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ME, ALLIE, AND THE MONEY MAN by Vincent Salvati

Sam lived on a quiet suburban street in a house much bigger than a third-year junior mechanical engineer’s salary should have allowed, which only can bring me to the conclusion that Sam’s wife, Eileen, either made a shitload of cash as a bank teller or her parents bought it for them. I’m going to go with the rich-daddy-who-didn’t-pay-attention-to-his-family-for-most-of-his-life syndrome.

Sam and Eileen’s house had three balloons tied to the railing on each side of the porch. I suppose they, and not the huge metal numbers plastered to the front door, were intended to alert partygoers that that was indeed where the shindig was going down.

Standing in the driveway surrounding the open hood of a car were a group of men marveling over the internal combustion engine like it was just invented last week and not over a hundred and fifty years ago. I forewent that group, wanting to avoid not fitting in any more than I already didn’t. Not knowing the difference between a spark plug and a crankshaft, or even caring, had long ago disqualified me from discussions about automobiles.

It was evident, from the unnecessarily loud music and splashing in the pool (I assumed by three-quarter naked bodies), that the focus of the party was in the backyard. The house seemed quiet and close to empty. I walked up the porch stairs and went inside.

The living room was desirably unoccupied, and I was tempted to take a seat on one of the three couches. If it hadn’t been for the three feline gatekeepers perched one on each, I probably would have. I made my way to the kitchen where there were two women performing some ritual over a cauldron of salad. Looking out the window, I could see the mass of partygoers as they danced and frolicked in and around the pool. The sun was setting, and the TIKI torches were aflame.

I placed the bottle of wine I brought on the counter. It didn’t look like a wine-drinking crowd. Off the kitchen was a hallway that led to the rest of the house. I stuck my head in there and found two people making out. One was Sam’s wife, Eileen. The other was not Sam. I removed my head from the hallway before they saw me. Moving back over to the window, I watched the show of moral decay and hedonism unfold to what I could imagine would be a grand, opulent finale that I planned on happily missing.

Sam’s house was the last place I wanted to be. When he sent invitations to all his co-workers, I immediately tossed mine in the trash can under my desk. My kiss-ass office neighbor, Carrie, informed me that Sam was the CEO’s nephew and it would be in my best interest to attend. So, like the obedient employee, there I was. But in truth, I hated parties and always felt awkward when I found myself at one. It wasn’t that I was anti-social, but most people seemed odd to me and tended to do ridiculous or annoying things. I graduated Harvard at nineteen, labeled a “math wiz” with no social skills, and quickly recruited by a large corporation’s finance department. I didn’t even fit in with the other accountants.

I didn’t know the people very well. I worked with some, but they were all just acquaintances. I saw Keith, also from accounting. He liked to bowl and kill things. He had spoken many times, in too much detail, about the types of guns he owned and the types of animals he shot with said guns. He had a goatee and a Harley and didn’t look like a fellow accountant. My guess? Fake degree.

Patty, another accounting drone, sat on the side of the pool in a one-piece, though she had a body made for a bikini. Billy from the mailroom was talking her up. Good for him, I thought. Billy had a lisp and a limp, and I didn’t foresee a lot of action in his bedroom anytime soon. Maybe Patty would put away enough sangria or appletinis to think the lisp was from the alcohol, and, hey, a limp only counts if you’re walking.

I was bored already. I hadn’t been there for ten minutes but could already see this was going to be like all the other parties. I would stand by the kitchen window watching the theater, and the clock.

The two women with the cauldron of salad (I swear I saw a wishbone and a rabbit’s foot in there) crossed the kitchen and wheeled the salad out the back door. The heavy one had on tight jean shorts, and the skinny one wore a clingy sundress. I watched them both as they made their way down the stairs and across the patio and out to the pool and over to the food table.

Alone, thirsty, and unwilling to venture into what looked like Rome in its final days, I began looking for a corkscrew to open the bottle I brought. I’m not a big wine drinker and barely ever touch the white stuff, but I felt I needed something to take the edge off. I opened the first drawer—monogrammed forks and spoons. Really? The next drawer had monogrammed towels and potholders. You can’t make this stuff up. I finally found the corkscrew and proceeded to reduce the severity of the situation.

Eileen walked out from the hallway, followed five seconds later by the guy she had been orally attached to moments before.

“Hi,” she said with some surprise.

“Hi,” I replied. “I’m Stewart. I work with Sam, but in Accounting. We met at the Christmas party last year.”

“Oh, yes. I remember.” She clearly didn’t.

“Sup, dude,” said her guy friend. He kind of staggered and glided and staggered more than he actually walked. He sported a plain black T-shirt under a white blazer looking like he’d just walked out of a Miami nightclub.

“Hey,” I replied.

“Come join us in the living room,” Eileen said.

“Me?”

“Yes, you. Unless you plan on standing by the window all night.”

I followed Sup Dude back the way I had come in. He flopped down on the couch by the door, its furry inhabitant quickly relocating to another time zone. Eileen took a spot next to him. Before I could decide which couch was least dangerous, the front door opened.

“Alice,” Eileen greeted the heavy-set, tight-jean-short-wearing salad maven. “Just in time.”

“The salad is made and out by the pool.”

“Thanks,” Eileen replied.

Alice took a seat on couch number two, which ran parallel to the couch on which Eileen and Sup Dude were planted. Furball number two vanished. I sat next to Alice.

“Allie,” she introduced herself, hand extended. I shook it and told her my name. She had a firm grip. I noticed a thick, black leather bracelet and a tattoo partially hidden under it. Her T-shirt was as tight as her jean shorts, accentuating what may have been the largest set of breasts I had ever seen up close.

“Nice to meet you,” I think I said. She was blonde, with painted fingernails and blue eyes, none of which was any longer significant. Allie somehow reached into the pocket of her skintight jean shorts and pulled out a small glass vial filled with white powder.

Sup Dude slid a thin metal straw out of his blazer’s inside pocket and handed it to Allie. Allie tapped out a small mound of the powder onto a large book that was sitting on the coffee table and formed four lines with a business card. Cocaine wasn’t a part of my regular diet, but considering the situation I found myself in, I figured it might help to pass the time. Allie did a line and then handed the straw to me. She held the book out, and I did the second line. She then passed it over to Eileen, who took a hit and would have kept going if Sup Dude hadn’t taken it from her. He snorted so deep I thought the air was getting sucked out of the room. I braced myself for the vacuum he was about to create and wondered if I would be able to save the women from the Sup Dude vortex.

Sup Dude took out a small plastic bag and laid out some more lines, which were passed around for a while, and then Eileen and Sup Dude got up and made their way back to the suck-face hallway off the kitchen.

“Let’s do something,” Allie said.

“Like what?”

“Let’s find an adventure,” she said.

“I’m not a big adventure guy, but I could certainly eat something.”

Allie stood up and walked to the kitchen. She seemed to walk very slowly, or maybe my brain was just moving really quickly. Then she turned around and came back. Allie tossed a bag of corn chips into my lap and handed me a cold Budweiser.

“Open the chips,” she said.

I put the can of beer on the couch next to me and began to struggle with the sealed bag of corn chips. I pulled and tugged and tried ripping the top, but it didn’t budge.

“Do you need help?” Allie asked.

“Yes,” I said. I was thinking something along the lines of a chainsaw or blowtorch.

Allie grabbed one side of the top of the bag, and I grabbed the other.

“On three,” she said. “One, two.”

The bag exploded all over. There were corn chips everywhere. We looked at each other and laughed uncontrollably. I laughed so hard I almost couldn’t breathe. When we finished laughing, we ate, picking corn chips out of each other’s hair and off our clothes like monkeys debugging each other. I popped open the Budweiser, which overflowed a little onto the couch. I didn’t much care. We finished eating the entire bag.

“Now, let’s find an adventure,” she said.

“I think I’m just going to hang here on the couch. Stop by when you’re done with your adventure.”

“Come on,” she urged and grabbed my hand. She pulled me up before I had time to think of a rebuttal. We left through the front door. By that point, the sun had gone down, and the worship service that had been held at the front of the car in the driveway had dispersed. There was no one at all in the front of the house.

“Let’s play a game,” she said.

“What kind of game?” I asked. And then I noticed a set of car keys on the ground. I bent down and picked them up. “Look at what I found.”

“I think you just decided what kind of game we’re going play. Let’s go find that car.”

She walked to the road and the endless line of cars, and I followed.

“Go ahead,” she said. “Try it.”

I pressed the unlock button on the key and heard the beep halfway down the block. We walked to the car, looked around, and opened the door.

“Ever been in a Ferrari?” she asked.

“Nope.”

“Now’s your chance,” she said, lowering herself into the car. It looked a bit tight, and I hoped she wouldn’t get stuck. I wasn’t in the practice of carrying sticks of butter around with me. I sat in the passenger’s seat. It was sleek and leathery and smelled like a dance club’s men’s room. I flipped the glove box open and found a pack of condoms, a few loose pills, and a handgun. I felt like I should have been in a movie.

“Shit.”

“What?” she asked.

“There’s a gun in here.”

“Holy shit,” she said. “Don’t touch it.” We looked at each other for a minute and then she said, “Get out and check the trunk.”

She reached down and hit the trunk release. I walked around to the back and flipped up the lid. There were three duffle bags.

“There’s three duffle bags back here.”

“What’s in them?”

“You sure you want me to look?”

“Yes.”

I unzipped one of the bags and pulled it open. I was secretly hoping it was full of week-old gym clothes. Instead, I found a bag full of money. My eyes were wide. I couldn’t move; I was frozen in place.

“So?” I heard come from the front of the car.

After a moment, I snapped back to reality and answered Allie, “I think you better come see this.”

Allie pried herself out of the front seat, which allowed some pressure off the shocks and lifted the car up about an inch. She made her way around, and I stepped aside so she could see the money. Her eyes popped out of her head like a cartoon character, and she gave a little whistle. Then she reached down and unzipped one of the other bags. Money. I reached in and unzipped the last bag. Money! This wasn’t any money. This was THE money. There were more portraits of Benjamin Franklin in that trunk than there were in all of Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.

Allie closed the trunk and hurried back to the front seat.

“Quick, get in,” she said.

Not sure what the hell she was thinking, and pretty sure I was making a big, possibly life-changing, mistake, I got in.

“Shut the door.”

“Why?” I asked as the door closed.

“Okay, here’s the plan.”

“Wait,” I said. “Shouldn’t the plan entail us leaving the car the way we found it? Maybe head back to the couch and do some more blow?” I was secretly hoping that I might even get lucky.

“If you’re a good boy, I’ll let you drive part of the way,” she said.

“Part of the way? Where the hell are we going?” With that, she turned the key; the car roared alive, and for a second, I understood the allure of the internal combustion engine. Turning the wheel, she headed down the road with the lights off.

“Lights,” was the only word I was able to form.

“In a minute. I want to make some distance in case someone heard us start the car.”

She rounded the corner at forty, threw the lights on, and hit the gas. We sped past a SLOW CHILDREN sign. When we got to the main road, she dialed it down a bit, not wanting to attract attention from anyone that might wonder why we were driving a car that wasn’t ours with a gun and three bags of money.

We stopped at Allie’s apartment, which looked more like a bakery than an apartment. That was probably due to the sign that hung in front and read “Alice’s Bakery,” not to mention all the muffins, cookies, and cakes in the window. A lot of things were starting to make sense. She fumbled with the keys at the front door.

“Ah, do you think now is the best time to stop for a cruller?”

“My apartment is in the back. Pop the trunk. I’ll be right there.”

She disappeared into the dark bakery and reemerged a minute later with a white plastic bag that had a picture of a wedding cake topped with a bride and groom silhouette and the words “Alice’s Bakery.”

“Here.” She handed me the plastic bag. “Take four stacks of money from each duffle bag. No one will miss them.”

“On the contrary, I think someone will miss Mr. Franklin. He is well revered in many circles. My guess? This is one of those circles.”

“Just get moving,” she told me. “We have to get the car back before anyone notices.”

It was still early in the evening, and I was betting Mr. Money Bags was just getting started. Probably in the pool flirting with a few (probably topless by now) tramps, or if he was a fast worker, off in the bushes with those tramps doing things that would make Hugh Hefner blush. I loaded the white, plastic wedding-cake advertisement with twelve elastic-banded stacks of money. By the time I was done, Allie was back from whatever she went to do. She slammed the trunk closed and waved me inside the bakery. We headed behind the counter through the kitchen area with all the ovens and mixing bowls and baking paraphernalia. One rack sat there with cookies on it. Allie grabbed one with a jelly center and sprinkles. I followed her lead and took a bite as we made our way through the back office.

We got to a flight of stairs and made our way up to her apartment. Once inside, she left the lights off. It was big-time spy-novel stuff. For the second time that night, my heart beat a little faster, and not just from the cocaine zipping through my brain. She got on her hands and knees and pulled back the area rug in the hallway. Under the area rug, she grabbed a latch in the floorboard that eventually lifted to reveal a secret compartment.

“Hand me the bag.”

I stood there looking at her. She looked back.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “You’ll get your half. We need to hide it for now. Just to be safe.”

I handed it to her. Allie dropped it in and closed it back up. She took the stairs faster than I would have thought, and before I knew it, we were back out the front door. Smiling, she tossed me the keys to the Ferrari. I smiled back.

I took my time driving, partly because I didn’t want to be at the party, partly because I didn’t want to get pulled over doing ninety with guns and money in the car, and partly because I was starting to like being with Allie.

When we got back, the spot we took the car from was still empty. I carefully parallel parked it. It wasn’t an easy task getting something with that much horsepower to go slow. I dropped the keys near the front door, where I had found them, and we headed back to the couches. The felines were lounging and didn’t budge when we entered, until Allie almost sat on one, and then all three scattered. For the next few hours, we talked and drank, and drank and talked.

Around two in the morning, Sup Dude came in and asked if we saw a set of keys to his car.

“What kind of car?”

“Ferrari, with the horse keychain.”

“Nope, sorry.”

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AUTHOR BIO:

Vincent Salvati was born and raised in New Jersey. He is a graduate of Pratt Institute, Montclair State University, and William Paterson University. An author, poet, and visual artist, he strives for creativity in his work and his life. He has previously written and performed in the New York City area, and his work can be found in a variety of publications including Typehouse Literary Magazine and The Paterson Literary Review. Among his many solo and group exhibitions is his inclusion in the New Jersey Arts Annual at the Montclair Art Museum. He is currently on the board of directors for the Jersey City-based non-profit, Pro Arts.

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WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Me, Allie, and The Money Man”

In this delightful piece, Vincent Salvati takes on a fun romp with no deep meaning, just a well-crafted story with an excellent voice and well-drawn characters that grab and pull the reader along. And, of course, we find a couple of surprises along the way. We totally liked “Sup Dude” as a character name.