Zeta and Benton’s surf dates continued for a year whenever the surf report was good. They hit it off as instantly as any love at first sight couple in a bestselling Harlequin paperback. Like the old cliché, they clicked.
Benton was a third generation lawyer from a very wealthy family. After Zeta had met the Barringtons, her parents were invited to the Barrington mansion for a dinner party and everyone mixed well even though the Conners were beneath the Barringtons on the socioeconomic ladder. The Conners were well educated and confident in any upscale social occasion. Regarding overall intellectual wealth, the Conners ranked much higher on the ladder.
Mrs. Barrington dropped out of her second year of college to marry her husband. Their seven thousand square foot mansion was in the exclusive La Jolla Farms area and had seven bedrooms, six baths, a red Spanish tile roof and large swimming pool. The Farms name came from an earlier era when the area was in agriculture usage.
The Conner’s Pacific Beach home would almost fit snugly in the mansion’s 40x40 living room.
It was at a dinner party that Zeta would meet Benton’s parents. The event was a multi-purpose occasion combining the celebration of the law firm winning a multi-million dollar case, some of Mr. Barrington’s friends from Harvard being in town, and the opportunity for Zeta to meet the Barringtons. Zeta walked into the mansion with Benton and heads turned and stayed turned. If all the men who were knocked out had fallen, the mansion’s Italian tile floor would have been littered with bodies. As she made her entrance, Zeta’s long blond hair swayed like a Kentucky Derby thoroughbred’s tail.
Zeta wore an elegant beige chiffon dress with delicate sky blue and coral pink flower designs, a simple gold necklace, and 3" cream beige high heels. Her shapely tanned body moved gracefully and held the men guests’ attention far too long, as their wives gave them warning glares. Benton and Zeta walked on over to meet his parents.
“Mother, Dad, I’d like to introduce you to Zeta Conner.” Zeta shook hands first with Mrs. Barrington then Mr. Barrington. After exchanging some predictable greetings, Mrs. Barrington looked admiringly at Zeta’s legs and said, “You’ve certainly got some lovely limbs Zeta.” They all laughed at her off-the-wall comment and Mr. Barrington added, “Benton’s told us you were the NCAA champion in the women’s 440.” “Yes, that’s true, thanks mainly to my inherited genes.”
“And I understand you are studying astrology at San Diego State,” Mrs. Barrington continued. Not sure how to respond Zeta maintained a poker face for a moment.
“Astronomy my dear,” Mr. Barrington said.
“Oh yes, I always have trouble with that word. Personally, I don’t know if I believe it or not, though sometimes mine seems so accurate about me.”
“Ah, what would you like to drink Zeta?” Mr. Barrington asked.
“Oh thanks, Dad, but I’ll get our drinks. “So nice meeting you both,” Zeta said and turned to go to the bar with Benton.
Mr. Barrington always downplayed his starter palace, and He called it, “Our cozy place for family and friends.” He was an easy going man at home who preferred walking around in his cozy place in flip flops and shorts. The home had been purchased years ago for a mere six million plus change. Comparable homes were now selling for fifteen million and higher.
When Monday mornings arrived, he shaved, showered, brushed his teeth, combed what was left of thinning hair, and put on his modern suit of armor; one of his many tailored Armani suits. He had two pairs of Mezlan thousand dollar custom made shoes, and ample pairs of Forzieri designer shoes to match any suit. Mrs. Barrington trained him how to dress early in the marriage.
When it came time for litigation, the laid back guy from the cozy pad became a ruthless, relentless, vicious bulldog. Just the mention of his name was bad news and indigestion to an opposing attorney. Seeing him kicking back poolside in his lounge with a wine cooler watching football on a large flat screen TV, he didn’t appear to be a feared destroyer of adversaries.
Consummate socialite Mrs. Barrington was clearly the cordial and charming queen monarch of her mansion. She spent most of her days managing the estate, ordering the help around, redecorating a room, or working on a charity party committee. She had been an avid golfer but a herniated lumbar disc, and possible surgery, put her favorite hobby on hold.
While the back pain precipitated the decline in golfing, it also fostered a sharp increase in fondness for Martinis. Her husband was able to get her recent DUI to disappear. Benton was their only child and much to his annoyance she continually tried to dote on him. “No Mom, thanks but, really Mom, honest I’m fine, I’m ok Mom, I’m fine really,” were well-worn phrases for him.
Just over a year after starting to date, Benton and Zeta had finished a stoking surf session at Black’s Beach. They carried their surfboards and walked along the beach and back up the challenging steep trail to the parking lot high above the ocean. Zeta looked out at the ocean savoring the blue Pacific splendor and with an onshore breeze blowing in her hair said, “Isn’t this just amazing! So beautiful. We are so fortunate Bent.”
Bent, as she often called him, knelt down on one knee, unzipped his wetsuit, reached inside and pulled out a small Ziploc baggie. Zeta put her hand over her mouth, in unfeigned disbelief. He took the ring out of the Ziploc, put the empty bag back inside his wetsuit, and took Zeta’s hand.
“Will you make me the happiest man alive and marry me Zeta,” he implored. Zeta wasn’t out of breath from the steep climb up from Black’s Beach, but from holding her breath in surprised shock. She finally inhaled a gasping breath, then exhaled a “Yes, yes I will Benton!” He stood up and put the sparkling four-carat round cut diamond ring on her finger. All the colors from the Sun’s visible light spectrum danced from the fiery stone. He took her in his arms and kissed her, sealing the verbal contract while some beachgoers, who’d been watching, clapped and cheered.
“You mean you had that diamond ring inside your wetsuit the whole time we were surfing?”
“Yes ma’am, I certainly did.”
“What if it had come out during a bad wipe out?”
“Little chance of that, I had it inside my jockstrap pouch.”
“Oh I see, with your other family jewels,” she laughed.
“Yes ma’am I sure did,” and he kissed her again to the sound of more applause and the waves crashing below.
Their wedding ceremony was at the St. Therese of Carmel Catholic Church and the gala reception at the Del Mar Country Club. The exclusive country club could accommodate three hundred guests. Zeta, her mother, and Mrs. Barrington managed to, with input from Benton and Mr. Barrington, whittle down the list of relatives, friends, and prime business connections from over five hundred to the three hundred max capacity of the club.
Zeta took the wedding planning in stride and avoided being the stressed out type of neurotic bride so common at matrimonial events. The Barringtons had tactfully, and with no resistance, convinced Zeta’s parents they would pick up the tab for most all wedding expenses, including a honeymoon in Kauai. “Benton is our only child, and we are able and dearly want to do this for him and Zeta. Please allow us this privilege.”
The Conners paid for the more intimate size rehearsal dinner and the wedding gown. Zeta bought Benton’s ring. Her father’s extensive math and physics background wasn’t required to recognize a very fortuitous deal, rarely offered a father of the bride. This Benton the third was not too shabby a catch for his daughter, the attractive Southern California surf bum female jock, with good grades.
Financially there could have been far better times for the June 2009 extravagant wedding. By March that year, the stock market had stumbled, staggered, crashed and slid losing over fifty percent of its value down to 6,500 from the high two years earlier of over 14,000 in 2007. Not as disastrous as the ruthless decline after the crash of 1929 when the market had lost 89% of its paper valuation by 1932. Barrington II had learned from his father never to foolishly leverage any investment by believing up is forever. “Leverage goes in both directions. Never forget that.”
Barrington II didn’t forget his father’s prudent financial advice and his conservative stock market investments, largely in tax-free municipal bonds, didn’t take a painful ride on the “down” slide. His real estate holdings were not in jeopardy since he was stridently opposed to taking out equity and using it to gamble on a perpetual “up.” Some of his friends, carried along by the national tsunami of greed and irrational exuberance, were now losing their homes, country club memberships, BMWs, and silicone augmented wives.
He had preserved his wealth so successfully that it was no strain on the family net worth to toss in a luxury condo for Benton and Zeta in La Jolla Shores overlooking the Pacific, just walking distance from Windansea surfing beach. Barrington II was a powerful mogul creating a premier legal firm in San Diego County. He also was a shrewd investor in stocks, bonds, and real estate when real estate was a bargain. His father, Barrington I had nicely passed on an inheritance of over 60 million dollars that was split between his son Barrington II and a daughter. His wife preceded him in death after she died from a fatal reaction to anesthesia during elective plastic surgery.
Neither Benton nor Zeta wanted the responsibility of owning a house. They loved the wedding gift condo location near one of San Diego County’s iconic surf breaks, Windansea, in exclusive La Jolla. A starter mansion with all the responsibility, work, and headaches could be postponed, along with the grandchildren Mrs. Barrington II was so eager to have added to the family.
As Barrington II sat at his Carpathian elm and ebony desk in his home office, signing a plethora of checks his wife wrote for wedding expenses, his thoughts wandered back to 2003. “What the hell happened he mused?” He remembered the sunny day George Bush Jr. took a ride in the co-pilot seat of a Navy Viking jet, and the pilot landed on the United States carrier Abraham Lincoln in the Pacific. Those infamous words “Mission Accomplished, all major combat operations have ended” had signaled the beginning of the dark days of America’s longest war, and the coming worldwide financial crisis. He looked up at his picture on the wall shaking hands with President Bush, both smiling broadly. “It’s a fucking nut crazy world!” he said aloud.”
“What?“, Mrs. Barrington called back from down the hall leading into the spacious thirty-foot high cathedral ceiling great room.
“I said it’s a god damn fucking nut crazy world!”
“Yes dear, I know,” she replied continuing down the hall with her Martini.