Epilogue 02 - Mike's income
Ruthie's life and how she viewed herself changed when she received her first paycheck from the car dealership. Her relationship with Mike also changed, partly because she now had a good source of income, and partly because of a change at his job that he had no control over, a change that would greatly reduce his income.
Over the summer and into the next year, the changes that Ruthie had noticed in Mike over the spring intensified after his father died. Although he rarely talked about it, she could tell that his hope for social justice and desire to understand what had happened to the US had changed into a visceral hatred of the entire political system and power structure. It was a quiet hatred, biding its time, waiting for the moment when circumstances would allow him to seek revenge. Specifically he envisioned storming corporate offices carrying a crow-bar and crushing the faces of anyone richer than himself. As Ruthie foresaw her boyfriend's future, Mike was destined to be part of the mob that will destroy the US as we currently know it.
But that was not what happened. In the end, Mike Sinclair was destined to live out a much quieter, although not necessarily happier, existence. As the semester following his father's death passed by, Mike's hatred was tempered by the coins he was stealing every day from the parking meters at DSU. The weeks and months passed and Mike continued raiding his employer's meters unabated. He had money, and to have money was to have a sense of empowerment. He hated the system, but he had found a way to beat it.
There was another consideration that calmed his anger, Ruthie. He felt the need to protect her, take care of her, and give her as good a life as possible. That meant he had to concentrate on collecting the money needed to fulfill that promise he had made to himself. He became more and more determined to pursue a career in parking management. After all, parking revenue was "money for nothing and your chicks for free." By his junior year he was taking business classes that he thought would help him buy or manage parking lots, and working on personal connections he would need to "break into" the business. Over the two years that followed his father's death, Mike also became a better thief and con-artist. He learned how to convert money from cash and launder it, and to store his earnings out of sight of both the IRS and his girlfriend.
There was an interruption to his illicit stream of income when Davenport State University switched from coin-fed meters to high-tech meters that relied on a cashless electronic payment system. It wasn't until that moment Ruthie realized what Mike had been doing and how he was able to provide them with a lifestyle that was far beyond what university students in central California could have enjoyed with normal minimum-wage salaries. It began when Ruthie noticed that her boyfriend had became extremely moody and worried, but wouldn't tell her why. And then, while casually looking at the campus newspaper, she came across an article announcing that the university parking department was getting rid of coin-fed meters.
It wasn't until that moment that Ruthie connected the all details about her boy-friend's life and finances. She knew that he paid for almost everything in cash, often with rolls of quarters. That meant rolls of quarters for everything: food, restaurant meals, gas, car repairs, books, videos, small appliances, clothing - wherever he could, he spent quarters. Ruthie now realized where he was getting them from. He was stealing them from work.
All along, Ruthie had known, deep down, that Mike was not telling her the truth about where he was getting all that money from. However, she had decided not to pursue the issue when, early in their relationship, he paid a dentist $ 600 in cash to fill cavities in two of her teeth. Without that money, it was very possible that Ruthie would have lost those teeth, because she did not have dental insurance. Since then, he had used his resources to give both both her and himself a decent life. So, mentally she compartmentalized that portion of their relationship and did not let if affect anything else that went on between them. There were other reasons she had decided not to say anything. She had seen how poverty destroyed the lives of both her mother and Mike's father. And seeing that, the lesson she took away was that morality was relative. Rich people can afford to have high moral standards. Poor people cannot. So, whatever Mike was doing, she was not in a position to judge him.
However, the situation had changed. Mike was about to lose his illicit source of income and was justifiably very upset. He felt he couldn't share his problem with Ruthie. And she knew that he had to share it with her. She also needed to let him know that she had the solution, and that if he wanted to stay with her, he would have to accept it. And, the only way to get him to share his problem was to confront him.
Ruthie's personality did not allow her to be tactful in any situation. She knew that about herself, so she didn't try. She simply walked up to her boyfriend and held up the article.
"I... uh... Mike... I... kinda wanna know... what you... uh... what you think about this... "
Mike's face went pale and he started to sweat: "Ruthie... Please... It's not what you think... "
"It's not what I think? Then what the fuck is it? What is it, Mike, if it isn't this? 'Cause this is what's stressing you out, isn't it? The quarters?"
For a moment Mike stared at the floor. There was no hiding it. He was caught.
"Yeah. It's what's stressing me out."
When Ruthie found out how much Mike was spending, she was dismayed. They were not living exorbitantly: they were just spending what was necessary to lead comfortable lives, but living in central California was horrifically expensive.
The solution as she saw it was simple. As soon as Mike's stolen meter money dried up, she'd take over paying the rent with her modeling money and he could pay the rest of the bills with his legitimate salary. She pointed out that he had been paying the rent for nearly a year, so it was only fair that she would take her turn. With no other options, he reluctantly agreed.
"There's another thing about this. Now that I know what you're doing, I don't like it. Sooner or later you're gonna get caught, and you're gonna get fucked. It... "
"No, I wouldn't have gotten caught. I know how... "
"Mike, you would've gotten caught. You're stealing a shitload of money from those people. You seriously think you could've kept that up, month after month, and no would've one noticed?"
"Think about it. You're being forced to quit while you're ahead. You're lucky. You're quitting while you're ahead. That doesn't happen very often."