Intro:Mark Dane and Arnie Powell (the men in the story) are featured in “Banksters,” a racy suspense novel about a sociopath's rise to power. “Banksters” was a tough one to write because so many of the characters are predators, both in their work lives and in their love lives. Arnie is a bit of an exception, in that he's just utterly clueless, and largely incapable of defending himself, or steering his own arcs. He and Mark have a particularly complicated working relationship, because so much of it is predicated on past abuses. But I found it interesting examining the nuances of their friendship, without the usual predisposition toward likable characters and righteous personality traits.
by Nicolas Wilson
All good relationships come down to screwing. Sometimes the euphemism means different things, but since most relationships aren't symmetrical, someone's getting better than they give. And like with all relationships, Arnie only had so many “screwings” in him until things went sour.
Arnie was my business partner. That's perhaps a strange way to put it, since we were both in the middle tiers of a one of America's largest financial institutions. Arnie had a handful of things holding him back: he was awkward, awkward-looking, and had an awkward habit of being found with a syringe sticking out of his groin; okay that last one only happened the one time, but it really only takes once with something like that to get people talking.He was also a bit of a genius. His brain wasn't wired to deal with people, or really even cope with reality. But something about his addled brain understood finance better than any other person I've ever met. He was to finance what Edison's inventive side was to industry. And I was to his ideas what Edison's business savvy had been to his.
And Arnie had just days before he laid another golden egg. But this time was different, because he was working with a partner – and I don't mean someone like me. He was actually working with a sociologist, who was helping add some humanity to his models.Normally, I’d just screw Arnie over. But this presented a chance to go around him, which probably meant it was one more time that I could get one over on him later. And what’s more, she seemed like she could be the fun of challenge.
She was tall and lanky, taller than Arnie. I think I usually preferred women with a bit more meat on their bones, just so I didn't feel like I was dating a boy from my high school, but she had a pleasant face, and beautiful hair that flowed down her back in rivulets.I was discreet enough in those days that I didn't have a reputation for womanizing and she was relatively new to the firm, part of an initiative to bring more science to bear on the voodoo of our economics.
It didn't take much convincing to get her to dinner. I suggested a mid-grade restaurant, perhaps fancy at my salary, and she leapt at the chance. She turned to walk away from me, then turned back, with her nose scrunched up. “I should ask, is this business, or should I wear something showing cleavage?” she said and stopped, her hands three inches from lifting and smushing her breasts together.
“Pleasure,” I said. “Though I leave your choice of wardrobe to you.”There were rumors that she and Arnie had the start of a thing; they’d been working late together, probably inching towards a physical relationship and that could work for me. But there almost always were rumors, with a pretty young woman working with an older, uglier man, so I didn't put any stock in them, either.
Which made me wonder, with her bringing up cleavage – was she the kind of woman who did? That's not me mocking her small chest, rather, being curious about how clingy she was likely to get. Because I didn't feel like the marrying type, and more to the point, that kind of thing could get in the way of my mobility, and I didn't think to look at her that she was going to consistently produce new ideas like Arnie – so it was probably a waste to put a ring on it. But at a minimum, she was F-able.More so when I picked her up that night. She was well aware of her body shape, and wore a dress that was clingy and draped around her frame. She wore just enough of the right kinds of make-up to be the classy kind of trashy.
Manipulating people can be hard. Sometimes that's made easier by people who find mental stimulation sexy. For her it was almost foreplay, discussing their ideas with me over dinner. She knew enough from Arnie to know that I was the one who got things done. Since I met Arnie, I'd shepherded 80% of his work, to great results. I was bound for bigger things on account of it, and while Arnie hadn't seen quite the success I had from our efforts, he understood well enough that it paid to have a friend in high places – even if I think we both knew that would only sate him so long.She screwed like it had been a while. Given the way she looked at work, I could understand why. She kept her hair pulled back in a way that made her look severe and unapproachable, maybe even hostile to any kind of social approach – which I think was entirely accidental, an overcorrection perhaps, a way from asking for harassment.
For pillow talk, she admitted that the rumors about her and Arnie were true, if only just. Forced proximity could do that, but Arnie was either gentlemanly (probably not) or awkward enough (bingo) that they had been taking things slow. “He kissed me last week,” she admitted, and it was plain that she felt guilty that she was now in my arms. So she betrayed him twice.“We can be partners on this, you and I. But then he’d know about us. Tough call.”
She sat in silence. I felt a little guilty, ruining her post-coital bliss, but the timing was right. Eventually, she chose to sidestep the difficult decision. She put in for personal leave, and halfway through that, gave her notice. Got a better job, higher pay and at a place that appreciated intellect. Our usual practice was ride an employee to death like a horse in the desert. It was almost certainly a wise career move.And it also meant that I was going to have access to Arnie that extra bit longer. I took him to lunch, because I could tell the news of her departure weighed on him. “It was my fault, she left,” he admitted. “I kissed her. It was inappropriate.”
I suppressed the urge to tell him that depended entirely on where. “She was a young, professional woman,” he sighed.“I wouldn't blame yourself,” I told him. “When she talked to me, it sounded like her heart just wasn't in it.”
“She talked to you?” he asked, but didn't have the heart to be suspicious.“Yep. Told me all about the research you two have been doing. But she was just losing steam on it – I could tell even during the conversation, maybe something about talking to me about it, I don't know. But I don't think she was like you – like either of us, really. It takes a certain... something to get ahead in the business world, a kind of toughness that I'm not sure she had.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Maybe.” He sighed. “You're right. I'm overthinking it. I just hope that wherever she ends up, she be happy there. But thanks, Mark.”
Bianca’s Note: Ahh, a love triangle – usually to be found at the heart of any story about the dark side of love. Thanks to Nicolas for sharing.Nicolas is offering a copy of “Banksters,” which this story is based on. Please enter below for your chance to win a copy along with some other great prizes!