“WHAT ARE FRIENDS FOR?” (Short Story)
Tanya and Celeste were out celebrating. Celeste was paying and she was in a generous mood. They were having shrimp cocktails with white wine in one of Manhattan’s classy restaurants. Celeste also offered to help fix Tanya’s old Buick, which had been giving her trouble for a week. Tanya refused but Celeste hoped she would relent before their lunch was over. She was so grateful. As they got a waiter to take some pictures of them, Tanya noted that they were as different in colouring as they were in character.
Celeste and Tanya met through the former’s husband, Roger. Roger was a venture capitalist and Tanya, a self-employed accountant, helped to do research for his investments. But their relationship went way back to their college days at NYU when they were classmates and rivals. Roger eventually graduated top of the class but Tanya was right behind him.
After working in the accounts department of a law firm for a few years, Roger, who in Tanya’s words, “was too handsome for his own good,” went into investment banking. He subsequently established his own firm, RONN Capital. Tanya, on the other hand, chose to be self-employed to give her time to care for her sick mum. She worked in her own time and on her own terms and married her high school sweetheart, Doug, who worked as a handyman. They were doing as well as could be expected since her mum’s medical bills made money perennially tight for them. But Tanya was not going to take a handout and she didn’t think Celeste should be paying for what she did for Roger.
You see, Tanya and Roger, besides being rivals, were best friends. They had been so since college. Roger was smart but ego-driven. Of all the people he knew, Tanya was the one who boldly challenged and rebuked him. They would argue about a matter for weeks until Tanya wore him down and stopped him from making a bad move. So she helped him choose most of his classes in college, approved and disapproved of his dates, not that that stopped Roger from going ahead when she disapproved and having some nasty experiences as a result.
Then came Celeste, a soft-spoken English girl, who had just transferred from a university in North Yorkshire. She was an Education major and Roger was drawn to her because of her petite form, her bright smile and, of course, her English accent. Besides, she was a natural blonde, Roger’s favourite. When Roger introduced them, Tanya was very excited and pulled him aside to say, “She’s the one!”
“Get away from me, you crackpot,” Roger joked. “You’ve just met her.”
But Tanya knew that the slender English lass would make her best friend very happy indeed and they did get married a year after college. Celeste taught in a grade school and she and Roger had two rambunctious boys, one ten and the other, eight. Tanya, on the other hand, a lovely brunette, had her forever love, Doug. Doug had a boyish charm and the unruly curls to go with it. But more than that, he was kind, laidback and always available: just what Tanya needed. They had no child by choice because of the extent of attention Tanya’s mum needed.
Celeste loathed arguing and her agreeable disposition soothed Roger’s ego. Besides, she did not understand the world of business and finance. That was Roger and Tanya’s forte. Tanya was an extremely good researcher and financial advisor and over and over, she saved Roger from sinking millions into terrible investments. It wasn’t just her professional competence that made the difference (after all, Roger had staff in his company that did excellent research too), but Tanya was intuitive and she went the extra mile to prove her hunches.
On the latest occasion, Roger had been approached by a Chinese-born businessman, Mr. Wang, to help rescue a fishing company whose boats operated in the South Pacific. The man, who had been a friend of Roger’s uncle while he was alive, claimed his family owned the company and that it would turn a profit if funds were injected to buy several new boats and hire more crews after they suffered a series of mishaps the previous year, particularly during a tropical cyclone in November. To sweeten the deal, Mr. Wang slyly asked his pretty niece, Shu, to work out the details of the transaction with Roger. That meant enough cozy meetings between Roger and Shu to give Celeste cause for concern.
The paperwork seemed legitimate enough and Roger wasn’t anxious about committing several million dollars to the fishing company, especially with the motivation Shu seemed to promise. But Tanya had a bad feeling about the investment and badgered Roger to hold up the deal. Roger had no particular reason to be buying a fishing company, except to impress Mr. Wang who had seen Roger’s uncle as a no-good drunk and slipped him some dollars now and then. Roger wanted to show Mr. Wang that he could be his lifeline and do so much better for him than he ever did for his uncle.
Tanya thought it was the most stupid reason anyone could have for making an investment and she told him so. Having something on the side with Shu didn’t seem a bad idea to Roger either, but Tanya warned him not to fool around with the Sino-beauty as she sensed something sinister about her.
Pretty soon, in doing her due diligence, Tanya discovered that a secondary firm attached to the one Roger was to invest in had had a series of indictments for money laundering and human trafficking in several Asian countries. The legal fees from those indictments were bleeding the finances of the primary company, causing more damage than the cyclone the blame was put on. Roger killed the deal and not only saved his company the eight million dollars he would have staked but spared himself and his company the damage their reputation would have suffered and the criminal investigations that could have arisen if they were even remotely connected to money launderers and human traffickers.
Tanya also found out that Shu was married to one undesirable in the Chinese underworld in New York and specialised in getting her talons into wealthy Americans for her husband and his band of ruffians to fleece. Celeste was so relieved when Roger stopped the deal and gave Shu the cold shoulder. And he hadn’t slept with her or she would have had material for her husband to blackmail and intimidate him with.
This latest near-fiasco reminded Tanya of another time when she couldn’t stop Roger from throwing his money away and indulging his ungoverned fantasies. He had dated a girl from a rich family in Texas back in college. Her name was Providence and she was the hottest blonde on campus in those days. Roger had wanted to marry her but her family didn’t think he was good enough because he didn’t have a trust fund in his name. They said he was after their daughter’s money and found her a family friend with a sizable inheritance to marry. It turned out Providence’s inheritance wasn’t nearly as large as her family depicted and they were the ones doing the gold digging.
So when Roger discovered a struggling ranch in Kleberg County, Texas, and leant it was owned by his former flame’s husband, he moved to invest so she could be beholden to him. Tanya fought to stop him but he avoided speaking to her for a few weeks. She had learnt that the owner of the ranch was an obsessive gambler and although he was the sole heir and had been a billionaire in his early twenties, he had run his family’s businesses into the ground one after the other.
A year after Roger sealed the deal, the guy was shot in a mob-related hit (probably for gambling debts he owed) and Roger was embroiled in litigation for months with a front company for the gangsters that the deceased had signed the ranch over to. Meanwhile, Providence had taken up with another guy whose family owned half the oil and gas business in North Texas. She worked him enough to leave his wife and marry her in five short months. When that happened, Roger decided to cut his losses and run but he blamed Tanya for the entire fiasco.
“How so?” a bewildered Tanya asked.
“What do I pay you for? You were supposed to turn up any stuff that would have made this a bad investment.”
“But I did. And when I called you, you shouted at me and stopped picking my calls for weeks.”
“We’re in the 21st century and there are so many ways to reach someone.” He was referring to Tanya’s persistence on previous occasions, flodding his phone and laptop with texts and emails, showing up at his office and stuff like that. He loved sparring with her and exasperating her. But she refused to play his game that one time and it cost him a bundle.
“Besides, you’re my best friend. What are friends for?” he continued.
“You’re right,” she conceded. “I shouldn’t have left you to the wolves. But you can be so insufferable.”
“Funny that you should use that word,” he teased. “Talk about a pot calling a kettle black!”
“Seriously, Roger, for someone so smart, you can be so blind. And dumb!”
As he smarted from her last remark, she talked him into coming over to cheer her mother up.
“What are friends for?” she threw back at him when he hesitated, because seeing Tanya’s mum was a decided downer. She had almost lost her mind to Alzheimer’s, which she developed after battling diabetes for years. Roger wondered how Tanya and Doug still managed to care for her at home.
All through the eighteen months or thereabouts that the ranch investment disaster lasted, Celeste, the doting wife, never confronted Roger, even when it was clear he was seeing Providence. At first, she would call Tanya and discreetly ask where Roger was. But later, she openly appealed to her to talk some sense into her husband, something Tanya didn’t do because she was angry with Roger for being so rude and pig-headed. Thankfully, Providence found another prey and that brought Roger to his senses.
In this last case again, Celeste steered clear of the controversy but she let Tanya keep her posted. So Tanya needled Roger, Roger bristled and Celeste kept her smile and poise. It was a winning combination: Roger had his millions safe and there was peace at home. He also paid Tanya well enough to reduce she and Doug’s financial troubles.
Presently, Tanya recounted to Celeste how she sounded off to Roger when she went to his office.
“I told you so,” she’d gloated. “But that’s what friends are for!”
“Exactly! That’s what fiends are for,” Celeste affirmed, as she pressed a cheque into Tanya’s palm.
Ⓒ Edith Ugochi Ohaja 2021
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