click here for pt 1
In the weeks after the party, Maggie and I grew further and further apart.
Kim had planted a seed in my mind the night of the party and it had grown into an entire crop. It began by my asking myself why was I really with Maggie. Was she special to me? Was I falling in love? Did I see a future for us? Would I even be bothered with her if it weren’t for the H-Factor?
I kept coming up with the same answer: No.
And, I think she felt the same.
While, in the beginning, she used to piss and moan if I were too busy to meet her, after a while she just started rolling with it. And, whenever we did meet, outside of work, it had become routine: hydro, sex, hydro, sex, hydro…She used to wonder what my intentions were, but I guess she’d gotten her answer for they’d become plain to see.
Of course, we still worked together and had to deal with the “shitting where you eat” mistake (my first time, but would certainly not be my last). But, there was no more sexual tension…only awkward smiles.
One day, I arrived to work early and went down into the basement. On my way to my stock area I had to pass other stock areas. All stock areas were secured by cages. Most of the crime that occurred at Lord & Taylor’s- as is the case with most retailers I suspect- was from employee theft, so the cages were a necessary precaution against this.
As I passed the high-end fragrance cage I glimpsed one of my co-workers, a black guy named Theo, behaving kind of suspiciously. Then, I watched as he had slipped some small fragrance boxes into his jacket pockets, looking around as he done so. When he spotted me he froze. I turned my head quickly trying to pretend like I hadn’t seen anything, and kept walking. But, before I knew it Theo had pulled up behind me.
“What’s up Loco, Honey?” he said.
“Hey Theo…how’s it going?”
“Lovin’ the skin I’m in,” he laughed, with a wink…a poke at my interracial relationship, no doubt. He knew everything: all the truths and all the rumors, that went on in L&T, hard-wired as he was into the company gossip machine. “You’re in early, baby.”
I turned away. But I could feel his gaze. He was scorching the side of my head with his laser beams that passed for eyes.
“Yeah, just gonna get in a little studying before my shift starts,” I said, looking around for nothing in particular, trying to dodge his beam.
“Uh huh,” he said, like he didn’t believe a word of it. Theo had a way about him. Like Alex, he was also gay. Working in retail, in a fashionable store, there are always tons of women and gay men. Comes with the territory. But, unlike Alex, who was working in a creative area, Theo was not. Atleast not yet. He did have talent, though. He was a cartoonist, attending an art school in Manhattan, and could draw like a madman. But, like me, he was working at L&T part-time just to make ends meet. The thing about Theo that made him special, in my estimation, was that he was a fully liberated individual. He was free. Free in a way most people will never know. So free, in fact, that he scared the shit outta most people. His freedom allowed him to see things. The cage of lies and pretense most of us have erected around ourselves and voluntarily live within, whether we’re aware of it or not, he had escaped from, and could see our cages as clearly as if the wire mesh and barbed wire were real. “So, the question is, are you gonna drop dime on me or what?”
“What?” I turned to face him. He’d asked the question in a tone of voice different than I’d ever heard him use. A “Straight outta Brooklyn” tone. It was like suddenly hearing Pee Wee Herman speak in his natural voice, totally out of character.
I knew that Theo was from my neck of the woods, in Brooklyn, but to see him decked out in sequins shirts and tight jeans, with shoulder-length permed hair, he seemed so natural you’d think he’d always been that way. This new voice, however, spoke to me of the life he’d led before he became openly gay, when he had to pretend and fit in in a community that would have marginalized him, if not assaulted him, and never would have accepted him in his full glory. (At the time, violent acts against gays, called Gay-Bashing, were rampant in New York.)
I didn’t know which voice sounded more interesting, his gay voice or his “pre-gay” one.
“I know you saw me, Loco…you can’t fool me, my brother,” he said.
This was so weird.
“Ain’t none of my business what you do in your area,” I said. “No one would believe me any way.”
“You got that shit right,” he laughed.
I started to walk away.
“Listen, Loco…” he looked around to see if anyone were near enough to hear. But, we were alone. Just that buzzing sound of machines. “Because I like you, I’m uh let you in on my scheme. Between you and me, you understand?”
Part of me wanted to hear and part of me didn’t. But Theo has this kind of magnetism when he talks that you find it hard to walk away from him. He’s a charming bastard with enough charisma to turn an angry lynch mob into an applauding audience. That’s why I knew no one would believe me if I had squealed on him. Most people could never imagine someone as open and flagrant as Theo as a thief.
I stopped walking. “Let’s hear it.”
For the next few minutes he told me of how he’d been clipping fragrances from L&T for months, by the shitload. He explained that he had customers lined up to take the product off his hand, but with the growing influx of imposter fragrances, the demand for the expensive real stuff he sold was going down.
“But, for Beauty products…I got clients screaming for that stuff! Clinique, Estee Lauder, Chanel…all that shit you have access to. I’d make a killing!”
“Uh huh.” I could smell the rain coming.
“Or rather, we’d make a killing…unless you’ve found your joy busting your ass for peanuts, here’s a chance to make it worth your while.”
“Are you serious?”
“If I could get in your cage without arousing suspicion, I wouldn’t need you and this conversation wouldn’t be taking place.”
“Let me see if I got this right: I steal the stuff, give it to you. You sell the stuff to your clients and give me a cut…what 75%?”
“I was thinking 50-50, but we can negotiate the percentage…”
“Since I’d be taking all the risk…I should get the lion share,” I said, “Cuz the trail would lead to me first, wouldn’t it? Which makes me wonder how you’ve managed to do this so long without arousing suspicion. And how many other partners you have around here.”
He looked at me for a sec…then looked away like he’d heard a sound. But there was no sound. He just wanted to think without me seeing his thought process written on his face. He hadn’t planned this…and he was hesitating, realizing that it wasn’t going to be easy to draw me into his scheme. I decided then I didn’t want any parts of it.
“Listen, Theo, I’m not gonna yank your chain,” I said, decisively, as his face contorted into disappointment. “I’m not even tempted to do this shit. To tell you the truth, I’m a horrible criminal. I can’t even lie worth a shit. So, you go ahead and do your thing…you don’t have to worry. Your secret’s safe with me. I’ll get by on peanuts until I can get some cashews and macadamian nuts on my own right.”
“Fine, Loco,” he said, nodding. “I can respect that…” Then his eyes turned gay again. It was kinda creepy to watch. “Well, darling, I’m off. Love that shirt, by the way! It becomes you in a sexy way.”
He winked and walked off.
Not two weeks later I found myself sitting in the security office, before the blue-eyed scrutiny of the head of security, Tom something or other. He was looking at me like he’d finally earned his keep and bagged a big one!
“You should have stuck to fragrances, Mr. Loco,” he said like he’d figured out my scheme. “So many hands in that cage it was impossible to finger who was doing the lifting. ”
I was about to protest my innocence, yet again, but I knew it was a waste of breath.
“Your mistake…if you really wanna know…was dipping into the beauty aids stock. We still don’t know how you managed to get the fragrances, though. But, we’ll figure it out. That’s all we do here. Figure out how you guys steal shit!”
Again, I was about to say something. The way he’d said you guys made it feel like a racial slur. But, I was held in check by the look in his eyes. I could see the same thing I saw in the eyes of those “people” in those postcards, though not as severe. A Zero-calorie sugar-free Shit kicker. But, still, it was so ugly it was scary, for it didn’t seem aimed at my perceived proclivity to steal, the way a cop might hate criminals, but it seemed aimed at my skin color.
“Of course, if you wrote down on that piece of paper there how you did it, and who your partners were, I’m sure I could get some of my Buddies on the Force to cut you some slack. A slap on the wrist…”
His threat made me lose my temper a bit.
“I told you I didn’t do anything,” I shouted. “And, you know I didn’t! The only reason you got me in here is you think I know who’s making you look stupid. But, you’re wrong! And imagine how stupid you’re gonna feel when you have to apologize and kiss my ass when you let me go.”
“You really think we’re gonna let your ass anywhere near that stock room again?” And he laughed again, as he stood up, walked over to the door to his office and opened it.
Out in the waiting area I could see Theo, sitting there crying, looking broken.
He closed the door before Theo could see me.
“We caught your faggot-ass partner! And that little bitch already ‘fessd up!”
“So, you do know I didn’t do anything!” I shouted.
“That’s not what it said,” Tom said, jerking his thumb towards the door with a devious smirk on his face.
“Am I?” he said, dubiously. “We also have some statements from the counter girls. Though they’ve never seen you steal anything, they all say that sometimes when they come down to the stock room you look like you’re up to something.”
“What? That’s bullshit!”
“Well…except Maggie,” he said, with a snare. I didn’t like the way he’d said her name. “She says you’d never do anything like that. Never, ever, never…she says. And, I guess she would know, wouldn’t she? Seeing that she’s your piece of ass I hear. (He paused for effect) But, her judgement is questionable…obviously. Raised some red flags around here. Anyway, we’ll see what her urinalysis reveals, won’t we?”
And, it hit me, like a fucking brick- though I could never prove it- what this was all about. I’d wondered what, if any, fallout would result from Maggie and I going to Kim’s party together, and it becoming common knowledge that we were a couple.
I knew from the satisfied look on Tom’s face that, though I would not be arrested, and that I couldn’t be rightfully associated with any criminal wrongdoing, that my L&T days had, indeed, come to an end.
As would my relationship with Maggie in the days following this incident…
…to be continued