The Embezzlers’ Club

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by Kathleen

John was a cash only antique dealer in Chicago. Everything he sold had once belonged to the grand old rich, famous, and scandalous. His side business salvaged architectural remnants and sold them to contractors. Another all-cash scam. John’s crews stole stained glass windows and glazed tiles off buildings and unloaded them before daybreak.

In a bar tricked up like a church, I convinced him I was better than his current bookkeeper. “Look,” I said when he was blind drunk. “Look at my face. Trustworthy as faces get.”

My timing must have been right. In three years I skimmed three million. With John’s drinking problem, I might have grabbed six, but greediness killed the cat.

Then I drove cross-country and bought an old mansion in Yonkers.

Months later and I’m still sniffing around for an occupation. Three mil don’t last forever. But everybody’s already set. They don’t need to talk. And my trustworthy looks? Not even women respond.

So I found a girl “Susie” on the internet, and left a fat envelope on the armoire. Same girl every time, so by now I don’t mind asking her, “What gives?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean why am I paying for it and why can’t I find a nice situation?”

“Guess the market for embezzlers just dried up,” Susie says.

“Look here, Sherlock, who says I’m an embezzler?”

“Who says I’m a whore?”

“Very funny.” Before I get angry, she says there’s a party down the street.

“Your kind of party.” She tells me to wear jeans and a good shirt if I have one.

Meanwhile, she washes her face, ties her hair back, and pulls flat shoes from her purse. Her skirt’s three inches longer than usual and she buttons a little checked jacket.

The party’s two blocks over. I’ve heard the guy gives piano lessons. A little girl opens the door. “Hi Susie.”

My whore teaches the kid ballet. The piano teacher deals drugs. Susie introduces me to building contractors, speculators, car dealers, condo supervisors, consultants galore, lawyers, and therapists.

After we shake hands and move on, she tells me how they really make a living, what their con is.

A man wearing a tuxedo extends a platter of stuffed mushrooms and hands us little green napkins. Susie eats three mushrooms. I’m not hungry. She gets whiskey from the bartender.

“What’ll you have?”

“Nothing, thanks.”

“Loosen up,” Susie says. “The Embezzlers’ Club is outside, on the deck.”

“Do you think I believe this? It’s not even funny.”

“Oh, they don’t call it ‘The Embezzlers Club’ but everybody knows. Do you want to land a ‘nice situation’ or not?”

“You’re kidding. I go outside, meet some people, and I’ll get some sweet deal? And never get caught.”

“Probably not for a long time. But someday you will. Right? We all will, sooner or later.”


Stella said...

Nice one, Kathleen. I like how you have to wonder which lines of dialogue to take literally - or whether any of them can be taken literally.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Stella. Definitely, take them all literally. It's a neighborhood of crooks, the kind who's cheating shows in their eyes if anyone looks. That was my idea anyway. With these shorts, it's abundantly clear that readers must read their own ideas into every sentence.
PS. I like your new picture.

Rousby said...

Delightful. I read the story as more about perception: When you are a crook, everyone else appears to be a crook.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Rousby. That's certainly one way to read it, and a good one.

Dan Leo said...

Another way to look at it is "like attracts like". So crooks just naturally gravitate to other crooks?

Unknown said...

Dan, you've hit upon a bit of time-honored wisdom: "Thick as thieves."
My mother used to say that.