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Climbing the Ladder - Climbing Higher

Michael Loucks


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Copyright © 2015-2023 Michael P. Loucks

First publication date: 2023-11-15

First revision publication date: 2024-02-20

You may contact the author at: author@michaelloucks.com


While this story was inspired by actual persons and events, certain characters, characterizations, incidents, locations, and dialog were fictionalized or invented for the purposes of dramatization.

For Jeremiah

Other Books in This Series

The First Rung

The Second Rung

Climbing Higher

Chutes and Ladders (*)

Other Books by Michael Loucks

A Well-Lived Life, Series I

Book 1 - Birgit

Book 2 - Jennifer

Book 3 - Pia

Book 4 - Bethany

Book 5 - Stephanie

Book 6 - Kara I

Book 7 - Kara II

Book 8 - Stephie

Book 9 - Anala

Book 10 - The Wife

A Well-Lived Life, Series 2

Book 1 - Bethany

Book 2 - Stephie

Book 3 - Jessica

Book 4 - Elyse

Book 5 - Michelle

Book 6 - Samantha

Book 7 - Sakurako

Book 8 - NIKA

Book 9 - Kami

Book 10 - Bridget

A Well-Lived Life Series 3

Book 1 - Suzanne

Book 2 - The Inner Circle

Book 3 - A New World

Book 4 - Coming of Age

Book 5 - The Pumpkin Patch

Book 6 - The World Turned Upside Down (*)

Good Medicine

Freshman Year

Sophomore Year

Junior Year

Senior Year

Medical School I

Medical School II

Medical School III

Medical School IV

Residency I

Residency II (*)

From the Files of Doctor Fran Mercer (*+)

A Sailor's Diary

Book 1 - The War Years (*+)

+ Available exclusively on Patreon or BuyMeACoffee

I. I Suspect You're Right

January 23, 1983, Chicago, Illinois

The adrenaline rush had made me slightly light-headed and nauseated, but I recovered quickly and picked up the phone, which had clattered to the floor when I'd dropped it.


"Sorry," I said. "I dropped the phone. I'm not sure what to say."

"I've made a real mess of things," Bev said, "and I don't know what to do."

"I'm not sure, either," I replied. "Let me think about it, please."

"You promised you wouldn't tell anyone!" Bev said frantically.

"I won't. Let me call you in a few days, OK?"

"But I can't talk if my parents are home!"

"Then we need to find a way to talk soon. Figure something out, please."

"I will."

"It's OK to call me at work to arrange a time to talk."

"Thanks for being here for me, Jonny," Bev said. "I'll call you soon."

We said 'goodbye', I hung up, and took some time to take stock of the situation.

I had given my word to Bev, and my word was my bond, but given my mom's relationship with Glen, I wasn't sure I could keep the information from her. I had no idea how she'd react, but no matter what, I couldn't let her marry Glen without knowing he'd not only slept with Bev but was also Heather's dad.

I did some quick math in my head and thought back to what I knew. Glen had started at Goshen in August 1980, Bev had become pregnant in September 1981, and had given birth in June 1982. My mom had started working at the High School in July 1982, had met Glen at some point after that, and they'd had their first date around the beginning of October 1982.

On the plus side, that meant Glen's relationship with Bev had been over for a year when he started seeing my mom. That was, though, the only plus I could see. He was a teacher, he was something like thirty years older than she was, and he'd gotten her pregnant. I had to assume the circumstances were as Bev had said -- that she'd been on the Pill and had taken it religiously.

A thought crossed my mind that I actually couldn't trust anything Bev had said about what had happened from the time I told her I was moving until, well, I actually wasn't sure I could trust anything she'd said about her relationships. That concerned me, and before I could move forward with her, we'd have to sit down and talk. In a sense, I didn't care about who or what, but lies and deceit were a massive obstacle to overcome.

Thinking further about it, though, it might be the case that Bev hadn't actually deceived me. If she'd been positive that Bob Leahy was Heather's dad, then the only thing she'd done with regard to me was conceal that she'd had a relationship with my mom's future fiancé. If Heather weren't in the picture, that wouldn't matter so long as the relationship wasn't continuing. Ultimately, who Bev had sex with was her business, not anyone else's.

As I analyzed the situation further, I felt Glen had to suspect that Heather might be his, as I was positive that my mom would have told him about what had happened. I tried to think about how I would respond and considered my reaction to the fact that Huifen might have been pregnant. If she had been and had chosen to have the baby, I would absolutely have stepped up and taken responsibility. What that meant would have been negotiated between Huifen and me, with the best interests of the baby paramount.

But what if one of the other girls turned up pregnant? With very few exceptions, they weren't monogamous, and I wasn't expecting them to be, as I sure wasn't. If one of the girls who hadn't made a point of saying she was only sleeping with me discovered she was pregnant, it would be far more complicated. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Glen might suspect, but couldn't know, because it was entirely possible Bev had been with other guys. Again, that was her business, except with regard to naming Heather's dad.

Of course, she didn't have to name him and could simply forego child support, but I wondered how her parents would react to that. She was living at home, and her parents were paying for school, and that put her in a position where they could pressure her. Following the same path my mom had followed was not easy, and I had no idea if Bev had friends who could take her in and how she would make ends meet while raising Heather and trying to finish her degree.

In the end, everything depended on what Bev chose to do, and I could only offer suggestions and support with one caveat -- I felt strongly my mom had to know. And that presented me with a dilemma of which 'right thing' to do -- honor my relationship with my mom or my word to Bev. Doing both would be possible if Bev either allowed me to tell my mom or told my mom herself. If that didn't happen, I'd have a tough choice to make.

Despite my conversation with Bianca earlier, I begged off being together, as I simply wasn't in the mood.

January 24, 1983, Chicago, Illinois

On Monday morning, after breakfast and a shower, I put on one of my new custom shirts and tailored suits, along with a red 'power tie', as Beth called it. I checked myself in the mirror on the back of the bathroom door, then went downstairs.

"WHOA!" Shelly exclaimed. "That suit is amazing!"


"If you walk into a bar, every chick in the place will be ready to drop her panties for you!"

"That already happens!" Bianca interjected. "Well, at a university dormitory or party!"

"Now all he needs is the American Express Card and Rolex!" Shelly declared.

"I applied for an Amex card," I said, "but the $5,000 watch is going to have to wait until I make a lot more money than I do now, and I'm not sure spending that kind of money on what amounts to a fashion accessory makes sense! My Casio does just fine, and with a metal band, it doesn't look out of place."

"Well, you certainly look the part of a high-flying stockbroker!"

"Which will mean nothing if I don't actually make money for Spurgeon!"

"Are you going to change before class?" Bianca asked.

"I actually mentioned to my new friends in class that I would probably be in a suit when I came to class if I don't change. I actually didn't think about it this morning until you just asked. I'll probably start taking a bag and changing into more comfortable clothes. That said, Violet will appreciate seeing me in a suit because I told her about them. She was curious about what they'd look like. Anyway, I need to go."

"You start earlier now, right?"

"Yes," I replied. "7:00am so that I can have my daily 'analyst report' on Mr. Matheson's desk before the opening bell at 8:30am Chicago time."

"What goes into that?"

"I'll explain later, OK? I don't want to be even thirty seconds late for my first day!"

I left the house, got into my car, and drove into the city. I parked, then instead of getting into the freight elevator as I had every day for the past nineteen months, I climbed the stairs to the lobby, then got into one of the regular passenger elevators. When I reached the 29th floor, I stepped off the elevator, walked down a short hallway, and used my keycard to enter the office.

"Morning, Rich," I said to the overnight trader who had started at 10:00pm the previous evening. "Anything of note in the markets?"

"A relatively quiet night," he said. "No big movements in Asia or Europe."

"Any news that happened overnight?"

"Italy sentenced twenty-five Red Brigades terrorists to life imprisonment, but that was basically expected. Otherwise, not much."

"OK," I replied. "Let me get to work on my daily analyst report."

I put my lunch in the fridge, started a fresh pot of coffee, then went to my desk. I turned on my Bloomberg terminal and my Apple II, hung my suit coat on a hanger, which I hung on a hook on the cubicle wall, then sat down to begin work.

"Morning, Jonathan," Tony said, sitting down in his chair.

Paige would be in her orientation for the morning, something I was very happy not to have to do again.

"Morning," I replied, not even looking up from my Bloomberg terminal.

I'd looked over a dozen reports Tony had written to get a feel for the style and tone, then pulled up the Bloomberg News service. It was extremely handy and made me instantly wish for the ability to search the Wall Street Journal, Barron's, and Crain's the same way I could search news articles on Bloomberg. I was aware of a service that might provide that, but I didn't know enough about it.

With no major news events, there weren't likely to be huge currency fluctuations for the day, so I looked instead at future risks. The ones that stood out were the ongoing Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan; the labor unrest in Poland and the continuing imposition of martial law; the conflict between the Sandinistas and Contras in Nicaragua; Cuban regulars fighting in the Angolan Civil War; the concerns over the runway being built in Granada; and the serious drought in Ethiopia, combined with insurgencies.

None of those specific conflicts would have any major bearing on precious metals or major currencies, and at the moment, none of them looked set to escalate. I decided on a format for my report which would grade the global climate in four areas: war risk, trade, economy, and political stability. Each would receive a letter grade from A-F, though I'd need to work out some system for making those decisions. For my immediate report, I'd just write prose.

As I was gathering information, I noticed an offhand comment in the article about Nicaragua about the Venezuelan economy, and I decided to dig in further. The Bolivar was a strong currency and was, in effect, the benchmark for Latin America. Venezuela had significant oil reserves, though they were heavier grades, rather than the 'light, sweet' crude of Saudi Arabia or the 'West Texas Intermediate'. Venezuela also mined significant amounts of bauxite, the main source of aluminum, as well as coal, gold, and iron ore.

All of that was a sign of a strong economy, but there were serious mismanagement problems, especially in the nationalized oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., or as it was known, PDVSA. That, combined with the oil price slump, indicated potentially rough economic times ahead.

Of course, 'slump' was relative, as benchmark oil was trading at $90/barrel, but that was down from $141/barrel at its height in 1980 following the Iranian revolution. Venezuela's reserves, being heavier, traded at a discount to that.

The more I researched, the more I saw that the Bolivar was overvalued, and at some point, possibly soon, the government would have to devalue it, and if they didn't, the market would force them to do so. Their ability to raise interest rates to counter pressure on the currency was limited, as was true for every central bank.

While I'd been researching, Anna, the pretty blonde Swedish secretary for the team, arrived, followed by the two assistant brokers, Kent and Lee, and shortly after them, Norman Monroe and Harry Foulks had come in. All of them had said 'good morning', and I'd replied without even looking away from my work.

I typed my report, looked up the current rates of exchange for a dozen major currencies, as well as the spot gold, silver, and platinum prices, and then wrote my first ever daily recommendation -- short the Bolivar. I reviewed the report, printed it, and then took it to Mr. Matheson's desk and put it in his 'In' box.

I checked my watch and saw that I had about ten minutes before he arrived, so I poured myself a cup of coffee and used that time to review my own portfolios. I decided to move out of a few positions, so I turned on the IBM terminal, signed on, then entered the trades I wanted to make, which would be executed by either Mr. Steinem or Mr. Jackson when the market opened. I also entered an order for my Cincinnatus Fund for puts on the Bolivar, where a small amount of capital could control a huge position.

Mr. Matheson came into the office and walked past without acknowledging anyone. But five minutes later, my phone buzzed, signifying the intercom was open.

"Kane, get in here!" Mr. Matheson growled.

"On my way!" I replied.

I got up and went to his office.

"Two things," he said. "First, I need to know how to use this Bloomberg machine. Second, what the fuck? Short the Bolivar? The single strongest currency in Latin America? And one of the most stable in the world?"

"The analysis backs it up," I said. "They're going to have to devalue or default. Either they'll do it voluntarily, or they'll be forced to do it. They don't have any room to raise interest rates to defend their currency. The only thing that could save them now is increased oil prices, and the commodity reports say that's not going to happen. In fact, the price of oil is likely to decline significantly, to a small premium over pre-1973 prices."

"Your report disagrees with every other analyst report I've seen, both ours and independent analysts."

"I'm sure that's true," I replied. "But may I make two points?"

"Go on."

"First, as I said, the data backs it up; second, somebody has to be first, and you yourself told me being first is the way to make serious money."

"Would you short the currency? In your own account?"

"I sold two standard April Bolivar contracts and protected them with call options in my Cincinnatus Fund."

Call options meant I had the option of buying Bolivars at a specific price. If the Bolivar was devalued, as I expected, I wouldn't exercise the call options and would buy at market. If, for some reason, the Bolivar strengthened significantly, then I'd exercise those options to cover my short. I'd pay a few percent for the privilege of protecting myself, but I felt the Bolivar would devalue significantly.

"Two hundred thousand Bolivars?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.

"My worst-case scenario is I lose a few percent to insurance; the upside is potentially huge."

"You're that sure? The loss would amount to almost the entire amount of your special bonus."

He was right. I was betting around $7,000 to make anywhere from five to ten times that amount in three months. And, if the devaluation was even more severe, it might be as much as fifteen to twenty times.

"It would. I am in no way uncertain. I, as they say, put my money where my mouth is."

"How'd you twig to this?"

"A comment in an article about the Contra insurgency in Nicaragua mentioned that oil-dependent Latin American countries were suffering with the lower oil prices, which are down by more than a third from their 1980 highs. They specifically mentioned Pemex, but I know Venezuela is dependent on oil exports, so I did some research. You have my analysis, and you'll see my trade on your screen when you sign on. It's your call."

"Jesus, Kane! It's your first day!"

"So I should put my wingtips up on my desk, drink coffee, and flirt with Anna?"

He laughed, "No! But telling me to short a strong currency less than an hour after you started your new position is gutsy."

"Isn't that what you pay me for?"

"It is," he replied with a smile. "I'll order lunch, and you can show me how to use the new terminal."


"You found the Bolivar, so find me other currencies that might be in the same boat and which haven't weakened yet."

"Will do."

I went back to my desk and began my research. Just after the markets opened, I received trade confirmations for the trades I'd entered earlier and updated my portfolio spreadsheets to indicate the changes. I had to create a new formula for the protected short I'd created in the Bolivar, but that didn't take much time away from my research.

At noon, Mr. Matheson called me in for lunch of breaded steak from Ricobene's, and I explained how to use the Bloomberg terminal and gave him the 'cheat sheet' I'd created that listed the important key combinations and sequences he would need.

"This is a real game-changer," Mr. Matheson said when we finished.

"When I used it this morning, I began wishing for a way to search the Wall Street Journal. Heck, even an index of Journal Articles would be helpful. We have back editions in the archives, but they're kind of useless without an index. The only way I'd know where to find something is a reference in a research report or analyst note."

"There is Dow Jones News/Retrieval, but when we looked at it two years ago, it wasn't very good. It was also expensive, at something like $2.50 per minute, plus a monthly fee, plus phone charges."

"I've heard of another service," I said, "but I don't know anything more than that it exists. There's a company that offers the ability to search all federal court rulings, and at least some state rulings, called Lexis. They also have a service for journalists called Nexis, but I don't know anything at all about it except that it exists."

"How did you hear about it?"

"My attorney friend told me about Lexis and how his paralegal uses it. It works similarly to our Bloomberg terminals but uses IBM terminals. It can be used to search for anything in federal or Illinois court cases. He mentioned the same company has a similar service for newspapers."

"Do me a favor, check to see if Dow Jones News/Retrieval has changed their pricing model and has more information, and also look into the service you mentioned. Get pricing, and maybe arrange for a demonstration. If you think it's worthwhile, let me know, and we'll figure out what to do from there."

"Will do. Did you move on the Bolivar?"

"Yes. About thirty times what you did, and the same way, with a protective call. It kicked off a mini-trend of others who saw the trades and figured we knew something. That could snowball and might even force the outcome you predicted. You know how that works, right?"

"Yes, shorting the currency puts pressure on the central bank involved to do one of three things -- buy defensively, raise short-term interest rates, or devalue. Buying defensively requires significant outlays of foreign reserves, and Venezuela doesn't have enough to fight for long, especially with oil prices falling. Raising interest rates won't help because investors who see the risk will fear default or devaluation. A G7 country could defend its currency, but basically, no other country which didn't have massive gold reserves could do it for long. That leaves exactly one option."

"You've paid attention!" Mr. Matheson said approvingly. "That's something for you to watch for. You want to see who's selling and what they're selling each day. The key is finding the trend as early as possible so that we ARE the trend, not riding it. We can make money riding the trend, but the real money is being the trend."

"The elephant parade analogy," I replied. "Is there any currency you wouldn't put under pressure?"

"No. Granted, the combined assets of every trading firm in the world couldn't budge the US dollar if we tried, but almost any other one is vulnerable. What moves the dollar?"

"War, oil prices, trade imbalances, and interest rates, none of which gives anyone much leverage. We'd need to be OPEC."

"Those fuckers have screwed with us too many times, but it's hard to do anything short of invading the entire Middle East."

"World War III."

"That is the problem, and the bastards know it. Anyway, I have a call I need to make."

"Then I'll get back to work. Thanks for lunch."

I left and went back to my desk and spent two hours finding information on both Dow Jones News/Retrieval and Nexis. Both services would be useful, especially Dow Jones, as they had searchable articles from the Wall Street Journal on their computers. I collated all the information for both services in a spreadsheet and made a comparison list. I had to set it aside so that I could do further research for my morning analyst note, and by 5:00pm, I was mentally exhausted.

I had known hard physical labor from the time I was fourteen but had never realized, even taking classes, how tiring mental exertion could be. That had surprised me, as I'd never considered thinking to be hard work. I wasn't physically tired because I'd basically been sitting on my butt all day, and thinking about that reminded me that I needed to start going to the gym in the Hancock Center three times a week, or I'd start gaining weight and be really out of shape in no time.

I left the office, rode the passenger elevator down to the lobby, then took the stairs to the garage. I drove to University Village, parked just down the street from Violet's house, and walked to the door. I rang the bell, and she opened the door almost immediately.

"WOW!" she exclaimed. "You look really nice!"

"Thanks. This is one of the new suits I told you about."

"It's awesome! Come in; dinner's almost ready."

I went into the house and sat down at the kitchen table while Violet put the finishing touches on dinner.

"Did you speak with Bev?"

"Yes, and while I can't go into details, you were right in that there is someone involved she didn't want anyone to know about."

"I may be naïve, but even I know it takes a boy and a girl to make a baby!"

I laughed, "Yes, of course! It wasn't that there was another guy, it was that she kept that completely secret and wants to continue to keep it secret."


"It's complicated, and I really can't go into it because I promised Bev not to reveal anything."

"But who would I tell?" Violet asked.

"It's not about you," I replied. "It's about my promise. If I made a promise to you, you'd expect me to keep it, right?"

"Yes. And you're right; I shouldn't have asked."

"It's OK."

We had a nice dinner, and after I helped with the dishes, we headed to class. I walked Violet to her classroom, then walked to mine.

"WOW!" Teri gasped. "You look really nice in that suit! Even better than the one last week!"

I almost laughed because nobody at Spurgeon had said a word, but basically everyone else had noticed. It really was a uniform at work, and I'd have been noticed if I hadn't been wearing one. Tony didn't wear expensive suits, but he had, as far as I was aware, no desire to trade or manage money and, as such, didn't have a reason to spend the money.

"Jesus, Teri!" Troy exclaimed, rolling his eyes. "Drool much!"

"As if you don't drool over Laurie Newsome! And not just drool!"

"Sis!" he growled in protest.

I did laugh at that because her implication was clear.

"Tailored, right?" Troy asked. "It fits perfectly."

"Yes," I replied. "I started my new job today, and this is basically the dress code for anyone who wants to move up."

"Remember us little people when you become a zillionaire!" he requested.

I smiled and nodded because the professor chose that moment to step up to the lectern. I quickly pulled my notebook from my bag, along with my textbook and calculator, grabbed my mechanical pencil, and began taking notes. Just over an hour later, class ended, and I gathered my notebook, textbook, calculator, and pencil and put them in my satchel.

"See you on Wednesday," I said to Troy and Teri, then headed to meet Violet for our usual coffee and pie before heading home.

January 25, 1983, Chicago, Illinois

On Tuesday morning, I wrote my daily analyst report based on the data I had gathered on Monday afternoon and my assessment of the world condition. What I'd discovered so far was that Chile would continue to devalue their currency, though not as severely as had happened the previous September; that the Philippine peso was vulnerable and likely to come under increasing pressure; that Zaire was certain to have a shock devaluation at some point; the Tanzanian shilling was under pressure; and, in the opposite direction, the Mexican peso would strengthen against the dollar.

"There's no play in Zaire," Mr. Matheson said when he called me into his office later in the morning. "The official rate is around 6.5 to 1, while the black market rate is 30 to 1. Nobody is buying. I made a move on Chile last year, before the big devaluation, and there isn't much play there. Keep an eye on the Philippine peso and the Tanzanian shilling.

"Your analysis of Mexico is spot on, and I'm going to change the mix of our basket of currencies to reflect that. Keep a very close eye on that because as oil prices come down, it's going to put pressure on the government as the current account balance weakens. I want you to take a look at gold and silver, please; the run-ups seem out of line with market conditions."

"You're considering large short positions?"

"Yes. I need an analyst note to back my play."

That indicated that he had some kind of information he couldn't use to justify a trade, very likely from someone in London. And that information was not actionable, perhaps because it was 'inside'. If I could independently develop a case for a large short counter the market, he could act without risking regulatory scrutiny.

"OK," I replied.

I had lunch with Haley, then spent the afternoon researching and analyzing the run-up in gold and silver prices and discovered exactly what Mr. Matheson needed. First, the gold price was a surrogate for the interest rate on Eurodollars, and financing rates for bullion were calculated based on the Eurodollar rate.

Those rates ran about ten percent on an annualized basis, which meant the spread between spot bullion and a one-year futures contract should be about ten percent, which compensated the party holding the bullion for the cost of holding it. The spread was widening, which indicated the market expected prices to rise, as investors were paying a premium -- around 12% instead of the 10% indicated by the Eurodollar rate.

The fundamentals didn't support that, and at some point, the spread would narrow, which was the signal to get out, but anticipating that signal was the way to make significant money. Looking at trading patterns, I saw significant retail sales, mostly in coins, which indicated the masses were buying the trend. That was a normal pattern in any run-up and was usually the sign a run-up was about to peter out.

I wrote an analyst note and took it to Mr. Matheson just before 4:00pm.

"This is excellent work, Kane, and it'll keep the CFTC off my ass. I'll have Chamberlain, Vandenberg, and Warren start selling gold and silver futures tomorrow, but in a way that won't attract attention. If we make too big a move, too fast, it'll spook other traders. Some will catch on, and that's OK, as long as the herd doesn't figure it out for a month or so."

"Not likely," I observed. "They only look at the prices and see them rising. They don't look at the spreads, and by the time the price signal is there, the only thing that will happen is the herd will stampede right off the cliff."

"Every fucking time."

I left his office, returned to my desk, and spent the last forty-five minutes gathering data for my morning analyst report. I was very happy I'd been assigned currencies and precious metals, while Tony was focused on equities and Paige focused on fixed income. All three of us looked at various aspects of commodity prices, as those affected literally everything from the price of a box of cereal to international exchange rates.

Most of the trading done by Mr. Matheson's team was in FX, but literally every aspect of the financial markets, politics, the economy, and weather affected exchange rates and had to be taken into account. Tony was an excellent equities analyst, and having access to his reports would help me build value in my Cincinnatus Fund.

The last thing I did before leaving for the day was put in an order for my fund to sell five standard May gold contracts and five standard silver contracts. If everything went the way Mr. Matheson expected with precious metals and the way I expected with the Bolivar, I'd turn the $150,000 in my fund, about a third of which was mine, into close to $500,000. That would make it possible to earn even larger returns, as I'd be in a position to take advantage of opportunities that weren't possible with less capital. Of course, that paled to what Mr. Matheson would make for his clients and for the Spurgeon FX fund.

"How was your day?" Haley asked when we met in the lobby of the Hancock Center after work.

"Busy," I replied. "Yours?"

"Routine. You can pick up your gym pass tomorrow."

"Great! The only downside is three days a week, I'll eat lunch at my desk while I work so I can spend my lunch hour in the gym. What are we doing tonight?"

"How about The Berghoff? I checked, and there's nothing interesting playing at the theatre, but there's live music at Checkerboard Lounge in Bronzeville."

"Not to be 'that guy', but is it safe to go there?"

"That specific area? Yes. The Rolling Stones played there with Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and others about two years ago for the album Live at the Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago 1981. There are some very bad areas just north of there between 35th Street and 41st Street. You know IIT's campus extends to 35th, right?"

"Yes. I've met some people who attend school there."

Which reminded me to try to get in touch with Anala again. I really wished she had an answering machine because the times I'd called, the phone had simply rung without being answered, which meant she didn't know I'd called.

"Are you game?" Haley asked.

"Sure. Can we get in?"

"Nobody is going to card you in that suit!"

"Then let's do that," I said.

"What's the plan for Friday?" Haley asked as we walked down the stairs to the garage.

"Kristy will meet the three of us here, we'll have dinner at Connie's, then see a band called Batteries Not Included at Loyola."

"What do they play?"

"A mix of 70s covers and their own stuff," I replied.

"Have you overcome your discomfort with dating someone from the office?"

"I'm still cautious," I replied. "But I did ask you out for Friday with Jack and Kristy, which will be our first 'public' date, in the sense anyone will know about it. I mean, unless you've told anyone."

"Only Mrs. Peterson because it's a rule in Personnel that if we date someone from Spurgeon, we have to let her know. It makes sense, if you think about it, given what we have access to."

"It does. Out of curiosity, do you have some specific destination in mind, or are you in 'one day at a time' mode?"

"You mean, am I ready to marry? Not even close! Ask me in two or three years!"

"And until then?"

"Stages, right? Casually dating and seeing where things lead."

"Are you seeing anyone else?"

"I've been on a few dates over the past few months, but nobody has held my interest for more than one date."

"Except me?"

"Obviously! You're dating, too, right?"

"Yes. There are a few girls I go out with casually, but none of them are serious. You know I'm still trying to sort out the situation with my friend Bev."

"Which is why things are still just completely casual. Until you figure that out, it would be foolish to get too serious with anyone. Have you heard anything more from her?"

"No. I expect her to call in the next day or two to set up a time when we can have a private call. It really is a complicated mess."

"But there's absolutely no way the baby is yours, right?"

"Correct. It's impossible. I was here in Chicago when Bev conceived and had been for four months."

"And you have no idea who the father is?"

I did, but I felt it was better to demur, given my promise to Bev.

"And that's where I have to say that I can't -- at Bev's request -- reveal anything that she has or hasn't told me. I gave my word."

"That's really important to you, isn't it?"

"It is. Honesty, keeping your word, and loyalty to your friends are the standard I use to measure people. I really don't care about what they do or how they live their lives, so long as they aren't deceitful, keep their word, and help their friends."

We reached the car, and I opened the door for Haley. Once she was in, I shut the door, went around to the driver's side, and got in. I started the car, backed out of the spot, and headed for the exit so we could go to The Berghoff.

"What about a moral code?"

"What about it?" I asked. "For me, the only rules are that whatever you do has to be consensual and doesn't intentionally hurt anyone. I have zero use for busybodies trying to tell me what's right or wrong."

"The SEC?" Haley asked.

"Their rules are mostly about reporting, but also about not cheating. I wouldn't cheat anyway, but it's good to have the rules laid out clearly, so there isn't any question. In a way, it's no different from baseball or football. If I want to play, I have to follow the rules of the game. It's about ensuring everyone knows what is and isn't acceptable, not about moral judgments. Calling balls and strikes or confirming a first down or calling out of bounds have no moral value, it's a matter of defined rules.

"An example from work was buying Johnson & Johnson stock after the Tylenol debacle. I had someone accuse me of acting immorally and of profiting from death. I countered that what I was doing was showing my faith in J&J to solve the problem and recover. Nothing I could do with my money could bring those people back to life, and J&J didn't deserve to be punished for something that was done to them not by them. Buying or not buying the stock had nothing to do with morality."

"But would you make decisions based on morals?"

"You mean, for example, if I discovered a company was behaving unethically? Absolutely, because that behavior affects public perception and 'good will' and can drive down the value of a stock."

"So it's all about money, then?"

"Always! It was drilled into me both in my licensure courses and by the Spurgeon training materials that, above all else, I have a fiduciary duty to our clients. And that's legally enforceable against any of us with licenses and against Spurgeon as a firm. It would be unethical to do otherwise."

"I think I understand where you're coming from, and if you don't subscribe to any moral system, why do you object to what goes on at Spurgeon?"

"First, my main statement is that I won't do it for the reasons we discussed. What other people do is their business. I have two main objections. The first is that a good part of it is cheating, which calls into question someone's honesty and integrity, as well as their ability to keep their word. The second is that I know of at least one case where a secretary was fired for refusing to 'put out', and that calls into question whether or not it's truly consensual. I'm fairly certain you object for those same reasons."

"I do. Cheating is the uncrossable line in my book. You can never, ever trust a cheater. Never. I also think there are serious questions of consent, even if most of the girls say they're willingly sleeping with their bosses. But we've never had a single complaint, even from secretaries who have left."

"I'm curious, but are they paid off?"

"If they are, I wouldn't be told about it, and it would happen off the books."

"I suspect they are."

"I suspect you're right."

II. I Think They'll Accept

January 26, 1983, Chicago, Illinois

On Wednesday at noon, I went to the gym and spoke with the receptionist, who called a personal trainer to speak with me. A few seconds later, a perfectly fit blonde guy, perhaps three years older than I, came over to talk to me.

"I'm Tim Anderson, a licensed exercise physiologist and personal trainer," he said. "What are you looking to do?"

"Maintain my weight and muscle tone," I replied. "I have no plans to try out for any body-building competitions."

"Then I think the best thing for you is a circuit, including a mix of weight machines, free weights, and either a treadmill or elliptical machine. I'll set it for forty minutes, which will give you enough time to change beforehand and shower afterwards. If you're ready to start today, I can take you through a cycle and teach you to use the machines."

"I am. I have gym clothes in my bag."

"Do you have a lock for a locker?"

"I do," I replied, as I had the one I'd bought for the locker in the break room I'd used before I started as an analyst.

"Then let me show you the locker room. Get changed and come out, and we'll start with the machines."

He escorted me to the locker room, I changed, then joined him in the gym. I worked through six stations with each 'set' as he called them, lasting about five minutes, except for the elliptical, which lasted ten.

"What do you think?" Tim asked.

"It seems like a good mix of exercises," I replied.

"Three times a week should help you maintain your weight, as long as you eat decently, and it will also help tone your muscles. Do me a favor and step on the scale after your shower, and we'll keep track of your weight on a weekly basis."

"Sounds good," I replied.

"Then you're all set, and I'll see you Friday. Once more around, and if you're comfortable, then you just come in and do your thing and ask if you need anything. We'll do the weight checks on Fridays starting next week, and you can just let Kelly know so she can put it on your sheet."


"The other thing you should do, if you haven't recently, is see a physician for a checkup. That's something you want to do on an annual basis."

"I'll do that," I agreed.

We shook hands, I went to the locker room, showered, put on my 'uniform', and headed back up to 29, where I ate my lunch at my desk while I did research. I was slowly working out my grading of the world situation with regard to war, trade, economics, and political stability, and decided on a Red/Orange/Yellow/Green/Blue scale, with a confidence factor of A through E. Figuring out what comprised each analysis, and how to grade it was going to take time, so I'd continue with my prose analysis and no ratings until I had worked it out.

Bev called mid-afternoon to say that she'd call me on Sunday before the Super Bowl from her friend Cathy's house, because she could have total privacy there. She didn't say anything more, and I didn't want to press her when she wasn't in a position to speak freely.

After the call, I resumed my work, and I found nothing that contradicted my analysis of the previous two days. Just before 5:00pm, Bill Wyatt called to say that he had another house to show me. I had limited free time, but I arranged to see the house first thing on Saturday morning before I went shopping. I asked about the first house I'd seen, and it hadn't sold, and so far, there hadn't been any offers better than the one I'd made.

At 5:00pm, I left the office and headed to Violet's house for dinner. One thing I needed to do was buy several pairs of shorts and T-shirts for the gym, as otherwise I'd be doing laundry three times a week so as not to have overly smelly gym clothes. That was something I could do on Saturday morning before I saw Clara.

Violet and I had our usual nice meal, did the dishes together, then headed to Circle for our classes.

"Are you doing anything Sunday?" Troy asked after we greeted each other.

"I'm having some people over for a Super Bowl party," I replied. "You and Teri are welcome if you want to join us. Speaking of that, where is she?"

"The ladies'. As for Sunday, we're having a party at my parents' house, so we can't really bail on that. I'm curious, but are you seeing anyone?"

"Not seriously," I replied. "But I'm straight."

Troy laughed, "Not for me! For Teri! I was asking because she totally has the hots for you!"

"Most brothers don't try to get dates for their sisters," I replied with a grin.

"Most brothers aren't twins! And she was worried you were seeing someone seriously."

Things were getting more and more complicated because Ellie wanted to see me regularly, as did Clara, I was seeing Haley a few times a week, and seeing Lily occasionally as well. I also had to reserve time for Violet, as well as Jeri's dinners and for Marcia, though I would have Sundays free after my weekend in Wisconsin with Marcia. I also wanted to see Beth again, and I was sure that Sophie, Ivy, and Deanna would be in touch, not to mention Esme, Katy, and the girls from Loyola.

As Deanna had put it succinctly, I was 'drowning in pussy', and something had to give. The question was 'what?', or rather 'who?' I'd eliminate, and if I wanted to see Teri. The fact that she had red hair and green eyes, as well as a nice figure, certainly factored into my thinking. I need some time to think things through, and I decided that given how busy I was over the next two weeks, I could delay a decision about a date with Teri.

"It's not that I'm not interested," I replied. "It's just that I've been super busy and will be for at least for the next few weeks."

"She's not seeing anyone right now," he said. "So a few weeks will be OK."

Teri returned just then, and class started, so there was no real chance to talk, though until I had a chance to work through everything, it was better not to ask her out. When class ended, I said 'goodbye' to Troy and Teri, then headed to meet Violet for our usual coffee and pie.

"You seem preoccupied," Violet said about ten minutes into our time together.

"Sorry," I replied. "I was just thinking about how busy I am and that something has to give."

"Not our dinners or coffee, right?" she asked apprehensively.

"No," I said with a smile. "It's more about dating as well as time with my other friends."

The strange thing was that of all the girls, I enjoyed my time with Violet more than anyone else, and only Marcia actually came close. That was weird because sex wasn't a factor in either relationship, and as far as I could see, I would never be with either of them. Marcia, because we simply weren't compatible, and Violet, because of what had happened to her while she was growing up.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I preferred being with Shelly and Bianca, though sex was a major part of that relationship. It wasn't that I didn't like Ellie or Esme or Clara or whomever; it had more to do with how the relationships worked. In a way, my relationship with Marcia had replaced my relationship with Anala, though Marcia wasn't nearly as wise or as well-read as Anala.

"How many girls are you seeing?" Violet asked.

"Several," I replied. "It's all just casual. But I don't have time to see them as much as they would like. And please do not think I mean you when I say that. I prefer spending time with you to pretty much everyone else."

"You really mean that?"

"I do."

"Even though I can't..." she let the word hang for a minute, then said, "uhm, be your girlfriend?"

By pausing mid-sentence, she'd conveyed the meaning of 'girlfriend', which was always going to be a challenge for her -- intimacy. I wondered if a different counselor might make a difference at this point, now that she'd come out of her shell, at least to the point of hanging out with Lily occasionally, as well as doing things with me. I had no clue if Violet could ever truly recover, and Doctor Lochner had certainly implied strongly that she couldn't.

"I certainly hope I haven't given you the wrong impression," I said.

Violet smiled, "You haven't, but...I'm worried about losing you."

"I promised you that isn't going to happen and that any girl I have a serious relationship with will have to accept and understand that you and I are close friends."

"Sometimes I wish...wish that I was normal," Violet sighed.

"You are a wonderful young woman to whom something terrible happened. That doesn't make you 'abnormal'."

Violet smiled, "That's sweet of you to say, but if I was normal, we could...be boyfriend and girlfriend. That's what you thought could happen when we first met."

She was struggling with something Doctor Lochner had suggested would very probably be a challenge for the rest of her life and one she might not be able to overcome.

"I don't know exactly what to say to that," I replied. "I made assumptions that weren't correct, and I learned some important lessons."

"I just wish I could be like everyone else..." Violet sighed. "But...well, you know."

I nodded, "I do. I wish there was some way I could wave a magic wand and make what happened go away, but I can't do that. What I can do is be your friend and help you in any way it's possible for me to help."

Violet smiled, "Thank you."

We finished our pie and coffee, and I walked her home, where I received a tight hug and a kiss on the cheek before she went into her house. Once she was safely inside, I walked quickly to my car and headed home.

January 29, 1983, Chicago, Illinois

On Saturday, I was up early, as were Bianca and Shelly, so we could see the house Mr. Wyatt wanted to show us. Thursday and Friday had been routine at work, as had class on Thursday evening. Jack, Kristy, Haley, and I had a fun evening on Friday, with dinner at Connie's and then the concert at Loyola. I had taken Haley home afterwards, not wanting to move forward too fast, especially in light of trying to figure out what to do about my limited time.

Part of the problem was taking classes, but I felt that had to be a priority, even if it wasn't strictly necessary for my job. At a minimum, I needed to complete the math class and the statistics class, and beyond that, most of what it would make sense to take would cover things I was already learning at work, namely business and finance classes. I'd need to give it some thought over the Summer, as I'd concluded that no matter what happened with Bev, I didn't want to tie up two or three nights a week with class and set aside time for homework.

What I'd concluded was that the challenge was really with the girls who wanted some kind of deeper relationship -- Ellie, Haley, and Clara. I wasn't sure about Clara and wouldn't make any decisions about her until after our date later in the day, but, in the end, I felt seeing two girls was workable in the short term, but three was not. Haley would, at least in the short-term, get the most time -- lunch twice a week, plus Friday nights when we went out with Jack and Kristy. Saturday would be for the second girl, whoever it was, and Tuesday and Sunday would be open for friends or hook-ups.

There was one problem and one challenge with that plan. The problem was Jeri planning things for Friday nights, but I'd heard Gary say that his wife wasn't thrilled with them, and I was positive we could move them, preferably to Tuesdays. That was something to discuss with Jeri, and there was plenty of time before the February dinner to change the day. I made a mental note to do that.

The challenge was time for Violet, which revolved around hockey and baseball schedules. I could probably make sufficient time for those, but on occasion, I might have to use one of my 'date' nights for her, and that was OK with me and would actually give me an idea of whether or not the girl who was 'bumped' would be able to handle my friendship with Violet.

Of course, all of that might be upended if Bev came to stay with me in June or July.

"Lost in thought?" Bianca asked as we neared the house we were going to see on Morse Avenue.

"Just trying to figure out how to do everything I want to do with limited time. Classes are really the main blocking factor, so I'm taking the Summer off, which will help."

"Too many girls, not enough time?" she asked.

"Yes, but I also need to make time to see Dustin, Trevor, Tom, and Stuart, as well as my other friends. I think, after next Fall, I'm going to stop taking classes, at least until things sort themselves out."

"You mean having a steady girlfriend, right?"

"Yes. I mean, I could effectively do that without doing it now, if you know what I mean."

"But you don't want to give up access to all the awesome pussy!" Shelly teased.

"Something like that," I chuckled. "Obviously, at some point, I will, but I don't think that time is now."

"I'm still with Ellie on this one," Bianca said. "Why give it up? You aren't bound to some stupid religious moral code, and so long as you don't try to legally marry more than one woman at a time, nobody will give a rat's ass. Just ask a few girls to move into the house you're going to buy, and make it clear that you'll have other girls, too. Heck, even set a schedule! I guarantee you Juliette, Julianne, and Deanna would move in with us in a heartbeat!"


"I saw how she looked at you, and it wasn't the same as Sophie and Ivy. To them, you're just a good fuck, and if you aren't available, they find someone else and don't even think about it; Deanna sees you differently."

"As in, she wants to be my girlfriend?" I asked.

"I'm not saying she's ready to settle down because I'm sure she isn't, but she sees a possibility for the future that Sophie and Ivy don't see. Don't take this the wrong way, but to them, it's basically that you have a big dick and make them cum, and nothing more. I'd compare them to Lucy or Sylvia, whereas I'd compare Deanna to Julianne. She's another one who, in a few years, would likely be amenable to a long-term thing with you."

"And you? And Shelly?"

"Obviously, though, Shelly wants a traditional monogamous relationship."

"And so does Jonathan," Shelly said. "You keep trying to talk him out of it!"

"Obviously!" Bianca declared. "That doesn't suit my desires!"

We turned up the walk of the house, which meant the conversation had to be put on hold. That meant I'd have some time to mull over Bianca's suggestion, though something deep inside me still insisted on a traditional marriage. I pushed those thoughts aside and rang the bell. Mr. Wyatt came to the door and showed us into a house that smelled of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

"Nice touch!" Shelly exclaimed. "Baking cookies to make it smell like 'home'!"

"It's a standard seller's gambit," Mr. Wyatt said. "These sellers are motivated as they have a contract on a house being built in Naperville. As I said on the phone, this is comparable to the others you've seen, though with the added benefit of an attic bedroom or study, in addition to five bedrooms on the second floor. The owners previous to the current owners finished the attic when they had their sixth child."

"Count me right out of that!" Bianca declared. "I'm Catholic, not crazy!"

"According to whom?" I teased.

"OK, not THAT crazy!" Bianca declared.

"The other advantage this house has is a finished basement. And the listing price is only five percent more than the house on which you made the offer."

"How much work does it need?" I asked.

"The floors need to be stripped, sanded, and finished, and the boiler will need to be replaced in the next few years. The appliances are all about fifteen years old, and they're that avocado green that was so popular back then."

"Let us take a look, and I'll tell you my thoughts right away."

Bianca, Shelly, and I decided to start in the basement and work our way up to the attic. The basement was divided into two parts -- about a quarter of it was the mechanical plant -- boiler for forced hot water heat, the water heater, and the electrical distribution panel. The washer and dryer were in the same room, segregated by a half-wall and with shelves above them and a full bath next to them. The rest of the basement was a rec room, complete with a wet bar that would be perfect for entertaining. The current owners had a projection television set and a large screen for the projection at the far end, with couches and chairs arranged to make it almost like a movie theatre.

"If upstairs is even halfway OK, this is the place," Bianca declared. "Nothing else we've seen has an area to entertain like this one."

"So far, so good," I agreed.

We went up to the first floor, and the kitchen was functional, but the avocado green appliances just HAD to go. The dining room was large enough to accommodate a table that seated eight, the front room was cozy, and there was also a living room with a fireplace. We walked down a short hallway past a half-bath and went out into the reasonably sized backyard. There was a two-car garage, which was common for the area, and it was big enough for both my car and Bianca's, as well as yard tools, snow shovels, and the like.

We went back inside, climbed the stairs to the second floor, and found a nice master bedroom with a nicely appointed bathroom with relatively new fixtures, including a stall shower and a large whirlpool tub. The other four bedrooms were adequate, if a bit small, as there were four where normally, in this design, there would be three. Finally, we pulled down the attic stairs and climbed up to see a cozy room that could be a bedroom or a computer room.

"What do you think?" Shelly asked.

"I think it's the best of the houses we've seen," I said. "The only caveats are the downright ugly appliances and the boiler. The floors don't bother me, as I'll put down area rugs, and we can refinish the floors at any point before I decide to build something, which is probably at least five years. I'm going to make an offer for ten percent below list, given the cost of a new boiler."

"Will they take it?"

"Mr. Wyatt did say the sellers are motivated."

We went back down to the first floor and found Mr. Wyatt sitting at the dinette table in the kitchen.

"Ten percent under list," I said. "I'll sign an offer and write a check for earnest money."

"I'll get the offer to the listing agent today, and I'd expect a counter. How high will you go?"

I considered for a moment, then said, "The boiler is going to cost more than five percent of the asking price, and the appliances have got to go. I'll consider a counter, but I'm not inclined to agree, given the work that's needed, including the floors."

"OK. I'll let them know it's firm. You can close in forty-five days, right?"

"Easily. I can actually do thirty, given I've started my new position and could put in the mortgage request first thing Monday morning."

Mr. Wyatt filled out the offer sheet, I signed it, and then wrote out a check for $2000 and handed it to Mr. Wyatt.

"I'll call you as soon as I hear," he said.

We shook hands, and Bianca, Shelly, and I left the house for the walk home.

"You're really determined to pay the price you want to pay," Bianca observed.

"I'm in no rush," I replied. "We're still six months away from the end of the lease, and I can negotiate an extension with our landlord if necessary. At some point, we'll find the right house at the right price with a seller who will accept an offer which reflects the actual value of the house. There's no point for me to overpay."

"You're so totally disinterested," Shelly observed. "It's as if you don't care."

"He cares," Bianca countered. "But what he cares about is the deal, not the house. The house is just another asset among many. Right, Jonathan?"

"Yes. It's the same approach I take with investments -- it's not about being enamored, it's about the value proposition."

"It hasn't even been two years since you started," Shelly observed.

"The concepts aren't difficult," I replied. "The key is access to information and being able to correlate it and then make the correct moves. That's the difference maker and what makes or breaks a trader. Matheson has it and has proven it."

"You have it, too," Bianca declared.

"Making a few right moves is not 'having it'," I countered. "Mr. Spurgeon and Mr. Matheson have 'had it' for over a decade. A lot of guys are flashes in the pan and burn out quickly. It only takes one big mistake to wreck a career. Let's see where I am in two years. And that's not a lack of confidence because I believe I can do it, but the only thing that matters is returns."

"What's the scoop now?" Bianca asked.

"I need a trip to Venture for shorts and T-shirts for when I work out. After that, I plan to do the grocery shopping for the week, as well as pick up everything we need for tomorrow. After shopping, I'll have lunch, spend a few hours at home, and then go on my date with Clara."

"Is that going to continue, or is it just that you promised a second date?"

"It's the latter," I replied, "but that isn't mutually exclusive with it possibly continuing."

"In the Fall, you should see if the stats class you want to take is offered on Saturdays. Sure, that would blow basically the entire morning, but it would free up two or three nights a week."

"A good point," I replied.

"Your work pays for your classes," Shelly interjected, "so why not switch to Loyola? That would cut twenty minutes off your drive home."

It would, but I wasn't sure saving that amount of time was worth upsetting Violet. Yes, at some point, I'd stop taking classes, either because I no longer felt they were necessary or because I finished a degree, but that was different from transferring. And while it wasn't a deciding factor, it was a factor to consider.

"I'll think about it," I replied. "But honestly, with class from 7:00pm to 8:00pm, the evenings are already basically shot, given I have to do homework every night after class."

"Who's pressuring you?" Bianca asked.

"Me, mostly," I replied. "I mean, it's true a few of the girls have pushed for a more serious relationship or to see me more often, but I'm not concerned about 'losing' any of them. I know that might sound a bit crass, but, in the end, I haven't found anyone who I'd say is 'the one' that I simply cannot let go. If I did feel that way, then I'd behave differently because I'd have a different immediate goal."

"None of them have limited themselves to you, have they? I'm talking about the ones who are interested in a serious relationship right now."

"I honestly don't know for sure because it's not really my business, but I don't think any of the ones who want a serious relationship are seeing anyone else. But I've made zero promises, mostly because I needed to sort things out with Bev."

"Again, don't take this the wrong way, but you've been saying that for as long as I've known you. Would you like to hear my opinion?"

"I would."

"If, after three or four years, you haven't decided, there is something deep inside you that says she's not the right girl for you."

"You mean going back to when we started fooling around?"

"Yes. But even if you limit it to after moving to Chicago, that should tell you something."

"That I'm too focused on myself?" I asked.

"Or are you focused on a specific goal and are doing what's necessary to achieve it? You left Ohio to create a new future for yourself, and you were willing to make the sacrifices necessary to do that."

"Including my relationship with Bev."

"OK, assuming that's true and not just the typical cluelessness of teenage boys, what does that tell you? And, going further, did you really sacrifice it? Or did she bail without making any attempt to keep the relationship going?"

"I can't blame her for my complete insensitivity about moving."

"No, but you can accept that she's responsible for her own actions. Did she ask you to change your mind? Ask you if she could come with you? Say she'd wait a year to graduate, then move to Chicago? No offense, but instead of talking to you, she ran off to another guy; well, at least two other guys."

"Who she has sex with is no more relevant than who I have sex with," I said firmly.

"Sorry, it's not about 'stud versus slut', but about how she responded. In her position, I sure as hell would have asked you to reconsider, and when it was clear you wouldn't, we discussed how to make it work! If she'd said she'd wait a year for you, asked you to come see her on holidays, and applied to colleges in Illinois, what would you have done?"

"Probably waited for her," I replied. "No, I'm sure I would have waited because we'd have discussed our relationship. But I can't blame her for what I did."

"No, you can't," Bianca said firmly. "But you can hold her responsible for her actions. She started seeing the other guy before you left, right?"

"Yes, though I didn't know that until after."

"Which should also tell you something about her."

Bianca had a point, and it was, ultimately, the thing that was bugging me the most -- that Bev had, as I understood things, cheated on Bob with Glen. I might be mistaken, but I had the strong impression that both Bev and Bob had believed they were a couple, and I didn't see Bev just casually fooling around. Except that she had.

That was totally her business, of course, but it did raise a question in my mind about how well I actually knew her. It wasn't what she did but how she went about it. Maybe it was true that I had no business knowing, but prior to April 1981, Bev and I had literally shared everything, had had no secrets, and I could always predict exactly how she was going to react, just as she could with me.

All of that said, I still felt as if I were judging her.

"It does," I replied quietly. "But it also calls my thinking into question -- am I holding her to a standard to which I wouldn't want to be held?"

"Jonathan," Bianca said firmly. "You're brutally honest, you keep your word, and as far as I can tell, have never misled anyone about anything. You want everyone to live up to that standard, and as you've said, it's your duty to do those things at work, with no exceptions. It is who you are, and you aren't being a hypocrite. Well, unless you're deceiving Shelly and me about your views on girls having multiple sex partners."

"I truly do not care who anyone has sex with, and truly don't care if the girl I marry is a virgin, and I'd give pretty long odds on that actually being the case. I'm fairly certain it's a mistake not to ensure you're compatible in that way before making a lifetime commitment."

"Or just have your harem!" Shelly teased. "Then you can have all the variety you want!"

"I'll tell you what," I said with a smirk. "You agree to sign up for the long term, and I'll give it serious consideration. But no marriage, just part of the harem!"

"You know that's not how I see my future," Shelly replied.

"Obviously, because it's not how I see my future. Does it have some attraction? Sure. Do I care what society thinks? Not much. But something in my innermost being is telling me to have a traditional marriage, even if I don't buy the religious underpinnings of that concept. But that's something I'll worry about a few years from now."

"Jonathan," Bianca said as we neared our house, "You aren't responsible for the situation with Bev; she is. Whatever you did, she made her own choices about how to respond. Don't do something that you may come to regret out of a false sense of responsibility."

She had a point, though I still felt I had enough responsibility that I couldn't simply dismiss it by saying, in effect, 'not my fault' and move on.

"A reasonable point," I replied.

"I want to say something that might upset you," Bianca said.

"Go on," I replied.

"I think your reaction has a lot to do with your mom and her struggles, plus your own challenges. You don't want that for Bev and Heather, and that is coloring your view of things."

"No doubt," I replied. "But it's part of who I am, and I don't see how I can simply set that aside."

"If you were the baby's father, that would be one thing; you aren't. The baby's father, whoever he is, has to step up and take responsibility. If Bev won't tell him, then it's on her, not on you."

"I hear you," I replied. "Just let it be for now, please."

We went into the house, and I saw the light on the answering machine flashing. I walked over, played the message, and then picked up the phone to return the call to Dustin.

"It's Jonathan; what's up?" I asked after he answered.

"I wondered if it would be OK to invite someone tomorrow."

"I think we can manage one more. Who?"

"My photography assistant, Carla. She overheard me talking to Archie and asked if she could tag along."

"I don't see why not," I replied. "Bring her along."


We said 'goodbye', I hung up, then decided to call Jeri to see if we could reschedule our February dinner to Tuesday, the 22nd, and she was amenable. She promised she'd check with everyone else, and so long as nobody objected or had a conflict, we could move the date. I ended the call, grabbed the grocery list, and after a quick trip to the bathroom, Bianca, Shelly, and I headed out to do our shopping.

We stopped at Venture, where I bought four pairs of grey gym shorts and four blue T-shirts so I could limit doing laundry to once per week. After Venture, we stopped at the dry cleaners where I dropped off two suits and five shirts, then headed to Jewel to do our weekly grocery shopping and buy everything we needed for the Super Bowl Party. We weren't supplying everything, as each couple or single was bringing snacks and drinks, ensuring we had plenty. Jack, Kristy, Dustin, and Costas were kicking in for the burgers and brats.

Once we had everything we needed in two carts, we headed for the checkout. I paid but made a note of the total in my notebook, as Shelly and Bianca would cover part of it, paying me when they gave me their rent money on Monday. Sharing expenses would be something I'd have to discuss with Jack, but I was sure he'd be amenable to the solution Shelly, Bianca, and I had come up with, so it wasn't a concern.

Once we had put away all the groceries, I started a load of laundry, then the three of us had lunch. After lunch, I finished my laundry and reviewed my math textbook and notes for a test we'd have on Monday. Around 1:30pm, the phone rang, and I got up to answer it.

"Kane," I said.

"Jonathan, it's Bill Wyatt."

"Hi, Mr. Wyatt."

"I presented your offer to the listing agent, and he presented it to his clients. They asked for a day to think it over."

"OK. What's your take?"

"I'd say they'll try to counter, as I suggested earlier. I'll let you know when I hear."


We said 'goodbye', I hung up, went upstairs to take a shower, then dressed for my date with Clara.

January 29, 1983, Western Suburbs of Chicago, Illinois

I arrived at Clara's house just before 3:00pm and was surprised when Allyson opened the door. She invited me in, and I took off my coat, hat, and gloves.

"I figured it was safer if you met my dad while I was here in case he thought about changing his mind."

"And here I thought you were more interested in giving your sister grief!" I chuckled.

"Oh, I am! But we have to keep a united front with our parents!"

"Does the fact that she didn't react the way you expected impact that?" I asked quietly.

"Oh, shut up!" Allyson said, laughing softly.

Allyson walked me into the living room, where her dad was reading the newspaper.

"Dad, you remember Jonathan, I'm sure," she said.

"I do," he said, putting down his paper and standing up.

"Hi, Mr. Crowley," I said as he extended his hand, which I shook firmly. "What time do I need to have Clara home?"

"No later than midnight," he said. "I understand you're going to dinner and a movie."

"Yes, Sir. Clara picked the movie, which is playing at the Tivoli Theater in Downers Grove."

"You work for Spurgeon Capital with Mark Benton, right?"

"We don't work directly together," I replied. "I'm an analyst on the FX Desk run by Murray Matheson, and I'm sure you know Mr. Benton is on the floor at the CBOT."

I knew I could use 'FX' instead of 'Foreign Exchange', given Mr. Crowley was a CPA and was good friends with Mark Benton.

"Clara says you're going to Circle part-time."

"That's correct. I'm taking a mix of classes that will help me with my job and in the future when I move up the ladder."

"I like ambition, but I want you to remember Clara is a Junior in High School."

I nodded, "I remember. I know that having graduated from High School makes a difference, but we are only about three years apart."

"It's not the age," he said. "It's the experience."

I nodded, knowing exactly what he meant and deciding it was best not to say anything in response.

"I'll let Clara know you're here," Allyson said. "She was just finishing in the shower when you rang the bell."

She went upstairs and about two minutes later, Clara came downstairs wearing faded jeans and a pink fuzzy sweater.

"I'm ready," she said. "Let's go!"

"Be home by midnight, Clara," Mr. Crowley said. "I've let Jonathan know that's your curfew."

"Yes, Dad!" Clara exclaimed. "I will."

"Then have a good time."

Clara and I went to the foyer, put on our Winter gear, and left the house. A minute later, I was backing out of the Crowley's driveway.

"Where are we headed?" I asked.

"We have a few hours before dinner," Clara said. "Let's stop by and say 'hi' to Marie if that's OK."

"Sure," I agreed. "I've been there twice, but it was some time ago, so I'll need directions."

"Turn left out of the subdivision," Clara said.

Six minutes and five turns later, I pulled into the Benton's driveway.

III. Maybe You Should!

January 29, 1983, Western Suburbs of Chicago, Illinois

"Hi!" Marie exclaimed when she opened the door. "Come in!"

We stepped into the house and took off our coats, hats, and gloves.

"Jenny is here, and we're making hot chocolate," Marie said. "Would you like some?"

"I would," Clara said. "Jonathan?"

"Yes, please."

We followed her to the kitchen, where she introduced her friend Jenny and then added more milk to the pot on the stove.

"Did you decide where to go for dinner?" Marie asked Clara.

"We haven't talked about it, but I was going to suggest Fuddruckers by the Fox Valley Mall."

"What's that?" I asked.

"They serve huge burgers or steak sandwiches and grind their own beef in the restaurant. You can watch through a large plate-glass window. They also bake their buns in the restaurant as well."

"Sounds great," I replied.

"Clara, can we tag along?" Marie asked.

"Jonathan?" Clara inquired, looking at me.

"It's up to you," I replied.

"Then I say 'yes'," Clara said.

A few minutes later, the milk was warm and Clara combined cocoa and sugar with the warm milk in the pot, and after whisking it, she poured it into four mugs. She handed us each a mug, then sat down at the table with us.

"Marie," Clara said, "my parents are home, yours are away, so could we borrow your bed?"

And suddenly, Clara's plan became clear. I had wondered why she wanted to visit Marie, but the answer to that wonder was immediately obvious from Clara's question. I'd assumed there wouldn't be a chance to fool around, and that hadn't bothered me, as I wasn't sure about Clara and I was prepared for this to be our only date. She had designs on me, which was a consideration, but she'd also made the point that she was too young to think about marriage, though she was interested in a boyfriend.

Marie laughed softly, "And the reason you showed up unannounced when you had a date becomes clear!"

That answered a question that had formed in my mind -- whether this had been planned in advance. It appeared not to have been, though it wouldn't have mattered to me one way or the other.

"Duh!" Clara exclaimed. "Can we?"

"Will you share?" Marie asked with a smirk.

Clara laughed, "If that's what it takes, I will. Jonathan?"

I absolutely had to tease Clara, and I thought about including Jenny in the teasing, but I knew literally nothing about her and didn't want to upset her.

"Together?" I asked with a goofy smile.

"I'm game if Marie is!" Clara exclaimed. "I told you I'd do anything you wanted! And I mean anything."

"I, uhm, would rather not," Marie said. "It's a private thing. I just want a chance to be with him once more."

"No pressure, Clara," I said quickly.

"Then finish your hot chocolate, and we'll go upstairs!" Clara declared. "Marie can have what's left when I'm done with you!"

The hot chocolate was too warm to down in a couple of gulps, so it was five minutes before Clara and I went up to Marie's room. Clara closed the door and immediately began taking off her clothes, so I followed suit. When we were naked, we embraced and kissed deeply. Clara broke the kiss after a minute, pulled down the comforter on the bed, then grabbed my hand and tugged.

"What would you like?" I asked.

"I'll blow you, then you lick me and fuck me, then Marie can have you, if you're still conscious!"

"I don't think there's much risk of being unconscious, but you're welcome to try!"

"Then turn on your back!"

I did, and Clara wasted no time taking me in her mouth and giving me a very sexy, very pleasurable blowjob. She got me close, then surprised me by releasing me and moving up for a sexy French kiss. After the kiss, she moved down again, but the urgency was gone, allowing Clara to extend the blowjob. She repeated that cycle twice more until I was literally aching to cum. Clara obviously knew that and had dragged it out as long as she could before finally allowing me to cum. I came hard, firing jet after jet into her mouth as she sucked and swirled her tongue around my hypersensitive glans.

When my orgasm had passed, Clara slowly licked me clean, then moved up for a sexy French kiss.

"Best blowjob ever?" she asked smugly.

I chuckled, "It was fantastic," I replied. "But if I say it was 'best', then there's no room for improvement!"

Clara laughed softly, "And you want me to keep practicing and improving?"

"I'm nowhere near as dumb as I look!" I replied with a grin.

"Just think about a future where you can have blowjobs like that any time you want, have access to the tightest pussy available, with a girl who will do literally anything you ask and let you put it anywhere you want, whenever you want!"

"Enticing," I replied. "But relationships are about more than great sex."

"Obviously, but lousy sex would be a turnoff, right?"

"It would certainly make me extremely wary of a relationship," I replied. "And I'd probably break things off if things didn't improve with practice."

"You need to practice with your tongue!" Clara demanded impishly.

"So I'm not good enough?" I asked.

"Practice makes perfect, right? You'll get better every time, just as I will!"

"I shall endeavor to reach the pinnacle of pussy eating!"

"Make me cum, then fuck me for three minutes, then pull out, lick me until I cum, fuck me for three minutes, lick me again, and repeat! It'll last a long time, and I'll have tons of orgasms!"

"I'll see what I can do," I chuckled. "How did you come up with that?"

"Kelly!" Clara declared.

Kelly's idea actually worked well, so despite the very tight fit and Clara's wonderful muscle tone, I managed to cycle five times before I finally came, pumping cum into Clara's spasming pussy, which squeezed me tightly, enhancing the pleasure such that it was almost blinding. I didn't pass out, but the orgasm was tremendous.

"That was awesome!" Clara declared. "And I bet it was awesome for you!"

"It was," I agreed.

"I promised the best!"

And, honestly, I'd have to say she'd delivered on her promise, though I wasn't going to give her the satisfaction of telling her that, at least at this point.

"And yet, there's always room for improvement!"

Clara laughed and kissed me, "I suppose you should wash so Marie can have her turn. I'll take a quick shower, and you can take yours after you're with Marie."

"OK," I replied.

We went across the hall, naked, to the bathroom, where Clara got into the shower and rinsed off while I used a washcloth to clean my face and groin. When we finished, the two of us went back to the bedroom. I sat on the edge of the bed and watched Clara dress, after which she left the room. Two minutes later, Marie came in and shut the door.

"We don't have a ton of time," she said. "Can we do what we did last when we were together? Sixty-nine for a bit, then fuck until you're almost ready to cum, then sixty-nine?"

"I have no objections to that request," I declared.

She quickly undressed, and we got into bed, avoiding the relatively large wet spot Clara had left on the right side of the bed.

"Are you and Clara going to be a couple?" she asked.

"One day at a time," I replied. "This is our first actual date, and the only time we've had to talk was in the car on the way over. Why?"

"Just curious. She wants that, you know."

"I know," I replied. "We'll see where things are after our date tonight. Does that change anything right now?"

"NO WAY!" Marie exclaimed.

She turned, straddled my face, lowered her pussy to my lips, and took my glans into her mouth. We sucked and licked each other until she had cum, then we switched so Marie was underneath me. I pushed into her, she wrapped her legs around my lower back, and we fucked hard. Marie had three orgasms before I felt the urge, so we quickly switched to sixty-nine, and I licked her while she sucked me until I came. Immediately after the last jet, she released me, turned, impaled herself on my still rigid shaft, and bent down to exchange a furious French kiss while she brought herself off by grinding against me.

"That was out of this world," Marie sighed, breathing hard as she stretched out on top of me.


That was a preview of Climbing the Ladder - Climbing Higher. To read the rest purchase the book.

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