Ayers rises from the futon and staggers toward the front door. Her head feels like a broken plate. After the Schramsberg on the beach, there had been some shots of tequila here at home, as well as a forbidden cigarette (she quit two years ago but keeps a pack stashed on top of her refrigerator in case of emergency). She needs a gallon of very cold water and fifty Advil.
She swings open the door. There’s Mick, with tears streaming down his face. The sight renders Ayers speechless. Mick is a douche bag. He doesn’t cry. Ever.
“What?” she says, though it sounds like more of a croak.
“Rosie,” Mick says. “Rosie is dead.”
After meeting with his accountant, Glenn, at Machete Tequila + Tacos, it becomes clear that Cash is going to lose not only the Cherry Creek store but the one in Belmar as well. All Cash can think is: Thank God.
Now he can go back to being a ski bum.
He hadn’t really wanted to go into business in the first place, but he had grown tired of receiving envelopes in the mail from his father, with newspaper clippings meant to be encouraging and helpful about young men “just like you” who had stumbled across a way to turn their life’s passions into income-generating ventures. Russ was also keen for Cash to “finish your education,” and so sometimes the envelopes included advertisements for online college courses or the myriad offerings for nontraditional students at the University of Iowa. You could live at home! Russ wrote, and Cash would picture himself trapped with his parents in the suffocating ornateness of their Victorian house. Because Russ was so rarely home, Cash suspected that Russ’s true motivation was to have Cash care for his mother and grandmother, chauffeur them to the Wig and Pen, play Bingo with Milly and the other extreme-elders at Brown Deer. No thank you. When Cash talked to his father on the phone, Russ would end each conversation by gently pointing out that sooner or later, Cash was going to need to think about health insurance, a retirement fund, having an infrastructure in place so he could start a family.
Like your brother.
Russ had never actually uttered this phrase, but Cash heard it as the subtext. Cash wanted to point out to his father that while Baker used to work the Chicago futures market, and while he used to make a ton of money, he now sits at home in Houston, day-trading in his boxer shorts and smoking more weed than Cash could ever hope to get his hands on in Colorado, where weed is legal. Baker only has two claims to actual legitimacy: He cares for his four-year-old son, Floyd (although Floyd goes to Montessori school every day from eight thirty to three), and he keeps house for his wife, Dr. Anna Schaffer, who has turned into a legitimate Houston superstar. She’s the Olajuwon of the cardiothoracic surgery scene.
Cash lets Glenn, the accountant, pick up the tab for the four Cadillac margaritas and order of guac—fifty-seven bucks—and then the two men walk out to the parking lot together. Cash wonders if he will be able to keep his pickup with the name of the store—Savage Season Outdoor Supply—painted on the side. It’s an eye-catching truck, made even more gorgeous with his golden retriever, Winnie, in the back.
He fears the truck will be repossessed, like the stores. The bank is coming in the morning. Right now, he needs to go to both stores and empty the registers. There is two hundred and forty-five dollars in the Cherry Creek store and a hundred and eighteen dollars in the Belmar store. This and Winnie are all Cash has left to his name.
He has a rental apartment on 18th Avenue in City Park West but he hasn’t paid his rent for January so he envisions a middle-of-the-night pack up and escape to Breckinridge. Jay, who runs the ski school, will be thrilled to have Cash back. Unlike every other twenty-something kid in the Rocky Mountains, Cash knows how to ski as well as snowboard. This means Cash can teach the trophy-wives-of-tech-moguls who want a hot instructor way more than they want to make turns, and it also means huge tips from the moguls who want their ladies taken care of while they go ski the horseshoe bowl on Peak 8.
It’s all going to work out, Cash thinks. Losing the stores is just a bump in the road.
As Cash turns onto Third Street, he puts both of the truck’s windows down. Winnie automatically sticks her head out the passenger-side window and Cash stick his head out the driver’s side.
No more standing behind the register selling Salomon boots to some Gen Z executive in from Manhattan who says he’s heard hiking Mount Falcon is “lit,” no more biting his tongue to keep from telling Executive Boy Wonder that he could hike Mount Falcon in the Gucci slides he came in wearing. No more worrying about inventory or deliveries or if Dylan, the kid Cash hired to “manage” the Belmar store, was filching from the register in order to pay his oxy dealer.
His father will be very disappointed. Russ was Cash’s only investor, and all of that money is now gone, with absolutely nothing to show for it; it’s as though Cash has blown it all on a very expensive video game. Cash will have to call his father and tell him—before he finds out another way, such as an email from the bank. Any other father would be angry, but what Cash knows will happen is that Russ will tell Cash he’s “let down,” which is so much worse.
Cash will also have to hear from his brother, Baker. Baker didn’t like it when Russ “handed” Cash the stores, and he predicted Cash would fail within two years. Why doesn’t Cash have to work for what he gets, like everyone else? Baker had thundered when he’d found out what was happening. He won’t appreciate the opportunity he has unless he’s earned it himself. In essence, Cash had rolled his eyes at his older brother and chalked the rant up to jealousy. What he wished he’d confided to Baker was that he didn’t want the stores. They weren’t so much handed to him as foisted upon him by their overeager father. Now that Baker’s prediction has come true—the stores are gone, Cash sunk them, and he feels little, if any, personal loss, because his sense of self wasn’t vested—Cash will have to endure the inevitable I told you so.
Cash loves his brother, in theory. In practice, he can’t stand the guy.
In a rare show of courage—probably fueled by the Cadillac margaritas—Cash picks up his phone and dials his father’s number. It’s eight thirty here, nine thirty at home, ten thirty on the East Coast. Cash isn’t sure where his father is this week, but he hopes the late hour works in his favor. His father likes to have a bourbon or two most nights. He hopes that it’s one of those nights, and that Russ’s mood is buoyant and he and Cash can laugh off the train wreck of two stores and a two-hundred-thousand-dollar investment as a valuable learning experience.
The call goes to voicemail. Cash experiences a rush of relief that leaves him dizzy.
A few seconds later, his phone lights up and the relief quickly turns to dread. Then relief again when Cash sees that it’s not his father calling back. It’s his mother.
His mother! Cash hates reverting to the behaviors of his adolescence, but he decides in that instant that he will tell his mother about the stores going under and he will let Irene tell Russ. He can even tell Irene not to tell Russ—he can pretend he wants to break the news to Russ himself, but Irene won’t be able to help herself. Those two are typical parents; they tell each other everything.
“What’s good, Mama?” Cash says. “Happy New Year.”
“Cash,” Irene says, “where are you?”
Something is wrong with her voice. It sounds like she’s being strangled.
“I’m pulling into my driveway,” he says. “Just me and Winnie.” Now is not the time to explain that he’s going to pack up all of his worldly belongings and head for the mountains; somehow, he senses this.
“Cash,” Irene says.
“Your father is dead.”
Cash’s first thought is: I don’t have to tell him about the stores. Then, the cold, sick meaning of the words hit him. His father is dead.
“What are you talking about?” Cash says. “What do you mean?”
“There was an accident,” Irene says. “A helicopter crash, in the Virgin Islands…”
“The Virgin Islands?” Cash says. He’s confused. Are the Virgin Islands even a real place? He thinks they are real, but they sound fake and he would have a hard time finding them on a map. Are they in the Caribbean, or farther south, like the Falklands? And what do the Virgin Islands, wherever they are, have to do with his father?
A helicopter crash? No, there’s been a mistake.
“St. John, in the Virgin Islands,” Irene says, and her voice is full-on quavering now. Cash shuts the engine of his truck off and releases a long, slow stream of air. Winnie lays her head in Cash’s lap. It’s amazing how much dogs understand. Cash has seen and heard his mother cry on plenty of occasions—all of them happy, every tear a tear of joy and wonder. She cried when Baker and Cash graduated from high school, when Baker and Anna had Floyd, she cried every Christmas Eve when the church choir launched into “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” But Irene Hagen Steele didn’t cry over disappointment, or even death. When her parents died, Irene handled it with a solid midwestern pragmatism. Circle of life and all that. She arranged for proper Lutheran funerals and covered dish receptions afterward. She didn’t cry.