Cassie knew a hot story when she heard one and “Crumpled Flowers” was undoubtedly a provocative piece. She had just been hired as a full-time feature reporter for the small town publication Clear Southern Sky and wanted to show her boss, a kid half her age by the name of Zucker (which she often euphemized with an F), that she was capable of reporting newsworthy material naughty or nice. The idea of Crumpled Flowers would surely scandalize this small Logandale town.
Though a nationally based business its headquarters were conveniently located in the 36th state, which caused the more cynical members of society to wonder. Cassie phoned President Stephen Stein in his office bright and early Wednesday morning. The ebullient young man was always willing to submit to the third degree, and eagerly awaited her scheduled call.
“Hello Mister Stein.”
“Stephen, please. What can I help you with today?”
“Well, as I said before I’m doing a piece on your company Crumpled Flowers for Clear Southern Sky. So I was just wondering if I could verify a few facts.”
“Sure. And feel free to take any spin on it that you like. As you journalists know, any publicity is good publicity.” She listened to his boisterous but endearing laugh and grinned.
“Let me start by rereading one of your recent advertisements I found in a competing publication.”
Married too young? Stuck in a rut? Afraid your husband is going to do something crazy? You shouldn’t have to suffer the rest of your life for just one mistake! Call Crumpled Flowers for non-judgmental and professional help.
“So the premise of this business is that you rescue young wives from troubled marriages?”
“In so many words, yes. We get a lot of calls from young girls, just married, or sometimes women who have just been stuck in a dead-end marriage for several years. Hell, we even got a few calls from women in their 50s. All these women need help. They are being held back because of religious morality, family obligations, peer pressure and just the judgmental attitude of society. What we’ve done is allow them to escape these pressures without having to endure year’s worth of drama, emotional turmoil and unnecessary guilt.”
“I read a little bit on your website, but am still not sure about the process. Can you walk me through it?”
“Say I’m a woman interested in leaving her husband. I’m in my forties, in case you want to know.”
“Sure, sure. We get a lot of women in their forties. Sometimes a person doesn’t realize that they’ve made a mistake until years—hell, even decades—after the fact. Okay, so basically what you do is, you call in to our toll-free hotline and speak with a representative. You have your choice of speaking to a young man or woman. Some women prefer the voice of younger men, others women…it’s that grown son or daughter dynamic, you see. So we have our call center people ask you to verify that running away is really what you want to do. We don’t want anyone second-guessing or regretting it $10,000 dollars after the fact.”
Cassie hummed, feigning interest in hearing more, but having already decided the slant of the piece.
“Then we take a credit card number, a PayPal address, or even a mail-in money order. Once we have the person’s down payment, we arrange for a one-way flight to our company headquarters here in Logandale. The ticket will be waiting and no call is ever made to the person’s residence. All the customer needs to bring is identification. If necessary we also pay for the cab ride to the airport. Once the customer arrives, we arrange for a three night stay in a nearby hotel and we provide a young male escort if requested. At this point the customer is probably feeling anxious, horny, or just confused. The escort will provide emotional support, and if he and the customer decide appropriate, then maybe physical intimacy. Though of course, this is not a solicitation for sex.”
“Of course. This is Nevada, right? But I suppose, just coincidentally, these young guys are good looking, interesting, free-spirited?”
“And disease free, guaranteed.”
“After that stage, the customer comes and talks to one of our agents about relocating in the main office. Our agents are on the phone with real estate agents and apartment owners all over the nation that are looking for more prospects. We relocate them and even help them to find a job, since we have contacts with employment agencies in every state. We build very good relationships with our real estate contacts. They will usually let our customers stay the first 2-4 weeks for free. You know, just in case the customer changes her mind. But if that happens, no refunds. That’s just the way the business works.”
“What about the poor husband? Now I know there are some bastards out there that deserve nothing better…but honestly, the clueless nice guy? The mentally ill guy who discovers he has no supper or significant other that night?”
“We take care of that too. We have created a beautifully worded form “rejection” letter for the hubbies. It was written by a well known novelist that shall remain nameless. It goes into some detail on why the relationship had to end and is very sincere and personal. The customer can even choose the ‘tone’ of the letter. Loving, regretful, sarcastic, and so on.”
“And I’m sure they are guaranteed protection in case Mr. Ex should come to Nevada with a bat in hand?”
“Oh yes. In fact, 65% of our customers also purchase the Name Change Package. We can help relocate a person better than the FBI ever could.”
“Does this program also work for unhappily married men?”
“Not at this time. But we’re looking into that for next year. We definitely have an established customer base already lined up, with all the disgruntled men we’ve written letters to and such. A little fun in Nevada and a whole new start in life may be just what they need to cheer up.”
“Now I have to ask the obligatory question, what about morals? What about ethics?”
“We bring a very non-judgmental approach to relationships. We help the person make the decision they already want to make in their heart, but lack the courage to do so in ‘real life.’ We’re also looking into providing counseling services and assistance for jilted men. We do want everyone to be happy with this decision.”
“So it’s all about the money? And of course, I have to ask that, being a cynical journalist just barely making ends meet herself.”
“Well, what isn’t about money these days?” Stephen asked, a bit irked. “You mean to tell me that you do everything in life for free? For its moral value? I swear, even the preachers I confess every Sunday are very handsomely rewarded for their services. We live in a capitalist society. A capital society watching itself crumble to the ground in recession! If there’s one thing a person can bank on today, it’s the unhappiness of others. Whoever says that it’s not all about the money is delusional. I’m doing what I can to take care of my family. My children. My ex-wife. And my mistress.”
“That last part was a joke, of course.”
“Ah, I missed that. Sorry!”
“It’s okay. I always ruin the punch line. Any other questions?”
“How many women write back to you expressing regret? Or complaints?”
“Customers who have never used our services? We get lots of hate mail. Customers who talk to us after relocating and starting over in life? 100% satisfaction rate. Some may have regrets about what they’ve done. But they are always thankful of the opportunity we gave them to help make their dream become a reality.”
Cassie shook her head and teared up.
“And hey, Cassie? We always do our best to keep members of the press completely satisfied. It’s a quid pro quo relationship. If you ever want to get away from it all, you know who to call.”
“Sure. I can put you on with one of my call center reps right now. What better way to report a story then by actually living it? If you’re worried about money…”
“Money’s not really the issue. Uh…okay, yeah. Let’s do it.” She grabbed her forehead and squinted her eyes.
“Let me just put you on hold, all right?”
“No…no.” Cassie laughed. “I-I was just kidding.” She listened to Stephen’s polite cackling and laughed a second time, wiping away a fleck of moisture from her cheek.
“No problem. I didn’t really think you were serious anyway.”
“Right…right.” She nodded and attributed her temporary insanity to a reporter’s commitment—perhaps she wanted to feel the sensation of breaking free, surely the same thoughts that were racing through the minds of crumpled flowers all over the states. “Well, Mister Stein, can I call you back if I have any additional questions?
“Sure. And like I said, feel free to spin it any way you want. People like thinking of us as the bad guy. It comforts them to place blame on someone else, you know? In the end, it makes us more money. So I can’t complain.”
After Cassie wrote the piece, a cleverly written moral diatribe disguised as neutral reporting, she thought about her conversation with the bud of Crumpled Flowers Inc. She kept replaying the conversation in her mind, especially the ending where she came so close to catching the freedom train. She wondered if the president had personally executed the order, instead of offering to pass it on to a representative, if something would have changed. Maybe the idea of informing one other person of the sin was what killed the romantic notion.
She thought about the conversation the rest of the night as she tended to her husband Rick. Bed-ridden, and in and out of consciousness, the man was feeling the effects of terminal pancreatic cancer. Cassie knew that when the inevitable happened, she would be able to pull through, emotionally and spiritually. She would relocate; start over and thank God for her blissful life thus far. The only thing she hadn’t come to terms with was the long goodbye. A beautiful heartfelt letter by a well known novelist could say everything—certainly more than a fact-minded journalist could ever bring herself to write. She knew that he would be forgiving if she decided to leave. She remembered that Friday evening when Rick even encouraged her to leave, entreating her to forget the past and just leave him his trusty Colt Revolver.
She brought him his soup and salad in bed that night and tried her best to speak only of happy things, and put on a TV show that elicited belly-shaking laughter. It’s better to end the relationship on a positive note, they both concluded months ago. The only downer of the night was the conversation about the doctor’s appointment tomorrow. She would drive him to the doctor for a more potent prescription of painkillers. The only downside to taking steroidal drugs, as the doctor suggested, was that a possible side effect was difficulty in sleeping.
“Oh well…there are no easy choices in life, I guess,” Rick pontificated just before bed.
Cassie giggled to herself. “There are always easy choices in life, hon. Sometimes you just can’t afford them…”
(C) 2009 The Late Mitchell Warren