Part Three

Another Day…Another Dash for The Dollar

New York City, Wednesday, 1:35 pm

As weeks go, this one has been about usual. I’ve worked for free for the last two days trying to keep what few deals I have going, going long enough to get paid. That percentage I mentioned? That cut only gets lopped off at the end, then thrown my way. But there’s hope, I hope. I have new clients coming in. At least I hope they become that. Two guys, according to the email. Lots about an “exciting new venture” and needing my “professional expertise”. I’m good with both as long as there’s something on their side known as “unlimited financial resources”. So we see, they were due a few minutes ago. Fortunately, the other “fashion consultants”, including human megaphones Harvey and Gloria, are out. I actually can hear the far door open. Two guys huff in. From this distance, not bad looking. Just saying.

“Hey! Looking for Toni Russo? I’m down here,” I called out to them.

They’re coming my way and I see the guys are early forty-ish and handsome-ish in an un-worked- out-ish way. Both have something to grab hold of and are dressed in the very height of fashion. 1998 fashion. Is that “Obsession” I smell? Right away, I’m pretty sure they’re not gay, just by those. So, you know, if a work gig doesn’t work out, maybe there’s hope for something else to work out with one of them. Or both. At the same time. I have some making up to do in that department. Chasing Messrs. Franklin and Grant is only fun in a rent paying kind of way. As they get closer, I’m still not put off. One is taller, sporting a neat high-fade while the other has gone to slicking his hair back, making the most of what his follicles still produce.

“Toni Russo?” Tall-Guy asks.

“One and the same. Thanks for getting in touch with me. You mentioned we had mutual contacts. How might we know each other?” I ask, trying to get a feel them out without, you know, really feeling them out.

Then they start that sideways shuffle, the ol’ shift back and forth, one foot then the next, men do when they’re about to lay something on you. I look at them, waiting.

“I’d say our ‘group’ is the NYPD. The New York Police Department”, Slicked-Back added, just in case I hadn’t seen those same initials on just about every other t-shirt sold on just about every other street corner in this city.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand…”

“Or remember…,” said Slick.

“So, fill me in. What’s going on?” Still trying to smile at this point. It’s beginning to hurt.

“Valerie Antoinette Russo. One count of felony theft. Case dismissed at the very last minute due to, um,… lack of evidence…and I’m John Hughes,” he said, offering his hand, cracking a half smile. “My partner, Phil Hudson.”

“Oh, Shit! It’s you! Again! And all those charges were dropped,” I exclaimed. Forget smiling. Too much work, ruins the lipstick.

“One and the same. Just a few years older now,” the aforementioned Mr. Hughes informed me.

“Well, I hope wiser, but I doubt it. I do remember you and you should have told me. To what do I owe this honor after, what, five, six years? You’ve really put the weight on. I totally didn’t recognize you without your Rent-A-Cop uniform on and your hair back like that.”

“I deserve that, I guess. I did say some pretty rotten things to you, about you. I’ve got a real job, NYPD Investigator, since our last encounter. It’s a desk job, mostly, that and getting married will add on the pounds, you know, Toni. By the way, I did use our real names in the email,” he said, having to be like a man, always “right”. Both produced I.D.s for me to see.

“And I’d hate to keep you from your good works keeping this fine city safe. So, this better be good.”

I did, indeed, remember when last we met. Now forty-ish Inspector Hughes was, back then, a more buff thirties-ish Senior Security Guard Hughes. We both worked at That Store. It’s a famous emporium among fashion folk near Central Park. I was among That Store’s vaunted personal shoppers. Made good money, too. While it lasted. Which it didn’t, thanks to one bad client and the self- same Mr. Hughes now standing in my cubicle.

A very simple backstory about me, him, everything, and it’s all because of a dress. Not just any dress. A one in the world Chanel and did I mention gorgeous? Down to its handmade pearl buttons! Very near six-figures in price, if you have to know. It arrived in receiving late one afternoon at That Store. Unseen by any of the others in sales. But me. What a coup to sell it before anyone else even knew its passport had been stamped. With luck, it would never hit the store rack tomorrow, to be pawed on unmercifully by those with low credit limits. I had one particular client in mind for it. Unmeasurable thin, she was wife number next of a hedge fund guy of unmeasurable wealth. She’d buy out nearly all our latest Chanel before lunch, most of our de la Renta after, then come back a week later and do it all over again. Yes, there are people who can do that, trust me. The problem was That Store. It just couldn’t keep up with her. She’d seen, then bought almost our entire couture stock, but she couldn’t keep buying what she hadn’t seen, right? And this number she most assuredly would buy after she saw it, right? And I wouldn’t have to worry about the rent for the next six months on that one commission, right?

Client was ecstatic when I called her about the dress; couldn’t wait to get her talons on it, her teeny-tiny tail in it. Problem was, she was leaving within the hour, plane waiting, Toni. What could I do? So, I walked the dress out of the store, slung over my shoulder, and headed the few blocks up Fifth to her apartment. That’s when all the rights went wrong and I went right along with them. I had been seen. Huge Eyes Hughes caught it all on the security cameras. I had broken That Store’s biggest rule: no unpaid merchandise leaves the store. Ever. How was he to know from his video vantage point I wasn’t stealing it? At least that’s what he claimed when, police in tow, he showed up at the client’s apartment not long after I did.

Now, a good client, a really good one, would have just said she’d asked the dress to be brought over on approval. Later, I would run a new groove across her Centurian Amex…the “black card” to you and me… and that, my well-dressed friends, would be that. But no. I got the wide-eyed fashion runway stare. Claimed she didn’t know why I’d come at all, unannounced, to sell her some dress. Maybe stolen, Officer! Whatever were you thinking, Toni? For me, I was thinking about the count of felony theft I was next charged with.

It wasn’t much fun from then: rides in stinky cars, painful steel jewelry, unflattering photos with no makeup on, garish clothes without accessories, to say nothing of getting fired. It didn’t look good. But then, suddenly, it was all over, case dismissed. So, what happened? Found out a scam was being played by that ex-client and a certain male fitness model sex toy her financial batteries kept charged up. She and he were selling all the right name, right now fashion she was buying from That Store for clandestine cash to secretly fund their “workout sessions” at all the best resorts. Maybe they weren’t getting full retail, but they were getting enough cold-hard cash off those women who knew an Internet “Buy it Now” bargain really means “Don’t Ask Questions”. As long as preoccupied husband remained so, who knew how long the fashionably fit fornicators could have kept going? Apparently, she became afraid I was going to mess up her couture with coitus scheme when Hughes and his real life fashion police showed up. As fickle as a fad, though, that twosome’s trendy affair soon passed.

If you are going to have an affair, the kind with sex, not the kind with a sit-down dinner followed by dancing, you really should phone it in to your spouse and ask with whom they are having their affair. In this case, conniving ex-client and her equally scheming husband were using the very same, very talented, and very let’s just say very “versatile” boy toy between their legs. From the back of the Town Car one night, martini soaked husband did finally phone it in, only to text he really needed something physically impossible… for her, at least ….to do to him, even managing to get everyone’s names and numbers all mixed up from having had a few too many. As part of that marriage’s New Look, she agreed to keep quiet to his Wall Street homophobe buddies; he promised to pay to make everything simply go away. I’m still waiting for my check, but not to digress.

At least she deigned to wear, not hock, the one-of-a-kind Chanel she, of course, got out of the deal. The “Style” section photo captured it in all its pearl encrusted glory at the couple’s next affair. That one was a sit-down dinner followed by dancing enjoyed by all after the beaming couple renewed their vows to love, honor, and, as convenient, completely ignore each other. Hopefully, their partiers didn’t leave with the same bitter taste I had about this whole affair, the kind where I got screwed out of a job, not invited to rock The St. Regis until all hours with all the rest of them. But, I was free. Free from an income, free from ever being rehired by That Store, or any decent ones. Free from it all, until just now as I waited to hear what great deal my former nemesis and his now much-better-looking-by-comparison partner were going to make me.

Download 📖