Dinosaur Club [NOOK Book]

Overview

Jack Fallon's life is being downsized. His wife of twenty-four years is dumping him, and the only company he's ever worked for is about to do the same....The head honchos at Waters Cable have implemented a "workforce imbalance correction," which includes canning Jack and his coworkers, all of whom are middle-aged executives in the 50/50 class -- at least fifty years old and making $50,000 or more. Refusing to become fossils, Fallon and his cohorts dub themselves "The Dinosaur Club," and prepare to strike like ...

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Dinosaur Club

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Overview

Jack Fallon's life is being downsized. His wife of twenty-four years is dumping him, and the only company he's ever worked for is about to do the same....The head honchos at Waters Cable have implemented a "workforce imbalance correction," which includes canning Jack and his coworkers, all of whom are middle-aged executives in the 50/50 class -- at least fifty years old and making $50,000 or more. Refusing to become fossils, Fallon and his cohorts dub themselves "The Dinosaur Club," and prepare to strike like ferocious T-rexes. Using clandestine maneuvers, corporate intrigue, good old-fashioned office politics, and a secret weapon -- Samantha Moore, a beautiful young attorney -- The Dinosaur Club vows to reverse evolution and drive the company's greedy Young Turks into extinction.

Award-winning author William Heffernan puts a scathing spin on corporate America in a novel that is both hilarious and compellingly on the money.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this wryly twisting, engaging tale, 1996 Edgar Allen Poe Award winner Heffernan for Best Original Paperback: Tarnished Blue revisits the time-honored theme of one man battling an avaricious system. Jack Fallon, lifelong employee and now vp-sales at Waters Cable, must confront the treachery of his grasping wife of 24 years and his materialistic college-aged kids after he warns them that he may fall victim to management's scheme for axing all highly paid execs over 50. When his wife leaves him for a money-grubbing dentist, the gritty Vietnam hero determines to reinvent himself. He gets an unforeseen boost when Carter Bennett, a ruthless 30-something Princeton- and Wharton-educated hatchet man, hires savvy, sexy young corporate attorney Samantha Moore to protect the corporation from age discrimination litigation: lovely Samantha finds herself strongly attracted to Jack and morally disgusted by the firm's downsizing operation. Organizing the loyal gang of corporate expendables into a plucky army of resistance fighters who call themselves "The Dinosaur Club," Jack fights back with laudable panache. True love blossoms between Jack and Samantha as she helps the Dinosaurs take on the corporation. Insider trading, fraudulent government contract practices, electronic business espionage and international industrial intrigueit all crashes down with poetic comeuppance for Jack's ex, his spoiled brats and the boardroom bad guys. Heffernan's suburban fantasy of betrayal, retribution and May/September romance above the 40th floor is a highly entertaining read. June
Library Journal
At age 49, Jack Fallon discovers that his life is plummeting out of control. In one fell swoop, his wife leaves him and corporate downsizing threatens his livelihood. Always the warrior, Jack organizes other fiftyish management employees to fight their ruthless corporate leaders, and the "Dinosaur Club" is born. Working against formidable odds, the Dinosaurs engage in hilarious hijinks and serious espionage to foil their chief executives. What Jack does not count on is falling in love with Samantha Moore, legal counsel for the corporation. Torn between assisting the Dinosaurs and representing the corporation, Samantha finds her code of ethics challenged. An Edgar Award winner Tarnished Blue, Dutton, 1995 and seasoned author of grittier works, Heffernan is masterly in examining the scruples of corporate downsizing with a discerning eye and blends levity in his cauldron of good and evil. Highly recommended for public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/97.]Mary Ellen Elsbernd, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Hts.
Kirkus Reviews
A jocose but pointed fable from Heffernan (Corsican Honor, 1992, etc.) pits aging executives against impatient young guns whose corporate strategies don't put people first.

Jack Fallon's wife Trisha suddenly walks out on him after 24 years of more or less blissful wedlock. Badly jolted but stubbornly on the job as VP at Manhattan-based Waters Cable, the 49-year-old suburbanite learns through the grapevine that Carter Bennett, the company's unscrupulous young CFO, may be eyeing him, his senior associates, and their sizable pay packages as candidates for the big business equivalent of extinction. Instead of going quietly, Jack and his fellow targets resist the layoffs with preemptive strikes launched through a so-called Dinosaur Club they've organized. While their low-intensity revolt disrupts Carter's master plan to force as many older workers as possible from the payroll before instituting a mass dismissal, he presses on with a campaign of attrition. His presumed accomplice in this effort is Samantha Moore, a comely thirtysomething attorney who's been detailed to provide for a downsizing that won't result in a storm of discrimination suits. Increasingly disturbed by the nature of her big-chance assignment, Samantha eventually joins forces with the insurgents. In the meantime, Jack is being led a merry chase by the spouse from whom he's separated. The Vietnam vet nonetheless finds time to keep top management at bay and fall in love with clever Samantha, who returns his affections. The mechanics of how he and his over-the-hill gang turn the tables on their would-be tormentors will afford considerable comfort to those who believe age, experience, and cunning can overcome youth and enthusiasm almost every time.

An enormously entertaining yarn that puts the concept of human resources in an arresting new perspective.

An all-new anthology, comprising 17 stories and three poems, whose "shared-future" backdrop is inspired by Libertarian Futurist philosophy. By consensus, then, the future denizens of Free Space will, inevitably, be healthier, happier, smarter, and more fun-loving than the gloomy, tyrannical fatalistic grouches who choose to remain lurking at the bottom of Earth's gravity well. Humor indeed is an important and effective component of the material here, which ranges from William F. Buckley's Soyuz cosmonauts demanding political asylum in the US so that they can meet Solzhenitsyn, to the self-referential metafiction of John Barnes, by way of luminaries such as James P. Hogan, Gregory Benford, Ray Bradbury, Poul Anderson, and others less renowned but more politically committed.

Worth a try: It's often engaging and chortle-provoking, even if you find politics tiresome.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062028716
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/23/2010
  • Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 143,573
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

William Heffernan won the 1996 Edgar Allan Poe Award for his novel Tarnished Blue. He is the author of eleven novels, including the international best-sellers The Corsican, Ritual, Blood Rose, and Corsican Honor. His novel The Dinosaur Club was a New York Times bestseller and is in development at Warner Bros. to become a motion picture. A former reporter for The New York Daily News, he lives in Huntington, Vermont, with his wife and three sons.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Jack Fallon's life took another capricious turn on the Fourth of July weekend. He was holed up in the small, paneled study of his oversized suburban home, reading through sales reports that stared at him like harbingers of doom. Behind his desk, a steady drizzle patterned the window, the tiny droplets careening into erratic cascades of crisscrossing streams, forced together by a speck of dirt, or an irregularity in the glass, then pooling at the base before slipping off to form still other miniature estuaries that raced along the sill. Had Fallon been watching, he would have thought the small, irrationally formed rivers resembled his life, perhaps everyone's life, speeding along under the tyrannical force of gravity, until thrown off course by unseen obstacles, uncontrollable vicissitudes of fate. Fallon also failed to notice far-off rumbles of thunder that hinted at more serious rain to come. Had he heard, he would not have cared. He had intended to work throughout the holiday weekend, to struggle for his own tenuous survival, rather than celebrate his nation's birth with barbecues and beer.

Trisha, his wife of twenty-four years, entered the small room -- dressed to the nines, as they used to say -- and perched on the very edge of a well-worn, leather club chair. He should have noticed the high heels, the carefully applied makeup, the gold earrings, the necklace, the stylish slacks and silk blouse. It was Saturday afternoon, when she'd normally have on a pair of shorts and a designer T-shirt. He also should have noticed her wedding ring was missing.

"I have to talk to you, Jack. I'm leaving," she said. His eyes didn't move from thereport he was reading. "Jack?" she said again.

Fallon turned a page. "Great," he said. "But let's talk when you get back, okay? I'm really up to my ears. Maybe we can go to that restaurant you like. Chez...whatever." He glanced up.

"No, Jack. We have to talk now. I'm leaving you." Trisha's lips were tight and nervous; they moved awkwardly as if finding it difficult to surround the words. She readjusted herself on the edge of the chair, drawing her knees tightly together.

"I want a divorce, Jack. I've packed some things, and I'm leaving today." She paused a beat, swallowed, then hurried on, rushing the words. "It's not something I want to discuss. I think we're past that. You can stay in the house. We'll work something out later." She drew a breath, then pushed on again. "I've arranged for some people to come by and pack the things I want."

The initial words hit Fallon like a kick to the stomach, his mind clouding to much of what followed. Then it had clicked back with denial. This could be fixed, smoothed over. It was her final sentence that had got his attention, drove the denial away. People coming to pack. So well organized, something she had planned out. But that was how Trisha did things. When they were first married she even arranged the socks in his drawer according to color. Handkerchiefs and underwear set in neat little rows. Such a long time ago. The remembrance made him feel as though he'd been kicked again.

He shook his head, as if trying to clear it. "Wait a minute. You said you wanted to talk. Now you say we're past talking." He tried a smile; felt the misery of it on his face. Perhaps he could joke it away. "Hey, listen, we can't afford a divorce," he said. He pushed the smile again. "Believe me. We can't. I've seen our checkbook." He felt sweat begin to form in the palms of his hands and instantly hated it.

Trisha ignored the attempt, gritted her teeth against it. "I mean there's nothing we can say to each other that will change things, Jack. It's something I've thought out. Something I have to do. And I think it's best for us both." Her mouth seemed tight and awkward again, and she worked the words like some marionette whose strings were being pulled behind a curtain.

"Whoa, wait a minute, Trish." Fallon held up both hands; tried another weak smile; failed with it again. "We've been married half our damn lives. We've got two kids. I think I'm entitled to more than that."

Trisha lowered her head; closed her eyes. When she looked at him again her mouth seemed even tighter. "Jack, I have to do something for me if I'm going to be happy." She drew out the final word; twisted ever so slightly on the chair. "I can't do that here with you. I've tried and it just doesn't work anymore. I've talked to my therapist about this, and she agrees with me. There just isn't much more I can tell you right now."

"Are you talking about getting a job? Going back to school? If that's what we're talking about, those are things we can work with." He raised his hands again; shook his head; wondered if he looked as bewildered as he suddenly felt.

She let out an impatient breath. "It's some of that," she said. "I'm not sure I can really explain it or if I even want to. Just accept that I have to leave. Am leaving."

Fallon fought against the hollowness in his gut. "Are you moving in with someone else, Trish? Is that it?" He watched her eyes blink and his stomach twisted again. "Who? Howard? Has it gone that far beyond just flirting?"

Trisha's mouth became a small circle; her eyes widened, blinked twice. Then she got hold of herself. "I'm surprised you noticed."

The admission hit like another blow to the stomach. Howard. The dentist. The friendly neighbor with whom they occasionally played tennis. Doubles with Howard and his wife -- silly, eager to please, slightly overweight Marge -- the four of them prancing around the courts at that ridiculously upscale tennis club Trish had been so desperate to join. Then, later, all of them sharing a meal at a local restaurant.

"I noticed, Trish. How could I help it? I just didn't realize it had gone beyond an occasional giggle and flirt, that you'd actually started screwing him." His voice had hardened and it seemed to startle her. He immediately softened it, hoping to hide the sudden rush of bitterness he felt. He forced a small smile, failed with it. "Jesus, Trish. A goddamned dentist? What the hell is this?" He stared across the desk, his eyes a mix of hurt and anger. He wished he could laugh in her face, desperately wanted to, but found he couldn't.

"Don't be crude, Jack." Her face took on a pink hue, and her well-shaped rump twisted uncomfortably in the chair. "Howard appreciates me." She raised her chin slightly, emphasizing the words. "Something you stopped doing a long time ago." She stared at him, looking past the hurt in his eyes. She had thought about it for months, convinced herself the accusation was true, and now she hurried on, wanting to justify it. "Howard wants me for what I am, Jack. What I can be. We aren't just screwing." She threw the final word out like another challenge, perhaps even an assault.

Fallon pressed a thumb and index finger into his eyes. "I thought you were leaving to find out what that was. Apparently Howard's already told you." He added the last sarcastically, then released the pressure on his eyes, shook his head for emphasis. He knew he was blowing any chance he had, but right now he didn't care. He leaned against the chair, forcing it to tilt back...away from her. Then he noticed his fingers; how they gripped the arms -- some terrified airline passenger on his first flight. His face flushed with anger. "No, Trish, you've been screwing him, and now you're leaving. So where the hell does Howard think you'll find yourself? On the second floor of Bergdorf Goodman?" He had snapped it out, the acrimony unconcealed, and each word seemed to hit her with a physical force, but she recovered quickly.

"Have it the way you want, Jack." She stood abruptly and looked down at him. "This is exactly what our problem is. What it's always been."

Fallon blinked. This is the problem? You're off screwing someone else, but this is it? He pushed the chair away from his desk, lowered his gaze, and stared at his shoes. On the way his eyes passed the slightly bulging midsection that had developed over the past decade. It hadn't been there when he'd turned forty. It had crept up on him. Now, at forty-nine, there it was, firmly -- or not so firmly -- in place. Howard was trim. Inexplicably, he suddenly realized he couldn't recall the man's last name. Howard...The dentist...A man who had literally franchised himself, turned himself into a flaming HMO -- four offices, with other dentists working for him, glossy brochures, even television ads. Fallon gritted his teeth. And you, you're about to be tossed out of the only job you've ever had.

Fallon had intended to stand, to face her. Now he remained seated. "What about Marge?" he asked. "Howard's still married to her, isn't he?" He looked up at Trisha again, still standing over him. Even at forty-five she was beautiful. Trim and sexy -- at least to him. And, obviously, to Howard. But she was more than that. Twenty-four years more. He let out a breath, took in the blond hair that hung to her shoulders, and suddenly realized it was cut differently. He didn't know when she had changed it. Hadn't noticed. Maybe she was right, Maybe he had stopped appreciating her. No, not that, Maybe he had just stopped showing it had been too overwhelmed by his own problems to even think about it. He drew a deep breath, suddenly angry at his willingness to blame himself. Maybe Howard noticed those things. Maybe the world wasn't coming down around Howard's ears, and he had time for personal observation.

"Howard left his wife. We're moving into a condo in Manhattan. Close to Howard's main office. I'll be working there. Running it for him. He values my ideas, Jack. He values my values." There was a tinge of pride in her voice.

Fallon blinked. "I thought you didn't want a job. That you wanted to stay with your volunteer work -- the homeless, pregnant teenagers..." He tried to recall what the other cause was, failed, and added a quick "whatever." The look on Trisha's face told him the final word had been a mistake. In recent years she had complained that he never asked what she did with her time, her energy, and especially the nights she spent taking the odd course toward a distant MSW degree and an empty-nest career. And her complaints had been justified; he had become like so many men, imprisoned by his work and that constant gnawing anxiety that was so much a part of it. He wondered now if her complaints had been a warning he had failed to recognize. Suddenly he wanted to tell her that she had always done everything competently, including being a wife and mother. But the words wouldn't form. His own hurt and anger were too deep.

Trisha continued to stare at him, lips tight. "It's not enough anymore, Jack. I have to think about my future. I have to make it what I want it to be."

Her words brought him back, hit him again. Fallon remembered Howard saying that his main office was on the Upper East Side. Sixty-third Street, he thought. From the glitter in Trisha's bright blue eyes, he was certain it was. She had always wanted to live there, all the way back to the early years of their marriage. In those days it would have been a big step up from their beat-up first apartment in the East Village. Two cramped rooms on the fifth floor with a bathtub in the kitchen, which, with a sheet of plywood laid across it doubled as a countertop and table. He glanced around his well-appointed study, felt the deep carpet beneath his feet; thought about the rest of the house, how they now lived. They were far away from those early days -- in more than just years. But maybe not far enough.

"Have you told the kids?" Fallon asked. A picture of their children flashed through his mind. Both were away at college in Vermont. Liz, their first, was a junior at Bennington; Mike, a freshman at Middlebury. Both had small partial scholarships, but even with that, their tuition, room, and board totaled nearly three months of his gross annual salary, or thirty-six thousand three hundred dollars a year. He knew it to the last damned penny, because it scared the hell out of him that he might not be able to pay it much longer.

"I planned to call them tonight. I wanted to tell you first."

"That was decent of you." The sarcasm passed her, producing only a small tic at the corner of her mouth. "What are you going to tell them about their tuition? They might not ask, but they'll be worried about it."

Trish straightened her shoulders, causing her small, still-trim breasts to jut out slightly. "I plan to tell them that you'll continue to take care of it."

A sardonic smile played across Fallon's lips. He ran the fingers of one hand through his still dark hair, then reached down and picked up the sales reports that lay atop the old mahogany partner's desk he had inherited from his father. He held them up to her, as though explained everything. The reports showed a sharp drop in the company's most vital area, its newer lines of fiber optic cable. Now, with rumors of downsizing rife, perfect sales figures, combined with his age, made him a perfect candidate for the street. "I may be out of a job soon," he said. "You're aware of that, right?"

Trisha drew a breath. "I'm very aware. And it's not though you haven't seen it coming, Jack. Everyone else did. We talked about that, about your need to reposition yourself."

The words stung, and he stared at her. Reposition himself. Like she was now doing, he supposed she meant. Or like Howard had. Howard the one-man HMO. The man of the nineties. Was that it? he wondered. Did she see him as hopelessly out of date, some one whose personal values were set in the seventies, a sinking ship that had to be abandoned? She had been warning him for months that he was about to lose the only job he had ever had -- and the one-fifty in base salary it brought in each year, a bit more with bonuses. He had tried to convince her it would be all right. But he had seen it coming, damn it. He had simply chosen to ignore it, to fight it through. You just didn't walk away from a company you had helped build from inception. At least he didn't. His eyes fell on a three-month-old copy of Cosmopolitan lying atop a stack papers on the corner of his desk. The cover touted one of the issue's lead articles; the one Trisha had suggested he read. "The Top 10 Ways to Reposition Yourself in Corporate America." He had read the article and had marveled at its advice. It had been slanted toward thirty-year-olds, as if people over forty didn't exist or -- even more depressing -- were simply beyond help. He let Trisha's words slide by, unchallenged. Right now there were more pressing facts she had to consider.

"I'm not going to argue with you about this. I'm sure you paid attention each time we sat down and reviewed our money market, our IRAs, and the few stocks we own. I sure have. I look at those figures every week -- because they terrify me. It's not a helluva lot to carry us -- I'm sorry, to carry me -- if I'm out of work for six months or more. Because our twenty-five-hundred-dollar-a-month mortgage isn't going to go away. Neither are the five grand a year in taxes, or the insurance bills, or the rest of the monthly nut. And with college costs for two kids added in, and without my present comfortable salary..." He ended the sentence with a snort.

"I know all that, Jack." She pushed it away and went on blithely. "But obviously we'll sell the house sometime in the near future. And you'll have your half. And you'll be getting a settlement from the company. If the worst happens. I'm sure it will be enough to handle the tuition and other expenses." She paused a beat. He suddenly realized she expected him to carry all the financial burdens alone -- with or without a job. He was smiling at her and shaking his head. She continued quickly, "Look, I know this is a bad time for you. But things aren't going to get any better. Not for you; not for us. It wouldn't have done any good to wait."

Fallon bit down hard. "No, I guess not," he said. "You better get going." He forced a smile that didn't quite work, wasn't really intended to. "You'll be taking the car, I suppose."

Trisha looked momentarily surprised. "Yes," she said. There was hesitation in her voice, and her mouth seemed tight and awkward again. "It's mine. It's registered in my name. And you still have your company car."

Fallon nodded, thought about the baby-blue mustang convertible. Trisha's favorite color. "That's right. It was an anniversary present, wasn't it?" He said it sarcastically, but she hadn't seemed to notice. It had been an extravagant gift -- one really intended both of them. He shuddered inwardly.

Trisha drew a long breath, preparing herself to leave. She looked very beautiful, Fallon thought.

She was holding a small purse in her left hand, and her now empty ring finger seemed surprisingly naked. It was the first time he had seen her without her wedding band. The thought jarred him. He wondered if she had worn it when she was with Howard. Trisha preferred the left side of the bed. And when they had made love she had always turned on her right side, then used her left hand to stroke him. She had liked that, had once told him it gave her a sense of power to be able to get him hard, so quickly. "You better get going," he said again. "Howard will be waiting."

Trisha stared at him for a moment. "I guess I thought you'd be more upset." There was a flicker of something in her eyes. Disappointment, Fallon thought.

"Good-bye, Trish."

Trisha drew a breath. "Good-bye, Jack." She turned quickly and walked out of the room.

Fallon watched her leave. She moved nicely in the slacks she had chosen. He turned his head away, not wanting to watch any longer. His stomach was sitting in his throat, choking him. He fought it; closed his eyes. Jesus, he thought.


The telephone jarred him awake before the alarm clock. Then the alarm went off, the two sounds beating at him. Fallon rarely drank, an occasional beer or glass of wine with dinner, but the previous night he had put a serious dent in a bottle of bourbon. Now his head felt like an overripe melon, his mouth as though a cat had been living there.

He grabbed the alarm; shut it off, then stared through bluffed eyes at the digital readout: 7:00 A.M. He swung his legs out and the photo album he had taken to bed went crashing to the floor. A picture of Trisha stared up at him, and he was hit with a sudden sense of self-disgust, wondered if that was what the future held: becoming a maudlin drunk. The phone rang again, hurting his head, and he picked it up, fumbled with it. "Yeah," he said. His voice sounded like a croak.

"Daddy? Are you okay?"

His daughter's voice came across the line, sounding small, worried.

"Yeah, baby. I'm fine. Whatsup?" The final word came out slurred, sounded more like catsup.

His daughter hesitated, then blurted her message out. "Mom called last night. She told me she'd left, and I worried about you. She called Mike, too. He's on the extension."

Fallon's mind froze. At first he thought she meant his son was there, at home, on another extension in the house. Then he realized she meant he was at the apartment she rented in Bennington.

"Hi, Dad. You sure you're okay?"

His son's voice came across fuzzy, like his sister's. Because they were both on the same line, he thought. "I'm fine, Mike," he said. "Not great, but I'm okay. How come you're in Bennington? Were you down visiting Liz?"

"He came down because we were worried. And we thought it would be better to talk to you together." It was Liz again, answering for her brother. Just as she'd been doing since she first learned to talk.

Fallon envisioned his children sitting in the second-floor apartment, just off the Bennington campus. Liz: tall and slim and beautiful, just like her mother. But even more so, he thought. With her mother's blond hair and blue eyes -- a younger, even lovelier version. Mike: built like his father -- or like his father had once been. Six feet of muscle and bone. But with his mother's blonde hair and more delicate features. They must be worried, Fallon thought. It was a long drive from Middlebury to Bennington. And it was seven o'clock on a Sunday morning. Christ, he thought inexplicably. Why the hell had he set the alarm the night before? He must have been drunker than he'd thought.

"Daddy, what happened?" It was Liz again, and Fallon sat for a moment, wondering what to say. Christ, just tell her the truth, he decided. What else can you do?

"Your mother found somebody else. And she's moving in with him." Moved in, he told himself. She's already moved in with him.

"Who is he?" Liz asked. "Mom didn't say a lot, mostly that she'd explain later."

Fallon hesitated, wondering if he should leave that explanation for Trish. The hell with Trish, he decided. If the kids wanted to know, he'd tell them what little he could. He wasn't going to be dragged into Trish's game.

"His name is Howard," Fallon said. "Howard...Nowicki." Now the name comes, he thought. "He's a dentist. Somebody we played tennis with."

"Jesus." It was Mike this time, and there was a hint of disbelief in his voice. Fallon was grateful for it. Yeah, but he's also repositioned himself, Fallon thought.

"Look, kids, there's not much more I can tell you, except that your mother and this Nowicki guy will be living in Manhattan." Are living in Manhattan, Fallon reminded himself. Why was he playing this game? "I don't even have the address. But I'm sure she'll tell you."

"She already did." It was Mike again, blurting it out. Then he was silent -- they both were. Probably embarrassed, he thought. He wondered if Trisha had asked them not to give him the address.

"Yeah, well anyway, I can't tell you much more. I just found out about it yesterday."

There was a pause -- long and very pregnant, Fallon thought. Then Liz got them rolling again.

"Mom said you're having some trouble at work, that you might be leaving."

Shit, Fallon thought. Why the hell did Trish have to get into that? He drew a breath, felt the cotton in his mouth again, and wished he had something to drink. Anything but bourbon. "Yeah, there's some talk about downsizing, and things are tough right now. But your old man's not out the door yet." Yet. The operative word.

"Mom said the tuition and stuff would still be okay." It was Mike again, blurting out the real issue -- the real reason for the joint call -- in his inimitable, bumbling, honest way. It made Fallon feel slightly sick. Somewhere deep down in his gut.

"Yeah, well, let's not worry about that now," he said. His voice was sharper than he had intended, and he immediately softened it. "Look, if worse comes to worst, you might have to earn some of your spending money."

"Jeez, with my course load that would be hard, Dad," Mike again, and Fallon felt his gut tighten.

Yeah, well, life's hard, kid, he thought. He took another breath. "Let's not worry about it now," he said. "We'll work things out."

"It's just that we should know, Dad." Liz this time. Her voice slightly fearful.

"Hang on a second," Fallon said. He placed the receiver on the nightstand, went into the darkened bathroom, grabbed a glass of water, drank it down, then filled the glass again. His barely visible reflection jumped out from the mirror, the anger in his eyes shocking him. When he returned to the phone the anger, and the cotton in his mouth, were under control.

"Look, maybe it wouldn't hurt if you checked around for some part-time jobs, just in case. Just to cover your living expenses."

Silence again. Liz's voice sounded cool when she finally spoke. "I don't know if I could manage that with my course load." Another pause. "Maybe I could apply for a student loan for next semester."

"Yeah." Mike chimed in.

"For spending money?" Incredulity hung heavy in Fallon's voice. When he had returned from Vietnam, and had enrolled at NYU, he had worked thirty hours a week in a Varick Street warehouse to cover everything the GI Bill had not. The thought of borrowing money to cover the time he had spent in gin mills and pizza parlors had never occurred to him. But he had created these ideas in his own children, he realized now. He had been a successful, doting father, who had never forced much reality into their lives. Now the situation demanded that he do so, and he wondered if it was too late.

"Why don't we just let everything ride for now?" he suggested, buying time.

"Are you sure?" Liz asked. There was a note of disbelief in her voice.

"Yeah, I'm sure. Look, the summer courses you're both taking will be over in a few weeks. I'll have a better picture of what's going on at work then, and we'll sit down and talk it all over. Okay?"

"Yeah, sure, Dad." It was Mike, suddenly uplifted, or at least sounding so. Putting problems off to a later date was Mike's forte.

"Maybe I should put in a student-loan application just in case," Liz said.

Fallon let out a long breath. He was starting to feel like a beaten prizefighter, fists slamming at every vulnerable spot. He fought to keep anger from his voice. "If that's what you want. You're twenty. I'm not about to tell you what to do." He hesitated a moment, carefully choosing his words. "Just give some thought about how you're going to pay it back. After you graduate, a student loan can take a heavy bite out of a paycheck."

He was greeted by momentary silence again, and he let it play out. "I thought you and Mom would handle that," his daughter said at length. Her voice held a slight tremor, and he wasn't certain whether it was from anger or renewed fear.

"Honey, I can't tell you what I can do or can't do right now. And I sure as hell can't speak for your mother." He fumbled with a pack of cigarettes he had gone out and bought the previous night lit one, and blew a stream of smoke into the phone. He realized his voice had become harsh, and he tried to soften it. "Honey, listen to me. You do what you think best about a loan, but keep in mind that between my job situation and an upcoming divorce, I don't know what I'll be able to do for you and your brother. And that includes paying back loans."

He was met with silence again and hurried on, another accusation of failure suddenly draping his shoulders. "Look, why don't you wait it out a couple of months and see what happens?"

"Do you think you and Mom might work things out?" It was his son this time -- naive to the core.

"Your mom's moved in with someone else, Mike. Reconciliation doesn't seem realistic."

Momentary silence again.

"But if you did, would that change things?" Mike finally asked.

Fallon smiled, shook his head. "I don't think its a real option, Mike. So don't hang your hat on it."

"Oh."

"Are you sad?" It was his daughter, now. The romantic.

"Sure I'm sad, Liz." Maybe numb is a better word, he thought. Perhaps there's even a harsher word. But how do you explain that? How do you tell your daughter you haven't made love to her mother in a long time? That her mother hadn't wanted to? Probably because she was too busy repositioning herself under Howard. And doing it with her wedding ring still on her goddamned finger.

"Maybe if you let her know you still loved her, still wanted her, she'd come back," Liz added. After twenty-four years, after all the things they'd been through together raising two kids, she doesn't know?

"Sometimes you just have to respect people's decisions, honey. Have to know when to let go," he finally said.

Silence. Then: "I'm just saying maybe you should try."

"Yeah. Well, I'll think about it."

"Okay, Dad." It was Mike, now eager to get off the phone, Fallon thought.

"Dad, it's just that we're worried," Liz added, still hanging on to it. "We're worried about you, and we're worried about us too."

Fallon stared at his feet naked against the carpet then squeezed his eyes shut. There was something terribly vulnerable about a man without shoes, he decided. "There's nothing more I can tell you about either situation. We're all just going to have to hang tough for a while," he said.

There was a hesitation, then his daughter said, "Okay, Dad, we'll do what you want. And please take care of yourself."

"I will. And you guys, too. I love you both, and I'll talk to you both soon."

Fallon replaced the phone, stubbed out his cigarette, then immediately lit another. Shit, he thought. Shit, shit, shit.

He considered failing back into bed, then gave up on the idea. He'd only lie there and stew, rerun the conversation with his children; belatedly come up with the wise, fatherly comments he should have made. He stared across the room. The bedroom draperies were drawn, only the faintest light seeping in; the room attended by countless shadows. He pushed up from the bed and shuffled back to the adjoining bath, switched on the light, then closed his eyes against the sudden glare.

When he opened them again, he was standing before the large mirror that covered most of the wall behind the sink. He stared at the ruin that looked back, the face puffy from the previous night's pity party of bourbon and photo albums. Still, it wasn't that bad, at least from the shoulders up. The hair was still thick and dark brown and wavy, with only a touch of gray at the temples. The face, sporting some lines now, was still a good one -- handsome even, according to some. It was craggy, with a strong jaw and a hint of world weariness, not the smooth innocence it had carried for so many years. So, too, with the green eyes -- bedroom eyes, Trisha had once called them -- only a bit bloodshot now. And the shoulders were still wide, matching the broad chest. But each had lost the definition they had once held. And from there down, the ruin took over -- the small, soft protruding gut, complete with love handles. Christ, how had it happened? he wondered. He wasn't a couch potato. He skied in winter; swam and hiked in summer. He shook his head. Sure you do. Maybe a half dozen times each, each year. Then you sit on your ass, even have a riding mower to cut the goddamned grass. But you did play tennis, he added to himself.

Fallon drew a long breath, then turned sideways, sucked in his gut, and let it out. The view was depressing. And the company even has a gym available to employees, a room filled with exercise machines on which you've never laid hand or foot. But Tuesday, when you go back to work, you'll start working some of it off. No, you'll work all of it off, damn it. Get the most out of the place before they boot your ass out the door. And you'll throw away the damned cigarettes, too.

Fallon turned back to the mirror and opened the cabinet that held his shaving kit, hesitated a moment, then opened the adjacent one that had always held Trisha's endless supply of creams and oils and other mystifying paraphernalia. The cabinet was bare. Even the dust motes had been carefully removed. He stared at the barren space. Not even a hint she'd be coming back. But you knew that already. And you don't want her back. Not after all the sneaking around with Howard. Not after moving in with him and turning you into the village cuckold. He drew a long breath, felt his oversized gut rise and fall. Except maybe you do. Maybe, deep down, you're that big a fool.

Fallon closed Trisha's cabinet. Shut it away. Just shut the door and don't open it again. He reached for his toothbrush, squeezed toothpaste on it, and began brushing his teeth so hard that it hurt.

Screw her, and screw Howard, too. Life doesn't end at forty-nine, just because one woman says you're a schmuck. Even if it's a woman you've listened to for twenty-four goddamned years.

He stared at the mirror and his foam-draped lips closed his eyes again, and wondered if he was still lying to himself.


When he reentered the bedroom, the photo album he had taken to bed stared up at him from the floor and he kicked it out of the way. It slid several feet and miraculously closed itself. He stood momentarily transfixed by the posture it now presented, the smooth leather covet shutting out all the images of his earlier life. A small, sour grin formed on his lips, then faded, and he felt small shiver in the center of his back.

Fallon turned away, averting his eyes from the album, and pulled open the large armoire that held his clothes. He hesitated; tried to decide what he'd do that day. He certainly didn't want to remain at home. The commuter towns of Westchester County were endless gossip mills, and his own quiet little town of Bedford would soon turn the marital triangle of Jack and Trish and Howard into a central topic of conversation. He could go to a ball game, he thought. Sure. Why not? The Yankees were playing a doubleheader against the Red Sox, and he knew the company's box seats weren't being used this holiday weekend.

"Yeah," he said aloud. Call Wally and team up with him for the day. Wally's been divorced for almost a year now, and he's probably sitting in his small Manhattan apartment trying to decide which bartender he'll favor with an afternoon's tale of woe. Fallon forced determination onto his face; shook his head. The hell with that, Wally. Not for you, and not for me, either. No, indeed. Call Wally, persuade him to swing by the office and pick up the tickets, then meet him at the stadium. Hell, maybe he can even recommend a good divorce lawyer. Fallon nodded to himself. The idea suddenly seemed to possess great merit. But first coffee. Some java to clear away the cobwebs, then get on the phone and start making plans.

Fallon slipped into the brightly patterned, Bill Blass terry-cloth robe that Trisha had given him the previous Christmas. The thought crossed his mind that it might be one of the things on her list -- might be one of the items the packers would toss into a box for delivery to Howard the dentist. The thought continued to gnaw at him as he moved down the curving staircase that Trisha had always loved, and that had always reminded him of some outlandish scene from Gone With the Wind.

Maybe she'll want the staircase, too, he thought as he reached the foyer and turned into the living room. An image of packers cleaning out the entire house flashed through his mind as he passed into the adjoining dining room, and he wondered which items he'd find missing when he came home one day to a half-empty house. Suddenly, everything seemed of value to him; each item some part of the stability he had built into his life. He stared at the dining-room furniture hone and start making plans.

Fallon slipped into the brightly patterned, Bill Blass terry-cloth robe that Trisha had given him the previous Christmas. The thought crossed his mind that it might be one of the things on her list -- might be one of the items the packers would toss into a box for delivery to Howard the dentist. The thought continued to gnaw at him as he moved down the curving staircase that Trisha had always loved, and that had always reminded him of some outlandish scene from Gone With the Wind.

Maybe she'll want the staircase, too, he thought as he reached the foyer and turned into the living room. An image of packers cleaning out the entire house flashed through his mind as he passed into the adjoining dining room, and he wondered which items he'd find missing when he came home one day to a half-empty house. Suddenly, everything seemed of value to him; each item some part of the stability he had built into his life. He stared at the dining-room furniture that now surrounded him. His mother's -- something that went all the way back to his childhood -- which they had brought to this house when his mother had entered the nursing home where she now lived. There was his father's mahogany desk. The ancient grandfather's clock that stood in the hall -- the one he had battled for at an estate auction, finally outbidding a well-heeled banker. He paused just inside the kitchen and thought about having the locks changed; of letting Trisha's packers arrive, keys in hand, only to find the house locked and barred against them. It was a pleasantly vindictive thought. The hell with it, he told himself. Let her take any damned thing she wanted. She'd already taken what mattered. Taken it and trashed it. Let her have the rest, too, if it was so damned important to her. He hesitated again. Except my fish. He thought about the ancient sailfish that hung in his study, the one he had caught as a boy on one of the many fishing trips he had taken with his long-dead father. No, not the fish, he told himself. Everything but that.

Fallon marched across the kitchen and began to pull the coffeemaker from the dishwasher. Suddenly he had second thoughts. Somehow, the image of Howard sitting in one of his chairs was truly irritating. It was blatantly irrational, and he knew it. Hell, maybe Howard needed the chair. He sure as hell was headed for some pretty heavy alimony. But so are you, Fallon thought. You'll probably end up paying a good chunk of his, through Trish. Then what do you do? Go out and snatch somebody else's wife, so he can pay yours? Is that the end the mating ritual? Monthly musical checks, going on and on in endless circles? He laughed out loud. The hell with it. Let Howard have the chairs. Let him screw Trisha in one of the chairs. In all of them, for chrissake. Howard wasn't the enemy. He suddenly realized he had been denigrating Howard -- the dentist -- to soothe his own bruised ego, that he'd have equal contempt for the man if he was a bloody astronaut. Howard was just a smarmy little prick who had chased after another man's wife, but he hadn't taken anything that wasn't offered. It was Trisha who had promised and professed faithfulness, not Howard. Howard was just another libidinous asshole, who had wanted to bed a married woman. And he had, and would continue to. Fallon offered the absent Howard a slight nod of his head. Good luck, Howard, he thought. Now you sit and wonder whose bed she'll climb into next.

Feeling satisfyingly smug, Fallon opened the cabinet that held the coffee. As he started to reach for the canister, his hand froze. "Shit," he muttered, as he stared at the inside of the cabinet door. There, facing him like some evil specter, was the monthly calendar Trisha always put up to remind him of things he was supposed to do. The box for Sunday, July 6, carried the note Visit mother, just as it had for the first and third Sunday of every month for the past five years. Trisha had even circled and underlined the entry, and he immediately remembered why. They had agreed he would talk to his mother, tell her about his problems at work, explain that he might soon be unable to pay her nursing home bills -- that she might be forced to dip into her own resources to cover them.

Fallon lowered his head, shook it wearily. He had forgotten the regular semimonthly visit and especially the importance of this particular one. But he also knew if he called, said he couldn't make it, he'd spend an hour on the phone playing out a guilt trip he didn't need. He let out a long breath. He could stop on the way to the stadium and get it over with. Just suck it up and do it "Shit," he muttered. "Shit, shit, shit."

Copyright © 1997 by Daisychain Productions, Inc.

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First Chapter

Chapter One

Jack Fallon's life took another capricious turn on the Fourth of July weekend. He was holed up in the small, paneled study of his oversized suburban home, reading through sales reports that stared at him like harbingers of doom. Behind his desk, a steady drizzle patterned the window, the tiny droplets careening into erratic cascades of crisscrossing streams, forced together by a speck of dirt, or an irregularity in the glass, then pooling at the base before slipping off to form still other miniature estuaries that raced along the sill. Had Fallon been watching, he would have thought the small, irrationally formed rivers resembled his life, perhaps everyone's life, speeding along under the tyrannical force of gravity, until thrown off course by unseen obstacles, uncontrollable vicissitudes of fate. Fallon also failed to notice far-off rumbles of thunder that hinted at more serious rain to come. Had he heard, he would not have cared. He had intended to work throughout the holiday weekend, to struggle for his own tenuous survival, rather than celebrate his nation's birth with barbecues and beer.

Trisha, his wife of twenty-four years, entered the small room -- dressed to the nines, as they used to say -- and perched on the very edge of a well-worn, leather club chair. He should have noticed the high heels, the carefully applied makeup, the gold earrings, the necklace, the stylish slacks and silk blouse. It was Saturday afternoon, when she'd normally have on a pair of shortsand a designer T-shirt. He also should have noticed her wedding ring was missing.

"I have to talk to you, Jack. I'm leaving," she said. His eyes didn't move from the report he was rea me. We can't. I've seen our checkbook." He felt sweat begin to form in the palms of his hands and instantly hated it.

Trisha ignored the attempt, gritted her teeth against it. "I mean there's nothing we can say to each other that will change things, Jack. It's something I've thought out. Something I have to do. And I think it's best for us both." Her mouth seemed tight and awkward again, and she worked the words like some marionette whose strings were being pulled behind a curtain.

"Whoa, wait a minute, Trish." Fallon held up both hands; tried another weak smile; failed with it again. "We've been married half our damn lives. We've got two kids. I think I'm entitled to more than that."

Trisha lowered her head; closed her eyes. When she looked at him again her mouth seemed even tighter. "Jack, I have to do something for me if I'm going to be happy." She drew out the final word; twisted ever so slightly on the chair. "I can't do that here with you. I've tried and it just doesn't work anymore. I've talked to my therapist about this, and she agrees with me. There just isn't much more I can tell you right now."

"Are you talking about getting a job? Going back to school? If that's what we're talking about, those are things we can work with." He raised his hands again; shook his head; wondered if he looked as bewildered as he suddenly felt.

She let out an impatient breath. "It's some of that," she said. "I'm not sure I can really explain it or if I even want to. Just accept that I have to leave. Am leaving."

Fallon fought against the hollowness in his gut. "Are you moving in with someone else, Trish? Is that it?" He watched her eyes blink and his stomach twisted again. "Who? Howa rd? Has it gone that far beyond just flirting?"

Trisha's mouth became a small circle; her eyes widened, blinked twice. Then she got hold of herself. "I'm surprised you noticed."

The admission hit like another blow to the stomach. Howard. The dentist. The friendly neighbor with whom they occasionally played tennis. Doubles with Howard and his wife -- silly, eager to please, slightly overweight Marge -- the four of them prancing around the courts at that ridiculously upscale tennis club Trish had been so desperate to join. Then, later, all of them sharing a meal at a local restaurant.

"I noticed, Trish. How could I help it? I just didn't realize it had gone beyond an occasional giggle and flirt, that you'd actually started screwing him." His voice had hardened and it seemed to startle her. He immediately softened it, hoping to hide the sudden rush of bitterness he felt. He forced a small smile, failed with it. "Jesus, Trish. A goddamned dentist? What the hell is this?" He stared across the desk, his eyes a mix of hurt and anger. He wished he could laugh in her face, desperately wanted to, but found he couldn't.

"Don't be crude, Jack." Her face took on a pink hue, and her well-shaped rump twisted uncomfortably in the chair. "Howard appreciates me." She raised her chin slightly, emphasizing the words. "Something you stopped doing a long time ago." She stared at him, looking past the hurt in his eyes. She had thought about it for months, convinced herself the accusation was true, and now she hurried on, wanting to justify it. "Howard wants me for what I am, Jack. What I can be. We aren't just screwing." She threw the final word out like another challenge, perhaps even an assault.

FFallon pressed a thumb and index finger into his eyes. "I thought you were leaving to find out what that was. Apparently Howard's already told you." He added the last sarcastically, then released the pressure on his eyes, shook his head for emphasis. He knew he was blowing any chance he had, but right now he didn't care. He leaned against the chair, forcing it to tilt back...away from her. Then he noticed his fingers; how they gripped the arms -- some terrified airline passenger on his first flight. His face flushed with anger. "No, Trish, you've been screwing him, and now you're leaving. So where the hell does Howard think you'll find yourself? On the second floor of Bergdorf Goodman?" He had snapped it out, the acrimony unconcealed, and each word seemed to hit her with a physical force, but she recovered quickly.

"Have it the way you want, Jack." She stood abruptly and looked down at him. "This is exactly what our problem is. What it's always been."

Fallon blinked. This is the problem? You're off screwing someone else, but this is it? He pushed the chair away from his desk, lowered his gaze, and stared at his shoes. On the way his eyes passed the slightly bulging midsection that had developed over the past decade. It hadn't been there when he'd turned forty. It had crept up on him. Now, at forty-nine, there it was, firmly -- or not so firmly -- in place. Howard was trim. Inexplicably, he suddenly realized he couldn't recall the man's last name. Howard...The dentist...A man who had literally franchised himself, turned himself into a flaming HMO -- four offices, with other dentists working for him, glossy brochures, even television ads. Fallon gritted his teeth. And you, you're about to be tossed out of the only job you've ever had.

Fallon had intended to stand, to face her. Now he remained seated. "What about Marge?" he asked. "Howard's still married to her, isn't he?" He looked up at Trisha again, still standing over him. Even at forty-five she was beautiful. Trim and sexy -- at least to him. And, obviously, to Howard. But she was more than that. Twenty-four years more. He let out a breath, took in the blond hair that hung to her shoulders, and suddenly realized it was cut differently. He didn't know when she had changed it. Hadn't noticed. Maybe she was right, Maybe he had stopped appreciating her. No, not that, Maybe he had just stopped showing it had been too overwhelmed by his own problems to even think about it. He drew a deep breath, suddenly angry at his willingness to blame himself. Maybe Howard noticed those things. Maybe the world wasn't coming down around Howard's ears, and he had time for personal observation.

"Howard left his wife. We're moving into a condo in Manhattan. Close to Howard's main office. I'll be working there. Running it for him. He values my ideas, Jack. He values my values." There was a tinge of pride in her voice.

Fallon blinked. "I thought you didn't want a job. That you wanted to stay with your volunteer work -- the homeless, pregnant teenagers..." He tried to recall what the other cause was, failed, and added a quick "whatever." The look on Trisha's face told him the final word had been a mistake. In recent years she had complained that he never asked what she did with her time, her energy, and especially the nights she spent taking the odd course toward a distant MSW degree and an empty-nest career. And her complaints had been justified; he had become like so many men, imprisoned by his work and that constant gnawing anxiety that was so much a part of it. He wondered now if her complaints had been a warning he had failed to recognize. Suddenly he wanted to tell her that she had always done everything competently, including being a wife and mother. But the words wouldn't form. His own hurt and anger were too deep.

Trisha continued to stare at him, lips tight. "It's not enough anymore, Jack. I have to think about my future. I have to make it what I want it to be."

Her words brought him back, hit him again. Fallon remembered Howard saying that his main office was on the Upper East Side. Sixty-third Street, he thought. From the glitter in Trisha's bright blue eyes, he was certain it was. She had always wanted to live there, all the way back to the early years of their marriage. In those days it would have been a big step up from their beat-up first apartment in the East Village. Two cramped rooms on the fifth floor with a bathtub in the kitchen, which, with a sheet of plywood laid across it doubled as a countertop and table. He glanced around his well-appointed study, felt the deep carpet beneath his feet; thought about the rest of the house, how they now lived. They were far away from those early days -- in more than just years. But maybe not far enough.

"Have you told the kids?" Fallon asked. A picture of their children flashed through his mind. Both were away at college in Vermont. Liz, their first, was a junior at Bennington; Mike, a freshman at Middlebury. Both had small partial scholarships, but even with that, their tuition, room, and board totaled nearly three months of his gross annual salary, or thirty-six thousand three h undred dollars a year. He knew it to the last damned penny, because it scared the hell out of him that he might not be able to pay it much longer.

"I planned to call them tonight. I wanted to tell you first."

"That was decent of you." The sarcasm passed her, producing only a small tic at the corner of her mouth. "What are you going to tell them about their tuition? They might not ask, but they'll be worried about it."

Trish straightened her shoulders, causing her small, still-trim breasts to jut out slightly. "I plan to tell them that you'll continue to take care of it."

A sardonic smile played across Fallon's lips. He ran the fingers of one hand through his still dark hair, then reached down and picked up the sales reports that lay atop the old mahogany partner's desk he had inherited from his father. He held them up to her, as though explained everything. The reports showed a sharp drop in the company's most vital area, its newer lines of fiber optic cable. Now, with rumors of downsizing rife, perfect sales figures, combined with his age, made him a perfect candidate for the street. "I may be out of a job soon," he said. "You're aware of that, right?"

Trisha drew a breath. "I'm very aware. And it's not though you haven't seen it coming, Jack. Everyone else did. We talked about that, about your need to reposition yourself."

The words stung, and he stared at her. Reposition himself. Like she was now doing, he supposed she meant. Or like Howard had. Howard the one-man HMO. The man of the nineties. Was that it? he wondered. Did she see him as hopelessly out of date, some one whose personal values were set in the seventies, a sinking ship that had to be abandoned? She had been warnin g him for months that he was about to lose the only job he had ever had -- and the one-fifty in base salary it brought in each year, a bit more with bonuses. He had tried to convince her it would be all right. But he had seen it coming, damn it. He had simply chosen to ignore it, to fight it through. You just didn't walk away from a company you had helped build from inception. At least he didn't. His eyes fell on a three-month-old copy of Cosmopolitan lying atop a stack papers on the corner of his desk. The cover touted one of the issue's lead articles; the one Trisha had suggested he read. "The Top 10 Ways to Reposition Yourself in Corporate America." He had read the article and had marveled at its advice. It had been slanted toward thirty-year-olds, as if people over forty didn't exist or -- even more depressing -- were simply beyond help. He let Trisha's words slide by, unchallenged. Right now there were more pressing facts she had to consider.

"I'm not going to argue with you about this. I'm sure you paid attention each time we sat down and reviewed our money market, our IRAs, and the few stocks we own. I sure have. I look at those figures every week -- because they terrify me. It's not a helluva lot to carry us -- I'm sorry, to carry me -- if I'm out of work for six months or more. Because our twenty-five-hundred-dollar-a-month mortgage isn't going to go away. Neither are the five grand a year in taxes, or the insurance bills, or the rest of the monthly nut. And with college costs for two kids added in, and without my present comfortable salary..." He ended the sentence with a snort.

"I know all that, Jack." She pushed it away and went on blithely. "But obviously we'll sell th e house sometime in the near future. And you'll have your half. And you'll be getting a settlement from the company. If the worst happens. I'm sure it will be enough to handle the tuition and other expenses." She paused a beat. He suddenly realized she expected him to carry all the financial burdens alone -- with or without a job. He was smiling at her and shaking his head. She continued quickly, "Look, I know this is a bad time for you. But things aren't going to get any better. Not for you; not for us. It wouldn't have done any good to wait."

Fallon bit down hard. "No, I guess not," he said. "You better get going." He forced a smile that didn't quite work, wasn't really intended to. "You'll be taking the car, I suppose."

Trisha looked momentarily surprised. "Yes," she said. There was hesitation in her voice, and her mouth seemed tight and awkward again. "It's mine. It's registered in my name. And you still have your company car."

Fallon nodded, thought about the baby-blue mustang convertible. Trisha's favorite color. "That's right. It was an anniversary present, wasn't it?" He said it sarcastically, but she hadn't seemed to notice. It had been an extravagant gift -- one really intended both of them. He shuddered inwardly.

Trisha drew a long breath, preparing herself to leave. She looked very beautiful, Fallon thought.

She was holding a small purse in her left hand, and her now empty ring finger seemed surprisingly naked. It was the first time he had seen her without her wedding band. The thought jarred him. He wondered if she had worn it when she was with Howard. Trisha preferred the left side of the bed. And when they had made love she had always turned on her right side, then u sed her left hand to stroke him. She had liked that, had once told him it gave her a sense of power to be able to get him hard, so quickly. "You better get going," he said again. "Howard will be waiting."

Trisha stared at him for a moment. "I guess I thought you'd be more upset." There was a flicker of something in her eyes. Disappointment, Fallon thought.

"Good-bye, Trish."

Trisha drew a breath. "Good-bye, Jack." She turned quickly and walked out of the room.

Fallon watched her leave. She moved nicely in the slacks she had chosen. He turned his head away, not wanting to watch any longer. His stomach was sitting in his throat, choking him. He fought it; closed his eyes. Jesus, he thought.


The telephone jarred him awake before the alarm clock. Then the alarm went off, the two sounds beating at him. Fallon rarely drank, an occasional beer or glassof wine with dinner, but the previous night he had put a serious dent in a bottle of bourbon. Now his head felt like an overripe melon, his mouth as though a cat had been living there.

He grabbed the alarm; shut it off, then stared through bluffed eyes at the digital readout: 7:00 A.M. He swung his legs out and the photo album he had taken to bed went crashing to the floor. A picture of Trisha stared up at him, and he was hit with a sudden sense of self-disgust, wondered if that was what the future held: becoming a maudlin drunk. The phone rang again, hurting his head, and he picked it up, fumbled with it. "Yeah," he said. His voice sounded like a croak.

"Daddy? Are you okay?"

His daughter's voice came across the line, sounding small, worried.

"Yeah, baby. I'm fine. Whatsup?" The final word came out slurred, sounded more like catsup.

His daughter hesitated, then blurted her message out. "Mom called last night. She told me she'd left, and I worried about you. She called Mike, too. He's on the extension."

Fallon's mind froze. At first he thought she meant his son was there, at home, on another extension in the house. Then he realized she meant he was at the apartment she rented in Bennington.

"Hi, Dad. You sure you're okay?"

His son's voice came across fuzzy, like his sister's. Because they were both on the same line, he thought. "I'm fine, Mike," he said. "Not great, but I'm okay. How come you're in Bennington? Were you down visiting Liz?"

"He came down because we were worried. And we thought it would be better to talk to you together." It was Liz again, answering for her brother. Just as she'd been doing since she first learned to talk.

Fallon envisioned his children sitting in the second-floor apartment, just off the Bennington campus. Liz: tall and slim and beautiful, just like her mother. But even more so, he thought. With her mother's blond hair and blue eyes -- a younger, even lovelier version. Mike: built like his father -- or like his father had once been. Six feet of muscle and bone. But with his mother's blonde hair and more delicate features. They must be worried, Fallon thought. It was a long drive from Middlebury to Bennington. And it was seven o'clock on a Sunday morning. Christ, he thought inexplicably. Why the hell had he set the alarm the night before? He must have been drunker than he'd thought.

"Daddy, what happened?" It was Liz again, and Fallon sat for a moment, wondering what to say. Christ, just tell her the truth, he decided. What else can you do?

"Your mother found some body else. And she's moving in with him." Moved in, he told himself. She's already moved in with him.

"Who is he?" Liz asked. "Mom didn't say a lot, mostly that she'd explain later."

Fallon hesitated, wondering if he should leave that explanation for Trish. The hell with Trish, he decided. If the kids wanted to know, he'd tell them what little he could. He wasn't going to be dragged into Trish's game.

"His name is Howard," Fallon said. "Howard...Nowicki." Now the name comes, he thought. "He's a dentist. Somebody we played tennis with."

"Jesus." It was Mike this time, and there was a hint of disbelief in his voice. Fallon was grateful for it. Yeah, but he's also repositioned himself, Fallon thought.

"Look, kids, there's not much more I can tell you, except that your mother and this Nowicki guy will be living in Manhattan." Are living in Manhattan, Fallon reminded himself. Why was he playing this game? "I don't even have the address. But I'm sure she'll tell you."

"She already did." It was Mike again, blurting it out. Then he was silent -- they both were. Probably embarrassed, he thought. He wondered if Trisha had asked them not to give him the address.

"Yeah, well anyway, I can't tell you much more. I just found out about it yesterday."

There was a pause -- long and very pregnant, Fallon thought. Then Liz got them rolling again.

"Mom said you're having some trouble at work, that you might be leaving."

Shit, Fallon thought. Why the hell did Trish have to get into that? He drew a breath, felt the cotton in his mouth again, and wished he had something to drink. Anything but bourbon. "Yeah, there's some talk about downsizing, and things are tough right now. But your old man's not ou t the door yet." Yet. The operative word.

"Mom said the tuition and stuff would still be okay." It was Mike again, blurting out the real issue -- the real reason for the joint call -- in his inimitable, bumbling, honest way. It made Fallon feel slightly sick. Somewhere deep down in his gut.

"Yeah, well, let's not worry about that now," he said. His voice was sharper than he had intended, and he immediately softened it. "Look, if worse comes to worst, you might have to earn some of your spending money."

"Jeez, with my course load that would be hard, Dad," Mike again, and Fallon felt his gut tighten.

Yeah, well, life's hard, kid, he thought. He took another breath. "Let's not worry about it now," he said. "We'll work things out."

"It's just that we should know, Dad." Liz this time. Her voice slightly fearful.

"Hang on a second," Fallon said. He placed the receiver on the nightstand, went into the darkened bathroom, grabbed a glass of water, drank it down, then filled the glass again. His barely visible reflection jumped out from the mirror, the anger in his eyes shocking him. When he returned to the phone the anger, and the cotton in his mouth, were under control.

"Look, maybe it wouldn't hurt if you checked around for some part-time jobs, just in case. Just to cover your living expenses."

Silence again. Liz's voice sounded cool when she finally spoke. "I don't know if I could manage that with my course load." Another pause. "Maybe I could apply for a student loan for next semester."

"Yeah." Mike chimed in.

"For spending money?" Incredulity hung heavy in Fallon's voice. When he had returned from Vietnam, and had enrolled at NYU, he had worked thirty hours a week in a Varick Street warehouse to cover everything the GI Bill had not. The thought of borrowing money to cover the time he had spent in gin mills and pizza parlors had never occurred to him. But he had created these ideas in his own children, he realized now. He had been a successful, doting father, who had never forced much reality into their lives. Now the situation demanded that he do so, and he wondered if it was too late.

"Why don't we just let everything ride for now?" he suggested, buying time.

"Are you sure?" Liz asked. There was a note of disbelief in her voice.

"Yeah, I'm sure. Look, the summer courses you're both taking will be over in a few weeks. I'll have a better picture of what's going on at work then, and we'll sit down and talk it all over. Okay?"

"Yeah, sure, Dad." It was Mike, suddenly uplifted, or at least sounding so. Putting problems off to a later date was Mike's forte.

"Maybe I should put in a student-loan application just in case," Liz said.

Fallon let out a long breath. He was starting to feel like a beaten prizefighter, fists slamming at every vulnerable spot. He fought to keep anger from his voice. "If that's what you want. You're twenty. I'm not about to tell you what to do." He hesitated a moment, carefully choosing his words. "Just give some thought about how you're going to pay it back. After you graduate, a student loan can take a heavy bite out of a paycheck."

He was greeted by momentary silence again, and he let it play out. "I thought you and Mom would handle that," his daughter said at length. Her voice held a slight tremor, and he wasn't certain whether it was from anger or renewed fear.

"Honey, I can't tell you what I can do or can't do right now. And I sure as h ell can't speak for your mother." He fumbled with a pack of cigarettes he had gone out and bought the previous night lit one, and blew a stream of smoke into the phone. He realized his voice had become harsh, and he tried to soften it. "Honey, listen to me. You do what you think best about a loan, but keep in mind that between my job situation and an upcoming divorce, I don't know what I'll be able to do for you and your brother. And that includes paying back loans."

He was met with silence again and hurried on, another accusation of failure suddenly draping his shoulders. "Look, why don't you wait it out a couple of months and see what happens?"

"Do you think you and Mom might work things out?" It was his son this time -- naive to the core.

"Your mom's moved in with someone else, Mike. Reconciliation doesn't seem realistic."

Momentary silence again.

"But if you did, would that change things?" Mike finally asked.

Fallon smiled, shook his head. "I don't think its a real option, Mike. So don't hang your hat on it."

"Oh."

"Are you sad?" It was his daughter, now. The romantic.

"Sure I'm sad, Liz." Maybe numb is a better word, he thought. Perhaps there's even a harsher word. But how do you explain that? How do you tell your daughter you haven't made love to her mother in a long time? That her mother hadn't wanted to? Probably because she was too busy repositioning herself under Howard. And doing it with her wedding ring still on her goddamned finger.

"Maybe if you let her know you still loved her, still wanted her, she'd come back," Liz added. After twenty-four years, after all the things they'd been through together raising two kids, she doesn't know?

"Sometimes you just have to re spect people's decisions, honey. Have to know when to let go," he finally said.

Silence. Then: "I'm just saying maybe you should try."

"Yeah. Well, I'll think about it."

"Okay, Dad." It was Mike, now eager to get off the phone, Fallon thought.

"Dad, it's just that we're worried," Liz added, still hanging on to it. "We're worried about you, and we're worried about us too."

Fallon stared at his feet naked against the carpet then squeezed his eyes shut. There was something terribly vulnerable about a man without shoes, he decided. "There's nothing more I can tell you about either situation. We're all just going to have to hang tough for a while," he said.

There was a hesitation, then his daughter said, "Okay, Dad, we'll do what you want. And please take care of yourself."

"I will. And you guys, too. I love you both, and I'll talk to you both soon."

Fallon replaced the phone, stubbed out his cigarette, then immediately lit another. Shit, he thought. Shit, shit, shit.

He considered failing back into bed, then gave up on the idea. He'd only lie there and stew, rerun the conversation with his children; belatedly come up with the wise, fatherly comments he should have made. He stared across the room. The bedroom draperies were drawn, only the faintest light seeping in; the room attended by countless shadows. He pushed up from the bed and shuffled back to the adjoining bath, switched on the light, then closed his eyes against the sudden glare.

When he opened them again, he was standing before the large mirror that covered most of the wall behind the sink. He stared at the ruin that looked back, the face puffy from the previous night's pity party of bourbon and photo albums. Still, it wasn 't that bad, at least from the shoulders up. The hair was still thick and dark brown and wavy, with only a touch of gray at the temples. The face, sporting some lines now, was still a good one -- handsome even, according to some. It was craggy, with a strong jaw and a hint of world weariness, not the smooth innocence it had carried for so many years. So, too, with the green eyes -- bedroom eyes, Trisha had once called them -- only a bit bloodshot now. And the shoulders were still wide, matching the broad chest. But each had lost the definition they had once held. And from there down, the ruin took over -- the small, soft protruding gut, complete with love handles. Christ, how had it happened? he wondered. He wasn't a couch potato. He skied in winter; swam and hiked in summer. He shook his head. Sure you do. Maybe a half dozen times each, each year. Then you sit on your ass, even have a riding mower to cut the goddamned grass. But you did play tennis, he added to himself.

Fallon drew a long breath, then turned sideways, sucked in his gut, and let it out. The view was depressing. And the company even has a gym available to employees, a room filled with exercise machines on which you've never laid hand or foot. But Tuesday, when you go back to work, you'll start working some of it off. No, you'll work all of it off, damn it. Get the most out of the place before they boot your ass out the door. And you'll throw away the damned cigarettes, too.

Fallon turned back to the mirror and opened the cabinet that held his shaving kit, hesitated a moment, then opened the adjacent one that had always held Trisha's endless supply of creams and oils and other mystifying paraphernalia. The cabinet w as bare. Even the dust motes had been carefully removed. He stared at the barren space. Not even a hint she'd be coming back. But you knew that already. And you don't want her back. Not after all the sneaking around with Howard. Not after moving in with him and turning you into the village cuckold. He drew a long breath, felt his oversized gut rise and fall. Except maybe you do. Maybe, deep down, you're that big a fool.

Fallon closed Trisha's cabinet. Shut it away. Just shut the door and don't open it again. He reached for his toothbrush, squeezed toothpaste on it, and began brushing his teeth so hard that it hurt.

Screw her, and screw Howard, too. Life doesn't end at forty-nine, just because one woman says you're a schmuck. Even if it's a woman you've listened to for twenty-four goddamned years.

He stared at the mirror and his foam-draped lips closed his eyes again, and wondered if he was still lying to himself.


When he reentered the bedroom, the photo album he had taken to bed stared up at him from the floor and he kicked it out of the way. It slid several feet and miraculously closed itself. He stood momentarily transfixed by the posture it now presented, the smooth leather covet shutting out all the images of his earlier life. A small, sour grin formed on his lips, then faded, and he felt small shiver in the center of his back.

Fallon turned away, averting his eyes from the album, and pulled open the large armoire that held his clothes. He hesitated; tried to decide what he'd do that day. He certainly didn't want to remain at home. The commuter towns of Westchester County were endless gossip mills, and his own quiet little town of Bedford would soon turn the marital triangle of Ja ck and Trish and Howard into a central topic of conversation. He could go to a ball game, he thought. Sure. Why not? The Yankees were playing a doubleheader against the Red Sox, and he knew the company's box seats weren't being used this holiday weekend.

"Yeah," he said aloud. Call Wally and team up with him for the day. Wally's been divorced for almost a year now, and he's probably sitting in his small Manhattan apartment trying to decide which bartender he'll favor with an afternoon's tale of woe. Fallon forced determination onto his face; shook his head. The hell with that, Wally. Not for you, and not for me, either. No, indeed. Call Wally, persuade him to swing by the office and pick up the tickets, then meet him at the stadium. Hell, maybe he can even recommend a good divorce lawyer. Fallon nodded to himself. The idea suddenly seemed to possess great merit. But first coffee. Some java to clear away the cobwebs, then get on the phone and start making plans.

Fallon slipped into the brightly patterned, Bill Blass terry-cloth robe that Trisha had given him the previous Christmas. The thought crossed his mind that it might be one of the things on her list -- might be one of the items the packers would toss into a box for delivery to Howard the dentist. The thought continued to gnaw at him as he moved down the curving staircase that Trisha had always loved, and that had always reminded him of some outlandish scene from Gone With the Wind.

Maybe she'll want the staircase, too, he thought as he reached the foyer and turned into the living room. An image of packers cleaning out the entire house flashed through his mind as he passed into the adjoining dining room, and he wondered which items he'd find missing when he came home one day to a half-empty house. Suddenly, everything seemed of value to him; each item some part of the stability he had built into his life. He stared at the dining-room furniture that now surrounded him. His mother's -- something that went all the way back to his childhood -- which they had brought to this house when his mother had entered the nursing home where she now lived. There was his father's mahogany desk. The ancient grandfather's clock that stood in the hall -- the one he had battled for at an estate auction, finally outbidding a well-heeled banker. He paused just inside the kitchen and thought about having the locks changed; of letting Trisha's packers arrive, keys in hand, only to find the house locked and barred against them. It was a pleasantly vindictive thought. The hell with it, he told himself. Let her take any damned thing she wanted. She'd already taken what mattered. Taken it and trashed it. Let her have the rest, too, if it was so damned important to her. He hesitated again. Except my fish. He thought about the ancient sailfish that hung in his study, the one he had caught as a boy on one of the many fishing trips he had taken with his long-dead father. No, not the fish, he told himself. Everything but that.

Fallon marched across the kitchen and began to pull the coffeemaker from the dishwasher. Suddenly he had second thoughts. Somehow, the image of Howard sitting in one of his chairs was truly irritating. It was blatantly irrational, and he knew it. Hell, maybe Howard needed the chair. He sure as hell was headed for some pretty heavy alimony. But so are you, Fallon thought. You'll probably end up paying a good chunk of his, through Tris h. Then what do you do? Go out and snatch somebody else's wife, so he can pay yours? Is that the end the mating ritual? Monthly musical checks, going on and on in endless circles? He laughed out loud. The hell with it. Let Howard have the chairs. Let him screwTrisha in one of the chairs. In all of them, for chrissake. Howard wasn't the enemy. He suddenly realized he had been denigrating Howard -- the dentist -- to soothe his own bruised ego, that he'd have equal contempt for theman if he was a bloody astronaut. Howard was just a smarmy little prick who had chased after another man's wife, but he hadn't taken anything that wasn't offered. It was Trisha who had promised and professed faithfulness, not Howard. Howard was just another libidinous asshole, who had wanted to bed a married woman. And he had, and would continue to. Fallon offered the absent Howard a slight nod of his head. Good luck, Howard, he thought. Now you sit and wonder whose bed she'll climb into next.

Feeling satisfyingly smug, Fallon opened the cabinet that held the coffee. As he started to reach for the canister, his hand froze. "Shit," he muttered, as he stared at the inside of the cabinet door. There, facing him like some evil specter, was the monthly calendar Trisha always put up to remind him of things he was supposed to do. The box for Sunday, July 6, carried the note Visitmother, just as it had for the first and third Sunday of every month for the past five years. Trisha had even circled and underlined the entry, and he immediately remembered why. They had agreed he would talk to his mother, tell her about his problems at work, explain that he might soon be unable to pay her nursing home bills -- that she migh t be forced to dip into her own resources to cover them.

Fallon lowered his head, shook it wearily. He had forgotten the regular semimonthly visit and especially the importance of this particular one. But he also knew if he called, said he couldn't make it, he'd spend an hour on the phone playing out a guilt trip he didn't need. He let out a long breath. He could stop on the way to the stadium and get it over with. Just suck it up and do it "Shit," he muttered. "Shit, shit, shit."

Copyright © 1997 by Daisychain Productions, Inc.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2014

    Good

    This started out slow but then picked up. I really got into it and had a hard time putting it down. It was an enjoyable read!

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