Trojan Horse


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"Sneaky, very sneaky," he said to himself. He went to the garage where he emptied out two boxes. It took him another half-hour to photograph and print on 8.5x11 paper the view that each camera had. Cutting out most of the end of each box, he taped the photograph over the open area, then stuck the camera in front of it. He pointed the boxes toward the center of the room so that the overhead light illuminated each cutout, then left the light on. It was a hack, but it wouldn't need to hold long anyway. He screwed the cable back in and waited for the regular blinking of lights to resume on the router. No phone call came through.

Two trucks rumbled up to the house that day. First, a corporate moving service which quickly boxed everything he owned, and second, a moving van which moved in someone else. He had found a realtor who specialized in corporate relocations and, for the small discount of half the value of the house, had sold it in exchange for buyer performing remediation. He knew that the realtor suspected that radon would not be an actual issue in an area where none of the homes had basements, but he was obligated by law to disclose anyway. He got out with enough to pay off what they owed on the house and little more. He hauled all of his crap to the business, then dispatched the moving van to Steve's address, helpfully provided by Cathy.

An hour later his phone trilled with the special ring he had installed for Gwen. It was the "The Witch is Dead" song from The Wizard of Oz, a movie he hated when he was a child but now appreciated further.

"Hey hon, what's up?" he asked. Marc could hear furious rapid monologue on the other end. Randall winked.

"Yeah, we had to sell the house," he said. "I needed financing for the business. I'm looking for apartments now, just staying with my parents. There's room for you too. Your car, yeah, I turned that in at the dealership. They gave us about four grand for it. Well, it was either that or fix it, which was most of the price of the vehicle. You have your rental still, right? Great, so that's sorted. Yeah, I'm looking at studio apartments so we can save as much money as possible. Oh yeah, I sent your stuff along to the address Cathy gave me. She said it was your aunt, or an old college friend or something. There's not much, and we can move it to the apartment in carloads as convenient. I know it's awkward, but I really need all the money for the business. We had a fall in order and I need to make up payroll and insurance, or we'll never get the payoff. Per month? Uh, it's clearing about $1500 per month now, but that should go up within a few years, maybe five or even seven, but it'll go up, I swear it. Oh, you have to go? OK, well, let's talk when you get back. Love ya."

Marc felt himself sweat as he looked at the man before him. He had seen eyes that dead once before only, in the face of a former special forces operator he met in the oilfield. There was nothing visible there. All of the energy was conserved, and the face was impassive as if it were masked. When Randall told him what Gwen had been doing, Marc expected rage, anguish, maybe even appeasement. Instead he saw an ineffable and infinite coldness, like a machine with simple instructions carrying out a mission that would destroy it. He looked away.

In fact, Randall had done a great deal of grieving. After he visited the supply closet the first time, he knew in his heart a few things:

A. Gwen is cheating on me with Steve Callahan, her old summer flame from college.

B. He works at the hospital and they have been doing this a long time, probably for my whole marriage.

C. Gwen will never give me what I want, which is a pleasant home life, love, trust, affection, and a family.

D. Instead, she will take everything I have so that she can keep having Steve or several Steves in her life.

E. If I divorce her, I lose everything. If I ruin everything, she leaves and I can rebuild.

F. This is a small price to pay for the monstrous, stupid error I made in marrying the girl who made me orgasm the most.

He stopped by his grandmother's condominium several weeks later. "Grandma, I can't fool you. My marriage is toast: Gwen is cheating on me with a coworker, has been doing it for some time, and has zero intent of ever giving you grandchildren."

"Oh, you poor child," said the elderly woman, her blue eyes aflame. "How long have you been carrying this hurtful secret?"

"I... I've only found out gradually," said Randall.

"At first, I was shocked. I just couldn't do anything. Marc sent me home because I was useless. I didn't eat for the next week, and barely slept. I looked terrible. I only got up and showered in the hope that she would change her mind and love me again. I started going to the gym, but other than that, I couldn't do anything. I paid my taxes late because I just couldn't concentrate."

"That came to an end once I heard them, ah, you know, doing things in the supply closet at work."

"A supply closet! How romantic! He really knows how to show a girl a good time!" They both laughed, but when his chuckles faded, Randall had eyes full of tears.

He continued. "After that, I went into denial. I just refused to see it. I started being more romantic, working out harder, cooking for her, doing everything I could to bring out the best. But in my heart, I had doubt, and not the bad kind like you have before a test, but the kind that tells me I was just in an illusion. It broke like a fever after a few days."

"That sent me into a pattern of soul-searching. I felt like it was my fault, and in my guilt I went looking for what I did wrong. I didn't buy her enough flowers, or take her out for enough dates, or tell her I loved her enough. But then, I remembered how when she came back one summer, she was being sociable to this Steve Callahan guy back then. At that point, I knew. She's always been a bit self-centered, and it gets her ahead in her career, but it makes for an isolated marriage. She was able to 'compartmentalize' and have a work life and a home life, and the two did not overlap. He was her 'work husband,' to use the current term, because they worked together so much. He introduced her to the party scene downtown, and a new group of friends who are all doctors with money, fast cars, cocaine, and so on. I couldn't compete. I keep trying to build the business so we have a steady income stream, children, retirement, insurance... all those things that she needs, even if they're boring."

"Oh, indeed. The things a grown-up girl needs, not a college girl," said his grandmother. "What happened then?"

"I started trying to figure out a way that it could work. If he had her for the week, maybe I could have her for the weekend. I could forgive her if she gave him up now and came back to me, or gave me a 'hall pass' so I could have an affair if I wanted in the future. All this stupid stuff went through my head, grandma. I really was developmentally disabled for a few days. Then the anger hit me."

"At that point, I had figured out that I provided a good life for her, and she had told me to go ahead and build equity in the business. She just wanted to take more in the divorce, you see, because she knew that as the timeline goes on, the chance of getting away with cheating approaches zero. She spent all her money from work on herself while I paid off the mortgage, and she wanted half of the house. She cut me out from affection, and, uh, marital relations and stuff, long ago. I heard them talking about me, grandma, and how weak they thought I was. How stupid I was to fund their little fling, and how much fun it was to pull one over on me."

His grandmother nodded and tutt-tutted.

"It got dark then, grandma. These were not your grandson's proudest days. I basically lived on the sofa. Marc let me slide on work because my head wasn't there. He was furious with her. He said I went from being the best artisan he has ever known to being a useless, self-pitying lump. I was so embarassed I dodged his calls for days. He apologized and told me to get well. I told him I thought she was the one. He said what everyone said, just get back together with her, it's easier and cheaper than a divorce. But I couldn't. If I got back together with her, I would always be watching the phone, counting the hours she was away. I would have to become the policeman of my own marriage. And there would be no joy in it. I got even more depressed."

"I thought about many things. I considered killing myself and leaving the stiff in the living room, so she'd come home and see what she had done. But then the logical half of the brain kicked in. She'd just step over me, laugh at how pathetic I was, and have a roll in the hay (sorry) with her lover before calling the cops to remove the carcass. I realized in that moment the mistake I had made. I confused her energy, her sexuality, and her capability at schoolwork for the signs of a real person, but in fact, I got a sociopath. I don't know if she always was, or was just a selfish narcissist by nature. Maybe her parents spoiled her. But she's bad news. There's no way I can love that, or even go back to it. I needed it gone from my life."

"At that point, I got up and showered. I went for a jog in the park, and there was this group of people in self defense class, all chanting out 'I will not become a victim' and raising their fists. I saw in that moment, like looking through a prism into different rooms in my future over many years, two things: first, that this marriage was dead and nothing I could do would save it, and second, that I couldn't get out of this by being like a normie and getting a divorce."

"That's my boy," said Grandma, beaming a little. "Don't take that shit lying down from that little hussy. Give 'em hell."

For the first time in many days, a genuine smile broke over Randall's face. "Oh, I shall." He explained how the business was bankrupted, since it stopped taking orders long ago and was passing those onto Marc's company. Not only that, but he had loaded it with debt, and was working for Mickey Dees wages. He detailed how the cars were sold and the house liquidated, and how all of the housewares were gone. How he had all the stuff moved out. How he had pressured her at work, but not gotten her fired. How he had avoided all of the silly alienation of affection lawsuits, and basically done nothing illegal, since the car he wrecked was his own, and all of the bad financial decisions he deliberately made were in pursuit of more money, just incompetently. He mentioned how he had filed final tax papers on the business, effectively dissolving it, and shut down the facility. All of his workers had moved over to Marc, who had given them a hint of what was going on.

"I am beyond anger, Grandma. I am beyond sadness. I am at the point that they describe in the old koan, 'If you meet the Buddha and he obstructs your path, kill him.' I have no feelings, no soul. I am pure nothingness, sweeping in, and I will burn it all down to be rid of her." He then described the post-nuptial arrangement that, out of fear of revealing the affair, his wife had signed.

"She's going to move out, and she's not going to know what hit her," he said. "She'll move in with Steve, and have all of her stuff there. She won't find me, since I won't have an official residence. I'll close down the business and live like a hobo for a few months, but I'm going to wait for a year to pass, and she's going to want to marry him then. Or another stooge. I can feel it in my bones. The parasite needs a host. She's going to sue me for divorce on the grounds of separation, and I have the pre-nup and no assets, so she's going to ask for nothing. I just have to wait."

His grandmother thought carefully. "There is another option," she said. She picked up the phone. "Heloise? It's been too long. Listen, sweetie, I have a favor to ask. Is Tricia still in town? It's unorthodox, but..."

Gwen lay stretched out on the bed after another massive fuck-fest. She had given him her mouth, ass, mouth, and vagina in sequence, and Steve's head was swimming with so many hormones and pheremones that he would agree to anything. They had been living together for three weeks, since her useless deadbeat husband had apparently run his business into the ground, sold all of their stuff to pay it off, and now based on a call she received, was in rehab.

"Steve, I've been here a week, and I --"

(He thought giddily about how she never, ever built a sentence around anything other than her needs, her wants, and her feelings. He would never kick her out however because narcissistic girls were the easiest to manipulate. As long as she had what she thought she was owed, she would never question his other affairs, including with Bambi, Cindi, and Maxwell.)

The phone rang. "You'd better get that," said Steve, thinking about doing a bump of coke in the next room before he came back to rail this silly bitch in her anus again.

"Gwendy? It's Rand," said the far-off, hollow voice. "Listen, I -- are you still there?"

"I'm here," said Gwen. "Randall, is that really you?"

"Yeah, honey, it's me!" he said with sudden exuberance. "Lishen, I'm so, so, so sorry about the way thingsh worked out. I tried so hard, to make the business work, so you could have all the things you want, but it's just gone tits up, and everything's in the shitter, and --"

(Steve covered up his laughter. My god, this white trash comedy just kept getting better and better! And this made his position stronger, he thought: Gwen was his now, and even if she strayed, she could do nothing if he did.)

"Randall," said Gwen efficiently. "What -- do -- you -- want?"

"Uh, Traci, can you tell her?" he said, and she could hear that he was farther away in the room. A female voice came on the phone.

"Gwen, sugar, it's Traci. I'm here with your ex-hubs, and we're flat out broke. We were just wondering if, you know, for old times sake, you could see it in your heart to wire us some cash..."

Gwen looked at the phone. "Where are you?"

"Vegas, Baby," said Traci, then howled at the moon. "We're getting hitched and Rand's got a job on an oilwell in Mexico."

"Mexico!" said Gwen. "He's got a job?"

"Well, sort of," said "Traci." Tricia was reading off a page in her mom's friend's living room. "He's on standby. He's gotta pay off this thing, a lean or something."

(Steve fell off the bed laughing.)

"A lien?"

"Oh yah," said Traci. "They put a lean on his income because the loan to his business was personal. Well, the last one. The one before wasn't."

"And the business?" Gwen strung out the last word into a sentence.

"Oh. Sorry, sugar. I know you two worked on that. It's fucken toast. Soooo, we just came to Vegas to, uh, let off some steam, and whaddya know, Rand popped the question."

"But we're still married," said Gwen.

"Oh. Well, that's too bad. Rand, hunny, she says you're still married."

From across the room, she heard Rand hollowly and drunkenly say, "Nuh-unh. It didn't come up on the computer thing. She must've anullified it back in Houston."

"I sure didn't," said Gwen.

(He shot her a look, as if to say, "well, what are you waiting for?")

"Well, they're not stopping us here," said Traci. "I want to be Mrs. Rand Larsen as soon as I can. But we're in a bit of a tight spot. I know you guys were close, and he says you still have some of the stuff from the house, so is there any way you can wire us a couple hunred bucks so we can get a Greyhound back to Detroit?"

"Detroit?" said Gwen. "You live in Detroit?"

"Well, Kalamazoo," said Traci. "You know, just a little outside the city. We just need an overnight bus."

(Steve rolled his eyes. What's going to show up next, Kid Rock and Dog the Bounty Hunter?)

"Is that true, Randall?" Gwen enunciately politely. She found this little tart, tramp, whatever she was to be quite irritating, and played up her college-educated origins. She wanted this woman to feel the pain of being a trailer-dwelling low-life for the rest of her days.

"Yeah, honey, it's legit," Rand breathed into the phone. "We was just having a few drinks, and I seen your name on my phone, and thought well she always had a big heart, maybe she'll help us out of this li'l jam."

Gwen rolled her eyes. He was obviously totally wasted if he contorted his mind into believing that.

(Yeah, right, thought Steve. These two con artists were perfect for each other, except pencil-dick couldn't keep a woman, not when a sexual magnetism hurricane like Steve Callahan was on deck!)

"Um, how can I say this? 'No.' Let's try that. And never call me again. I've never seen anyone fall as fast or as hard as you have, Randall, and I want nothing to do with you. I'll send the divorce papers to your parents and please just sign and get out of my life. I'm embarrassed to ever have known you, and whatever wandering vagina you're associating with now."

"Baby wait--" said Rand, but the line dropped dead.

He wiped his brow with the back of a hand and turned the phone off. "Think she bought it? You were magnificent, by the way, Tricia."

His grandmother beamed at him.

That sound, those light impacts of falling metal, shook him out of his reverie. He had been at the shore's edge again, staring into the microturbulence of the dark water of the gulf. So much had changed. The sound of the nameplate dropping no longer struck him as a sad event, but the beginning of his liberation from language. His only true heartbreak, now that he looked back on it with a clear mind, was how much he trusted words, gestures, symbols, feelings, and sex.

He realized now that the only way to get out of the world of language and symbols was to escape to disinterest. Most people, if someone expresses anger, automatically express hurt; Randall wanted simply to not express. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference, and for him, the entire question provoked disinterest, at least for a long time. Why bother with the symbols that people used as if they were meaningful, then treated as arbitrary and irrelevant when it suited them to do so?

At first, he felt that something of great value had been taken from him. His rage showed that he still cared; once that evaporated, he found himself wondering if what had been taken was in fact a loss. Eventually, he came to a point of total disinterest, where he could look at his marriage as clinically as if he were rebuilding a pump assembly in a midcentury home, or trapping network traffic on his computer. He simply had no belief; he looked at how people acted, not what they said they were acting to do.

In Gwen, he saw a very selfish little girl who had adopted the worldly and disaffected pose of an older woman in order to stop caring about his love for her own strategic advantage. She loved him, when it brought her what she wanted right then, but that love turned off when she wanted something else. He always thought of love as not universal, in the sense of "we are all one soul," but all-binding, meaning that when he cared for someone, he cared for their needs, feelings, desires, and hopes as if they were his own, or maybe even treated them as more sacred than his own.

To Randall, love of a person was indistinguishable from other forms of love, like love of a good symphony, love of nation, or finding a connection in a good book. These things transcended all else. His love with Gwen did not, at least on her end, which made him a sucker from the start to the finish. The whole thing was a write-off. She used the same word, "love," and perhaps "trust," but she meant something entirely different by them, and this eventually came out when she loved Steve's penis more than Randall's faith in her.

At the end of the day, love means setting "my happiness" aside for mutual benefit, not simply in a material sense but a spiritual one. Love is not convenient or easy. It takes effort like a job and skill like art. He would not want his daughters to behave like Gwen did not only because it was disgusting, but because it cut them off from a vision of the world where love can conquer all because we set aside our selfishness and act to form bonds and improve each other.