your run is over. Get off the wheel while you still can. If you continue to play, it will end in disaster for you.”
Get off the wheel? “What do you know? You are just a fish.”
He turned his back on the medium for the carp and the laughing formation of militaristic gulls. “Don’t fuck with me,” Gastón said, more to himself, as he leapt away to the dock, hoping to avoid her spinning him again. He ran toward dry land.
“Goddess of the Roulette Wheel got nothin’ on me. I’ve got a foolproof plan to win in life and nothing’s gonna stop me.” He rambled back into the highlands and toward his humble Victorian home with an ocean view.
...to read the rest of "Fortunate One" please purchase Volume 7 on Amazon or through our bookstore.
Jack is a novelist, urban theorist, environmental journalist, as well as editor and publisher of the culture blog WilderUtopia.com. His fiction has won multiple awards, with work featured in literary journals, newspapers, and opinion-editorial websites.