Goodnight, lover. Hello, danger. (Part 1)

He sent two photos instead of having a clear profile picture, or even a picture at all, and then quickly followed with a brief “hello.” I glanced at my phone and opening one of those proximity apps for “dating” and noticed he was less than one mile away with a blank profile pic. After opening the messages and seeing that he sent the photos immediately, I took the bait.

I am not going to pretend to be someone who needs a clear face picture before engaging in chat (or meeting for that matter), but this guy was handsome– a good looking man in his late 30s. The banter was quick, to the point, and we were both seemingly enjoying the back-and-forth. The first day we chatted it was brief… I was at work, so I couldn’t chat all day, but wanted to pick it up later when I had more time, and definitely wanted to meet this handsome newcomer into my digital world.

The day passed, the evening ambled… I didn’t follow up, and truth be told, I kind of forgot about the guy whom I had recently bantered with online. This is often the case with digital “dating”– you hit it off, and then it fizzles 20 minutes later. No harm, no foul. It’s barely even enough time to give you false hope that something may come of it… not even a simple coffee date. I went to bed that night neither thinking of him, nor of anyone for that matter, and the rest was silence…

~~~

Until the next morning when I was awoken by the alarm that goes off far too early, knowing that I would hit snooze ad nauseum, or at least as long as I possibly could and still not make myself late for work. I arose, finally, and started my day as usual– quick shower, no shave, throw some more product in my hair and get out the door.

I was at work for a couple of hours when my phone dinged again… I glanced at it. Oh, that handsome guy from yesterday! I picked up my phone and read his message.

“When are we going to meet? You must be busy or mad at me.”

I had zero grounds to be mad at him, so I deduced that he must be playing coy… so again, I was hooked. I let him know that I was definitely just busy, and said that we could meet over lunch or after work– whichever would be best for him. He confirmed that we should meet after work and it was set… our first date. We exchanged names (his was Raef), phone numbers, and thus started our textual flirtation.

We learned more about each other: where each of us lived, what we each did for work, shared some of our particularities, and just had overall nice wordplay. Hooked. He told me he was on leave from work, that we worked long hours and he was asked to take a month off because he had so much built up vacation– when I asked how he was spending his day, he told me he was lounging in bed, swimming in his pool (hooked) and riding his horse. I said, “How cool that you have a horse!” He responded with, “I have 2 actually.” Hooked. Of course he had two horses… who was this guy? I didn’t know, but I wanted to find out.

A couple of hours passed and I checked in with him between lunch and the time I was supposed to head over to his house, and he nonchalantly replied, “I’m going to call my doctor. I’ve had kidney problems since I was a child. I ran out of my pills that break the stones down and I have a little bit of pain.”

Oh. New information, but I’m not cold, so of course I showed my concern for him. Once he got in touch with his doctor, he let me know that he was getting the prescription and that his doctor just wanted him to stop by for a quick check-up since there was some pain associated with his kidneys. Made enough sense.

Two hours later, not long before we were set to meet, I checked in with him to make sure all was going well. His response,

“Fuck. I am going to be admitted to the hospital now– peeing blood and super painful. Please don’t be mad at me. Why did this pain have to happen today.”

Obviously, for those who know me, I am a total monster, so OF COURSE I WAS MAD AT HIM!

On Opposite Day.

I responded with concern and empathy and iterated that I was glad he went to the doctor. I had never met this guy, but of course I cared that he might not be doing okay, so I let him know that he could reach out should he need anything. His response was just as anxious that I would hate him,

“I will let you know. So sorry. Please forgive me for rescheduling, but I am stuck at the hospital overnight.”

Again, I responded my monstrous reply… HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME!? Or as interpreted by anyone who knows me, I simply showed affection and told him once again that there was no need to worry about me; he should take care of himself. He agreed, feeling depressed and in pain from the kidney stone(s), and we said goodnight.

Once again, I went to bed that night thinking not much of anything… and then there was a little smile that came over my face. Maybe there’s something about that guy. The one in the hospital– I was curious to know more.

~~~

Over the next couple of days, we continued texting. He was still in the hospital and had to receive treatment to pulverize the stones in his body so that he could pass them less painfully. I didn’t pretend to comprehend that pain, but I hear it’s bad… so I just let him have his space and occasionally checked in on him. He was responsive, and still logged onto the app where we met, but I mean, I would be too! Anything to distract me from the hospital noises, bad lighting, and sick people. Eventually, he was out of the hospital and he told me that he wanted me to stop by over lunch one day– he settled on a Friday, giving him enough time to get situated in his home again, and to rest after his days in hospital.

Friday morning rolled around and I sent him a message stating that I was looking forward to meeting him and asked how his day was going. He responded,

“I’m great. Just cleaning the house and I am in shock. I got a phone call from an attorney. It’s a long story.”

I thought for a moment, then shrugged my shoulders and sent, “That’s cool.”

RECORD SCREECH!

No, I did not! ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! You just casually tell me that a) you are in shock, b) you got a call from an attorney, and c) it’s a long story! No, you don’t get to leave it at that… I probed. Then,

“My mentor died 4 weeks ago. And he left me everything including house, and cars… everything.”

Of course he did. Everyone’s mentor leaves them everything.

WHAT?! It was incredible… almost unbelievable. He told me that I would need to hear the whole story, but that it would make sense once I did. Then he asked if I was still planning on coming over at lunchtime. I confirmed and told him I need this address. He gave it to me, 755 W Luscious Avenue. (No… this isn’t his address, I am not giving out a real address– but make note of it, because it comes back later.) He told me he would be outside waiting for me when I arrived. I thought to myself, that isn’t necessary, I’ve made it this far in life navigating and using house numbers, but sure… after all, what was I going to say? Don’t wait outside! It was a nice gesture, so I accepted it.

When I showed up, true to his word he was standing outside, like a beacon in the distance. As if I were a ship at sea, I just chugged up to him, not needing house numbers to guide me. He greeted me very congenially, looked around a little bit as if he was looking for snipers sitting atop neighboring houses (which was a little odd, not going to lie), but then invited me beyond the gate that concealed his front yard. The gate swung open and I was greeted by two beautiful, docile dogs– large and intimidating in stature, but in personality nothing but loving and affectionate. A good sign, I thought to myself. In the “yard” was a large pool, beautiful landscaping, and cobble stone paths that led to multiple seating areas. The house was L-shaped and pool filled in the opening of the letter. It was stunning.

We chatted briefly outside, his gaze turned to the neighbors houses again. “Is everything ok?” I inquired. He told me that the neighbors are so nosy and they’re always watching. That’s a bit strange, again to myself. He smiled at me, reassuringly, and said, “Would you like to come in?” I smiled and nodded, “Sure.”

Making our way across the front-yard, the dogs found sunbathing spaces and chilled. The inside of the house was impeccably decorated– no signs of dust or dirt. It looked straight out of Architectural Digest– high vaulted ceilings, blankets perfectly folded. Much like the front yard, it was immaculate.

“So, who died?” I asked.

Nothing like starting with easy topics and working your way up to the tough stuff.

He half-smiled at the candor with which I asked the question, “My mentor. Well…” There was a beat and then he looked intently at me. “He was actually my sugar daddy. But I called him my mentor.”

Smiling and allowing that to sink in, “Ok. So. Your sugar daddy died?”

“Well, he wasn’t my sugar daddy anymore. I told him years ago to stop sending me checks. I have my own money now. And he stopped.”

I continued, “Ok. So… You have your own house and money. You were forced to take a month off because you have too much vacation time. You just were in the hospital for kidney stone issues. You’re a mortician… and your sugar daddy just died and left you everything?”

“Yes, well… my former sugar daddy.”

“Right, yes,” I corrected myself. “Former sugar daddy.” I paused as we looked at each other. And then I glanced around the room a bit, surveying the terrain. Then, “That’s quite the week you’ve had.”

He sighed. “Oh boy. It really has been quite a week.”

“Yeah. I appreciate you taking the time to hang out with me, all things considered,” I chimed in. “So… did you know that your sug-, FORMER sugar daddy was going to leave you everything?”

He shook his head, “No, not until I got the call from the lawyers this morning.”

“That’s insane.” Time momentarily stood still, then I said, “how are you doing with all of that?”

He laughed a little. “Honestly? I’m feeling stressed.”

I laughed along, “I can imagine. And I mean that… I can ONLY imagine. I don’t have a barometer for this kind of thing– the whole former-sugar-daddy-dying-and-leaving-you-the-house-and-everything-else kind of situation. So… I bet it’s strange?”

“Oh, that’s the other thing. I have to meet with the lawyers today and go to the bank,” he paused. “There’s a bank account.”

I hesitated, but I think he wanted me to ask, “How much is in it?”

“I don’t know yet. I will find out today.” I sighed. I honestly had no idea how to even begin to understand what was rushing through his mind. But I knew that it was nice talking to him, and he seemed to enjoy my company, so perhaps I would start to understand more about the complexities of inheriting estates from former sugar daddies.

We visited for a while longer, and as my lunch-break was nearing its end, I stood and thanked him for having me over. I have him a big hug, and then our lips touched for the first time. I was soon after out the door and passing the lounging dogs, the sparkly pool, and as I was almost through the gate, I looked back and said, “Let’s hang out again soon?”

He smiled as he crouched next to the dog, “Absolutely. This weekend.”

Hooked.

~~~

Late in the day as I left work, I texted Raef to see how the meetings were going– his response was brief and said that he was still at the bank. Then shortly after as I was on my way home, he called.

“Oh my god. I am just leaving the bank. The account is full of money.”

I hesitated, then, “Like, a lot of money? Or a lot of money?”

He responded, “What do you mean?”

“How much money?”

“5.8 million dollars.”

“Holy shit. You’re kidding.”

“No, I am still working on paperwork– they had to verify my identify, but I am just taking a break,” he sounded a little agitated.

“Are you ok?”

He mumbled something and then said, “I’m feeling really anxious. Having a hard time breathing.”

This I could handle, I know people who have had panic attacks and stressful situations can bring it out in people, “Just try to breathe through the tightness. Have you had any water?”

“Not really,” he started. “I’ll be fine. Have to go back in and finish it. Just wanted to update you.”

“Oh. Um. Ok, thanks for keeping me in the loop.” That wasn’t necessary, but I guess he was thinking of me, so I took it as another good sign.

We said goodbye and I was nearing home– and he was… becoming a millionaire. Crazy.

~~~

A couple of hours later that night, I received a text message from him,

“I’m back in the hospital.”

I inquired as to why, and he said he was having chest pains… he was a 37-year-old man having chest pains? That was crazy– he didn’t look unwell. Something didn’t seem right. Perhaps he’s a hypochondriac? I started speculating, but I had no reason not to trust him, but something in my brain and stomach was suspect. However, all that said, I believed him and also knew that something was off. I was a mixed bag of understanding, but believing in the good of humanity, I was going to check in on him sporadically… regularly. Regularly sporadic. Habitually.

Whatever, I am a good person!

~~~

Days passed and he was still in the hospital. We became regular texters and occasional callers. He was thinking about me, and I, truth be told, was thinking about him. After about 5 days of communication, he still was unsure of when he was going to get out of the hospital. I asked him if he had any visitors and he told me that he didn’t have many friends. Then I asked if he wanted a visitor, and he declined, stating that he didn’t want to be seen in his state: unshaven et al. I told him that I didn’t care about that, but he maintained that he did. So, I agreed not to visit him. He was in the hospital just down from my work, so it would have been easy to visit. Again while he was in the hospital, he continued to log in to that proximity “dating” app, and again, it made sense. Distraction is key.

Another item that came up while he was in the hospital was the fact that he was supposed to go back to the bank the following Monday, but he was in the hospital so couldn’t finish the paperwork, and as a result, they froze his bank accounts. I listened to him and empathized, that sucked. I imagined that the bank would understand when he went back with hospital discharge paperwork, but he wasn’t so sure.

After a few more days of his being in the hospital, I continued to ask if I could do anything for him, he said via text,

“I need 200.”

I inquired, “$200?”

“Yes.”

“For what?”

“Electric bill. It’s due.”

“Do you want me to call the electric company? If I give you the money, your account is still frozen and you have no way to get it to them…”

“Let me call tomorrow and see what’s up.”

“Ok. I am certainly happy to call them. Let’s touch base about it tomorrow. Get some rest.”

Later he let me know that he would get the money from him boss, and that I shouldn’t worry. I chalked all of this up to him being in the hospital, a little loopy from who knows what medications, and just let it go.

More time passed and the more I asked if I could see him in the hospital, the more he refused… and I started to get very suspicious. Something wasn’t right here, so I started doing what any self-respecting Veronica Mars wannabe would do… I started sleuthing. I started with his house… I couldn’t find the public record for it, but did notice that when I search the address he had given me, it didnt’ match the photos of the house I was in… so I looked at the addresses around the one he gave me.

Concrete Clue #1: he didn’t live at 755 W Luscious Avenue. He lived at 747 W Luscious Avenue. THAT is why he said he would meet me outside. He would get me close enough to the address, and then greet me outside so that I didn’t have to look at the actual house numbers. SMART!

Nayronica Mars was now officially on the case. There was not trace of Raef anywhere online. None. I dug into his phone number– it came up with multiple names… names that were NOT Raef, including Estelle, Florinda, and the one that popped up the most was Johnnie Gomez. Who was Johnnie Gomez!? And why was it once used at a horse ranch about an hour north of his house???

HORSES! Did he even own horses? Did he work at a horse ranch? What even IS a horse ranch?!

I then moved on to morticians license checking– no Raef anywhere! No embalmers, funeral directors, NO ONE with the name of Raef in California.

I should have walked away right there… it was all unraveling in front of me. But there was a man in the hospital… and I didn’t want to walk away from him. Not yet. But how far was I willing to go to get the truth? Deeper than I imagined…

To be continued…

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