Turn of a CardbyMoondrift©
I'd always thought Jarvis was a great guy, but he was an inveterate gambler, and I must say, a frequently successful one, so he said. I had good reason to know since during quiet social evenings with Jarvis and his wife Tania there was the inevitable card game and a little betting. Not that I lost much since Jarvis reserved his big betting for occasions other than those with his friends, but however little I always ended up losing.
I often thought he must have won Tania, and in a way I suppose he did; or at least you could say he won her hand against a great deal of competition. I hadn't participated in that particular contest since my concern was the business, money and sex more or less in that order. Marriage wasn't on my agenda, and in Tania's case she was one of those smart girls who, being very attractive and knowing it, hung out for the best deal. In other wordsm for Tania, sex was what came after the signatures were on the marriage register.
I had been the best man at his wedding and while I could envy him for what he was going to get that night, I didn't envy him being tied to one woman with all the hassle of divorce and property settlement if things didn't work out.
Whatever the case, on the day of their wedding when Jarvis looked as if he'd won first prize in the national lottery, there were quite a few guys who seemed to be thinking about hanging, drowning or shooting themselves over the loss of Tania to Jarvis. That didn't include me.
Jarvis and I had been friends since childhood. I've noticed how, when people get married, their friendships tend to change. They seem to enter into a new phase of their lives in which old friends are left behind and new ones established. That didn't happen with Jarvis and me. It might have been because I genuinely liked Tania, and that's often the trouble; the old friends don't like the new marriage partner so everybody drifts apart.
Tania, you see, was not only attractive, but always seemed to me to be a very decent and modest sort of person. You might say that she was decent and modest despite her beauty, because I've noticed that many very attractive women do not display those virtues.
So I saw both of them quite frequently, having dinner with them in their home and afterwards the almost unavoidable game of cards. Since we were not playing for life and death stakes the games were relaxed and we'd chat about family, business or perhaps some item in the news that had caught our attention.
It was one such news item that set in motion a chain of events that led to an outcome that was least expected. The item concerned the divorce of a married couple that had come about through a bizarre situation.
The couple had been offered a large sum of money by a man, to be paid if the husband and wife would agree that he spend a night with the wife making love. It seems that the couple had a hefty mortgage on the house plus payments for their car and debts on their credit cards.
The upshot had been that they agreed to the proposal, the wife spent the night having sex with the man, and they got paid. Not long after mutual recriminations had started, the husband accusing the wife of being a whore and she accusing him of being procurer who had deliberately set her up for the sake of the money.
Tania and Jarvis both expressed their moral outrage at such an arrangement, declaring that nothing could tempt them to engage in such a sordid agreement.
I decided to play devil's advocate and said that everyone had their price, and even they would succumb if the sum of money offered was big enough.
The argument went on for some time with Tania and Jarvis continuing to take the moral high ground and condemning outright anyone who did not accept their views.
I suppose their rather smug judgemental attitude got to me a bit, so I went on to put a hypothetical situation to them.
"Look," I said, "just for a moment suppose we imagine that I'm making a serious offer to you. I offer you a thousand dollars to be allowed to have sex with Tania for one night. It's an offer that stands only if you both agree; what would you say?"
"Not on your life," Tania said. "Not for ten thousand dollars," Jarvis added.
"Not for ten thousand dollars?" I asked. "What about for twenty thousand dollars?"
"No chance," said Jarvis. "Anyway I'm not up for sale," Tania added.
I added fuel to the fire and said, "We've all got our price, even you Tania."
She laughed and said, "It'd take more money than you could come up with, Ted."
"Aha, so you do have a price, even if it is more money than I've got?"
"Tania didn't mean that," Jarvis said firmly; then a note of doubt crept into his voice and he asked, "You didn't mean that, did you Tania?"
I saw Tania hesitate, and then she said, "I suppose if I'm honest I'd have to say that every woman has her price. It might not always be just the money, but power, prestige, social status. And I suppose every man has his price too."
Jarvis looked as if he was going to protest then seemed to change his mind and asked, "Okay then; hypothetically how much would you offer for one night with Tania?"
For a moment he had me stumped for an answer. Just how much would a night with Tania be worth to me?
Tania protested, "Jarvis, that's a terrible thing to ask, it sounds as if you'd be willing to sell me to Ted."
"No...no sweetheart, we're just talking theoretically; so how much Ted?"
I laughed and making what I thought was a crazy offer said, "Well seeing that it's Tania we're talking about, and as she's so beautiful, I close my bidding at fifty thousand dollars."
"For one night?" gasped Jarvis and Tania almost simultaneously.
The discussion seemed to be getting out of hand so I said, "Yes, okay, fifty thousand, now let's change the subject."
Nothing further was said; the card game became desultory and Jarvis so far lost his concentration that I won two dollars that night.
It was customary for Jarvis and me to have lunch together every Tuesday in a favourite pub. On the Tuesday following we met as usual and Jarvis seemed in an odd mood. There was clearly something on his mind and towards the end of lunch out it came.
"Ted, what we were talking about the other evening, you know, about paying fifty thousand dollars for a night with Tania, you weren't serious, were you?"
I laughed and said, "I thought we'd agreed we were only talking hypothetically, but if we suppose Tania was up for sale, what do you think she'd be worth?"
He didn't answer this but instead said, "Anyway, you couldn't come up with that much money, could you?"
"Jarvis," I replied, "while you've been enjoying your marital bliss, and your gambling, I've been slogging my guts out building up my business, and since you've asked, yes, I could come up with fifty thousand."
"Oh, really?" He looked surprised.
I glanced at my watch, rose and said, "I'd better get back to work."
Jarvis looked at me vaguely and said, "Yes...yes...I'd better make a move as well."
As I went back to the office I was seriously wishing I'd never started the Tania and fifty thousand dollar debate, but I managed to shrug it off, telling myself that the last word had now been said on the subject.
It hadn't been the last word. It was usually Tania who extended the invitation for dinner with her and Jarvis, and mid morning on Thursday I got a call from her.
"Can you come for dinner again on Saturday night, Ted?"
I was a bit surprised because I didn't usually get invitations for two consecutive Saturday nights. "Yes, that'll be fine," I replied, "usual time?"
I could sense the hesitation in her voice as she went on, "Er...Ted...you...you weren't serious... about...about the fifty thousand dollars for a night with me, were you?"
I tried to pass it off as a joke and said, "Why, don't you think you're worth fifty thousand?"
"No...but...but you weren't serious, were you?"
"Hell Tania, what's going on, Jarvis raised the subject with me on Tuesday? I told him it was hypothetical, just as I said last Saturday. I had no idea it would become a favourite topic. He even asked me if I could come up with fifty thousand."
"He talked to you about it? What else did he say?
I could hear the note of panic in Tania's voice so I said soothingly, "Nothing Tania, he just asked if I had that sort of money, so I said 'yes' and nothing more was said. Is there something going on that I should know about?"
"No...no, nothing Ted, see you on Saturday."
I put down the receiver and sat thinking for a few minutes, apart from wishing I'd never opened the subject I had an odd feelings I'd stepped into something I didn't understand and things were getting out of perspective. I wondered if the two of them were playing some sort of game with me, perhaps trying to prove that I fancied Tania and would buy a night with her if I could.
That set me thinking about how I felt towards Tania; did I fancy her? I suppose at one level most guys, short of being an impotent monk, would fancy her, but where your best friend is concerned you controlled those feelings even if they are present. In my code you don't try to seduce your friend's wife.
Work took over my thinking and once more telling myself that the subject must now be closed, I got down to the matters in hand.
From the first moment of my arrival at their place on Saturday I knew there was something wrong. Tania and Jarvis seemed to avoid talking to each other directly, and having invited me, now seemed embarrassed that I was there. We ate the meal almost in silence and any attempts by me to get a conversation started quickly faded out as the two of them sat staring down at food they barely touched.
There was no suggestion of a card game after the meal, and that seemed ominous. They had something on their minds, and as my exasperation level rose and I was about to ask what the hell was going on, Jarvis burst out, "About the fifty thousand dollars..."
"For God's sake, Jarvis," I said sharply, "the two of you have hardly said a word all evening; I feel as if I've dropped right into the middle of a marital quarrel and now you raise that bloody fifty thousand dollars again. So what's going on?"
There was a very long pause. Jarvis was staring down at the floor, a picture of misery; Tania was looking at him, her eyes glittering with fury.
It was Tania who broke the silence when, in a voice that matched her furious gaze she cried out, "Are you going to tell him or am I?"
Without raising his head and in a barely audible mumble, Jarvis said, "You can tell him."
"Tell me what, for God's sake," I snapped.
Tania turned her gaze on me and said very slowly, "Tell you that his gambling has got us into the most terrible trouble."
I was flabbergasted, "But Jarvis has such big wins."
"Does he?" she said abruptly. "You mean he says he does."
Her anger started to dissolve into tears as she went on, "He's used all the money I brought to the marriage; he's borrowed and not paid back; we're months behind on all sort of bills and now he's...oh my God what are we going to do?"
"He's what, what has he done?"
Jarvis sank lower in his chair as Tania continued, "He's stolen from his workplace and the auditors are due in next month and it'll all come out."
She burst into sobs as I sat there dumfounded, unable to take in what she had told me, let alone speak. Two people who had occupied a central place in my life; whose marriage I had thought ideal – their's had been the model of what I hoped my marriage would be if ever I got married – now the...the what? Yes, the illusion, came crashing down.
In the long silence I thought how little I had really known about their lives – how little we know about anyone's life. So many seemingly happy evenings spent with them and all the time this was lurking there.
It was Jarvis who broke the silence and without looking at me and still with muffled voice said; "About the fifty thousand, Ted; Tania and I have talked it over and if you meant..."
"God Almighty Jarvis don't start that again, selling Tania to me for a night of sex; she's your wife for God's sake, a man doesn't sell his wife."
Now he did look up and there was desperation in his eyes; "Ted, I've got to get the money or they'll send me to jail and I couldn't face..."
"But you could face sacrificing Tania?"
I was sickened; I was seeing a side of Jarvis I had never in all the years of knowing him suspected. I looked across at Tania; she was staring at Jarvis but probably sensing my gaze she looked back at me. I could see the strain of anxiety in her face that had turned an ashen colour but I couldn't read the expression in her eyes. My disgust at Jarvis' suggestion had been such that I had been on the verge of getting up and leaving. Now I realised that if I did go I would be leaving Tania to endure the same catastrophe as Jarvis.
I returned my gaze to Jarvis; I could see the beads of sweat forming on his forehead; the sweat of a man caught up in fear.
I made up my mind and said, "Look, I'll lend you the money if it'll help, but no sick deals over Tania. She's not for sale and I'm not buying."
Very slowly and deliberately, her eyes fixed on me, Tania spoke. "You're not lending him...us...any money, Ted. If you do I know just what would happen, you'd never get it back. As Jarvis said, we've talked it over; if any money changes hands I'm willing to..." she transferred her gaze to Jarvis and smiled mockingly, and went on, "pay the price and..."
Jarvis, who didn't seem to understand how sickening it sounded, interrupted her, "After all, Ted, what's one night in a lifetime."
This time I did rise to leave but Tania got up and came to me. "Please don't go, Ted, there's no one else we can turn to."
Now I could read the expression in her eyes, it was one of utter despair. Of course she would not go to jail with Jarvis, but she would be implicated in his disgrace and probably lose everything, house, cars...yes, everything.
I sat down again and said, "All right Jarvis, I'll give you the money."
He looked at me and I could see the relief and something else in his face. I tried to work out what that look was and could only think of one word; it was fanatical. I somehow knew what that look meant, he would gamble that money away too.
He started to express his gratitude in a sycophantic tone of voice; "Oh that's so generous of you, Ted, I'll be eternally..."
Tania cut him off again. "There'll be no giving, Ted, if we get the money I pay the price; after all, as Jarvis said" – again mockingly – "what's one night in a lifetime?"
I at last began to understand where Tania was coming from. She wanted to punish Jarvis for the pain and anxiety he had brought upon her. She might pay the physical price, but he would pay the emotional and mental price of knowing what Tania would be doing with me.
I started to say, "I can't..." but once more Tania waded in.
"Why, would one night with me be so hard to take?"
"It's not that, Tania," I protested, "just think of how the future would be. We'd never be able to look each other in the eyes again; it would end our friendship..."
"Hasn't it done that already?" Tania said quietly.
I knew she was right. What had happened during this evening would always stand between us; the knowledge that I had bought Tania; that Jarvis had been willing to sell her and that Tania had agreed to the deal.
Jarvis, clearly panicking put forward what I now realised was a gamblers proposition.
"We cut the cards."
"We cut the cards and whoever comes up with the highest card wins."
"Wins what exactly," Tania asked sardonically.
"Here's the deal," Jarvis said, his voice unsteady, "we cut the cards and if I win I get the fifty thousand no strings attached, okay?"
"And if Ted wins?" Tania asked.
"He pays the fifty thousand and gets you for the night; is it a deal?"
"It seems to me that you win either way," Tania said.
"Well Ted did say he'd give me the fifty thousand, so what's the difference, this way he's got a chance of getting something for his money?"
Neither Tania nor I made any response, so Ted went on, "Just so we're clear, if you win you get Tania from sunset to sunrise, I'll go to a motel for the night so you won't be embarrassed." He laughed shakily and continued, "You'll be getting a good deal Ted, it's winter and the sun sets early and rises late. What's more, just to show I trust you, you don't pay until after sunrise – in cash of course."
I thought he must have gone mad making such a proposal, but I had ceased to worry about Ted and his problems and was solely concerned for Tania and what she might have to face. Since I'd offered to give the money I felt as if I now had nothing to lose.
I looked at Tania and she nodded. "Okay Jarvis," I said heavily, "if that's how you want it; when?"
He gave a crazy sounding giggle and replied, "Not tonight, I don't want to cheat you; it's a long time after sunset, so suppose we make it next Saturday?"
With shaking hands he pulled a diary out of his pocket and began to leaf through it.
"Yes, here we are, next Saturday the sun sets at five thirty six and rises on Sunday morning at seven fifteen. You get here around five o'clock, we cut the cards and...well, it depends on who wins, okay."
This time I did leave. I wanted to get out of that mad house as quickly as possible but felt guilty about leaving Tania alone with Jarvis. He made no move to accompany me to the door, but Tania did. As we got to the door she put her arms round me, kissed me on the cheek, and whispered, "Thank you Ted."
"For what?" I asked. "But don't worry; it'll be okay whichever way it goes."
During the following week that evening with Jarvis and Tania haunted me day and night. Of course I knew there were men who sold their wives and wives who agreed to be sold, but for me to be involved, and for it to be happening with two people whom I had idealised so much, seemed doubly shocking. I knew just what I'd do if I won, and this would at least save Tania from distress.
I drew the fifty thousand from the bank on Friday. I'd never actually had that much in cash before and was amazed at how much space it took up in the case I had brought with me.
All day Saturday I couldn't settle to anything. I wasn't looking forward to the evening. People say that time flies when you're having fun; it also flies when you're faced with something unpleasant.
At five o'clock I was knocking at the door of their house. Tania answered it and her first words were, "It's perfectly all right, Ted."
Jarvis was in the lounge looking agitated, a new pack of sealed cards on the coffee table.
"Sit down...sit down Ted," he urged.
When I'd sat he began to unseal the cards, giving his crazy giggly laugh as he did so.
"Heh...heh...I won't even ask to see the money because I know you wouldn't try to cheat me."
He shuffled the cards expertly and then handed them to me.
"Heh...heh...you shuffle, don't want you thinking I'm cheating, heh...heh..."
He had a fanatical gleam in his eyes, "The look of the inveterate but unsuccessful gambler making his last throw," I thought.
"Ace high?" he asked.
"Yes...yes, ace high." I somehow felt dissociated from what was happening. All I was really doing was handing over fifty thousand dollars whichever way it went. I would be glad to get it over with and leave this mad house.
"Who cuts first?" he asked.
"I don't care, you can."
He looked at Tania and said, "You're part of the deal, how would you like to cut for me?"
"It's your deal not mine," she replied, "You cut."
For a guy who was destined to win at the money either way Jarvis was really tensed up. His hand shook as he cut from the pack. He laid his card face down and said, "Now you."