“And you’re sure you can’t just get the money yourself?” Jimmy glanced over at his wife. He tried to remember some of her other questions. For his part, Jimmy had been convinced from the very first e-mail and even more convinced when he “checked it out” with a phone conversation. Once that happened, he was sold. Hearing the guy’s voice, it was clear that Peace Nwose was not only a real person. His accent clearly sounded African. Or, at least foreign. And black. But not like the way black people in America talk.
Jimmy tried not to be exasperated with his wife. He reminded himself that she was just trying to be careful. Lord knows she was right that they didn’t have anything to spare, but this — this — this — finally, a ticket out of living paycheck to paycheck. Why wouldn’t she jump at the chance? They could finally afford to replace the formica kitchen table with a nice oak one. Or, she could replace her fraying faded felt winter coat with a wool one.
But then, she couldn’t read people the way Jimmy could. He got that from playing poker, he supposed. He wondered how much he had won over the years just from reading people’s expressions. He hadn’t kept track but he was sure it was a lot. He could think of plenty of times when he’d called somebody’s bluff and won big.
And the other times, when he, along with everyone else, had folded and somebody won? Well, that wasn’t a bluff because they never showed their cards. His buddy Steve in particular was a lucky SOB. Some people were like that. They just were born lucky. Steve always pulled good cards but he’d never show them. Steve would always say, “You have to pay for the privilege!” But everybody knew it was something really good or Steve wouldn’t have bet so aggressively as he had.
Jimmy glanced at his wife Sally yet again, trying to remember her other questions. He didn’t want to ask her with Peace listening in. That would make him seem unmanly. Jimmy creased his forehead. Sometimes, that helped him remember. “Oh, by the way, Peace, I get why you need my routing number to put the money in my account, but why do you need my social security number and stuff as well? Maybe you told me, but I forgot. I know there’s a good reason, but my — my banker wants to know.”
Jimmy liked the sound of that. “My banker” made him feel important, knowledgeable — a player. He waited. But not long. Peace had an answer right away. Again, if he had been lying, it would have taken him time to come up with a good answer, but no. Peace answered right away. Another sign he couldn’t possibly be lying. Here’s what he said: “I have no idea, to tell you the truth. My banker says we need it to legitimize the transfer. I’m not sure what that means but he does. Sadlike, he doesn’t speak English or I’d put him on the phone and he could explain you to it.”
Jimmy looked at his wife. He raised one eyebrow and tilted his head, shrugging his shoulders as though to say that Peace’s response should have put any remaining questions to bed.
That was in late October.
By the end of January, Sally and Jimmy were divorced.
It wasn’t so much that Jimmy lost their “nest egg” to the con, though certainly, that in and of itself would be enough to destroy many marriages. That was indeed a deep wound to the marriage, but it could have been healed if Jimmy simply had had the maturity and wherewithal to apologize to his wife and admit that she had been right all along. But to Jimmy, admitting that he had been wrong and his wife right was worse than actually losing their life savings. Not only did he not admit it; he doubled down. That is to say, he argued and screamed at Sally that it wasn’t Peace’s fault at all. That stubborn refusal to admit he had been conned — that was the fatal infection that poisoned the wound to their marriage.
As Jimmy explained, “Can’t you see?! Something happened to him! That’s why we can’t get hold of him any more! Somebody powerful in Nigeria stole our money and probably did him in! Our so-called government won’t even look into it! They might be in cahoots with these warlords. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they even try to track him down? Don’t you think that’s awfully suspicious? They say there is no-one in Nigeria with that name. How can that be? I don’t understand why you won’t side with me! Instead of the stupid government!?”
At first, Sally tried to be sympathetic; to stay calm and cool. She realized that underneath all his anger, her husband felt hurt. As the ranting and raving became more constant, all the things that they had once shared were pushed aside. This argument became the argument. The argument became almost their only topic of conversation.
Sally grew ever more resentful over time. She had put her own career on hold so Jimmy could focus on his locksmith business. And that was fine. But it was not fine that after Jimmy got swindled out of their two decades of savings that he started referring to all the savings as “his” money anyway because he was the one who had “brought home the bacon, after all.”
The good news is that eventually Sally remarried and, after a few years, was happier than she had ever been with Jimmy.
The bad news is that Jimmy didn’t fare so well. He went to bars to pick up women but ended up complaining to anyone who would listen about how his wife hadn’t understood how they had been cheated by the Nigerian government who had killed off his good friend — whose name, by the way, was Peace for God’s sake which pretty much proved in and of itself that he was legit. No, he had been offed all right. But that wasn’t the worst part, don’t you see. The worst part was that the American government was in league with the Nigerian war lords, as anyone with an ounce of brain could see. But sadly for Jimmy, no-one at the bar, other than the tip-motivated bartender, seemed to see any of it. Instead, they tried to turn the conversation to other topics like the new relief pitcher the Twins had just acquired or the weather or pretty much anything besides the “I coulda’ been a contender” speech that Jimmy had now memorized.
If Jimmy had tried new bars, he might have found more sympathetic ears, at least for a time. Instead, he gradually alienated everyone who regularly frequented Olsen’s Bar and Grill.
It’s quite possible that the long Minnesota winters contributed to his depression. The thing about alcohol is that it does help you get to sleep. But then, every night, in the early morning hours, Jimmy woke up. He couldn’t go back to sleep. Not without a drink or two. Sometimes, he then overslept. Soon, he lost his job and his house. One particularly cold February morning, he found himself out of alcohol. He had meant to get more Old Grandad the previous afternoon, but somehow forgot. Meaning to go for a short, brisk walk, he had’t bothered with the fur hat that would have provided at least a little bit of cushioning for the back of his head when it smashed on the icy sidewalk. Nor, did he put boots over his slippery and well-worn Oxfords.
They found him in the morning.
No-one attended his funeral. Sally might have attended, but she didn’t even find out until he was a week in the ground. She came exactly once to the gravesite and put a single white rose in front of the cheap marker. She shook her head sadly and said as she placed the rose: “Peace.”
“Peace” meanwhile, whose real name was David Jones, didn’t actually live in Nigeria at all, nor was he “black” although he really did speak with an accent — a Long Island accent. Thanks to Jimmy and hundreds like him, David lived most of the year in a 17 room mansion on the South Shore, a mansion with a nicely cavred white name plate out front labeling his estate: “Peace.”