Messages 

 

By 

 

Darin Krogh 

 

 

 

 

Mr. and Mrs. Carlson arrived home slightly drunk after an evening of cocktails. Both wanted to crawl into bed and sleep. Their children were grown. Nowadays they were responsible for themselves and to some extent, each other.. 

In the bedroom, Ken Carlson pulled off his tie. Formal weddings were brutal events this time of the year due to the heat and humidity of Miami. 

Sylvia Carlson stepped out of her dress, then reached back to unsnap her brassiere while walking to the bathroom. She tossed the bra over the back of a vanity chair before disappearing behind the bathroom door. 

Ken had watched her walk away from the dress abandoned on the floor. After all the years together, he still got excited watching his wife in her underwear. Ken stepped over to Sylvia’s dress and picked it up off the floor. He noted that when his wife had removed her bra it had contained a folded cocktail napkin. It was Sylvia's habit to put such small missives and sometimes her evening mad money into her brassiere. 

Ken picked up the napkin and unfolded it. He saw the words, “Call me tomorrow” then the name “Mike” followed by a telephone number. This had happened before with other names and Ken wondered if this was going to turn out to be a new lover. 

Ken was too tired and groggy to recollect a man named Mike at the crowded reception. He slipped the napkin into his billfold. He would consider this matter tomorrow in the sober light of day. Ken smiled and looked at the bathroom door that separated him from his wife. Perhaps Mike was a pool boy. Pool boys were a joke threat to husbands in Florida. Ken and Sylvia did not have a pool, but as the joke went, “A woman does not have to own a pool to have a pool boy.” 

Sylvia soon reappeared wearing a staid night gown she wore when she wanted to discourage Ken from any attempt at initiating sex. She was not usually opposed to the act but Ken had learned the signs when she wasn't interested. The lights were turned off. Husband and wife began to snore. 

 

 

 

Ken was awakened in the morning by a scream. He jumped out of bed and hastened to its source—the bathroom. He made out his wife's nude figure through the translucent shower door. 

The shower stopped. "The water won't get hot," Sylvia shouted. She reached out and grabbed a towel."The hot water tank has been cooling for weeks. You were supposed to call a plumber." 

"I've been swamped with the tournament at the club." 

"Well, I met a plumber last night at the wedding reception. I got his name and telephone number." Sylvia spoke in her scolding voice. 

Ken thought of the napkin that had dropped from her bra last night. He went to his billfold and brought the napkin back into the bathroom. His wife was still closed in the shower stall, turning the water on and off doing some kind of sponge bath she had learned at summer camp years ago. 

Ken unfolded the napkin. "Was that plumber's name Mike?" 

He looked at the shower door and saw his wife's image stop sponge bathing. 

"No. Art. Art Perkins. He's got a shop down by the river." 

Ken folded the napkin and returned it to his billfold. Wrong plumber. 

 

 

 

After her cold showerSylvia was on the fly. She handed Ken a business card with Art Perkins' phone number in big print. "Call him today," she said as she quick-stepped to the garage on her way to a meeting. 

Ken nodded his head in acquiescence. He had worked at keeping Sylvia happy, but due to years of life's consecutive catastrophes, their romantic fire did not burn hot like before. Life had been easy before their children came along, before their business sucked up every spare moment, and before their time and money were drained due to paying for their parents extended departure from this mortal coil. Business stress had increased after their golf shop was doomed due to the opening of a franchise sporting goods store across the street. The once full-line golf store had been reduced to a golf tee and ball shop manned by one underpaid teenager—closed on weekends. 

Sylvia had begrudgingly taken up real-estate at this time late in her life when she had expected to be idling through early retirement. Ken had pledged to work at something to make more money but had relied on his cardiac condition to duck employment. He had kept an ear to the ground regarding neighbors, friends and club members who were considering selling their home or buying a new residence. He had tipped off Sylvia about those possible sales. Several of those tips had resulted in handsome commissions for Sylvia but he knew she was exhausted from keeping up appearances with her less-than-perfect husband. 

While Ken knew that Sylvia would be deemed "unfulfilled" by those television marriage therapists, she seemed sufficiently content to overlook the missing fulfillment. Ken still loved Sylvia but suspected she did not love him any longer. His ace in the hold was that the financial hardship of divorce would further reduce her lifestyle and would be very inconvenient so late in life. He guessed that she remained with him because life was comfortable in the Palms Estates. Ken was thankful for that. 

Ken looked at the napkin once more then pushed "Mike" to a back burner. If Mike was an interloper, Ken hoped he was a doctor or a dentist. He knew doctors and dentists were discrete: they had their practices to consider. Ken would be less happy with a plumber as he doubted that they would be discrete about banging another guy's wife. Ken could not take adverse publicity. A scandal would make his continued prominent membership in the Palms Estate Country Club impossible. 

 

 

 

After a round of Saturday golf, Ken was at the club house bar drinking a restorative beverage. A man in his thirties walked in and sat on the bar stool next to him. 

He spoke Ken's name then extended his hand. Ken sensed a sales pitch of some kind and turned back to his drink. 

"I met your wife at a wedding reception a week ago," the man said. "You were there. Some guests had wrapped you up in conversation. I didn't butt in. I did give your wife my name and telephone number and asked her to pass the message on to you. She and I spoke for a while. I tried to convince her it was very important that you speak with me." 

Ken remembered the napkin in his wife's bra. 

"Is your name Mike?" 

"Yes. Mike Cameron." 

"What are you selling, Mr. Cameron?" Ken asked. He hoped for the short answer. 

"I understand that you are in charge of the first ever Palm Estates charity golf tournament?" 

"Yes, sadly, I am." 

"Have you ever done anything like this? A big charity tournament, I mean." 

"No," Ken answered. 

"Anyone can put on a charity golf tournament. Not everyone can produce a first class event that raises a lot of money and returns big name professional golfers year after year." 

"What are you driving at, Mr. Cameron?" 

"I can help you make the Palms Estate Tournament an annual classic--PGA anointed." 

Ken smelled a rat. "What's in it for you?" 

"I make it all work. My staff and I do this all over the country. We help people like you who are hard workers but have no experience. They often end up killing their own tournament." 

"And I'm not even a hard worker," Ken said with a smile. 

"You don't have to be." Cameron smiled back. "We handle it all. You just continue to play the role of Tournament Chairman. 

"What's in it for you?" Ken liked the idea, but he was still suspicious. 

"I take a small percentage of the gate and make arrangements for private betting. Nothing public. Nothing officially associated with the tournament. No one in the Palms Estate knows my role except you." 

"How do I know you're any good at this? Not a just a bullshitter?" 

"I have a list of contacts at golf courses all across Florida that have used our services." Mike Cameron pulled out a list of names paired with golf courses located in the Southeast. He pointed at the paper and said, "Talk to those guys." 

Cameron laid his business card on top of the list. 

"Call me in the morning with your answer," Cameron said as he stood up. "I gave your wife ten thousand dollars to hand over to you as a good-faith down payment. Keep the ten grand if you are in. There will be more money coming your way. If you decline my offer, I'll accept a refund and we will part ways." 

Ken was stunned by the announcement that his wife had ten thousand dollars in cash, but kept his composure and nodded without saying more. 

Cameron put his hand on Ken's shoulder and waited for the bartender to move away before he spoke, "Discretion is vital in our efforts to help you, Ken. We operate behind the scenes. You get the glory and praise for the success of the Palms Estate Tournament. We don't need publicity. Your success is our success.We know how to open the pockets of donors. Your tournament will be floating in money." 

 

 

 

Ken sat at the kitchen bar waiting for Sylvia to come home. 

He heard the garage door open and close. A moment later Sylvia came into the kitchen toting several folders and a briefcase. She didn't notice Ken until after she opened and closed the refrigerator door. 

"Are you okay?" she asked opening a bottle of water. 

"No." 

Sylvia seemed to not hear his answer. She stepped to the pantry and removed a box of crackers. 

"Sylvia. Sit down," Ken spoke with as much authority as he could muster. 

She furrowed her sculpted brows and seated herself on a bar stool opposite her husband. 

Ken tossed the bra napkin onto the bar in front of her. "A Mr. Cameron gave you this at the wedding reception." 

She glanced at the napkin."I've been looking for that. He wants you to call him. He wants to sponsor the golf tournament." 

"Did he give you anything else?" 

"Yes. Ten thousand dollars to win your consent." 

"Cameron doesn't want to be a sponsor. He wouldn't need my consent for that." 

"That's what he told me," Sylvia said reaching deep in the box to pinch the last cracker between her thumb and finger. 

"Give the money back. I can't accept his deal." Ken said in a tone that did not invite debate. 

"I've deposited the money. And spent half of it. We need the money. Cameron told me there would be more. All to be paid directly to you when you work this out with him." 

"I can't work it out with him." 

"Ken, I should be retired at my age. Think about me once in a while." 

He shook his head. 

Sylvia shrieked, "You're retired! Why should I go on working" She pointed her finger at him. "And you're going to be divorced if you don't get on board with Cameron. Our assets are slim. We'll need money in the bank to make it through old age. Remember how our parents ran short? Our kids don't have money to take care of us." 

Ken rose from his stool without looking at Sylvia. He sighed. "Okay," he said. He trudged to the bedroom and closed the door. 

 

 

 

 

 

At the first planning meeting for the tournament, the names of several worthy charities were suggested. None of them inspired enthusiasm with any majority.The Board of Directors of the Palm Estates Golf Tournament soon grew distracted. Most of them wanted to go back to their offices while the remainder wanted to get outside to golf. The group was of too many minds to have a useful discussion. 

Mike Cameron had briefed Ken to be alert to this moment. Ken stood and suggested that a smaller sub-committee be formed to focus on the tournament. The Board members praised Ken and congratulated themselves for selecting him as the Tournament Chairman back when the idea was in its infancy. They were eager to duck the nuts-and-bolts planning. By a unanimous vote, they promptly tossed the formation of a smaller committee into Ken's lap.  

No one wanted membership on the smaller committee. Ken was fine with that because Mike Cameron had suggested just such a committee, preferably the smallest committee possible. Ken got three buddies to serve on the committee by promising them that there would be no formal meetings and no assignments except that they never reveal the rubber-stamp nature of the committee itself. 

The small committee then voted to make Michael Cameron the Official Tournament Advisor with a salary of a dollar a day. No one asked what was in it for Cameron, but most presumed he was funded by advertisers getting notice for supporting the charity event. Michael Cameron regularly dictated additional requirements regarding the operation of the tournament including a date change to avoid conflict with a tournament in Atlanta. He also handed off a manila envelope containing ten thousand dollars to Ken once a month. Ken handed the envelope to Sylvia. 

Mike Cameron's instructions and management built momentum for the tournament. The trustees and especially the Board of Directors were pleased when sponsorship money began to pour in. Cameron kept the ball rolling. Big name golfers signed up to participate. The tournament attained prestige no one had anticipated. Cameron’s group set up publicity events, sent out mailers to the right people, and arranged for celebrity visitors to the attend the tournament. Cameron twisted a few arms and offered bribes when needed. He also took a cut out of the big donations. Mike Cameron's top priority had not yet raised its ugly head, specifically, gambling. Ken knew that day was coming. 

 

 

 

To Ken's knowledge Mike Cameron had no credentials in psychology but he practiced the craft as well as any shrink. He had conversed with Sylvia often and wheedled out information sufficient to diagnose Ken and Sylvia's tight financial condition. He had also figured out that Sylvia was the driving force in the marriage and not happy to be the only breadwinner in the house. He seemed to know how to use her avarice to encourage her to take better care of Ken. She began to be more flirtatious and more available to Ken sexually. He knew it was less than sincere, but nonetheless appreciated the attention. 

While Cameron encouraged Sylvia to take care of Ken he did what he could to keep Ken focused on compliance with his instructions. He often reminded Ken that the acceptance of bribes in ten thousand dollar chunks violated state law and the constitution of the Palms Estate Country Club. 

Sylvia spent less time peddling real-estate. She was able to participate in more social events. She seemed more satisfied with her new life. She promoted herself to part-time agent dealing in high-end real-estate, not three bedroom ranchers with a car port. 

The payment from Cameron a month before the tournament date signaled that the payment stream was about to dry up. Sylvia was not satisfied. Her retirement was not yet secure. She complained often to Ken and told him she wanted to complain to Cameron that they needed more compensation. 

"That's not a good idea," Ken said. He had dealt with Cameron enough to know that the man represented criminal forces that could be dangerous if their enterprise was threatened. 

Ken thought she would take his advice, but soon afterward came upon Cameron and Sylvia engaged in a heated discussion at the clubhouse. When they saw Ken they stopped talking, but the last words Cameron had said to Sylvia were, "Remembe, no one lives forever!' When Ken asked her what that meant she refused to discuss it. 

 

 

 

A few weeks before the heralded tournament, Ken took a noticeable nose dive. He was having second thoughts at the corrupt nature of the scheme in which he had become involved. Sex with Sylvia was no longer enough of a reward and Cameron's threats weren't enough deterrent. He became noticeably introverted, sometimes morose. Ken no longer behaved like a successful tournament director. He was often rude and dismissive to Mike Cameron. He knew it was dangerous behavior, but his own attitude reminded him of his rebellious teenage years—somehow the danger couldn't overcome the anger that was building up inside him. At night he lay in bed next to Sylvia, no longer interested in touching her, aware of the fear that was mixed with his anger. He knew that he was being too obviously rebellious and angry. He knew that something might be done to control his behavior. 

Sylvia confirmed these concerns when she confronted Ken at breakfast in the morning. 

"Ken, you've got to pick up your style. People are curious that you're down in the dumps. Put up a better front until the tournament is over." 

"I'll never make it. It could be my heart medicine. It's affecting my mood." Ken hoped to get off the hook by pleading cardiac problems though they had nothing to do with his mood. 

"Ken, we don't have a prayer of paying Cameron back. We've spent most of his money and we need to keep what we haven't spent" 

"You've spent most of Cameron's money, not me," he grumbled back to her. 

"Ken, this is the first money you've brought into our house since the golf store crapped out. Don't screw this up. I'm sick of working my ass off while you play golf." 

Ken twisted his left hand index finger with the fingers of his other hand. Tears welled up in his eyes. "I can't do this Sylvia. Cameron is a gangster. His helpers are all goons. The tournament looks wonderful from the outside but the whole thing is rotten on the inside. I don't even know how bad it is. The crimes are hidden. There's gambling, bribery and stealing money meant for charity. They do this same thing all over the country." 

"Finish this tournament with dignity, Ken," she said slowly. "After it's over, Mike Cameron will move on and leave us alone. If you're right about Cameron being a gangster, he'll kill both of us if you don't get this done. I don't want to die. Don't do this to us." 

Ken stood up and wiped the tears from his eyes. He nodded to his wife as though he had stiffened his resolve to press on to the end. He touched her shoulder and left for the golf course as Cameron had just sent Ken a screen full of texts insisting he show up at the club house to play a round of golf and glad-hand with some special visitors. As he walked out the door Sylvia was punching numbers into her phone. 

 

 

On Monday of the tournament week, Ken was on the course in a foursome when he dropped flat onto his face at the 11th green. His score card had him one stroke under.  

Ken survived, but his left side suffered severe damage. He couldn't walk. His speech was debilitated. The left side of his mouth wouldn't move. Ken's mind was hazy and missing recollections. His head hurt but most of his mental faculties were still intact. However, without the power of speech, Ken was perceived as brain damaged. He played the part. He practiced the blank stare. Ken's condition removed him from the responsibilities of The Tournament. This was his single comfort from the stroke. 

Ken's cardiologist was troubled that test showed no blood thinners in his system at the time of the stroke—given that such thinners had been prescribed for his cardiac condition. 

Ken was troubled too but unable to speak his suspicions about the lack of thinning agent in his blood. He wondered what had been in the medications he had been taking. Even with his addled brain, he guessed that Sylvia had to be at the bottom of his misfortune—either Sylvia or Mr. Wentz, the pharmacist at the drug store. And Mr. Wentz wasn't likely to kill his customers, he was trying to hang on to clients that hadn't abandoned him for Walgreen's. 

Mike Cameron and Sylvia made use of Ken's stroke. They hired professional painters to change the signs proclaiming The Palms Estate Charity Golf Tournament. "The Ken Carlson Memorial," appeared in red letters at the bottom of each sign. Ken may have dropped out of the Tournament hierarchy but he was still used as a sympathy tool by Mike Cameron, who had become the de facto tournament chairman. 

Sylvia made it clear that she was never prouder of Ken. She basked in the glory deserved by a wife of misfortune. She never referred to the financial comfort that came with her husband's condition—the proceeds from a disability insurance policy secured for the owner/operator of the golf business, now about to be shuttered. Ken was worth much more to Sylvia in his near vegetative state than he had been before. The income from the disability insurance improved their financial condition to the extent that Cameron's monthly money drops were now small potatoes. Sylvia was no longer interested in small potatoes. Ken imagined that Sylvia was contemplating the death clause in Ken's insurance policy which provided for a payoff that was breathtaking.  

During her brief dedication speech on the opening day of the tourney, Sylvia put her arm around Ken in his wheelchair and spoke of the generous man who had given so much to bring about this wonderful charity event. Ken forced a tear when Sylvia promised everyone that her beloved husband would attend next year's Palms Estate Charity Golf Tournament in a recovered condition. 

That night after Sylvia had gone to sleep Ken sat in his wheelchair and worked Sylvia's cell phone with his remaining good hand. He found Mike Cameron's phone number in her contact list. He typed with his thumb, "You owe me more money. I want double the amount or I'll start talking to the district attorney. Start paying. I mean it. Sylvia." 

Ken pressed SEND. He deleted the sent message from Sylvia's phone and placed it back on the table. He smiled with the working side of his mouth. 

Two days later Sylvia got a call from an out-of-town prospect who wanted to walk through one of her expensive listings. It was too big of a real-estate commission for Sylvia to ignore. Ken waved a feeble goodbye with his right hand as she ran out the door to her meeting. 

It was the last time he saw her alive. She had been missing for a couple of days when a detective came to the house and told him that she had been found in a seedy part of town next to a dumpster. She had been shot in the head twice with a small caliber pistol. 

The residents of The Palm Estates packed into the church to attended Sylvia's funeral. She appeared lovely in repose. The mourners passed by the open coffin for a last look, then went to their cars and lined up to follow the hearse to the local cemetery for the burial. Kenneth had arranged to be alone with his wife for a few moments at the end of the service. 

The Funeral Director and Ken's new caretaker and assistant waited out in the foyer while Ken had a moment with his wife in the chapel. Now that's Sylvia was dead all of Ken's vengefulness had seeped away. The revenge he had sought had turned out to be quite unsatisfactory.  

Alone with the corpse, Kenneth pulled out a cocktail napkin he had borrowed from the club. He wrote a note in marker with his good hand and gently tucked the napkin under the edge of her bra. The note contained only a name: "Ramon," followed by a phone number. Where she was going she deserved a pool boy and the way he was going Ramon would be likely to join her soon. He smiled as he touched her shoulder and wondered if people could keep their phone numbers after death. No matter—it was a symbolic gift, a parting gesture to his wife of many years who had been a good companion for most of them.