Bad Counsel (part six)
Sly, through the rolled-down window of her mother’s car, he had asked Andrée, “You gonna give me a ride home?” But Buel stayed in the driver’s seat, and Andrée ended up the passenger. At a wide spot, where a culvert crossed the ditch, and the turnoff was disguised by a stand of yucca, he’d swung in without a heads-up.
“Come on inside.”
She likes Buel for not cutting his grass, which habit to her mother would be a red flag. As he unlocks and ushers, he is telling her: “See, ten bucks an hour is money to you…but for these people, they can get by on five, easy. Cause they all live in the same apartment. Back where they came from, five bucks an hour would be like big-time, rich.”
Buel, Andrée thinks, is sort of a racist.
She can agree with him powerfully one minute; the next, his attitude makes her wary. She backs against a sofa, sits under a picture window, under a blind with the pull-cord broken. A brown and puffy loveseat sits opposite, under metal-bracketed shelves stocked with DVD’s, electronic refuse, and a pair of work boots. He slides back a louvered door, exposing computer and router, vertical files packed with folders and manila envelopes. Of these, he jerks down one, bows it open under her nose. Andrée’s eyes pop to see it full of cash. He taps the space bar and the screen flashes on.
“Here’s my spreadsheet. See, the company runs four lots in town. I’m gonna go ahead and call you Andy for everything but the stuff we submit for taxes.” She hears him mutter, to himself. “I guess Andrée could be a guy’s name…but I won’t worry about it.”
To her, he says: “Just wouldn’t want two Andys working one place at the same time. See―” This time, he really wants her to see. She hates spreadsheets, but gets in close and peers down, at fields blocked out in yellow and pink. She sees him type “Andy” on some of the blank lines. Then he’s typing in her social security number—that on the application, she had just given him.
“I don’t get it,” she says.
“How bout two-and-a-half dollars? And I take the other two and change. I work the Andys a full shift, sometimes OT. Extra hours,” he grins at her, “cover a lot. Most days I can see you pulling maybe fifty dollars. Not bad for doing nothing…you go ahead and get yourself a job, right? But…”
In a studied way he turns to his keyboard, and does not look up at her. “You could get me another number. Or a couple. The business isn’t just parking cars. So anyways, most days I don’t need you to come in. Once or twice a week I need you…it’s like with a building. You understand that. Your Mom.”
Being who she is. Andrée wonders if this conversation is happening.
“You’re complying with the law, you have to have a couple renters you wouldn’t normally want living there, just in case. Now and again the inspector needs to see a real person.”
She nods, meets his eye. He gives her five hundred dollars.
So she has sold her social security number. She owns nothing, nothing that can be confiscated or repossessed—four pairs of jeans, a nice jacket, a phone…so what? She thinks, how does it hurt? People get their ruined credit fixed all the time. The ads say so.
She has so far not taken his hint to appropriate her mother’s tenant records. She knows he wants retirees, old people easily confused, as Buel thinks; able to earn a certain amount working, without screwing up their benefits. She is either helping to exploit undocumented workers, or helping them make a new life, escape being forced back to their miserable homelands.
“Seriously, it’s a great thing for them,” Buel says.
His Andys, his Jasons, his Tinas, don’t know what they’ve done. Buel fills out all the paperwork. “If one of them can’t make it in, if she’s laying low from the cops or looking after the kids, another one can take the shift. They all use the same ATM. You can’t do that.”
It’s true. Andrée has worked places where you can’t take a sick day when you’re really sick. All this sounds a nice, subversive argument…but glib, coming from Buel. Andrée’s only certainty is that she cannot go to the police, unless she has the courage to tell him first: “I’m gonna rat you out.”
She has signed on with Buel, taken an advance from him, a sum of money she can’t pay back. Imagine.
And since she can’t shake this off, she won’t. She will herself be jailed, Andrée guesses. Buel, career criminal, probably knows ways to pass off the blame. Maybe fraud is a cooler thing to get arrested for than, say, beating someone up. Or stealing. Of course, she is stealing.
The first Sunday Karen came home to find Andrée with Buel over, she did not even put on her customer face…an act Karen can do for any of her tenants, even those disputing notice.
Even with their evictions given Leo’s nod on her own recommendation. I’m really sorry, she can say, eyes and voice. It’s all out of my hands.
Karen had shaken Buel’s as though, offering it, he offended her—his touch putting the bite on her like a bloodsucker.
Leo won’t have heard of Buel. Why think there’s anything to hear? But her mother knows Andrée can be found at home most mornings, sleeping in, afternoons watching TV. Karen’s comments of late have been sarcastic as shit. Andrée wonders whether Buel’s persuasions…that she could really start living if she would get the numbers for him, will tip the balance, then. Next time she and her mother fight.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)