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Jill Rodgers and Donald Long

Posted on : 2012-01-27 13:14:13.737106

Jill:

"Jill, you can't be serious. Donald Long is nowhere near being in your league. He's short, and nerdy, and a truly terrible dancer; and he's a pussy compared to the men that you could have. Now, Kyle Woodrow, he is in your league; you snap your fingers and he will be on his knees begging you to marry him when we graduate," said Penny. "And, you can add to that that there is no doubt that Kyle is going places."

"So would Donald, Penny, get on his knees and propose, that is, if I snap my fingers. And, I don't care if my husband goes places, as you put it. I'll be the one doing the going places. I'm determined to be somebody, Pen; and you can take that to the bank. No, I'm looking for a man who will be there for me when I need him: the wind beneath my wings as the song goes.

"Kyle's tall, dark, and handsome; and, absolutely stuck on himself. His ego will all but force him to keep me on the backburner. I am not into being on the backburner for any man, Penny. Plus, Kyle would be cheating on me in a year tops. I will be able to dictate to Donald and make him think he's won the fucking lottery in getting me for his wife," I said. "No, no Kyle Woodrows for me."

"Oh I see, you want to be the knightess in shining armor and have your husband be your loyal squire: a Sancho Panza to your Don Quixote. Is that it?" she laughed. "You want a man who is so pussywhipped that you can do whatever you want, is that it Jill?" said Penny, now positively breaking up laughing.

"No, I just want to have clear sailing to the top in my profession. I want a man who will have my back, that's all.

The dance was the swan song of our college sorority's seniors. A bunch of us would be graduating in a week's time. Then, we would be off to our niches in the real world. Penny and I had been close since our freshman year, and we were discussing who we were going to choose to be our significant others.

"Don't look now, girlfriend," said Penny. Here comes your pirate?uh?I mean your loyal squire in waiting." I gave her a sarcastic look that told her to cool it.

"May I have this dance?" said Donald Long. I rose as he took my hand. I had a good six inches on him with my heels, but he did not seem to feel intimidated by that little reality. Yes, Donald would do. A ne'er do well in the offing for sure, but a gentle man who would be more than tractable; I was certain of it.

******

Donald:

The gavel sounded and that was it; we were divorced.

The light went out of my life that day: three months gone now. The most beautiful woman in the world, the sexiest woman in the world, the sweetest girl in the world and I were no longer an item; we were now a statistic.

I'd met Jill Rodgers thirteen years earlier at a costume ball. She was Tinker Bell and I was Blackbeard the pirate. Her costume left zero to the imagination. Mine, on the other hand, suited me. I was tough, and gruff, and rough around the edges. She was smart and pretty and quick witted. She was going places; one could just sense it.

The ball was sponsored by one or another of the sororities, and I'd been invited by Pauline Carter an old high school flame to attend. I'd been two years ahead of Pauline at Central High. She'd been one of those quiet, pretty, fragile kind of girls that every guy feels duty bound to protect, and my last two years in high school were spent protecting her, and that for purely selfish reasons.

Pauline was a senior at State, a Business Administration major, the night of the aforementioned soiree, and I'd just been discharged from the Army. If it matters, I'd been a supply sergeant. I was there, at the dance, as Pauline informed me up front, to escort her and to make her current boyfriend, Dennis Rodman, jealous. Dennis, it seems, had not been as attentive as he might have been toward our girl. Anyway, I was game, and we'd succeeded: we'd made him jealous. And, predictably, Pauline ended up leaving with him. Which was okay with me, it left me free to cruise the party. And cruise I did.

Anyway as my pirate ship cruised lazily around the premises, I fell in to the rear of the line of guys trying to get on Tinker Bell's dance card. I knew miss 'Bell'?well, from afar?from our high school days; she'd never given me a tumble then, and I'd never expected her to. Though I'd never dated her, I had socialized with a few who had. But now, ex-army and all...

I did manage to get two or three dances with her, and, surprise-surprise, a date for the following weekend. And I was surprised. I'd asked her to dance that first time thinking I had but little chance of getting anywhere with anyone in her league. But, to prove the adage that nothing ventured would result in nothing whatsoever gained, I'd managed to get up enough courage to ask, and had gotten my reward.

To make a complicated and longish story a trifle less complicated and a deal shorter, let me say that our date the following Saturday night was spectacular. The woman was a thrill a minute, and the sex was outrageous. And, no, I did not even begin to question the fact that she'd given it up kinda easily; and that, even though, as I think I mentioned, we had never mixed socially before that fateful night at the party the week before. And, allowing myself the latitude to jump ahead a little here; everything I had imagined about her that first evening at the party, ended up being true. She was smart, she would indeed become very successful?I mean very?and she was way out of my league. This last was not really brought home to me until, well, until earlier today.

******

"Hi Helen, the boss in?" I said. "I'm supposed to have an appointment."

"Yes, Mr. Long. She said to send you right in when you got here. But, she does have Mr. Loring in there at the moment. Could you hold on for just a sec while I check?" she said.

"My boss? My boss is in with her?" I said.

"Yes sir. But, I'm pretty sure that they are about done," she said. I nodded my understanding. I watched as she buzzed the boss' line.

"Ms. Rodgers, Mr. Long is here," said Helen.

"Thank you Helen. I'll be right out." Helen turned to me and tendered me a half smile. For some reason her smile unsettled me. It was almost like?something. Just then the door opened and my boss exited.

"Good morning, Mr. Loring," I said. I smiled, but he didn't return it.

"Good morning, Mr. Long.

"Helen, I'll be out in the field today. I have some mending to do with some of our customers. I'll be on the cell if anyone needs me," he said. And then he was gone without again even looking in my direction.

"Yes, Mr. Loring," said Helen, to his retreating form.

Helen seemed about to say something to me, but just then my wife came out and motioned me in: and yes, my wife is the CEO of Castor and Weintraub Consulting, a company dealing mainly in public relations and personnel arbitration. I'd been hired as a field representative for the firm a dozen years earlier, and, I was still a field rep; well, whaddya gonna do; it was my niche. At any rate, my job was to see to it that our clients were satisfied with C&W services, and when such was not the case, to fix it so that they were satisfied. Without so much as a half-smile, my wife turned on her heels and headed inside. I had a bad feeling, but I followed her.

She sashayed her way behind her desk and seemed to fall into her throne. I followed her example and took a seat across from her without being invited to do so. She eyed me?what?coldly.

"Good morning, dear," I said. We'd not seen each other since early the day before. She'd come home and to bed after I was asleep, and she'd left before I was up; well, she was the CEO.

"Donald, Brad Loring has had some not too complimentary things to say about your work. Know anything about that?" she said.

"Huh? What? I'm doing good," I said, with confidence. "I just saw him a minute ago. He came here to complain about me?"

"He says the Montrose account is about to split from us and a couple of others are thinking about it. All three are yours, Donald," she said.

"Montrose! No way. I was there this week doing the tour. They were happy. They said so, Jill. They said so!" She gazed, no stared at me?hard.

"Donald, Mr. Loring wanted to fire you. I told him I had to talk to you first.

"Donald, you're my husband. We've been together a lot of years. When we both signed on with C&W those many years ago, I thought, well, I thought that it was a nice idea, a good thing. Now, well now I'm not so sure. I never thought that someday I would be your boss. But, I am, and that's the long and the short of it," she said. "I have to think of the company first: and that for the good of the both of us, you and me," she said.

"Huh? Yeah, the company first, for the good of us," I wasn't quite being sarcastic. "Jill, I think it's great you've done as well as you have. I've got no ego problems when it comes to that. I think I've done pretty good too, no matter what Loring says. And I do not believe that Montrose torpedoed me like that; I can't believe it."

I smiled, "But you can't fix the Fawcett at home and I can," I said, smiling and trying to lighten the mood. She still didn't smile.

"Donald, you're fired," she said. "You'll get the usual severance package." What she said took a moment to register.

"What? What! I'm fired. But?but?but you're my wife. I mean don't I even get a second chance. Maybe see if I can find out what's the matter with the Montrose account? Fix things up with them, if there is something wrong? And those other companies too? I said.

"Donald, you're fired. You need to clean out your desk, and turn in your keys and passwords. I need you out by day's end, Donald. I'm sorry. I hate to have to do this, but I'd rather it come from me than from Brad Loring. You will get a decent letter of recommendation; I can do that much for you at least," she said. I could feel my face flush. The embarrassment was almost beyond enduring.

"Jesus, Jill, Don't I even rate a second chance? Oh, fuck it, what the hell!" I rose and turned to go. I stopped at the door and looked back at her. Nothing, not even a hint of regret. "Helluva note, my own wife doing this to me. Good thing we don't have children you and I. Damn good thing," I said. I opened the door and stormed out.

I decided to go home and try to calm down. I needed to calm down. I mean my own wife. What would this do to our marriage? Where was the love and support? I had to think. I had to figure out where it all went wrong. We were still man and wife. Was she thinking of dumping me too, kicking me out? I had to believe that that was a possibility. I waited, and drank. Actually, I drank quite a lot. I looked up at the wall clock; it read 5:43. She'd likely be home soon, and then what?

I heard the garage door opener engage. She was home. I remained seated on the divan in front of the TV. It wasn't on. But I was on; well, I was high. She came in and looked at me. She turned and went upstairs. I guess she didn't have anything to say?hell?I knew that that wasn't true; she'd be sayin' somethin'. I was right in the second place.

Less than five minutes after going upstairs, she came back down and stood in front of me: between me and the not-turned-on TV. She looked good; well, she always did. The TV might not be turned on, but in spite of everything I was beginning to be. The bad news was that I didn't figure to be getting' any.

"I'm sorry, Donald, and know you're maybe not in the mood to talk to me; and well, frankly, the feeling's mutual: I'm not anxious to be getting into a?discussion. Again, I do want to say how sorry I am for what I had to do this morning, but, well, Donald, I did have to do it. You just haven't been doing the job like I feel, and Mr. Loring feels, you are capable of.

"I don't know. Maybe it's because you felt you could take it easy being the boss' husband. If you did, you were wrong, Donald; there is no taking it easy in this business. Or, maybe this business just isn't your cup of tea. But, whatever the reason, while I am sorry I had to do it; I am not apologizing for doing it. Can you understand that?" she said.

I just took another sip of my drink. "For someone who didn't want to talk you sure seem to be doing a lot of it," I said. "Had to do it, huh? Well, like I said this morning, fuck it, and fuck the job!" She looked down.

"Okay," she said. "Like I said, I know you aren't in the mood to talk right now, at least not civilly. We will have to talk at some point, my husband; and we both know it. Figure out where we are going to be going from here. I love you, Donald. This doesn't have to affect us as a couple. I hope it won't, but I guess that part is up to you." She sighed. "Anyway, business is business; you have to understand that."

The truth was that I did understand it, but that said, we were still family: she still shoulda stood by me, stood up for me, at least that. Plus, I just did not believe that Montrose did to me what she'd said, what Loring'd said.

I looked up at her. Jesus! She sure did look good. "Yeah, maybe we'll talk, and maybe not. But for sure not right now, as you say. My feelings are just a little raw right now as you might well imagine."

She nodded, "I can understand that." I was getting sick to my stomach, but I had to ask her one more thing.

"But, I do have just one question for you. Would that be all right?" I said. She tilted her head, always a sign that she was surprised at something.

"Yes, of course," she said.

"What you did this morning, to me, it was only business? It wasn't the first salvo in wanting to get rid of me?" I said. She looked down, then up. She met my gaze.

"Get rid of you? No. I assure you it was strictly business," she said. Maybe it was my imagination, but though the words were the ones I'd hoped to hear, the tone was unconvincing. I just nodded and looked into the dregs of my drink; they kinda reminded me of my situation, the dregs.

******

"Well, you seem to have survived the night," said Brad Loring.

"Yes, he took things better than I thought he would. I just wish the little shit was capable of doing the job. I could have shipped him off on trips or something to keep him occupied," said Jill.

"You know, I gotta ask. I mean why did you marry the guy I mean you are so far out of his league that it isn't even funny," he said. "I mean you must have had that figured out at the gitgo; I mean you even kept your maiden name for chryssakes!" he said. "If that doesn't say something about you and him, I don't know what does.

"Jill, you have to divorce the guy. I want you to be my wife, not his," said Brad. "You and I belong together."

"I can't, dummy, he'd rape me in the divorce?economically. I make five times what he does. Donald might not be worth a damn at arbitration, but he's no dum-dum; trust me on that. If he knew I was screwing around on him, there would be hell to pay; and I don't wanna pay it," said Jill. "No, no divorce yet. I need to get him to want to leave on his own and blame himself when he does. I'm pretty smart too. I'll figure something out sooner or later. I promise." She sidled up to him and spread her legs a little to allow his thigh to rub up against her still clothed pussy.

The big man sighed, "Okay for now, I guess. Right now I gotta have me some relief. Think you can help me out?" he said.

"I think I might?" she teased.

"Oh yeah, well I hope so."

They were standing in the den of his oversized condominium. It was a three bedroom affair with a patio facing out on the four star golf course that was part of the package that his administrator's salary allowed him to afford. The golf course, too, was part of a country club membership that included a gym, a bar with a small dance floor, a twenty-four hour restaurant, two saunas, two Jacuzzis, and a convenience store.

He pulled her to him and kissed her gently. She slid her tongue between his slightly parted lips and he sucked on it.

His hand slipped to her ass and traced the crease of it through her dress. He pushed her back a little and looked at her. Leaning in he kissed the exposed tops of her breasts.

"Nice," he said.

"Of course," she said, smiling broadly.

"Get on your knees," he said. She mimicked a frown.

"Kinda demanding are we tonight?" she said.

Without answering her, he gently, but firmly, pushed her down to a kneeling position. Her hands dangled at her sides. She looked up into his expectant eyes. "Do it," he commanded her.

Slowly she reached up and got hold of his belt buckle and undid it. Unbuttoning his pants, she pulled them down around his ankles and left them there. He didn't bother to kick them off.

She touched the bulge in his shorts and smiled again. "Looks like you're interested," she giggled.

He grabbed a fist full of her blond hair and pulled her to him. She resisted.

"Ow!" she howled. He released her and she pulled his shorts down and his cock slapped her in the side of the face as she did so.

She stroked him a few times and then let her lips slide over his glans. He moaned. She sucked for some minutes. She felt him begin his eruption and pulled back from him aiming his spray onto the polished wooden floor. He leaned back against the arm of the couch and gasped.

He helped her up and turned her to face him. He kicked of his pants and underwear. He kissed her soft and long, just like he knew she liked it. No fish pucker for her; she would only tolerate soft, delicate, slightly open mouthed kissing. He'd learned that early on, and he was okay with it.

He helped her undress and then finished doing the same for himself. They sank down on the couch and explored each other more than enthusiastically.

She slipped to her knees and began bringing the dead to life. She smiled at her success and stood, then knelt on the couch beside him assuming the ass-pushed-back position of an about to be fucked female. He rose to the invitation. Standing behind her, he pressed home his cock easily spreading the folds of her labia as he entered her. She mooed.

They were silent for next several minutes. The only sounds was the faint squishing noise he made as he pushed and pulled himself in and out of her.

He felt her stiffen; it pleased him. He began pounding her relentlessly looking to come at the same time she did; it was always best that way, at least for him.

They lay sprawled on the couch, him on top, kissing her face and shoulders in the afterglow. "Your husband ever get you off like that?" he said.

"Hardly. Donald is good at some things but not included on the list is sex or business. Proof of that is that you're here fucking me and he isn't," she said. He snickered.

"Yeah, well, you really do have to figure a way to divorce the clod and marry me, Jill. I love you too, probably more than he does," said Brad.

"I told you, I will try to work it out. It's just a matter of time," said Jill.

******

The days following my humiliation were tense at our house. The more so, since I was having trouble finding another job. The economy being in the shitter as it was, was not helping. At thirty-six years old, I wasn't exactly unemployable, but jobs were just not there for me.

Jill made no comment as to my failure to become reemployed. I presumed she was feeling a little sorry for me, but, I could have been wrong about that. The fact is we just didn't talk much, at least not about that. And, something else we weren't doing was having sex. Not since the day she'd fired me. She didn't turn me down; I just didn't ask. It just seemed so?weird?to think of her that way given the circumstances. I assumed, too, that she was feeling the same.

At any rate, my mornings, the last three months of them, were invariably spent job hunting and my afternoons at the Wild Goose, my favorite watering hole.

Sitting at the bar, I wasn't in too good a mood. The barkeep, Joey Luca, had just delivered my second Jack on the rocks. I was thinking about my situation. Jill made a ton of money as CEO of C&W, so we weren't hurting financially. Hell, if it weren't for my damn male mind set, read ego, I could've just let things remain as they were and become a househusband; Jill would've been okay with it. She had actually sort of suggested it once or twice?obliquely?but she had hinted at it: "The house looks great, honey, couldn't have done better myself," or something of the like. We'd never had a maid; neither of us believed in them. We'd always shared the household and yards before, but now it was just me.
Joey came back my way and checked my glass to see how I was doing. I looked up at him, and he smiled at me. I'd been comin' in regular for the past few months and we'd kinda gotten to know each other. I hadn't shared anything very personal with him, not the stuff that had gotten me to comin' in regular, but other stuff, mundane stuff. I knew he was single, had a sister somewhere, and had a little condo, as he said, across town.

"Whatsamatter, cowboy," he said, wife trouble?"

"You could say that, Joey. And job trouble: havin' trouble gettin' one," I said.

"I see. Wife's on your case for bein' unemployed, huh?" he said.

"No, no. She's okay with it. She makes enough for the both of us. It's just?it's just?complicated," I said. He nodded, but his look told me he didn't really understand.

"I could use a little help around here if you think you'd like workin' in a bar," said Joey. "It'd just be part time at first until you got the feel of the business. And actually, it would be at one of my other places."

"Other places, your other places?" I said.

"Yeah I own four of these," he said. He gestured with his hand indicating our surroundings. "The Wild Goose here, the Hungry Bear across town, the Outlaw, and the Lawmen; they're kinda like theme places if you know what I mean.

"Huh," I said. "I knew you were part owner here, but I didn't know you had any other places. Yours huh?"

"Yeah, and I'm not part owner; I'm sole owner. Don't know where you got the idea I was only part owner," he said.

"Me neither, somethin' I heard and got wrong, I guess. But, I mean you're tending?So you're doin' good then," I said.

"I do okay. And, yes, I keep my hand in the day-to-day and do some tending, as you note. It suits me. And I'm a little shorthanded right now. Hard to keep good help.

"I don't know, Joey. I've never worked in a bar before. I Mean don't you gotta have experience or such?" I said.

"You said you used to be in public relations, right?" he said.

"Well, yeah, public relations and industrial arbitration," I smiled.

"Sometimes, I had to negotiate peace between buyers and sellers and the like. But it's not the same thing as working in a place like this," I said. My wife and I got into the business the same day, same company, believe it or not. Jill, she's a college grad, me four years on Uncle Sam's payroll. I did manage to get myself an A.A. degree in night school after I hired on at C&W; it was kinda a requirement for the job I eventually got."

"Interesting. Actually, this here job is all about public relations. And, well, there will be times when you might have to do some arbitratin' too," he said. We hashed things out for the next hour or so, well, in between him serving the customers. I took the job: ten bucks an hour and tips; I did get to keep all of my tips.

Financially, the job was one big-ass comedown from what I was used to, paid maybe half as much as I was getting' at C&W, but it was better than nothing. Oh, and Joey was not into being patient. I started two minutes after we got done shaking hands: I did get to pee first.

******

"So you got a job," she said. She was actually smiling.

"Yeah, it doesn't pay a lot, but I'm tired of living off of you, Jill. I need to do my fair share," I said. She flashed me an indulgent smile.

"Well, what is the job if I may be so bold?" She said.

"I'm the new bartender at the Wild Goose," I said. The look on her face showed just how much respect she actually had for the working man.

"A what!" she said, finally.

"A bartender. I worked four hours tonight. That's why I'm so late," I said. She just shook her head.

"What are they payin' you, minimum wage?" she said. She was clearly not impressed with my job hunting success. But then, all of a sudden, her expression changed. It was so sudden, that I think she had to catch herself. I had that real bad feeling again. The same one, or akin to the one, I'd had three months earlier when my world crashed.

"No, ten bucks per hour and tips," I said. "And, I am a public relations man. I'm hoping to do good. I was, well, kinda hoping you'd be a little more supportive." She sighed and smiled at the same time. Nobody does that.

"I am going to be supportive of you, Donald. If you think it will be a good fit for you, then I say go for it.

"Can I ask, will you be working evenings much?" she said. The way she said that last really set off alarm bells. It was like she was glad that I might be working nights. No wife wants her husband working nights.

"Yeah, it's when the place gets busy. Not much action during the day, I guess. The Wild Goose doesn't open until three in the afternoon," I said. She nodded her?joy?or so it seemed to me.

******

It was still a little early at the Hungry Bear, the third busiest of Joey's four night spots. The band was still an hour from set up, but the dinner crowd was beginning to trickle in. I'd gotten myself pretty much stationed at the HB the past few months, and though it was a kinda far from the house, I liked the gig. I did do some covering at The Lawmen, which was located, coincidentally, two blocks from the police station and whose clientele was largely the men and women in blue and their support staffs. Similarly, I did an occasional shift at The Outlaw, located about a half mile from the county lockup, and whose clientele did include any number of parolees and recently released from captivity sinners. I guess one could say that Joey was nothing if not imaginative.

I liked the job and never missed a shift, never called in sick, and never complained. As a result Joey began to look upon me as his unofficial field manager. Well, he trusted me to be straight with him; and, his trust was not misplaced.

I had just finished stocking the bar frig when they came in. Helen did not look like the Helen who rode the receptionist's desk in my wife's outer office eight hours a day. But, there was no doubt that it was her. The lucky man whose arm she was holding onto seemed more than a little possessive of his date. Hell, I would have been too.

They took a table near the far wall a little ways away from the bandstand. A good idea, I thought; well, it was if they wanted to be able to talk in between dances: the music could get a little loud sometimes. I saw Janie, the waitress, take their order, and as she came up to me on the way to the kitchen to place it, I waved her over.

"Yeah Donnie, they want a couple red wines, she said. "Want some snacks too."

"That couple you just took the order from," I said.

"Yeah? Good. Their first drink's on me." I pulled my wallet, opened the till, and dropped a ten in it. She smiled.

"Know 'em?" she said.

"Yeah, the woman is good people," I said. Janie nodded and continued her journey to the kitchen to get the snacks.

Minutes later, I saw Janie deliver the couple their food and drinks and nod in my direction. The couple looked up, and the woman smiled and waved at me. I smiled and waved back.

The place got busy, and I didn't pay a lot of attention to Helen and her beau. That is I didn't until the dinner hour was over, the band had begun to play and the dancers had begun to dance. I heard a sharp squeal from the dance floor.

Helen was shaking her head no, but the man had her in his grip and was insisting; on what, who knew. I was mixing a drink for one of the bar patrons, but slowed my progress as I continued to eyeball the action on the floor.

Helen got loose from the man's hold on her, turned, and headed back toward their table. She grabbed her purse, started to turn around, apparently about to leave, when the man who was all but standing in her armpit, tried to manhandle her back into her seat. She dropped her purse and slapped him?hard! I heard a couple of very definite no's as the man continued his demands. Finished making the drink I had been building, I set it down in front of the customer, who had also been observing the action on the floor, and headed out to see if I could calm things down. One of Joey's ironclad rules was to be sure and not allow trouble in his place, and to be damn sure that his employees didn't add to any trouble that did occur.

"Problem folks?" I asked as I came up to them.

"Get lost?Donald," he sneered, reading my name badge.

"Sir, I'm afraid I am going to have to insist on a little more in the way of good manners if you know what I mean," I said.

"And, I said to fuck off," he said. The guy was easily six-three and two-twenty to my five-eight and one-sixty. But, I was in shape and my army training was something I had kept up ever since being discharged. I wasn't going to push it, but I was ready to react if I had to.

"Mister, I don't want to call the police, but I will if I have to. "Ma'am, do you wish to leave or..." I started.

"No, it's okay, Mr. Long. I don't want any trouble," she said. The man glowered at her, and then me. All of a sudden his face got a concerned look on it. He was looking past me. Rocko, the bouncer, had just come on duty and had seen the action. He'd come up to us and was standing behind me.

"Tell you what, sir" I said, "if you would just come over to the bar, I'll buy you a drink."

"To hell with it," he said, and he strode off and out.

I looked up at Rocko, all six-eight and three-hundred-and-five pounds of him. "Thanks, Rock, I think you saved a situation," I said. He nodded and headed for the door: his usual station.

"You okay, Helen," I said. She smiled?sort of.

"I'm okay, Mr. Long. But, you? You work here?" she said.

"Yeah, for a while now. I like it. It's a fun job, at least to me?" She nodded her understanding.

"Anyway," she said, "thanks for coming to my rescue. Daryl, Daryl Johnson, that's the man's name, wanted more from me than I was ready or willing to let him have. Guess he figured I owed him." She smiled again, but not enthusiastically.

"Owed him?" I said.

"Yeah, he's helped with some of my bills. Times have been hard since my husband left for parts unknown with his little ball of fluff, that a few months ago," she said. "You know, house payments and such. I'm going to pay him back, I told him that. I just needed a little time. But, he decided that I owed him right now; and well, I don't have the money quite yet. A few more days and I get paid. You know how it is."

"I see," I said. "Helen the guy's a loan shark isn't he?" She looked down.

"Girl, If it's not a secret, how much do you owe the guy and when's the actual deadline?"

"Maybe thirteen hundred dollars," she said. "And, the day after tomorrow."

"A chunk of change for sure, but not all that much, girl. If you'd like, I can loan it to you, so you can get the guy off your back?no strings," I said, hurriedly. "I mean really no strings?really." She smiled.

"Thank you very much, Mr. Long. But, I couldn't do that to you." She was looking around the room. I read her mind. She was clearly appraising my ability to come up with the cash. She knew of course that my wife was into the big bucks, but for some reason I knew she wasn't going to count that.

"Helen, first off, this isn't C&W. I'm a bartender now, and a pretty good one, but just a bartender. To you my name is Don or Donald, not Mr. Long. Second, it'll be a loan and I do have the money. Besides, the pay ain't that bad here. So, I insist. Wait here for me," I said. I stood and turned on my heels, not waiting for her to say okay. She did wait. And, I returned in less than three minutes and handed her a check. She looked at it.

"Mister?I mean, Don, this is for fourteen hundred; I only need thirteen hundred."

"Yes, and you need a ride home tonight, and?and the taxis around this place ain't cheap," I said. She came to me and planted a scorcher on my embarrassed lips. That one shocked me.

She said her goodbye and started to go, but as she got to the door, she turned back and came to me. I had already made it back to the bar and had started doing some glass washing. She came up to the bar and took a stool. I went to her.

"Mr. Long, I mean Donald, I have to tell you something, and I need to have you hear me. Okay?" She said. I nodded. She was?what?determined.

"Can we go somewhere private?" she said. I nodded and pointed to a door at the end of the counter.

"Follow me," I said. I signaled Janie, to cover and led my wife's secretary into the inner sanctum.

"This is the break room," I said. Have a seat. She looked around the room but made no comment.

"Don, you're a good man. I've known you for a long time. I don't want to see you hurt. What your wife did to you?well?well, we, all of the rest of us in the office know the score. We're all just too scared of losing our jobs to say anything. But..."

"Score? But what?" I said.

"Don, your wife and Mr. Loring?they're?they?they're cheating on you, sir. I mean..." she looked away.

"Everybody knows," she said, I could feel my face flush.

"Huh?" I said. "Everybody knows?" She started to get up.

"I just?well?I don't know what..." she started. She was standing and fidgeting.

I had begun to gather my wits about me. "You know this for sure, Helen?"

"Yes sir. I pay the motel and hotel bills. Sometimes they do it in her office. I've seen her when she comes out?after. A woman knows..." I nodded.

"Thanks Helen. I appreciate your concern. Oh, and that loan I just made to you: it just became an outright gift."

"Mister Long, I couldn't..."

"Yes, you can. A whole bunch of things just became clear to me," I said. "Oh yeah, a whole bunch of things. "But, you need to be getting home now, Helen. I have some thinking to do. And, don't worry, I won't involve you in anything I decide. I promise."

"Thank you sir. I do appreciate that, but I don't care. Right is right. If you need a witness, I will be there for you, and I know a couple of others who will stand by you too. I mean if need be," she said.

******

All of a sudden, my wife's late night meetings, extended business trips, her joy at my work schedule, all of it, came into focus. I'd sort of suspected, but not really suspected, if that makes any sense whatever. Now, I had to figure out what I needed to do. Confront her? Let it slide and just go on bein' the uninspired ne'er-do-well that I apparently always had been? I had to think and to plan. At least I wasn't still unemployed. At least I had gotten over?to some extent anyway?the humiliation of her and that asshole ex-boss of mine firing me. Now if I could only get over the heartache of her cheating on me, with him. That was going to be a biggee, a really-really big biggee.

It didn't even cross my mind that Helen didn't know what she was talking about. I absolutely knew that she did know what she was talking about; and it was killing me.

My wife had sworn that she'd fired me for non-production, and not for any other reason. Now, I had to believe that there might have been other reasons, personal reasons, for doing to me what she'd done to me.

I also had to ask myself, why she had not just divorced me, if I wasn't her first choice anymore. Call me cynical, but, thinking about it, I had to believe that hers must have been economic reasons. That conclusion was pretty easily come by: she'd lose big time in a divorce. Our state was one of the twenty where an offended could file either fault or no fault. If I could prove adultery, I'd file fault, and she'd likely end up paying me big bucks and that for a long time.

******

Mister Conroy assured me that he could do the job. An ex-cop, he had turned private-eye after a bullet had torn up his left leg pretty good. I'd been turned on to him by Joey. He wouldn't tell me, but it was clear that the two of them had a history. At any rate, the price was right, and the service was guaranteed?by Joey. Yeah, I know; it seemed peculiar to me too.

It was some three weeks before I got the call. Ironically, during that interlude, Jill and I got along okay, and had even reached the point where she initiated sex on four occasions. To say that I was a willing participant would have been an understatement of heroic proportions, that in spite of my desire to also see her in traction for what she'd done to me. My woman, if indeed it turned out that she still was my woman, was the best piece of ass on the planet as far as I was concerned. I looked over at her now and as she lay fairly well exhausted. We were both naked and smelly and sweat drenched.

"Good for you?" she said.

"Oh yeah," I said. And, I mean oh yeah." She smiled. Tomorrow, I thought, there might be a different song to sing, but tonight that was not the case.

He'd come into the Hungry Bear, had Mr. Conroy, carrying two manila envelopes: one a copy of the other: standard operating procedure, he'd said. He'd left without them. We'd talked a little, he'd outlined the happenings that he'd recorded and left.

I sat in the break room staring at the envelope. I knew what they contained, and I couldn't bring myself to open them and look. The idea of my Jill and that asshole ex-boss of mine fucking up a storm and in living color was too much for me. I took the envelopes out to my car and hid one set the under the seat; the other I would take in with me under my coat. I'd never look at them if I didn't have to, but Jill would if it became necessary.

I pulled into the driveway of our place and sat in the car for some little time. Getting out, I felt like a man walking the last mile. She'd be asleep. I couldn't bring myself to be beside her. I sacked out on the couch. The morning would spell the end of my marriage to the love of my life.

I woke to a stirring upstairs. I sat upright and waited as I heard her come downstairs.

"Donald? Why didn't you come to bed last night," she said. I looked at her. I know my look had to have been ultimately sad.

"Because I didn't want to be sleeping next to Loring's whore," I said. Her face went almost immediately white.

"What are you talking about?" For a long moment I just stood and stared at her. It seemed to unnerve her.

"Jill, let's not play games. I know about you and my ex-boss, and it's over. That is we're over. You get to have him for life now if you want. You just can't have me anymore. I'm not the kind of guy to share the only thing in the world that I ever really valued, you. You're either mine or you're not mine," I said.

"What are you talking about? Loring? What about him?" she said.

"Get this, Jill, and get it good. I?had?you?followed?and?I?have?pictures?and audio?and movies?and all of it! And you know what? It's the audio that's the worst; well, I think it is anyway, I didn't look at the pictures or the movies yet, 'cause the audio destroyed me. The way you talk about me. I didn't deserve that. You didn't need to do that. You coulda had your sex and stuff without doing that to me. I mean you cheating that's one thing, Jill Rodgers, but the pure nastiness of the things you said about me! Hearing you call me a little shit. An untalented boob. Well, you get the idea. It hurt me. It hurt me a lot, Jill. I hope that someday you get some idea of just how rotten a wife you really are. That'll be my hope, and all of the revenge I will ever need. Now, are there any questions?" I said. She suddenly seemed to regain some of her vaunted presence of mind.

"You have to be kidding. You don't have any of those things. Because I never did any of those things," she said. "I've never had any kind of relationship with Loring other than business?ever!" She was screaming. I got up, left the room, and was back in less than a full minute.

"Really?' I said. I tossed her the envelope with the copies of everything I had at her; it bounced off her calf. Now she was shaking.

"What's that?" she said, looking at the envelope at her feet.

"Some of the best pornography you'll ever see," I said. She didn't bother to open it, even pick it up, at least not in front of me. But the wind was out of her sails now.
"So, what are you going to do?" she said.

"Oh, no more denials? No more, 'Brad and me never did anything'?" I said

"What do you want, Donald? An apology? A divorce? Revenge, as you indicated? What?" she said. I think I sneered.

"All of the above," I said.

"All of the above!" She nodded and slumped back into her seat.

"I do apologize Donald. I know it's too little and maybe too late, and very self-serving; but I do apologize. I owe you that. But a divorce..."

"Yeah a divorce," I said. For sure a divorce. The sex, your cheatin', was bad enough; but the things you said about me..."

"Okay, I get it. You want a divorce. Can we at least do it on a civilized level? Do we have to get down in the dirt, and make things worse than they are?" she said.

I looked over at her. "Okay, I'll make it easy for you: civilized if you like. You keep this mini-castle of yours, and everything in it but my personal stuff and our wedding album. And, you pay me five thousand a month alimony. Oh, and you get to keep fucking Loring to your heart's content."

"Too much," she said.

"You're right, no more fucking Loring." I started to laugh.

"Get serious!" she said. "You really are going to get your revenge on me, him and me, aren't you Donald. All we've been to each other comes down to dollars doesn't it. I would have thought better of you than that."

Now I did snicker. "What we have here, dear wife, is the very definition of hypocrisy. You fuck around behind my back, call me all kinds of demeaning names to your lover and who knows to whom else, humiliate me by firing me?for whatever reason and that without so much as a second chance?and then try to lay a guilt trip on me for wanting revenge? You are a piece of work.

"I've got me a place to stay; I arranged for it earlier today when I knew we'd be over as man and wife. I'm leaving now. The next time you hear from me it'll be through my lawyer."

I headed up the stairs. I needed to pack, and I needed to do it fast. I couldn't let her sad face?real or phony?weaken my resolve.

Fifteen minutes later I was standing at the front door with two hefty suitcases. I stared at the woman who had been my wife for so long. She stared back at me. She was holding a drink in her hand. Must have gotten it while I was packing; it looked like whiskey, straight whiskey.

No words passed between us, not even goodbye. I turned, went out, got in my car, and left.

I'd lied about having a place. But, I could motel it. I drove toward town. I had an idea. It was crazy, but it was an idea. I headed for Baker Street.

I sat out in the car for some little time. I finally got out and went up the steps. I knocked.

"Donald?" said Helen.

"Yeah, got a minute?" I said. She stood aside and indicated that I should come in.

I slept on the couch, that was after a long night of me crying on her shoulder and her comforting me. The morning brought me stiff muscles and a raging hunger. I could smell the bacon, and I knew one of my problems was about to be solved.

I got up and headed for the bathroom. She'd said I could use her place for a day or two until I found an apartment. And, no I didn't make a move on her, nor did she on me. Frankly, even though Helen was a looker, I wasn't in the mood for ribaldry right then. And, it was clear to me, and I believe to her as well, that we didn't have anything going in that regard in any event. One, initially having had to wait for the PI's report was bad, finally getting it was worse. And two, my wife's callous attitude, at least it seemed callous to me, was the sword of Damocles finally finding its mark as far as my marriage was concerned. Helen didn't need my baggage, and I was sure I didn't need hers either.

I didn't accept Jill's phony apology, and my revenge would be of the slow and one-sided variety. I knew exactly what I was going to do, but I needed my lawyer to work it out first. And most of all I wanted the two of them served at the same time and preferably when they were together. Oh yes, that was important to me, the timing was important.

I was able to find an apartment in two days, and Helen helped me move in. The Pine Tree apartments were close to work and that was an advantage of some importance to me also, no more of my driving fifteen miles each way every day to the Hungry Bear: two blocks was a monster improvement.

******

"So he knows, Jill" said Brad.

"Yes. And he's about to get in on the act," she said.

"Huh?" he said.

"We've been fucking each other, and now he's going to fuck us. Seems logical to me," she said.

"Damn! We didn't need this. How did he find out?" he said.

"Don't know, but he did, and he has a whole bunch of audio-visual to support his case. Like I said, we're about to be screwed."

They both started at the voice coming over the intercom. "Ms. Rodgers, there's a man here with a delivery."

"Thank you Helen. You can send him in; we're done in here." She clicked off.

"Miss Rodgers, Mr. Loring, you are served," said the man. He turned and left. The two recipients of his delivery watched openmouthed as he retreated.

"What the fuck is this! He's not married to me," sneered Brad, as he ripped open his envelope. She watched him as he read the edict.

"Well?" she said.

"He's suing me for $100,000 for alienation of affection! The motherfucker! He'll never get away with this. He'll be the one payin' before I'm through," he said.

He watched as she began to open her envelope. "I don't believe this," she said.

"What? He can't get more than half no matter what he thinks," said Brad, anticipating very bad news for his lover.

"He isn't asking for anything. Well, just our wedding album. Nothing else. I don't believe it!" she said.

My cell phone started going off and I knew just who it was. I deleted all calls and messages from her, and smiled the smile of the brilliant. My lawyer was instructed go after Loring and to spare no expense to rape the bastard economically. I had made a deal with the lawyer to give him half of everything he could squeeze out of the fucking oversexed-turnip. It took six months of courts and lawyers and haggling but we ended up getting it all: the whole hundred grand, and with him footing the bill for another $28,000 in costs; I loved it. My law dog got his half and I got mine and I was sixty-four grand?minus taxes?richer, and yes, I got half of the fees.

My lawyer communicated to me that my wife actually shed tears, tears of gratitude, for my letting her off the hook when she'd approached him about the reality of the claims I was making?or?actually, not making. He did so as he delivered to me my wedding pictures. It was a requirement that she not be allowed to keep even a single snap shot from that happy event on pain of having to pay a $100,000 up front penalty and $5000 a month for the next twenty years and a one-third share of her 401K upon her retirement. I had to figure that she wouldn't be stupid enough to not abide by the rules I'd set forth; she dared not be messin' with me.

I now had the money I needed to get me my condo, one I'd been eyeing since discovering that my marriage was history. My next project was to rebuild my totally destroyed personal life.

At first my job became my life and my de facto wife; even Joey noted it, and he didn't approve. But, it kept me from going nuts. I did see Helen from time to time: dinners now and again. She had become my good friend. She'd come in maybe once a week and keep me up to date on the happenings at Castro and Weintraub; I think it was as much therapy for her as it was for me. Joey sometimes joined us. It was during one of our three-way conversations that he, Joey, learned of the loan shark that had tried to take advantage of Helen. He'd frowned at that. I was pulled aside by him later and asked to let him know if the man ever bothered her again. I looked askance at him, but he didn't elaborate; I didn't push it.

Jill and Loring were still going strong after all of the dust settled. I knew that from what Helen was able to tell me. Well, they were still going strong, yes, but there was a fly in the ointment. I wasn't there on the day that he paid up, but I hear he was very nasty to everyone within earshot, even Jill, if Helen had got it right. Well, that had been at least part of the reason for me going light on her and heavy on him.

Anyway, time passes as it has a habit of doing, and the divorce final, I began a serious search for female company.

I'd been celibate for some seven months and to say I was horny would not begin to express the degree to which such was true. But, females suitable to my purposes were in short supply. Helen was a friend, but again, not that kind of friend. She was pretty, very pretty, but not my type. So, my juices glowed among the flames of my libido. And, just as my plight began to look hopeless, the impossible happened. She came back into my life. No, not my ex-wife. And, the she I'm talking about hadn't changed an iota. All those years, and she hadn't changed. Pauline Carter was as pretty and as delicate a flower as ever she had been.

"Donald! I can't believe it's you!" she said.

"Pauline, you're kinda a sight for sore eyes yourself. I mean how? Where? When?" I said, not quite stumbling over my own words.

******

"I moved here a year ago, after my divorce," she said. "Let's just say that my ex and I discovered, after forever, that we weren't all that compatible. You?"

"Caught her cheatin'. The divorce was final a couple of months ago. Twelve years plus, and she decides I'm not good enough for her. It was a killer if you know what I mean," I said.

"Really. Must be somethin' in the water," she said. "It was about the same thing for us?me and Rod."

"Yeah maybe," I said.

We talked off and on while I worked, and after I got off, hit the local Hyatt's all night foodery for coffee and a three in the morning snack.

"So you're single again," she said.

"Yeah, I am. Not much fun, but I am single," I said.

"Lookin' for someone one to fill the void?" she said.

"Might be. You wanna fill out an application?" I said.

"Hmm, well, I'm a merciful ex-girlfriend. Your place or mine," she said, as she stood dabbing some crumbs from her lips.

"Mine, it's real close," I said.

******

"So, you really are here," I said. She smiled.

"Yes, I'm really here. You need a mercy fuck, and I'm here to grant it," she giggled.

"Well, you're right about that," I said. "But, all thoughts of you granting me mercy aside, do you have any idea how much I wanted to have you when we were in high school? Trust me it was more than I could ever express in words."

"Of course I knew," she said. "All of you boys were desperate for pussy. We girls knew it, and we gloried in it. I can tell you without fear of contradiction that Kyle was even more desperate than you. I think I even decided that he was going to be the one to get me first, since Jill didn't want him. I mean because he wanted me more. But, in the end he wasn't. Sad tale that."

"Hmm, I doubt that. That he wanted you more than me; I mean I really did want you. That's why I was around you all of the time. I was protecting you from all of the would-be users and players."

"Yes, and while at first I thought it was kind of sweet, it got kinda old. I was just too chicken to tell you to get lost. I wanted to, then, but ironically, now I've changed my tune," she said. "Of course once we hit the college scene it was a different kettle of fish entirely; the chastity belt was consigned to the round file real fast if you get my drift."

As she spoke she was shedding her clothes. She stopped when she was down to her panties and bra. "You gonna fuck me with your clothes on, big boy?" she said.

"Uh?oh?no?I mean..." I stopped talking and started to get naked too. She continued and soon there was nothing between us but space, certainly there were no clothes between us.

She came to me and wrapped her arms around my shoulders and neck. She kissed me. "Nice huh? Pretty good kisser don't you think," she said, as she moved back a few inches to speak and smile up at me.

"More than pretty good," I said.

My cock was poking into her lower belly and she just ground herself against it.

"Don't be foolin' around, Donald. Screw me, take me now. I need it," she said.

"Oh yeah," I said. "Oh yeah!" I pushed her down on the carpet and rolled on top of her. She spread her legs wide to accommodate me. I kissed her lips, then I suckled on her nipples, then I inexpertly poked at her labia trying to enter her without any attempt to use my hands to aim; I was not being very successful.

"Here, let me help you with that," she said. She took hold of my cock and guided it in. I slipped in easily and pushed. I was hilt deep in one try. "Now, do me up good, big guy, do me up good."

I began screwing her slowly. After some little time, she began to buck. "Get with it, Donald; start getting serious!" she urged. I sped up my screwing. In but a few minutes I was near exploding, but I held back as long as I could, and it was more than a challenge to do so. Suddenly her eyes glazed over and she stiffened. I knew she'd made it, and I let loose with everything I had in the sac, and it was one helluva lot!

We lay side by side. I was drained, and she was satisfied, at least for the moment.

"You know you're going to have to do me a few more times tonight, so maybe we should adjourn to the bedroom for the encores if that would be all right," she said.

"I was thinking along the same lines," I said. And that is what we did. Morning would bring the words, but tonight it was only the sex, and nothing but.

******

"What's the matter honey? You've been out of sorts these past days," said Jill.

"And why wouldn't I be? Your former asshole screwed me over big time. I'll say it again, why wouldn't I be?" said Brad. "I just can't get over it!"

"It's not a problem," she said. "He gets a hundred-thousand. He could have screwed me out of a million if you count all of the property, my retirement and the rest. We'll be fine. Hell, we'll be better than fine. We should thank the silly jackass; invite him to our wedding," said Jill.

The waiter arrived with the check and handed it to him. He looked at it and handed it to her. "You pay it, Jill, you're the one with all the money. Me not so much," said Brad. She gave him an exasperated look, took the bill, got up and headed for the register and paid.

He caught up with her and they exited together.

The ride to their place, her house; the house she'd shared with her ex for so many years was a quiet one.

She smiled at him as he threw his coat over the back of the couch. "Ready for a little fun?" she said, trying to lighten the mood.

He gave her a noncommittal look and followed her up the stairs. The sex was uninspired and once he'd gotten off he rolled over and went to sleep. She bit her tongue. She figured it was going to take time for him to forget what her wimpy-assed ex had done to him. She'd bring him around; it was just a matter of a little time. Suddenly, she caught herself frowning.

Yes, her ex, he'd turned out to be a strange one to say the least. She would be talking with him at some point, oh yes, that was an absolute no brainer! It might be a while, but she'd definitely be having a few words with him whether he liked it or not.

******

They lay exhausted on the bed in the larger of the two bedrooms of his condo as the sun broke in on their slumber.

"Good for you," said Pauline, "the night?" I smiled up at the ceiling. Without looking at her directly, I addressed her question.

"You have no idea. A woman who actually likes me," I said. I rolled to my right and leaned on my elbow gazing at her. "Good indeed.

"Why didn't we stay together after high school Pauline? Why didn't we just go and get married," I said. She sighed.

"You know why. We were young?too young. And, I liked you, but at the time Kyle as the one. Plus, as soon as we graduated, you ran off and joined the army?for which I had a hard time forgiving you even with Kyle, as I thought then, waiting to get into my pants. He, Kyle, turned out to be a dud of course. Then, I went to college and met Dennis and thought I could be happy with him, so we eventually married, and we were too?happy that is, at first. But, in the end he committed the only crime for which I could not find it in my heart to forgive him: he cheated on me." I nodded.

"Yeah, I can relate," I said.

******

Pauline and I got along, both in and out of bed. But, neither of us were in a hurry to change our marital status. We were becoming far more than just friends with benefits; but matrimony? Not in the cards, at least not in anything like the near future. And my ex?

It had been two years since the destruction of my home life and marriage. I was still resurrecting my ego and my sense of manhood. I thought about Jill from time to time, sometimes even while I was with Pauline. Too many years together, too much growing together, too much psychological investment, too much of too many things to just forget her. And then I began to hear things from Helen, at first from Helen, and then from others.

There were rumblings in the east that all was not well in cheatersville. Was I interested? Really? Not at first. I had been shit on pretty good by the two of them, and I had to admit to a deal of ambivalence as related to what happened to my ex and her partner in crime. Besides, I expected that they wouldn't be able to make it: they simply weren't good people.

Still I was surprised to hear things that seemed to indicate that Mr. Loring was actually physically abusing his woman, the woman that used to be my woman. I had not forgiven Jill for what she'd done to me, but if he were beating her up?well?that was not acceptable, even given all Jill had done to me, and there was no ambivalence in me about that. Mister Loring had inadvertently put me in a place where I had to decide what to do about it, that is, if I even could do anything about it.

******

I was wiping dry a glass, and it was taking a while: a sure sign to anybody in eyeshot that I had something on my mind. Joey was within eyeshot.

"Hey Padrino, what's yuh got on your mind? You're wearing a hole in that glass, and they cost money," said Joey, smiling. I looked at him, and he must have noticed that I wasn't smiling back. He sent me a serious look replacing the smile.

"I've been talking with Helen. She's told me things," I said.

"Things?"

"Yeah things. Things about Jill and her asshole."

"Okay?" he said.

"Seems like her asshole is beating her up. She needed stitches for running into the door in the middle of the night," I said. I saw Joey's face darken.

"He's beatin' on his woman?" he said. He had spoken so quietly that I almost didn't catch what he'd said. Sometimes Joey could be scary; this was one of those times.

"That's what Helen told me. Also there are?well, maybe?some irregularities with company funds. The company board wants to talk to Jill about it; Helen said that that much was for sure. If I know my assholes, if there is anything to it, I'm bettin' that it's asshole not Jill that's responsible. She's got too much professional pride to try and cloister cash that ain't hers," I said.

"Any idea how much?" said Joey.

"Not sure, but Helen heard from a friend of hers in accounting that it could be upwards of a mil," I said. Joey whistled.

"I have a friend or two that I can have look around and see what's what if you'd like," said Joey.

"You'd do that for me?" I said. He and I had been friends for some time, but this was definitely going to take our relationship to a new level. I didn't know all that much about Joey's associates, but there did seem to be damn few people who wanted to mess with him on purpose. Whenever he said something you could bet it was for true and real.
"No problem. Just leave it to me. I'll let you know what I find out. Okay?" he said. I nodded.

"Well sure. Sure!" I said. "I was thinkin' of hiring a private detective. I could afford one for a short time; you know, just to find out a few things. See what's what."

"No need for that. This will be a freebie, I know the guys I'm talking about, and they owe me. They won't be long finding out what's going on. A couple of days max," he said.

We shook on it, and I let the matter slide to the back of my mind for the moment. Like I said, if Joey said it, it was a fact. One day I was going to have to ask my main man just what it was that he had going for him; but, as to that, I was beginning to think that I already knew.

******

"Jill, this is a very serious matter: $963,000 is not chicken feed. But frankly, even if it was nine dollars and sixty-three cents it would be unacceptable," Said Mr. Terry.

She had been closeted with the three board members for the past three hours going over the books.

"Mr. Terry, John, I can assure that there has been no impropriety as a result of anything that has been happening in this office. And, I promise you I will get to the bottom of this immediately. You will know by the end of the week where the error is to be found, and it is an error; and, it shall have been rectified. All I need are these next three days. My entire staff will be committed to nothing else until the problem is solved," said Jill.

The three men looked at each other. The oldest of the three spoke now. "Jill, when we hired you, and your husband too as I recall, Mr. Weintraub and I had high hopes for you both. I am aware that you actually had to fire your husband some time ago for lack of production. At the time I applauded your moxey and commitment believing that you were putting the company first when it came to business.

"I still have confidence in you. You have your three days. I am hopeful that you will justify that confidence," said Mr. Castro.

"I will sir, and thank you for your consideration." The three men rose, nodded their support, and left. She stood, alone, and flustered for all of maybe a minute.

"Helen, come in please," she said. "And bring your pad."

******

The four men in the black SUV sat silently waiting. One could imagine Jason Bourne coming around the corner, spotting them, and beginning the cat and mouse game that was the forte of the best of the cinematic thrillers. But, no, this was the real world and considerably less complex or thrilling than the Hollywood variety.

They'd seen her go into the house. She was alone. Her husband would be home soon if he kept to his usual routine. He was the person of interest that the four silent types were wanting to discuss things with.

"It's three minutes to six," said the man in the back, who had been checking his watch almost nervously for the past twenty minutes plus. The guy in the shotgun seat nodded. The man with the watch and his fellow back seat partner got out and headed for the small copse of bushes across the street, at the entryway to the gate. They would be invisible to the car as it came up and stopped to engage the automatic gate opener.

At six o'clock straight up the Cadillac turned the corner and came up to the gate. The SUV pulled rapidly up behind it blocking any chance that the car's occupant had of putting it in reverse and heading out.

Blocking the front were two men in dark suits wearing the mandatory dark glasses. But, it was the fact that each of the men in the front had nine-millimeter Glocks pointed at the driver that made any attempt at forward progress a poor choice.

One of the men on foot went to the driver's side window and motioned the man to get out.

"Don't talk, and you won't be hurt. Talk and it will be your final words in this life," said the man. Brad Loring did as he was told.

"The SUV, get in it. In the back," he was ordered. He did. The other man on-foot got into the Caddy and followed with it behind the SUV. The whole operation had taken less than a minute.

It was 3:00PM and I was opening the HB when Joey pulled into the lot and followed me in. "We'll be working together tonight," said Joey. He was all smiles.

"Joey?" I questioned. He gave me a smirk.

"Your ex-wife is off the hook and will soon be out of a bad marriage," said Joey.

"Huh?"

"Yeah, Mr. Loring confessed to stealing the money and copped to beating on Mrs. Loring on at least three separate occasions. He has been very cooperative with the police. Most of the money has been recovered; all but eighty-thousand that is.

"Most of the money?" I said.

"Yeah, seems Mr. Loring just recently purchased a villa down around Puerto Vallarta. The asshole actually had it in his name. I hate amateur thieves they're the bane of civilization," said Joey. "The guy also has a special bank account that nobody knew about. Not sure where, but the cops know," said Joey. "Anyway, your ex is off the hook; thought you'd wanna know soonest."

"Joey, I don't know what to say. I shoulda just let her sink, but I just couldn't. Know what I mean?" I said.

"Yeah, I do. You're the original good guy. She shoulda stuck with you. But women, who can understand 'em," he said.

"Yeah, go figure," I said.

******

"Mrs. Rodgers"?she'd resumed her maiden after the fiasco with her husband ended them?"Mr. Castro is here to see you," said Helen.

"Thank you Helen," She rose to meet the Chairman of the Board at the door. She ushered him in and sat opposite him in front of her own desk.

"Well, Jill, I don't know how you did it. But, I always felt you would. Your soon to be ex will be cooling his heels in prison for quite a stretch as I am led to believe. That he was willing to see you go down for it; well, he didn't succeed did he.

I have spoken to the other board members. Mr. Loring evidently has the deed to a villa in Puerto Vallarta. The usual reward for recovering stolen loot is ten percent. Your reward is the villa. It cost close to the ten percent and may one day be worth a sight more. I hope that is satisfactory," said the older man.

"Mister Castro, I don't know what to say. And, to be honest, I don't know why my?soon to be ex?confessed. I didn't even know he'd done what he'd done until the police called me," said Jill.

"Didn't the police give you a clue as to why he copped the plea?" said Mr. Castro.

"Not really. All they said was that he'd been given a choice to confess by person or persons unnamed, who were not very forgiving souls?the police' words almost exactly. The D.A. evidently administered a lie detector test and he passed. He did the crime all right, and now he'll do the time. He did exonerate me in the telling of his story. And really, that's all I know, except that he pled out," she said. "He got ten years, but out in five or six with good behavior."

"You gonna see him?"

"Not sure. I guess I should. I would very much like to know why he did it. He sure as heck didn't have any good reason to. None that I know of anyway."

"Well, whatever you decide, you have my support and the board's." She watched as he left. She'd walked him to the door and smiled the smile of the relieved. She returned to her desk.

She all but fell back into her?what was it that Donald used to call it? Oh yeah, her throne. She'd almost been dethroned, and that by the man she had allowed to come between herself and good 'ole not very smart Donald, Donald Long. That seemed like forever ago now. But, in point of fact, it had been but three years.

Hadn't seen him in a couple of those years. Was he still a bartender? She'd meant to talk to him again, but it had never happened, never seemed to be a good time. She smiled at that. Good old Donald, dependable, lovable, and complete loser Donald. Still, he hadn't tried to hurt her?not ever. Even in the divorce he had let her off. All he'd asked for were their wedding pictures, all of them. She'd wondered at that. She still wondered at that. Why did he want them? Why? Truth told she'd lost some sleep over that. There had to have been a reason. Maybe someday he'd tell her, but, then again, maybe not.

I will go see my asshole soon to be ex-husband, she decided. Closure would be good.

******

The room was small, but at least it was private. Once he was sent up to state prison, it was going to be worse?much worse for him and any visitors that he might have. Here, in county, it was almost a country club compared to state prison, she knew. She heard the rattle of keys.

He looked older in the orange jump suit as he entered followed by a guard. He took the seat opposite her. The guard left them alone and closed the self-locking door behind himself. "Well, this is a surprise," said Brad.

"I decided I had to come and see you, once. I don't know why," she said.

"Well, if you're looking for sex, it's gonna be a while," he said. She didn't smile at his weak attempt at humor.

"No, no, not sex. That will never happen again, not between you and me. No, Brad, I came to ask you why. Why did you try to ruin me? Why did you use my office to embezzle the money? I'd really like to know," she said. He snickered.

"I didn't try to ruin you. You were just?what? Collateral damage I think is the term. I had access to the money your office had oversight over, I needed it to cover?well?some loser sport's teams I'd had, shall we say, very strong fiscal confidence in. They disappointed me. And, well, that left you open to accusations. It was just all about the money. I needed it, it was never about you; and, C&W had it, I mean the money. What can I say, I needed to retire?early. The irony? Another week, and I'd have been gone. I had a sure thing." He smiled, but it was a sardonic smile.

"Gone? You were just going to leave me open to charges of felony embezzlement?"

"Like I said, collateral damage," said Brad, "nothing personal. She just stared at him.

"Well, looking at it now, even Donald doesn't look so bad does he? Donald wasn't much at business, and his bedroom skills may have been less than so-so, but he was loyal and loving. You on the other hand were great in bed and good at business, and unquestionably the most completely lousy, treacherous, miserable example of a human being I ever knew. Go figure," she said.

"I guess that means we aren't friends anymore, right? Yeah, well, go get good 'ole Donald baby back if you're so stuck on the loser," said Brad. "I'm bettin' you could still do it." She smiled at him.

"Goodbye, Brad. Oh, and don't be expecting a card on Valentine's day," she said. She got up and was gone.

******

I was on duty and mixing a batch of margaritas for a table full of college students. "Hi handsome," said Pauline.

"Hi backtacha, gorgeous," I said. "You're here kinda early." I could see Joey At the other end of the bar eyeing her; well, she was lookin' real good.

"Hey, how about me?" said Helen, as she sidled up to the bar with us.

"Helen? Hi," I said.

"Me too," said Pauline. "Anything new on the grapevine?"

"Hmm, maybe. But I need one of those," she said.

"Got it," I said, as I finished building the margaritas for the college contingent and signaled to Janie to deliver them. Filling Pauline's and Helen's orders, and having delivered them myself; I made my way to the other end of the bar; I'd gotten a high sign from Joey.

"She looks good tonight," he said.

"Which?" I said.

"Pauline of course," said Joey, "both, but especially Pauline."

"Hmm, yeah, am I going have to fight you for her" I said. I was grinning. He just smiled and shook his head.

Returning to my women, I smiled my good fortune at having two friends like them. "So, maybe what?" I said, looking at Helen. She looked up at me and was too smiling.

"Nothing really. Just gossip," she said.

"Helen!" Get it out, okay."

Pauline was just stirring her drink, who stirs wine for goodnesssakes. It was clear to me, that while I was talking to Joey, that Pauline had gotten something out of Helen. I looked from one to the other.

"What?" I said.

"Your ex has been talking about you. It was at a luncheon. I was at the next table so I could be handy if she needed me. She was talking generally about men, but both you and Loring were mentioned by name," said Helen.

"I take it what she had to say wasn't all that complimentary," I said.

"Don't take it to heart, Donald. Helen told me what she said, and I'm thinking it was just sour grapes," said Pauline. I looked over at Helen. She knew I wasn't goin' for any more stonewalling.

"She was talking to another female staff member at C&W, Dolly Clements. They'd been drinking a little and were a bit louder than they'd ought to have been. I heard them pretty good," said Helen.

"And?" I said. I was becoming a little exasperated.

"She just said...Loring was treacherous asshole," said Helen.

"Yes?" I said. She said you were loyal and honest."

"And?" I said.

"Nothing," said Helen.

"Helen!" I was really getting impatient with her.

"She said you weren't very good at business..."

"Helen!" she sighed.

"And she said you weren't much of a lover," said Helen. Helen had said the last very quietly. I guess I frowned. "But she did repeat that you were loyal and trustworthy, and honest."

"Well, I guess it could have been worse. I could have been useless at business, worthless in bed, and a disloyal untrustworthy asshole," I said, not quite spitting out the words. "At least I'm not the one in jail."

"Donald..." started Pauline.

"The woman just can't seem to get enough of putting me down, and now publicly. One has to love it?not," I said, interrupting her.

I hadn't noticed, but Joey had moved in close to us. He'd heard every word. He gave me a knowing look.

"One of these days she'll be getting a surprise," he said. "A big ass surprise."

"Yeah, well whatever," I said.

******

It was a week later that I got the visit, one I had "not" been expecting. It was also one of the relatively rare occasions when I worked at The Outlaw. Mac Tilden, the manager, was out sick, actually a ruptured appendix. He'd be out at least a week. I was the substitute of choice, Joey's choice.

It was Tuesday evening and it was getting late, maybe a little after eleven. It was just me and Claire Duffy, Mac's right hand at tending bar, and Philby Jordan?Mac's resident 300 pounder. Each of Joey's places had a largish bouncer, and I hear tell that Philby enjoyed his work?a lot.

I looked up in time to see her take a seat against the far wall and stare at me. I continued working behind the bar getting things ready for the midnight closing. Only a couple of diehard blue collar types were still nursing their beers. Making Memories of Us, by Keith Urban, lent a kind of melancholy atmosphere to the room's environment.

I saw Claire take her order and come back to me to get it. "She wants a martini, and she wants you to deliver it," said Claire. "I'll tend while you get whatever you gotta do done if you want." I nodded and put my towel down on the top of the behind-the-bar-frig. I made the martini and made to bring it to her.

When I came up to her, I was seeing a woman with a very pronounced sadness in her eyes. I put the martini down on the table in front of her. She didn't say anything, not at first.

"Claire said you wanted me to deliver this. I want to believe it wasn't so you could just humiliate me again, make me serve you; so you must have wanted to tell me something. Or, am I wrong?" I said.

"Oh, Donald, God no. The last thing I want to do is add any shit to all of the stuff I've already piled on you. No, I came here to apologize, actually. I'd give anything to undo all of the bad that's gone on.

Anything!" she repeated.

"That it?" I said. She nodded.

"I guess. Well, it's?well?it's kinda up to you."

"How so?" I said.

"Well, I did say I'd do anything," she said. The innuendo was unmistakable.

"Anything covers a lot of territory," I said.

"It's meant to," she said.

"You talking about sex? I mean I'd have a hard time believing you wanted me to do you: me with my dinkie dick and all. The rumor is that I'm no good in bed. I mean and, well, after everything you've said about me," I said.

"Donald, I said I was a complete shit. And yes, I have said some pretty derogatory things about you. But, also yes, Donald, sex and anything else you might like is what I'm offering. Donald, I want you back. This time it will be me doing the giving. I will make any sex between us the best it has ever been. And I mean the absolute fucking best," she said.

"Again, what I hear, the sex between us was never the best of any kind. Kinda shitty actually," I said. "Anyway, that's what I heard. Did I maybe hear wrong?"

It seems so long ago now," she said, shaking her head. "Everything that's gone down, especially the sex." She paused.

"I did have to fire you, Donald, but everything else was not you, including the sex, that was me. And I was wrong and bad and lost and so many other things. I know it now. I see it all very clearly now," she said.

"You 'had' to fire me? You couldn't have given me a second chance?" I said.

"I could have, and then I would have had too fire you later, Donald. You really didn't have the right stuff for the job you were doing. My decision to fire you was strictly a business one. I knew that doing it the way I finally decided to do it would be a major stinger for you, but a lot easier than you coming home every night looking at me and wondering whether or not you had measured up that day?I mean business-wise," she said.

"Was I really that bad?" I said. "I mean really? And that Montrose thing, I can't believe what you say they did to me. I still can't," I said. She nodded.

"Yes, Donald, it, you, were that bad. I talked to Dale Montrose himself. He said you were a nice guy but you were too willing to knuckle under to the employees at the expense of the company. The company, Donald, is our client, not the employees.

"Anyway, that's water under the bridge. It's the other stuff that I am here begging your forgiveness for. For cheating on you and talking smack about you when you had every right to talk smack about me. I was the asshole not you, not ever you," she said. I nodded and changed the subject.

"Hear that good 'ole Brad is doing time for messin' with company funds," I said. She looked at me strangely.

"Yes, yes he is. Once we married, it developed that he got bored with me pretty fast, I guess. He had a new bimbo almost weekly, as I found out much later, and he was gambling. He wanted out and wanted out with a nice retirement package. I was to be, how did he say it; oh yes, I was to be collateral damage."

"Nice guy," I said. "You gonna divorce him?"

"Yes. I already have; well, I've had him served. It will be a few months before it's final.

"Don, I want you back. How about it? Give me a chance?" she said. "And, one more thing, Don, if you will. It seems almost inconsequential given everything else that's gone down; but, if you are willing to take me back; well, I would like, make that love, to become Mrs. Donald Long. I'd be honored. Really."

It took me a few seconds to grasp what she was saying. Then, it hit me. She wanted to marry me and take my last name!

"Really?"

"Yes, really. Those many years ago, I was prideful and selfish and inconsiderate of my man's, your, feelings. That situation is no longer the case. If you can see your way clear to begin to forgive me, I promise to be a dutiful wife and a loving one."

I looked at her long. "Jill, I have loved you more than my life and I still do, but marry you again. I can't see it bein' in the cards. It's a matter of the words; I can't get by the things you said about me. I almost wish I could, but it's too late, just too late.

Just then, while I was still standing, not sitting, by her; Joey came in.

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