The International Writers Magazine: Resident of the Month stories
The door opened and my host, whose name was Cedric Soames welcomed me effusively, smiling and pumping my hand up and down with both of his. “Come in,” he said. “Come in. Can I get you anything?”
“I’m fine,” I said.
He led me into a large living room, attractively furnished with modern chairs and tables and with numerous landscapes on the walls. Soames, I noted, lived in the largest and most expensive model we had in our Northern California retirement community. It was on the golf course, the physical center of the community and, for many, also the spiritual center. I was here to interview him for the community’s monthly .publication. Soames had been selected as “Resident of the Month” because he’d become head of our charitable organization and had raised a record number of dollars. The latest fund-raiser he’d staged was a kind of review, held in our ballroom, to which he’d attracted a number of fairly well-known performers and which had been sold out.
“Sit down wherever you want,” Soames told me,” with an expansive gesture. He was a man in his early sixties, I’d say, about average height, stocky, a florid face with a large nose and alert blue eyes. He had the manner of a used car salesman or a politician. People had told me he was a charmer. He’d already charmed a few of our community’s widows (wealthy ones) and he was certainly a great fund-raiser.
“I’ve read a few of your articles,” Soames said. “They’re very well done.”
“Thank you,” I said. I could feel the full force of his charm being directed at me. What writer doesn’t like to be told his stuff is good?
“You’ve also written a book, haven’t you?”
“Yes, almost no one has read it.”
“I found it online and ordered it. Maybe when I get it you can autograph it for me.”
“I doubt if my signature would have any value, but, sure, I’d be happy to.” I’d come to interview him, not the other way around, so I said, “Okay, why don’t we get down to work?” I got out my notebook and went through my usual list of questions: where was he born? Family? Education? Occupation? Wife and or children? He was from back East, Connecticut, had gone to an Ivy League school, worked for a large advertising agency in New York, then had moved to Southern California and gotten into real estate, had been married twice and divorced, had three children and half a dozen grandchildren. I asked him about the ad agency. He said he’d prefer not to have it named in my piece; he’d left there under strained circumstances. It was all a misunderstanding.
I concentrated on his activities as head of the charitable organization and all of the ways in which he’d raised so much money. “Good,” he said. “You sure don’t want anything? Something to drink? I have a fine single malt.” I was just about done so I said I would have some. He poured the drinks and leaned back in his chair. “Can I tell you something off the record?” he asked.
“If you’d like.”
“You won’t print anything?”
“No. It’s off the record.”
“Well, that thing with my ad agency. They accused me of embezzling. As I said, it was all a misunderstanding. I’d run a little short of money so I, uh, borrowed some, just temporarily, against the bonus I’d be getting. I’d pay it back, of course.”
I sipped my single malt. It was good. Since I’d been doing these interviews several persons had told me unflattering things about themselves. One resident had even hinted at murdering his wife, who had disappeared several years before, and burying her in his back yard. I was interviewing about his prize-winning back yard garden. Maybe it was because I seemed to be a sympathetic listener, or maybe because they’d been giving me their life stories, as it were, and they couldn’t help but keep going. One thing I’d learned was that most people liked to talk about themselves, especially if it was “off the record.” I didn’t recall anybody saying he’d been accused of embezzling. “What happened?” I asked. “You didn’t go to jail, did you?”
“No, although it was pretty close. I moved out here to California and that’s when I got into real estate. It turned out to be good timing and I made a pile. That’s when I decided I wanted to give back.”
“That would make a good story.”
“You said off the record.”
“Don’t worry; there’ll be nothing about your, uh, misunderstanding with the ad agency. I won’t give their name, just a large New York agency.”
“Good.” He stood up. “Let me show you around the place. Got some interesting things.” After giving me the tour, he again warmly shook my hand. “We’ll do lunch,” he said. “I’ll call you.”
We never did lunch because Soames had also become Treasurer of our literary club and it turned out that he’d taken all of our funds, which didn’t amount to more than a few hundred dollars, sold his house, and left for parts unknown. We didn’t pursue the matter. It wasn’t that much money and besides, as someone said, it didn’t compare to the thousands he’d raised for our charity. I did hold back the story I’d done.
A few weeks later, I received an e-mail from Soames. It said he was sorry, he’d actually had a few more misunderstandings with the real estate companies he’d worked with and he’d truly meant to reform. He supposed he just couldn’t get out of the habit. He’d moved to another retirement community, in Southern California, and had become a dedicated volunteer all over again. This time he really hoped he’d turn over a new leaf.
© Martin Green August 2014
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