The Computer Case
By Robert J. Kerins
This was my fifth trip to Washington D.C., and the first one I had time to do any sightseeing. We finished our meetings mid-morning on Thursday, and I wasn’t scheduled to fly home until nine a.m. Friday morning. I called United Airlines, who told me there were no more seats on today’s 3:50 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. flights. “Damn,” I said.
I took the Metro to the hotel. My co-workers managed to get the last two tickets on US Airways and were due to leave at four o’clock. They went to their rooms to check out, and I went into Ollie’s Trolley to find a table. We had a nice lunch; my co-workers left for the airport, and I was left to my own adventures.
The concierge was at her post in the hotel lobby. I walked over and asked what I could do to fill the rest of my afternoon.
“Have you ever toured the city?” she asked.
“Been here several times, but all I’ve seen is the Metro, this hotel, andour office.”
“We have a tour bus leaving in five minutes. It’s a five hour tour that takes you all over the city, over to Arlington National Cemetery, and then down to Mount Vernon.”
“Sounds good, how much?” I asked.
“Single or family?”
“Just me,” I said.
“Fifty-five dollars, includes a box lunch,” she said.
“I already ate, how much without the box lunch?”
I smiled and handed her a credit card. “Do I have time to run up to my room? I’d like to dump my computer case before I go,” I asked.
She checked the clock. “I don’t think so. The driver will pull out at exactly one o’clock,” she said.
Just as I stepped away, an attractive woman in her late twenties ran up to the window. She had a checkbook in one hand and a five-year-old boy in the other. “Am I too late? I promised Andy I’d take him on the tour today,” she said.
The concierge looked at the clock. “I don’t know, I–”
“I’ll try to get the driver to wait,” I said. I sprinted toward the bus.
As I reached the bus door, the driver said, “You just made it, Buddy. I can’t keep all these folks waiting.”
I put one foot on the bus step. “Yeah, it was a last minute decision,” I said. Do you leave at one o’clock every day?” I zippered closed all the compartments of my computer case. “I don’t carry a computer in here very often, only when I’m on a plane. They sort of expect to find a computer in there then, you know.”
I could see the impatience growing on the driver’s face, so I took another step, still blocking the door with my body. “How many seats left open today?”
“If you’ll please keep moving, I’m sure there’s a few empty doubles back there.”
The woman and her son reached the bus. Little Andy stepped aboard behind me. I quickly moved out of the way. I found a seat where the whole row was empty on both sides of the aisle. I purposely chose this seat because I wanted the woman to sit across from me. Close enough to strike up a conversation, but not too close, in case she turned out to be a nut case.
Sure enough, they followed me down the aisle and she directed her son into the seat next to the window, across from me. She took the aisle seat. Andy was immediately on his knees looking out the window. “What’s that place, Mom?”
“It’s the hotel we just walked out of Andy, have patience. The bus driver will tell you which places are important.” She turned to me, “Hi, my name’s Janine, Janine Bailey. I want to thank you for holding up the driver. Andy would have been so disappointed if we missed this tour again.”
“Nice to meet you, my name’s Ray Morse, like the code, not the self-pity. Do you live here in Washington?” I asked. I wasn’t sure if she got my play on words.
“Sort of, Andy’s daddy lives in the city, I live outside the beltway. I promised him next time I took him to visit his daddy, I’d take him on the tour. His daddy promised him three times and never came through.”
I looked at my new tour partner. She was about five and a half feet tall, one-hundred-thirty pounds, and built like a dancer, very little body fat, but good muscular definition. Her hair was done in a curl under fashion that reached just below her ears. I’d call it blonde, but the roots were brown. She was dressed in Capri’s, a sleeveless blouse, and open sandals. She wore almost no makeup, which allowed me to guess that I was seven years older than her.
We became friends during the tour. Andy quickly warmed up to me, and each time we disembarked the bus to see one of the national monuments, Andy insisted on carrying my computer case. He would sling the shoulder strap over his head and let the bag hang alongside his leg. It reached nearly to his ankle.
The case wasn’t heavy, it contained the reports and other papers I’d worked on while in Washington, but it also contained my wallet, credit cards, my government ID, my passport, airline ticket, and boarding pass, so I kept a close eye on him. I always carry my cash in a clip in my pants pocket. I keep my driver’s license and one credit card in the clip with the cash, too.
The box lunches were one notch above terrible. They contained a mystery meat cold cut sandwich on white bread that was at least day-old, an apple, and a power bar. The apples were old and wrinkled. Janine and I gaveour power bars to Andy.
At the end of the tour, we were all feeling a bit hungry, so I invited them to dinner. We went to Ollie’s Trolley, the restaurant in my hotel, since the bus dropped us there. I ordered prime rib. Janine ordered salmon. Andy had chicken nuggets. Everyone’s meal was perfect.
After dinner, I walked them to the Metro Center Station. I escorted them down to the platform for the Red line. The train had just pulled into the station. I bent down and gave Andy a hug, then shook his hand. “Nice to meet you Andy,” I said.
I stood and extended my hand to Janine; she reached out and pulled me into a hug. “I had a good time today and thank you for dinner,” she said. She released me, took Andy’s hand, and stepped on the train.
I watched the doors close between us. As the train lurched forward, Andy waved goodbye to me. He looked so cute with my computer case hanging all the way down to his ankles.
“My case, the kid has my case!” I yelled to no one. I chased the receding train. Janine sat with her back to me. Andy continued to wave as I lost the race with the train.
All my papers are in that case, I thought. Did she tell me where they were going? Where they live? My passport, my credit cards, my ID. Did she even give me her last name? What now?
By Wayne Hilton
I watched as the train receded into the distance. Each second that passed put thousands of people, and an infinite number of possibilities between us. In the taxi drive back to the hotel I prayed there was honesty in the olive green eyes that held my case – and my identity.
“Andy!” Janine stood from her seat and nearly lost her balance as the train rocked sideways. “The case,” She pointed, “you still have his case!”
“It’s got really cool pockets, Mom. See?”
“Oh my God!” Janine reached for where an emergency cord would have been had it been a local – but the cross-state line had no such device. Only the lighted bulbs of the Metro rail map indicating the 13 stops between Gallery Place in downtown D.C. and Rockville, Maryland where Janine and Andy lived. Janine slumped into her seat across from Andy and lost herself in the rhythmic hum of metal wheels turning on the newly replaced carbon steel rails. The Washington suburb receded in the distance as they cleared the rail bridge over Rock Creek and entered Maryland.
I found myself standing near the center of the hotel lobby, lost in the thought of what could happen if I didn’t recover my wallet and other documents. How long do I wait before calling the credit card companies? Before I call to report a lost or possibly stolen passport. Before I call – my supervisor! After seventeen years, at least 200 workshops and seminars, and about as many state-level meetings for my department, how do I tell my boss that her director of Internet Security just handed over his government ID and passport – to a five year old?
Suddenly an intrusive billboard flashed across the back of my mind and jarred me with a single element of hope. Checkbook! Janine wrote a check to pay for the bus tour. I ran for the marble-topped kiosk where the concierge was smiling after a departing guest.
“I need your help. You remember me, don’t you?”
“Of course, Mr. Morse. How can I help you?”
“That woman. The one with the little boy. Janine and Andy. They have my computer case and my passport.”
The concierge reacted with cool precision touching preset numbers in the hotel phone. She held up her index finger gesturing me to wait while she completed the call.
“Detective Taylor? Hello. This is Terri Nelson at the Marriott.”
“No!” I waved my hands in the air trying to cancel her next sentence. “It wasn’t stolen.” I told her in a loud whisper mouthing my words with slow exaggeration. She gently cradled the phone after apologizing to the detective.
“I let the boy carry it – and then he got on a train.”
“I don’t know that there’s anything I can do except to report it to the police, Mr. Morse. I can place that call again for you if you like.”
“The check. Janine wrote a check for the bus tour, remember? I held the bus for them.” I saw the color of her eyes change as if dialing in dioptric magnifiers of scrutiny and suspicion.
“I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Morse. I understand your predicament – but that’s something I can’t do for you.”
I understood. In her years of experience she’d probably heard a lot of whoppers and this one probably ranked up there with the best of them. I had no recourse but to call the police and ask them to look at the check, call the woman, and retrieve my belongings.
I’d paced the lobby, tracing a line along the row of gift shops to the bank of elevators and back again. I was trying to find an alternative that wouldn’t make Janine feel as if I’d branded her a criminal as soon as the train pulled away.
“Mr. Morse?” The concierge had said his name several times before it broke through his thoughts. She waited for him to turn. “There’s a message for you.” She held out a folded sheet of Marriott stationary. Her eyes crinkled at the corners as she smiled.
“I think this may be what you’re looking for.” I glanced at her and opened the note. It read –
Ray, I’m so sorry.
14008 Travilah Road
Rockville, MD 20850
By Paul B. Dominick
How could I be so reckless as to risk my career, my security clearance, hell, my self-respect over a button? Janine’s eyes had caught mine as she wrote a check for the tour bus. Her eyes and blouse shared the same shade of green like the dappled sunlight on a bed of ferns still wet from the morning dew. Each time she brushed past me in the lobby, on the bus and after dinner she choreographed her movements to gently caress my arm. After tearing the check along its perforations she casually reached up and unfastened the third button of her blouse. The delicate silk revealed the mounds and protrusions of her perky breasts like the translucent fabric of a daring nightgown.
The more I reflected on the day the more paranoid I became. My colleagues grabbed the last two seats on the last flight out. I’ve been questioning the efficacy of our new fail-safe impenetrable fire-wall system for the last six months. Our firm guaranteed the State Department that the new software package was designed to end any possibility of hacker penetration. We assumed it worked because our Research and Development people said so. The system was not field-tested. I have my doubts. We certainly should not be offering guarantees.
Here I am holding the proverbial bag while my computer case is in the hands of a precocious little boy and his provocative mother. My God, she is beautiful. But I’m a professional: I’ve been trained to avoid such predicaments. Nonetheless, those Capri pants did speak to me. They were black and of the finest cotton. The material hugged her contours and outlined every crevice.
Had she been waiting for me? Had I been set up and by whom? Had I become an easy target because I’m a bitter divorce’ who misses my own son so badly that my guts percolate with loneliness and resentment? The e-mails on my lap-top, alone, are enough to sabotage the deal. Millions of contract dollars are at stake. My reservations about the system are documented in those memos. My supervisor warned me to keep my doubts to myself.
I tried to relax and to talk myself down from this anxiety. Think! Be rational. Work with what’s available. Start with what you know.
I returned to the concierge and asked her where I might find the computer lounge for the business class floor. She directed me to a tastefully furnished suite of rooms decorated like the library in a well appointed Victorian mansion. The walls were oak-paneled and the windows were framed by heavy and deeply pleated ox-blood drapes. Several of the over-sized mahogany desks held computers with printers. I sat down on a very comfortable wing-backed chair and goggled Janine’s address from the message she left.
The address was a five bedroom rental property. I took the virtual tour and was struck by it’s inappropriateness for a woman and her young son. The house was cavernous but unspectacular. The furnishings were beige, brown, tan and sand. They screamed boring and utilitarian. A woman favoring the tactile subtlety of silk against her skin could never be comfortable in this practical and aesthetically challenged space.
How deep could this conspiracy go? Who is the enemy? Is there an enemy? Is it a soft ware competitor? Is it my own supervisor? Is it my own company? Would they protect their profits at the expense of our nation’s security? It is a foreign entity? I’ve always been struck by the Taliban’s contradictory goals of returning the Middle East to sixth century Islam while simultaneously exploiting the technologies of the twenty first century. Neither the Taliban nor Al Qaeda can function without satellite phones and the internet. The image of Burqua wearing tech-support teams has always amused me.
I’ve got to get hold of myself. My cynicism and paranoia are taking over. I’ve got to step back and play Sherlock Holmes. If Janine and Andy are not what they seem them I’m in a world of hurt. If she is simply sexy and flirtatious then I guess I can learn to be comfortable with a younger and more adventurous woman.
My supervisor has always been a problem because I see her occupying the office that, in a just universe, would be mine. I must admit, however, the effectiveness of an unproven security system in a profit driven world makes me nervous. If things go badly I’ll be the fall guy with no one to blame but me and that God damned third button.
By John S. Bis
Ray looked at his watch, 8:45, not too late to give Janine Bailey a call, get a rental car, and drive to Rockville and pick up his computer case. But first he decided to relieve his paranoia if that was possible. He typed in “National Security Agency” and watched as the Google search came up with the agency’s phone numbers. He chose what he assumed was the correct department and, using the phone on the desk, dialed the number.
When the phone was answered a recording told him the agency was closed. But, it did give an emergency number. He dialed this and said, “Admiral Charles Adams, please. It’s urgent.” He thought adding “urgent” might help.
“Who’s calling please?” was the response.
“Navy Commander Morse.” Since he was retired from the Navy he knew it was a bit bogus to use his former title but, what the hell, if it helped get Charlie on the line . . .”
As he waited he knew the call was being routed to Charlie’s secure cell phone. That was the usual procedure unless things have really changed since he left. He thought about Charlie and he being classmates at the Naval Academy and how they’ve maintained a close friendship. They were somewhat on different sides of the fence now, with him being in the private sector. But Ray’s former career in Naval Intelligence kept him closely in touch with Charlie. In fact, Charlie often asked him to unofficially attend security conferences. At these he was able to provide some private sector perspective to proposed NSA policies. Ray’s employer saw this as a plus for maintaining an “in” with government contracts. And, in spite of their different uniforms, Ray knew their goal was still the same, a safe and prosperous U.S.
After what seemed like a very long 60 seconds Charlie came on the line.
“Commander? What, you’ve re-enlisted?”
“Charlie, thanks for taking the call. I knew you’d take it but I had to get past the emergency operator.”
“Well it worked, what’s up?”
“I need a favor Charlie, but first I’ve got to tell you about a dilemma I have. I’m in DC just now. Can we meet somewhere near your place for a night cap? I need your advice, maybe even need to have you do some checking for me”
They agreed to meet in a half hour at The Thistle Pub on Connecticut Avenue.
With that settled, Ray dialed the phone number on the concierge’s note. After 3 rings Janine answered with a tentative, “Hello.”
“Hi, Janine, it’s Ray Morse. I am so glad you called me. You don’t know how…”
Janine cut him off. “Ray, I’m so very sorry I just didn’t know what to do.”
“Janine, it’s all right. If it’s not too late I can be out there in an hour or so. I mean, I could wait until morning but, with my schedule I’d really like to get a flight first thing and . . . “
“Ray, oh Ray, it’s not that, it is too late! I mean I have Nina back and she’s safe but your computer is missing!” She was sounding hysterical on the phone.
“Janine, what are you saying? You and Andrew lost my computer case?” Ray could feel his heart lurch as his mouth went dry. “Who is Nina?”
“No, no, I have your computer case. Oh, Ray, this is so frightening. They took Nina and told me they would harm her if I didn’t cooperate with them. I didn’t know what to do!”
“Janine, this isn’t making any sense. Who is Nina and who took her? Why?”
Ray heard her beginning to sob and he began to lose it. He yelled into the phone, “For Christ’s sake Janine, this is important! What is going on? You say you have my computer case?”
He heard her sniffle and swallow another sob. Then she said, “Yesterday morning a man called me just before I was leaving to catch the train to go pick up Andy at his father’s place. He told me my daughter Nina, Andy’s older sister, was not in school today, that she had been kidnapped after she left the house this morning. His voice was very pleasant but very firm. He told me Nina would not be harmed if I followed the instructions he would give me. If all went well, he said, Nina would be home when I returned this evening with Andy. I didn’t believe him and told him I was going to call the police for threatening me and my daughter. He laughed. He told me to call Nina’s school to see if she was there, he warned me not to call the police. He said he’d call back in 15 minutes, and then hung up.
“I started to call 911 but then stopped. I did call the school and I thought I would die, right there and then, when I was told that I had stopped by early this morning to report Nina was ill and would not be in school. I started to yell, ‘But I didn’t . . .’, then stopped. The secretary asked me if anything was wrong and I think I mumbled some lame excuse about we were all sick and a bit feverish, and I was sorry to bother her again. She started to question me but I just hung up.”
At that point Ray started to ask a question but Janine just kept talking, trance-like. “The man called back and told me that Nina was being well cared for and that she would be returned here this evening if I followed instructions.”
Ray could hear Janine beginning to sob again but he didn’t say anything.
She continued, “Uh, the voice told me to act as I normally would, go into D.C. and pick up Andy from his father’s and then go to your hotel and strike up a conversation with you. He told me that I should check my e-mail before I left the house and there would be complete written instructions, including an image so that I’d recognize you.”
Ray blurted, “This is incredible, how did anyone know I’d be in the hotel? I should have been on my way to the airport for my flight back to Salt Lake City. Janine, come on, this is all a terrible joke, isn’t it?”
That’s when Janine lost control and began sobbing again, struggling with deep gasps of breath. God, Ray thought, what the hell is going on?
“Ok, Janine, please take it easy. I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand any of this. And your daughter, Nina, you say she is back home and OK? What happened, how could she get kidnapped on her way to school?”
“She said that as she got off the bus and was walking into the school, a very nice lady came out of the building and told her that she was an assistant principal. She said I had just called to say there was an emergency at home. Nina said the lady, took her by the hand, and said she would drive her home.
“And Nina went with this stranger, just like that?” Doesn’t she know not to do that?”
Janine snapped back, screaming into the phone, “Of course she knows that!” Calming down, she continued. “I asked her why she went with the lady. And then Nina started crying again saying, ‘I knew you’d be mad at me.’ After a couple of hugs and wiping both our tears she explained that the lady was very nice, was coming out of the school and carrying a clip board and walkie-talkie just like all the other monitors.”
“Jesus, Janine, who would do all this planning? Is the information on my computer worth all this? I’m beginning to wonder what’s really in that program.”
“All I know Ray is that Nina is home now, and safe. She said that the lady dropped her off at the corner of my street. Nina said she even waited until she reached the front of the house and gave her a wave good-bye. How crazy is that?”
“Crazy isn’t the word for it. Did they tell Nina why they didn’t take her home? Where did they take her?”
Nina said they went to what she said was a big office building and it had a nice playroom. The lady, who stayed with her all day, told her that what they were doing was playing a game. She even had a note which she said was from me and give it to Nina. She said the note explained her staying there was a fancy game of hide and seek between me and my ex-husband.
“You mean Nina’s father?”
“No, I adopted Nina when my sister and her husband were killed in that plane that was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland.
“And Nina believed the note?”
“Andy, for Christ’s sake, she’s 9 year’s old! They watched television and the woman read stories to her. She said she even helped review some of her homework.”
“Have you called the police?”
“No police! That’s what the note said.”
“Nina was carrying a large manila envelope when she got home. It was labeled in bright red letters, “URGENT,” and addressed to me. A note inside said that I shouldn’t tell anyone about what happened today, only you. I was to call the hotel and leave the address and telephone number with the concierge. I thought it very strange because that address and telephone number, it isn’t mine.”
“But you answered the phone when I called.”
She gave another sob. “Yes, I know. I don’t understand any of this. The number I gave the concierge is not my phone number, but when you called my phone rang. I really don’t understand.”
“Janine, you and me both. I’m sorry I got you into this. If I only knew what this is. What did they want? You do have my computer case, right?”
He could here her beginning to sniffle and cry again. She almost groaned the next words.
“Yes, but when I looked in it, thinking I might find a cell phone number for you I found it was empty.”
Ray’s heart thumped and his eyes seemed to tunnel in. He grabbed his forehead. He quietly said, “What do you mean, empty?”
Janine now started sobbing loudly. “I, uhb, the computer is, it’s gone. What’s in the case is a thick piece of black plastic the size of the computer. And all the compartments in the case are filled with 3X5 cards, blank cards.
Ray heard himself say, “Oh, shit, shit, shit!” He felt out of breath as he said, “How the hell did that happen?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know. Andy had the case over his shoulder the whole time, except . . .”
“What do you mean, except? Except, what?”
“That time Andy had to go to the rest room. Remember, at the gallery? You both went, remember, and Andy left the case on the bench next to me. That woman sat next to me, remember? She was still there when you and Andy came back. Andy noticed she had the same kind of computer case as yours.”
“No, I don’t remember. I was focused on the Snelson sculptures.”
“How could you miss her? She looked like a regular tourist.”
“A regular tourist, Christ! You’re saying she switched cases while you were right there? What the hell were you doing?”
“I don’t know,” she sobbed again. “We started talking about the exhibits. I think we got up to look closely at one of the paintings. But, but I was no more than 3 or 4 feet from the bench and your computer case. There were no other people near by.”
“Think, Janine. And where was her computer case?”
“Oh, I’m not sure, maybe on the floor by the bench – – – Oh, God, she switched cases when Andy went to pick up your case.”
Ray realized his career was down the tubes! “Janine, call the police and report this whole thing. I’ve got to meet someone and . . .” Just then Ray’s cell phone rang. “Wait, Janine, don’t call the police just yet. I’ll call you right back.”
“Ray, where the hell are you? I’ve been sitting at The Thistle for 15 minutes. You’re the guy that wanted this meeting.”
“Charlie, it’s worse than I thought. I’m on my way, wait there, please.” He hung up and redialed Janine’s number. But, instead of her, a recorded message answered, “We’re sorry, the number you have dialed, area code 301, 706 -1090, is not in service at this time. No other information is available.”
By Debra Sherman
When Ray walked into the pub, he saw Charlie sitting at the bar, chatting with the bartender about the hockey game on TV.
“Hey,” Ray said, as he sat on the bar stool next to Charlie.
“I’ve been waiting here forever, what the hell’s up?” Charlie motioned to the bartender to bring a second beer for Ray.
“Thanks,” Ray said, and asked the bartender to give the two some privacy. “There’s something big going on, Charlie, and I just can’t make any sense of it.”
Ray spilled the whole story to Charlie, taking breaks periodically to guzzle the beer. Charlie listened intently, not making a sound, just staring at Ray as if the man had gone insane. Ray finished the story with, “When I called her back the number was disconnected.”
“Disconnected? The same number you called the first time?” Charlie asked, confused.
“Yes,” Ray said, then put his head down on his arm on the bar and sighed. “I don’t know where she lives. She said the address they gave wasn’t hers. I don’t know how to find her.”
Charlie realized that Ray’s dilemma involved more than just his job, more than the possibility of some sort of conspiracy. It also involved his heart, because it was pretty obvious Ray had feelings for Janine.
“Well get to her,” Charlie said, putting his arm around Ray’s shoulders. “We’ll get this figured out.”
The phone rang again, and Janine knew it wouldn’t be Ray, but Ray’s supervisor instead.
“Janine, it’s Bridget,” the voice said.
“Bridget, I don’t like this,” Janine said in an angry voice. “This guy’s out of his mind with this, it’s too big…this is more than I bargained for and I never expected to have to lie like this!”
Janine paced the kitchen as she looked in at Andy playing with matchbox cars on the living room floor. “Making up this story, lying about having a daughter who was kidnapped…this is way more than I signed up for!”
“Just calm down,” Bridget snapped, “you knew the plan all along, and I can’t help it if minor details change along the way.”
“Minor details!” Janine screamed. “My lying to this man about having a daughter – and making up this ridiculous kidnapping story is more than minor details!”
“Let’s just calm down here, Janine,” Bridget instructed. “Everything’s working just as we planned. Now let’s talk about the next step.”
“I don’t want any next step, Bridget,” Janine snarled, “What the hell else are you going to make me do?”
“Let’s not forget that you’re being well compensated for this, Janine,” Bridget said. “You’ve got a lot riding on this – for you, and for Andy. Don’t forget about Andy.”
Janine recalled the day she’d met Bridget. She’d picked up Andy from his father’s house and was finishing lunch while Andy played in the McDonald’s playhouse. A woman approached her and asked if she could sit down.
“Sure,” Janine had said, assuming it was another mother whose child was in the playhouse as well.
“My name’s Bridget Nelson,” the woman had said. “I’ve seen you here a lot – I work in this building.” Bridget pointed to the front door of one of the office buildings where there was a sign that read, “Echlon Security Software.”
“I usually bring my son here for lunch when I pick him up from his father’s,” Janine said.
“So you’re divorced?” Bridget asked, and Janine answered with a tentative yes, thinking it was rude for the lady to ask.
“Yes, I’m divorced,” Janine said.
“My husband left my daughter Nina and me two years ago,” Bridget said. “It’s hard being a single mom, isn’t it?” She placed her hand on Janine’s forearm and again, Janine thought her behavior inappropriate.
“We do ok,” Janine said, moving her chair back a little to discourage the woman’s inappropriate need to touch.
“I better get going,” Janine said, as she motioned to Andy to come out of the playhouse.
“It was nice meeting you,” Bridget said, “Maybe I’ll see you here again.”
“Have a good afternoon,” Janine said, as she scooped up Andy and let out a sigh of relief once she they were back in the car.
One week later, Janine picked up Andy at his father’s, and returned to their regular lunch spot.
“You should eat first,” she said to Andy, as he scurried off to the playhouse, uninterested in lunch. She figured he might as well play and could eat his lunch on the drive home. Just as she stuck a straw into her diet coke, she was startled by a voice.
“Well hello again.”
It was that weird lady. Janine kicked herself mentally for not remembering this lady and wished she’d taken Andy somewhere else for lunch.
“Hello,” Janine replied politely.
“I didn’t catch your name last time,” Bridget said.
“It’s Janine,” she answered, deliberately not giving a last name.
“I know this is going to sound strange, Janine,” Bridget said abruptly, “but I’m in the middle of a big project here at work and I’m looking for someone to help out.”
Janine was intrigued because she’d been short on money. Trying to raise Andy by herself on a secretary’s pay, with little child support from Andy’s dad was becoming increasingly difficult.
“What kind of project?” Janine asked.
“We’re in the middle of promoting an Internet security program,” Bridget said. “But it turns out there are some flaws in the system and we think it’s being covered up.”
Janine was confused. She certainly wasn’t knowledgeable about any sort of Internet stuff, especially things like Internet security programs.
“Being covered up by whom?” Janine asked.
“I’m embarrassed to say we suspect it’s one of my own guys,” Bridget continued. “One of the men on my own team here at Echlon.”
“Wow,” Janine said, thinking this is sounding like a movie. “That sounds pretty interesting.”
“More than interesting!” Bridget laughed, and patted Janine’s hand like you’d slap your knee in response to a joke’s punch line. “I wish it were that simple.”
“So what sort of help do you need?” Janine asked, wanting to get back to the subject of a possible job offer.
“It’s a pretty serious assignment,” Bridget said. “We need someone to act as sort of a spy, someone to get close to this guy and obtain evidence that he’s involved in the cover up.”
Janine sat stunned. “A spy?”
“I know it sounds bizarre,” Bridget said. “But you’d be paid very well for it. It’s very important to my company and we’ll compensate you if you’d be willing to take this on.”
Janine couldn’t believe here ears. Was this woman crazy? Did she even really work for this company, or was she just some weirdo stalking Janine while she shared a happy meal with her son? Her mind was racing toward grabbing Andy and getting the heck out of there.
“Just think about it,” Bridget said, as she picked up her purse and tote bag. “I’m sure I’ll see you here again soon; we can talk about it some more next time, ok?”
“Ok,” Janine said, surprised that the woman would end such a strange conversation so abruptly.
“Well talk again,” Bridget said, and soon she was out of sight.
Ray was back in his hotel room anxiously awaiting a call from Charlie. As he paced the room, he thought about Janine and Andy, and how terrible he felt that they’d gotten involved in all this. They’d simply enjoyed a city tour with a nice man, he thought. They didn’t deserve to get mixed up in something as scary as this.
The phone rang and Ray pounced on it. “Hello?”
“Ray, it’s Charlie.”
“What’d you find out?” Ray asked, holding his breath.
“We did a background check on Janine,” Charlie said. “There doesn’t seem to be anything there. She’s worked as a secretary in a small accounting firm in Rockville the last eight years or so, and the ex-husband’s a store manager in DC. There’s just nothing there.”
Ray broke in. “Did you find an address for her?”
“Yes,” Charlie said. “It’s not the address she gave you, it’s an apartment building in a not-so-great part of town in Rockville.”
“Give me the address!” Ray shouted, as he fumbled for a pen and paper.
“Just wait now, Ray,” Charlie commanded, “you can’t just rush over there.”
“But I’ve got to go over there,” Ray said, “I’ve got to find out what’s going on!”
“Ray, listen to me,” Charlie continued, in an authoritative tone. “We have to do this the right way. We don’t have any idea what’s going on here – we don’t know why Janine is involved in this and what’s happened and who’s behind it.”
“Ok, you’re right,” Ray said. “What else do we know?”
“Nothing, Ray, that’s all we’ve got,” Charlie answered, as he tried to picture Ray there in his hotel room, likely sick to his stomach with the slow progress in their getting any answers.
“So now what do we do?” Ray asked, realizing he had to try to remain calm and follow Charlie’s lead. Charlie certainly had a clearer head on this than Ray, and investigative skills Ray knew were top notch.
“I think we should track Janine for a while,” Charlie said. “Let’s just tail her for a few days, find out where she goes, who she sees. Maybe we’ll get some answers if we just take this slow and hope we uncover something.”
“Ok, ok, Charlie,” Ray said. “That sounds good. That’s a logical next step. When will I here from you?”
“I’ll get some guys I know on this right away,” Charlie said. “I’ll report back as soon as I have anything.”
“Thanks, Charlie,” Ray said, wanting to continue to express his gratitude, but realizing Charlie had already hung up.
It was well past three a.m. now and Janine was still awake thinking about those first meetings with Bridget and replaying everything that’s happened since over and over again in her mind. Her meeting Ray at the hotel in DC had been no coincidence. Bridget had hired her to create this meeting, and to distract Ray while someone switched his computer case. She’d managed to accomplish that, and some lady she didn’t know had in fact switched the cases while Ray was in the men’s room with Andy. She’d thought that would be the end of it; she thought that’s all she had to do was distract Ray while someone snatched his computer case. But she didn’t know she’d then be expected to create a cover up once Andy ended up with the empty computer case. That wasn’t supposed to happen, and when Janine returned home and realized Andy had the case, she’d called Bridget immediately. Bridget insisted Janine come up with this story about a daughter named Nina being kidnapped from school, and strange men calling and making threats. Janine questioned Bridget as to why this was necessary.
“So Ray will be thrown off track,” Bridget replied. “You have to convince him you’re an innocent party here, so he won’t realize you had anything to do with this.”
“Still seems extreme,” Janine said.
“We have to scare him, Janine,” Bridget said. “He has to think he’s in over his head with this so he’ll hesitate in reporting it to anybody.”
This wasn’t what Janine signed up for. All she wanted was to accept this seemingly simple task to earn money for her and Andy. She couldn’t believe she’d gotten in so deep.
“Ray, what’s your supervisor’s name at Echlon?” Charlie asked. Ray had been anxiously awaiting an update from Charlie. It had been three days, and he was thrilled to be receiving the call.
“Bridget,” Ray said. “Bridget Nelson. Why?”
“Well, we don’t know if it’s anything, but it sure seems fishy,” Charlie said.
“What?” Ray asked. “What seems fishy?”
“My guys tailed Janine when she took her son to his father’s house on Friday night,” Charlie said. “And again when she picked him up on Sunday.”
“And…” Ray said.
“Janine took Andy to a McDonald’s right near your office building,” Charlie said. Ray was intrigued. “She had a conversation with Bridget.”
“With Bridget?” Ray asked.
“Yes, they were sitting together and talking. We don’t know what about, of course, but don’t you think it’s strange that Janine and Bridget know each other?”
“Strange isn’t the word,” Ray said, as a million questions and possibilities crowded his mind.
“We have to find out what the connection is between these two,” Charlie said. “This can’t be a coincidence.”
“I can’t believe this,” Ray said. “This thing just gets more and more crazy.”
“Just hang in there, Ray,” Charlie said. “We’ll get this figured out.”
“I really appreciate your help on this, Charlie,” Ray said. “What do you need me to do?”
“I think you should go back to work,” Charlie said.
“Go back to work?” Ray said.
“Yes, Ray,” Charlie continued. “Go back to work and act like nothing’s happened.”
“How the heck am I supposed to do that?” Ray nearly squealed.
“You have to get back into the office,” Charlie said. “We’ll need to get in there to do some checking on Bridget.”
“What kid of checking?” Ray asked, first wondering how he could risk his job by snooping around his supervisor, then realizing it probably didn’t matter since his job was likely on its way out anyway.”
“Since Bridget and Janine obviously have a connection of some sort, we think it’s pretty likely that Bridget has something to do with all this,” Charlie said.
“Yes, it’s certainly fishy, like you said.”
“So I think we’ll need you to get to Bridget somehow, find out what her involvement is.”
“How am I going to do that?” Ray asked.
“I’m not sure yet, Ray,” Charlie replied. “Let me do some work on this and get back to you.”
“I’ll be waiting,” Ray said.
The next morning, as Ray got ready for work, he tried to keep from panicking when he wondered what he’d encounter once he got to the office. Nobody knows about this, he thought. If Bridget’s involved, she knows, but she obviously can’t let on.
He decided all he could do was show up to work as usual, and just act normal until he got another update from Charlie.
“Good morning, Mr. Morse,” Sally said, as she handed Ray his telephone messages. “How was the DC trip?”
“It was ok, Sally,” he said. “Anything going on?”
“Same ‘ole, same ‘ole,” Sally said.
Ray went into his office and shut the door, and thought about how he should approach Bridget, or whether he should approach her at all. As he sat quietly thinking, trying to stop his heart from pounding so hard, Sally’s voice came over the intercom.
“Yes, Sally,” he replied.
“You’ve been asked to cover a meeting with the guys about the security cameras,” she said. “Miss Nelson isn’t in today.”
Ray was shocked. Not in today? Bridget hasn’t missed a day’s work in all the years he’s known with her. And she’s out today?
“Mr. Morse?” Sally piped in.
“Yes, ok Sally,” Ray said. “I’ll cover it. What time?”
“8:30, Sir,” she said.
Ray looked at his watch. It was 8 a.m.
Before he could begin to decide whether he should take this opportunity to snoop around Bridget’s office, the phone rang. It was Charlie.
“Hey Ray, everything ok there?” Charlie said.
“Yeah, Charlie, so far so good. Hey listen…”
Charlie interrupted. “Bridget’s not in today, Ray, so we need you to…”
“How the heck did you know she’s not here?” Ray asked.
“We had one of our girls call to say her daughter Nina’s sick at school. She went to the school to pick her up.”
“Jesus,” Ray said, shocked that Charlie’s people were obviously quietly at work behind the scenes here.
“Listen, Ray, this is important,” Charlie said. “We don’t know how much time we have before Bridget realizes Nina’s not sick and goes back to the office.”
“Ok,” Ray said, heart still racing. “What do you want me to do?”
“Get into Bridget’s office and check her email,” Charlie said.
Ray didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know how he’d manage to get into Bridget’s office, let alone get into her email.
“But I don’t know her password,” Ray said.
“It’s Nina1973,” Charlie quickly replied.
“Jesus, Charlie, what are you guys, the CIA?”
“Pretty damn close,” Charlie chuckled. “Come up with a reason to get in there Ray, check her email, specifically for communications with the State Department.”
“Ok,” Ray said, still wondering how he’d pull this off.
“Get back to me as soon as you can, ok?” Charlie asked.
“Ok, ok.” Ray said, and hung up the phone.
Ray jotted down Bridget’s email password on a post-it note and stuffed it in his pocket.
“Sally, I’ll be right back,” he said, as he passed Sally’s workstation. “Just getting the paperwork on the security cameras from Miss Nelson’s office for the meeting.”
“Ok, Mr. Morse,” Sally replied, not looking at him as she concentrated on the gossiping chitchat in full play among the other secretaries.
Ray entered Bridget’s office and closed the door. He turned on her computer, and frantically looked out into the hallway as he hoped no one would see him in there. He typed in Nina1973 into the email program, and Bridget’s emails appeared on the screen. He quickly scanned the list, looking for anything having to do with the State Department, and was shocked to realize there had been several communications. Bridget had sent numerous emails directly to Hal Johnston, the contact they’d been working with at the State Department regarding the Internet security software.
“It’s come to my attention, Mr. Johnston,” one of the emails read, “that there may be a flaw in the Internet security software recently purchased by your department.”
Ray was shocked. He’d told Bridget of his concerns about the quality of the program, yet she’d blown him off and told him to keep quiet about it. He continued reading the other emails.
“This is a very delicate situation, Mr. Johnston,” one email read. “Obviously the reputation of our company could be negatively affected if it’s revealed we’ve produced a software program that is faulty.”
Ray continued reading, and realized Bridget had made a private deal with Mr. Johnston. She’d offered a full refund to the State Department, but she’d told him the transaction couldn’t be known to anyone. “If anyone finds out about this,” she’d written, “they could run with it and ruin our company’s reputation.”
Mr. Johnston had agreed that if they received a full refund, he wouldn’t disclose that there had been a problem with the program. Bridget explained she had to work out a way for the money to be refunded, without a check being written to the State Department. Mr. Johnston had ended his communication by giving a bank account number, and asking that Bridget simply transfer the refund into that account. He showed little interest in how she’d go about doing that; it was of no significance to him how Echlon’s bookkeeper recorded the transaction.
Ray printed the emails, shut down Bridget’s computer, and headed out of her office, but not before realizing the excuse he’d given to be in there to begin with. He grabbed the folders on Bridget’s desk pertaining to the pending security camera purchase, and headed back to his office.
“Got ‘em,” he said to Sally, as he held up the folder to show her as he passed her desk. She smiled, and continued her telephone conversation, obviously with her boyfriend, given the flirtatious body language that was always present when she was on the phone with him.
Ray sat down at his desk and let out a huge sigh of relief. He couldn’t believe he’d accomplished this – broke into Bridget’s email and actually uncovered this information. He had to call Charlie, but before he could pick up the phone, he decided he’d better look through the folder for the security camera purchase. The meeting with their sales rep was to begin in less than five minutes.
The contents seemed typical, proposals, descriptions of the cameras, details of installation plans, and a proposed invoice for the purchase. Ray was surprised to notice that a budget code had already been assigned. This struck him as odd, because the deal hadn’t even been finalized yet. His curiosity peeked, Ray decided to boot up his computer and check the company’s records. When he punched in the budget code number for the purchase of the security cameras, he was shocked to realize the code had already been funded, then the funds transferred back out. This doesn’t make sense, he thought, because this just wasn’t the usual procedure.
Ray entered a separate part of the company’s financial program to obtain details on the transfer and found that the whole sum – $2,450,780.00 – had been transferred to an account at Citizen’s bank.
Just then the phone rang. It was Charlie.
“Got anything, Ray?” Charlie asked.
“Charlie, get a pen,” Ray replied quickly. “Write down this account number.”
“Ok, shoot,” Charlie said.
“Citizen’s Bank, account number 02002104,” Ray said.
“What’s this account?” Charlie asked.
“You tell me,” Ray said. “Have your guys check it and see who it belongs to.”
“What’s going on?” Charlie asked.
“Please just do it, Charlie.”
“You got it,” Charlie said, then hung up.
Ray attended the meeting with the security camera rep, but got out of actually discussing any details of the purchase by informing him that Miss Nelson was the one in charge and that she’d been called away on personal business. He rescheduled the meeting for the following week, then returned to his office to wait by the phone for a call from Charlie.
“Ray?” Charlie said when Ray picked up the phone.
“Yeah, Charlie, what have you got?”
“This account belongs to Bridget Nelson, Ray,” Charlie said.
“Are there any recent deposits?” Ray asked.
“Yeah, one heck of a deposit,” Charlie said, and began reading off the number, $2,450,…”
“We got her!” Ray said.
Ray put the pieces together for Charlie. One he’d informed Bridget of the flaws in the software program, she knew it was just a matter of time before the State Department discovered it and would demand a refund. She’d arranged the scheme with Janine to get a hold of his computer so his communications to her about his concerns wouldn’t be revealed, and couldn’t be proven. She tells Hal Johnson the refund will have to be done discreetly, not because she wanted to hide the flaw in the program, but because she knew a refund to the State would have to be approved by the Board, and she had no intention of giving the State Department their refund. Rather, she’d create a new budget code, transfer the State’s money into it, then transfer it to a bank account labeled as that of the security camera company. On the books, it would look as if the money was spent to purchase the security cameras – something that didn’t require Board approval to pay out. No one would know she was aware of the flaw in the software program, no one would know she’d agreed to give the State Department a refund, and no one would realize the security camera company was never actually paid – at least until she was well on her way out of the country with more than $2 million.
Ray was relieved to have finally figured this all out, but shocked that this had actually transpired – that Bridget had the courage to attempt this, that his own supervisor had betrayed him and concocted this whole scheme. And he felt terrible that Janine had been an innocent party who got caught up in the middle of it all. Or was she?
Charlie’s voice interrupted Ray’s thoughts.
“There’s something else, Ray.”
“What else?” Ray asked.
“There’s a check written from this account in the amount of $250,000,” Charlie said. “We ran a check to see who the payee was.”
“Don’t tell me,” Ray said.
“Yes, Ray, it’s Janine. $250,000 went to Janine.”
Ray nearly fell over. How could Janine do this? Was their attraction to each other, the time they spent together in DC, the adorable little Andy – all just a hoax? He couldn’t accept it. There had to be another explanation.
“What’s that address you’ve got for her?” Ray asked.
“I’m not sure I should give it to you, Ray,” Charlie replied.
“C’mon, man,” Ray insisted. “You know I can’t end this never knowing why she did it.”
Charlie gave Ray the address.
By Kathy Kifer
Curled up on her living room couch, Janine tightened her bathrobe and tried to stop shivering as she sipped her coffee. She watched Andy through the kitchen doorway as he stuffed his homework and the sandwich she’d made for him into his Batman backpack.
“Don’t forget, Mommy – I need five dollars for the pizza party at school tomorrow,” he chirped.
“Okay, hon, hang on,” Janine sighed as she set her cup down and got her purse off the kitchen counter. After she had paid a couple of large bills this week, the grocery money was dwindling fast, but she would somehow make it stretch the way she always did.
She fumbled in the dark cavern of her bag, looking for her wallet. As she found it and reached for it, she spotted something in the outside pocket which she did not remember putting there. Curious, she pulled out the thin slip of paper and gasped.
“What’s wrong, Mommy?” Andy’s voice seemed distant through the banging of her heartbeat, but he was suddenly standing in front of her with his jacket and backpack on, ready to leave.
“N-Nothing, Sweetie.” With shaking hands, Janine pulled a five dollar bill out of her wallet and gave it to him. “You have a good day at school!” She hoped Andy didn’t notice the panic in her shrill voice.
“Okay – thanks, Mommy!” Andy tugged on her for his goodbye kiss and headed for the door. “Don’t forget to wave!”
“I won’t,” she replied, forcing a smile.
It was their morning ritual that she would watch him out the window as he waited right in front of their apartment building for the school bus with a couple of other neighborhood kids. When the bus arrived he would look up to find her, then give a final wave before he climbed aboard. But once the apartment door closed behind him, Janine sank onto a kitchen chair and stared at the slip of paper she had not placed in the pocket of her bag. How could she have Bridget’s check for $25,000 when she had vehemently refused it?
When she had met Bridget at the MacDonald’s in Washington again yesterday, Janine had already decided to tell her that she did not want the money. She did not want any further assignments or anything more to do with Bridget, for that matter. She just wanted out of the whole, sordid affair.
Janine had known from the beginning that she had seriously compromised her own moral character by even entertaining the idea of “betrayal for hire”, but the offer had been more than tempting and more than she could ever hope to earn in a year at her secretarial job. She was so tired of scraping to support herself and a growing child with little help from her ex-husband, that this would give her a much-needed break from the constant worry and would be a chance to make some financial headway.
But from the moment she had met Ray Morse, Janine had found another reason to feel uncomfortable about what she was doing. She could sense that he was a sincere, honest man and she had thoroughly enjoyed being with him the day they had gone on the tour – her first day as a criminal. His genuine kindness, warmth and attentiveness to her and Andy had made her feel special and cared for. She figured Ray to be maybe fifteen years older, forty-five-ish, and yet that was a big part of his appeal. He seemed grounded, comfortable in his skin, capable. She had felt safe, protected around him but at the same time, she had thrilled to the appreciative gaze of his blue eyes. Of course, as Bridget had urged her to do, she had deliberately caught Ray’s attention as she unfastened the next button on her blouse while Ray watched her write the check for the bus tour. It wasn’t her style to do that kind of thing, but Bridget had assured her that she would need to use her feminine charms to the utmost if she wanted to successfully complete her mission. She had sensed him looking at her for much of the day and any time she had looked back at him, she had found quiet respect and even a hint of wistfulness that suggested to her that he could be open to more of a relationship. That was when she had begun to wonder how she could have been conned into accepting a job that could lead to his demise. Yet, she could tell that Ray was a very intelligent, perceptive man who could read a person’s demeanor, and she was keenly aware that he had been using that skill on her as well. Had he suspected she was a plant all along? How much did he know about her now?”
When she had picked up the phone yesterday and heard Ray’s voice, Janine’s heart had raced. First, because it set off a reaction she couldn’t explain, quickly followed by the dread of having to lie and put on a convincing act. Her sobs had not been an act; they had come from the sheer terror of feeling trapped between Bridget’s instructions and Ray’s frustration. And that was when she made her decision.
When she had met Bridget again at the MacDonald’s later that day, Janine had made up her mind that this would be the last time and, whatever it took, she was ending her relationship with this strange, cold, calculating women. Bridget had greeted her with that stiff, wide smile that had come to remind Janine of a barracuda.
“How are you today, my dear?” Janine cringed as Bridget’s long fingers clasped her shoulder and she sat down beside her. “Are you ready for the next step?”
“I’m – done, Bridget. I came here to tell you I’m done,” Janine said without looking at her.
“But you haven’t been paid yet,” Bridget gently admonished her.
“I don’t want your money, Bridget. I should never have gotten involved, but I did, with eyes wide open. I take responsibility for that, but I’ve done what you wanted me to do — even more than I agreed to, and I just want out. I don’t have the stomach for this kind of thing, money or no money.”
“Janine, Janine— “ Bridget’s voice was sickeningly, deceptively soothing.
Janine wanted to squirm with the uneasiness of still feeling Bridget’s strong hand on her shoulder. She was sitting too close, her face just inches away.
“Here, my dear. You’ve earned this.”
Janine’s eyes widened as Bridget held up a check in front of her. It actually had Janine’s name with $25,000 written across the front of it. There for the taking. Instant relief from the daily struggle to pay bills, a way to provide for Andy, and some peace of mind for her.
“I –“ Janine began.
Bridget gently hushed her with a touch of her finger to her lips. “Now, now – hear me out, my dear.” Bridget’s other hand suddenly closed around the hand Janine had in her lap.
A sense of desperation washed over Janine. She felt trapped, caught in the snare of this woman who had always made her feel uneasy.
“I hired you to befriend Ray Morse and get his computer away from him because I needed evidence that he was involved in a cover-up of the flaws in Echlon’s Internet security system, and you delivered. I have Ray’s computer and the evidence I needed. But just listen to my final proposal before you write me off. You’ve completed the job I hired you for and more, I agree.” The hand on Janine’s shoulder was suddenly, lightly stroking her hair. “No, this is something I think you might enjoy and I’d make it worth your while with a bonus check to go with the first one.”
Janine’s nervous gaze darted around the room, located Andy playing nearby and she tried to get up, but found that Bridget had her pinned firmly to her chair and she would have to cause a scene to free herself. The pit of her stomach churned as Bridget leaned so close that her lips touched her ear. “Sleep with me.”
The oxygen rushed out of Janine’s lungs and she had to gasp to get it back. A stab of adrenaline turned her terror into outrage. She ripped free of Bridget and jumped to her feet.
Bridget reached for her arm again but missed. “Calm down, my dear. You may think I’m not your cup of tea, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. And besides, as I said, I can make it very lucrative for you. How does an extra $5,000 sound?” Bridget’s eyes flickered over her. “And if things went well, I could keep you in style for the rest of your life.”
Janine grabbed her bag from beside her chair as her eyes sought and found Andy again. She turned on Bridget and noticed that, by now, the barracuda smile had waned somewhat. “Don’t ever come near me again, don’t call me, just stay away from me, and I’ll forget I ever met you.” She spun away, grabbed Andy’s hand abruptly on the way by and left.
Now, as she sat in the relative safety of her kitchen looking at the $25,000 check she had refused, Janine realized that, at some point yesterday, Bridget had slipped that check into the outer pocket of her purse while it was on the floor between them. No doubt, Bridget was confident that if Janine had that much money in her hand, she would be helpless against the temptation to cash it and cashing it would forever tie her to Bridget’s criminal activity.
Yet, as unnerving as that was, Janine closed her eyes, took a few deep breaths, and reached into the protected, inside pocket of her purse. She pulled out a small tape recorder, clasped it in her hand and smiled, thanking God that she’d had the presence of mind to record her last encounter with Bridget. It was all there – Bridget’s summary of what she had been up to, Janine’s refusal of the check – even the unanticipated bonanza of Bridget’s lurid bonus offer.
Now, all Janine needed was a way to get the tape and check to Ray so that he could defend himself and nail Bridget to the wall. She couldn’t send it to the work address on his business card, for fear that it would be intercepted. She didn’t have his home address, but she did have his cell phone number. The question was, how much had he learned about her involvement in the meantime? Would he even want to talk to her? Something deep inside of her began to ache. She had taken advantage of the kindness of a good man so that she could help to destroy him, for money. If only she had been free to get to know him better, spend time with him, maybe even share an embrace. She drew her legs up onto the chair, clutched her knees and sobbed. There was so much more to grieve than a lapse in judgment.
The G.P.S. system on the dashboard told Ray that he was about ten miles from Janine’s place. Fortunately, he had been able to feign the flu coming on and slipped out of the office before Bridget returned from her bogus trip to Nina’s school. He knew his fellow-staffers would believe he was coming down with something because he looked like hell, anyway, and he was genuinely exhausted. The stress of having his computer ripped off, having to snoop around Bridget’s office and the information Charlie was coming up with was only compounded by his stunning discovery that Janine was involved to the tune of $25,000.
He was surprised to find that the realization that sweet, lovely Janine had a dark side was every bit as disturbing to him as the loss of his computer. Through all of this, he had not been able to get her out of his mind. Unless she was an award-winning actress, Janine did not seem capable of such diabolical stuff. She was a bright, beautiful young woman, an obviously loving mother and the first female since his divorce to really capture his attention. She seemed to have a sensitivity and understanding beyond her years. He had felt an attraction to her and from her on the day they had spent together, and he considered himself experienced enough to know when he was dealing with insincerity or manipulation.
That was why he had to see her, talk to her, get it straight in his mind who Janine really was and why she had done this. He was taking a chance that she might be home today, with all the chaos that was obviously going on in her life, and he wanted to confront her one-on-one. If it turned out that she had gone to work, he had that address too, but he would have to think through how to approach her there.
For now, he would find 38 Birchwood Avenue, Apartment 12, and hopefully some answers.
Janine finished toweling off her hair and wiped the last of the steam off the bathroom mirror. She had taken a long, hot shower and slipped into a comfortable, old pair of jeans and a loose sweatshirt. It had given her more time to think things through and she was ready to go to the ends of the earth to get the evidence she had, to Ray. She would try the Internet first, to see if she could google a home address for him, at which time she would pack up the tape, the uncashed check and a note with the best explanation she could muster as to why she did this, then take it all to the Post Office and send it Same Day Delivery, whatever the cost. This information had to get to him ASAP. There was no telling how much damage had been done already.
She had just whisked on some light make-up and started to comb her damp hair when her doorbell rang. She froze, comb in mid-air. Oh, God. Could Bridget have come after her? Could she have sent someone after her – someone, maybe, even to kill her? Did she suspect Janine might take this to the authorities? And how badly offended was she by Janine’s refusal of the check and her proposition? The doorbell rang again. Whoever it was, they mustn’t know she was home.
Janine tiptoed out of the bathroom, down the hallway and into the livingroom. She wanted to go to the door and look through the peep hole, but was afraid of being heard. She jumped as someone began to knock.
“Janine? Are you in there?”
“Ray!” escaped her lips before she could decide if it was a good idea to answer.
“Oh, thank God, you’re home. I have to talk to you. Can I come in?”
Janine bit her lip, leaned against the wall and tried to calm herself into not doing something she might regret.
“Yes,” she got out in a small voice.
She heard Ray sigh. “I’m not here to hurt you. I could never hurt you. I just need some answers. I think you owe me that much.”
“I owe you that much and more,” she choked. “I did a terrible thing, just because I needed the money. But I didn’t take it, Ray. I couldn’t. I mean, Bridget tricked me and I ended up with her check anyway, but I don’t want it –“
“Janine, it’s okay. I figured all along that you were being used as some kind of a pawn in a bigger scheme –“
“I have a tape, too, Ray. I met Bridget for the last time yesterday to tell her I was done with this and to leave me alone. Bridget totally incriminated herself by what she said to me, and I was getting it ready to send to you with the uncashed check so –“ Janine began to sob. “So, even if you hated me for what I did, you’d have the evidence you need –“
“Please open the door, Janine,” Ray said softly.
Janine wiped her face, pushed her hair back and unlatched the door. Before it was completely open, they were in each other’s arms. Janine hugged his shoulders and buried her face in Ray’s coat as she felt his arms gently encircle her and hold her close. She felt his kisses on the top of her head, then her cheek, and when she lifted her face to look into his eyes, there was no hesitation as their lips came together in a warm, tender kiss.
John S. Bis
Karen put down the manuscript. She looked out the window of her 12th story office, speaking aloud the last sentence she had just read,
“She felt his kisses on the top of her head, then her cheek, and when she lifted her face to look into his eyes, there was no hesitation as their lips came together in a warm, tender kiss.”
Well, she thought, as a 6 episode Ray Morse story, it’s pretty good. She picked up the phone and dialed her administrative assistant.
“Carla, see if you can get Cooper Bennett on the phone for me, please.”
While Karen waited for Bennett’s call she wondered why real life, her real life, could not be as simple. Maybe not simple, but at least have its problems so easily resolved. She pictured Jerry lying next to her in bed. She shuddered, both with a sense of pleasure and because of frustration. Her skin almost tingled, she could just about feel his warmth.
Then reality returned as her phone buzzed. She took a breath, “Karen Newlin.”
“Hi, Karen, Coop Bennett returning your call. What’s up?”
“Cooper Bennett, my favorite author! Thanks for getting back to me so soon.”
“Oh, oh, when ever you say that I’m feeling as if I’ve fallen into some sort of writer’s cesspool.”
“No, Coop, not at all, in fact we are in need of your great writing skills.”
“Right! Now I am in trouble.”
“No, Coop, I’m serious. You know that Ray Morse series we’ve been doing for the network?” Well, I have a new manuscript that needs a slight rewrite. There are some continuity problems and, frankly, while it is a good story, it reads a bit like it was put together by several different people. I want you to take it to a polished, consistent copy. Do you have the time?”
“I think so, but what’s your deadline?”
“I’ll need it completed by the end of next week. Can you do that?”
“Yes, but send me what you have right away, OK?”
“Thanks, Coop. I’ll have Carla fax a hard copy and e-mail a PDF file as soon as I hang up. OK?”
“Good. I’ll give it a quick read and send you confirmation. Standard work agreement, right?”
Karen said, “Right.”
She hung up on Bennett and immediately dialed Carla, telling her to send the Ray Morse story, The Computer Case, to him.
Carla said, “OK,” and then told Karen her husband had called while she was on the phone with Bennett. He wanted her to call him back.
Neal Newlin answered on the third ring. “Newlin here.”
“Hi, Neal, it’s me.”
Hi, hon, I called to remind you about this evening.”
Carla paused before saying, “This evening? This evening I’ve got another editing session scheduled for the SS. Peter and Paul 50th anniversary publication.”
“What again? We’re supposed to be going out to dinner at the club with the Clarks.”
“Oh, shit, I completely forgot. Tell you what, you go ahead with the Clarks. Dinner is at 8:00 right? I’ll try and get there by 9:00. I can at least have dessert with you.”
Neal’s tone changed as he said, “You know you should have never gotten involved with that damn church publication. You’ve been late 2 or 3 evenings a week for the past month. Why the hell can’t that damn thing be worked on during the day? Just because you’re in the publishing business doesn’t give them the right to expect you to donate your time.”
“Neal, I realize now that this has turned into a much bigger project that I expected. And the church committee can’t meet during the day, almost everyone has a job. I’m really sorry, but I’ve committed to Father Jerome and can’t quit at this point.”
Karen cringed as she thought, if Neal only knew the truth, that I don’t want to quit.
Neal was silent for a bit, then, firmly said, “OK, but get to the club not later than 9:00. We’ll wait dessert until you get there.”
“Neal, I am sorry. I totally forgot. I’ll be there by 9:00.
She hung up without saying goodbye. All she could think about was how she’d ever be able to get to the club by 9:00. Maybe if Jerry could get away from the rectory earlier they would at least have a couple of hours together. But that didn’t seem likely. By the time they drove the 45 minutes to his friend Kenny’s cabin in Little River Valley, and then drove back that would give them less than an hour together.
Again she stared out the window at nothing in particular. She scolded herself thinking, how in the hell did I get so personally involved? I’ve got enough worry just keeping my business going. The whole publications enterprise is getting so cut-throat I can’t afford to lose my focus. So, what do I do? I get involved with a man of the cloth. Heh, heh, she began giggling to herself, he’s much more fun when he’s without that cloth. She stopped abruptly, wondering if she was losing it?
“I’d better call Jerry and cancel this evening,” she said quietly to herself.
She picked up the phone and dialed SS. Peter & Paul’s rectory. As she waited for the phone to be answered she smiled at the thought of what she and Jerry did as “editing” on those evenings they met without the committee.
Mrs. Prentice the house keeper answered with a quiet but chirpy, “Good morning, SS. Peter & Paul’s rectory.”
“Hi, Mrs. Prentice, this is Karen Newlin.”
“Oh, hello Mrs. Newlin, how are you?” Her tone immediately changed to that of being wary, or that’s the way Karen interpreted it.
“I’m fine, thank you. Is Father Jerome in?”
“I think so, please hold.” Again, the formal tone in her voice.
Father Jerome picked up within a few seconds. “Karen, I was just getting ready to call you. I didn’t really know what to do.”
“Jerry, I called to tell you this evening is not good, something’s come up.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“What do you mean, Jerry? How could you know? I just talked with Neal just now.”
“No. Karen it’s not about Neal or this evening. I mean, I don’t know what I mean. It’s about the letter in this morning’s mail.”
“Jerry, you’re not making any sense. I didn’t send you a letter.”
There was a long pause. Karen then queried, “Jerry, you still there? Jerry?”
“What? Oh, yeah. I just wanted to close the door to the study. I worry about Mrs. Prentice overhearing.”
“Well, I can understand that. I didn’t like . . .”
She was interrupted. “Karen, listen. I received a letter this morning that said, wait, let me read it to you. It says:
Father Jerome (if you really are a priest):
I am aware of your embezzling money from parish funds. You should be ashamed! You should also be ashamed of that lady friend and that love nest in Little River Valley.
“Oh my God, Jerry! Who sent that?”
“Somebody I’m sure I don’t know. It’s signed Ray Morse.”
“Ray Morse. Do you know him?
“Yes, I mean no. Ray Morse is a fictional character in a mystery series I’m working on.”
“He’s a fictional character? How can that be?”
Just then Carla stuck her head in the door. “Sorry, Karen, this courier package just came. The messenger insists you, and only you, must sign for it.”
Karen said, “Just a minute Jerry, hang on.”
Carla put the package on Karen’s desk. Karen signed the delivery receipt and handed it back. As Carla walked out the door Karen looked at the package on her desk. It was addressed to Karen Newlin, That Little River Valley Woman, 1224 Herkimer Building, Rapids City, NY. Stunned, she sat there looking at the package, forgetting about Father Jerome waiting on “hold”.
By W.E. Rowe, Jr.
When she had opened the package in her office, she had no idea what to expect. Whatever it might have been, it certainly wasn’t this. Spread out on her desk were several glossy eight-by-tens. They were standing in front of the cabin, arms around each other and each gazing into the eyes of the other. It was very intimate, very romantic and beyond believing it could be anything but what it had been. There was another photo of her and Jerome walking hand in hand through the birches that came down to the shore of the lake, equally intimate and romantic.
The photos were damning, and yet – yet – they were beautiful, a testimony of two people in love and she was one of them, not a woman who was participating in an affair with a priest to satisfy what she had needed, but as a woman who had fallen in love with a priest.
She struggles to get back to where she had been moments before. He’s still a man she told herself. When that didn’t work she tried to reason that he had been a man before he was a priest. That didn’t work either, as the thought came to her that she would not have changed a thing if she could.
Years ago his father had given him some words of wisdom, three questions that would bring one out of the wilderness. What do you want? What will it cost? Are you willing to pay? At the time he had thought that payment was about money. But he had come to learn that payment was most often made with things much more valuable, things like a reputation, or one’s honor, dignity or moral conviction. He knew what he wanted. He also knew what the cost would likely be. But the third question was still unanswered and he would be in limbo until it was.
Limbo. A fitting word for what he was deliberating. Of course he knew what it meant but he wanted a literal explanation. He found it in his Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, 1952. Limbo was “in or on the border.” 1. In medieval theology, a region bordering on hell. The limbo partum was a place for the souls of good men until the coming of Christ. The limbo infantum was a similar place for the souls of unbaptised infants. Limbo has been applied to other supposed places on the outer borders of hell. 2. Any place of restraint or confinement.
She recalled what had gone through her mind before their first time knowing that, in intimate moments, sometimes things were said that would otherwise not be spoken. Like, “Oh, my God!” She had never thought that profane before, but, with a priest – no – would their combined caution smother their intimacy?
“Shall we lie down?”
“If you wish.”
“That would be better.”
And they would lie there sans shoes but fully clothed.
“Would you prefer…?”
But it hadn’t been like that, not at all.
She was sure of this. She wanted him as she had never wanted anyone else.
When the phone range, Jerome glanced at his bedside clock. 2:20. At this hour is usually meant one thing. But not this time. This time it had been more dire. It had been his brother in Pittsburgh. His nephew, Chris, had been diagnosed with leukemia. Would Jerome pray for him? They talked. Chris was going to be treated at the Cleveland Clinic. He had a chance but it would be costly. His brother was a mechanic, a good one, but the best would not be capable of raising the sum of the treatment.
Five years later, Jerome made an appointment with the bishop. He took a briefcase with him filled with money. Bishop Marcus, a good man, confessed him, assured him that this need not go any further, that the money would be properly taken care of and Jerome could return to his parish in peace.
Jerome kissed his ring, thanked him and returned to his church with an amount of peace that helped dull the fact that Chris had died despite his efforts as a man and a priest and never quite sure if his nephew had not paid the price for his sin.
“Do you think it’s wise, meeting where we’ve been photographed?”
“At this point, Karen, evasion seems useless.”
“You may be right with Mrs. Prentice lurking around.”
“We have to meet.”
“I want to keep on seeing you and I hope you feel the same.”
“Oh, yes! This is not going to go away, Karen.”
“What’s going to happen with us?”
“We’ll have to talk about that tonight.”
“Could you walk away from it, Jerome?”
“I can’t imagine doing that and I can’t imaging giving up the priesthood.”
After they made their arrangements, he took two steps out of his office and was frozen in place by what he saw. He had seen one like it before. Father David had shown it to him the day that he bought it and he remembered that the projection on it was a telephoto lens. So it stopped him cold when he saw it there on the small stand where Mrs. Prentice kept her purse. His mind scrambled for other clues but he couldn’t get past the camera. Karen, already suspicious, would be quick to lay this at her feet. But he was not ready for that, even with the camera pointing right at him.
When he was young, before the priesthood, he would always answer the quip, “You can’t have everything” with “Why not?” These many years later the answer had come. He had prayed but God had been silent, perhaps because it was expected that he would know what to do. He would continue to pray. Even so, the answer would have to come from him and him alone.
Karen checked her watch. He was about fifteen minutes late, probably got held up in traffic. She would wait another twenty minutes and then call him.
She had come to the church precisely for reasons that now conflicted with what was happening. The church had given her shelter and in that shelter she had found the faith she had once had.
There had been moments of concern but she had always been able to take comfort in the thought that there was redemption in reconciliation. Just when that would happen she had never decided. Now it loomed before her, weighing heavy in her thoughts. What would he do? Would he have an answer?
The traffic was light so he knew he would be there in plenty of time. It was a pleasant evening with one bright star visible in the sky not yet dominated by darkness.
He wondered if Karen might be there yet and wondered, also, what she would say to him. Whatever it would be he would…
The headlights on the other side of the road were vertical instead of horizontal. Instantly, he realized there had been an accident and pulled over to the side of the road, braking sharply, and was across the road in a matter of seconds. The car lay on its left side and there was some difficulty in opening the door.
The first thing he saw was the rosary hanging on the rear view mirror. The second thing was an unconscious woman slumped against the driver’s door. There was a lot of blood, obviously coming from a head wound. His call to 911 was rapid and concise. When he applied his handkerchief to staunch the flow, he became aware that she was in deep trauma, that the time had come to do what a priest should do and he commenced the last rites. When he had finished he was sure that she had passed. Sirens in the distance told him that help was coming that was no longer needed.
Once he had given what information he could to the state trooper, he called Karen. After seven rings the message came on. “The wireless customer you are calling is not available. Please call again later.” Stating out again he decided to wait until he was halfway there, then try again. That would be about twenty minutes. He waited the allotted time and called again. Seven more rings, no answer. She wasn’t there and hadn’t been there. But in the silence there was a message he could not ignore. Maybe God had spoken and his penance was now beginning.
Karen went out to her car for her cell phone only to find it not functioning when she tried to call Jerome. He was nearly an hour later and it came to her that hew as not coming. Was this it, was this how it ended?
Closing the door behind her with a barely audible click that reflected the unspoken words she would have said to him, she thought about the enormity of what had happened and felt a blessed numbness seeping into her.
By Robert Kerins
Karen started the car, but wasn’t sure where she wanted to go. Neal loved her but was clueless. He had no idea about her infidelity, or what drove her to it. Good old Neal, she thought. I should go home. No sense making him more suspicious, when I’m not doing anything to be suspicious about. She shifted the lever into drive.
Just as she started out of her parking spot, she spotted the headlights of Jerry’s Citroen. France’s Cadillac, he’d told her. It looked like a stretched out VW Beetle to her. She backed into her parking space, and waited for him to pull in. He got out of his car, looked around quickly, to see if anyone noticed him, then hopped into her car.
He was covered in blood. The white cuffs of his shirt were crimson. The backs of his hands had splotches of blood, but his palms were coated in red.
“My God, what happened to you?” Karen gasped.
“I came across an accident. I tried to help the woman driving the car, but…”
“Oh no, how terrible. Were there others hurt?”
“Just the woman. I, I never got her name… She must have been going too fast for the curve, the car rolled over, skidded into a tree. I don’t think she suffered… I hope to God she didn’t.”
“Oh Jerry, I feel so terrible. I was thinking you didn’t want to see me, and–”
“No, Karen, never.” He reached across the console pulling her into his arms.
“Oh, Jerry, I love you. I want to be with you always.” As her words left her, she felt him stiffen. She knew of his conflict. He wouldn’t leave the priesthood. It was his life. How could she tell him? But she must, they had no secrets. She’d already told him her marriage to Neal had settled into a platonic partnership. Neither of them had shown any carnal interest the other in years. They loved one another, respected one another, cared for one another, but sex was behind them. Neither partner seemed to mind, neither had a strong libido.
It seemed only lately, as her biological clock began ticking louder, that she noticed the lack of sex in her life. And then she found Jerry. He fulfilled every need she had. He made her feel like a young woman again. She felt full of life. Now she must tell him. “Jerry,” she said, pushing herself away from his embrace. “I’m pregnant.”
Father Jerome slowly leaned backward and his mouth grew wider with every degree on incline. His brain ran wild. He remembered each time he sat in the confessional and listened to young girls say those two words. How he spoke the Catholic litany regarding abortion. How he advised the poor young girl that the most important thing in her life from that point forward, was the baby. She must keep and care for the baby and baptize it and raise it as a good Catholic.
Then he thought of the pictures, whoever took the pictures, whether it was Mrs. Prentice, or someone else, will surely put two and two together. He looked down at his bloodstained hands; he needed to find out who was sending the pictures. He had to stop that leak. Then how would Karen deal with Neal. Would he accept her infidelity? Would he insist on knowing the father’s name? How would they deal with Neal?
He looked at his lover. “How are you going to explain this to your husband?” He couldn’t bring himself to say Neal’s name.
“I’m not going to tell him anything. I’ll say I have to go out of town for work for a few days, take care of the pregnancy, and come home with no one the wiser.”
“You, you mean… ab…abor…” He couldn’t bring himself to say the word.
“Yes Jerry, abortion. You remember when I asked you to use protection. You said it made you feel dirty. Well abortion is the result. It’s a dirty word and a dirty act, but it’s the only way I can save my marriage and your reputation.”
“I, I can’t be a part of this, I can’t murder my own child. And I can’t allow you to do this either.”
“Jerry, I love you. I love you in ways I’ve never loved my husband. If you say the word, I will leave him and marry you, and we will have this child.”
Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife. Thou shall not murder. I’ve already broken the tenth, is being a priest so important to me that I’ll break the sixth? “God, help me.”
“I don’t think God is interested in helping you out of this one, Jerry.
“Karen, the priesthood has been my life since I joined the seminary when I was eighteen. I can’t make this kind of decision in five minutes. Let me sleep on it. I’ll call you when I’ve decided.” He opened the car door and leftwithout another word.
Karen was slightly stunned. She hadn’t given abortion a thought until she said it a few minutes ago. She wanted this baby, not because it was a part of Jerry, and represented their love. She wanted it because it was her baby. She was going to be a mother. Damn near old enough to be a grandmother, but still, a mother of her own child.
Karen didn’t hear from Jerry the next day, nor the day after. On the third day, the phone rang. It was Father Jerome, her secretary said.
“Karen, I’ve confessed my sins to my father confessor, and he advised me to request an audience with my bishop. I see him tomorrow. I’m calling to make sure you meant what you said.”
Karen was silent for nearly a minute, thinking of the twelve and a half years she’d been married to Neal. Tears popped from her eyes and ran down her cheeks. “Yes, Jerry, I’ll leave him for you.”
“I was hoping you’d say that. I’m going to suggest that as the best alternative, to Bishop Lawrence. I see him tomorrow.”
Her heart soared. He’s giving up the thing he loves in order to marry me. He must love me more than any man ever loved a woman, she thought. “Yes darling, sweetheart. When can I see you?”
“Probably tomorrow late afternoon. I’ll call you. Goodbye sweetheart.”
Karen left work that day with a smile that wouldn’t go away. It went away the moment she pulled into her driveway. How could she hurt this man. What did he do to deserve her cuckolding behavior.
She pulled into the garage and walked into the kitchen. There he was, cooking dinner, Chicken Marsala, with linguini. He was putting the finishing touches on a tossed salad with a special dressing he’d concocted himself. She cried.
Karen managed to get past him before he noticed the tears. She headed straight for the bedroom. “Oh, honey, that smells delicious, but I’ve got a migraine coming on. I’ve got to take something for it right away.” In the master bath, she tried to get hold of her emotions. She found an old prescription for Diazepam, and took one. She washed her face, tidied up her makeup and went to meet her husband.
She tried to make small talk about the Ray Morse series that was scheduled to play in the fill-in season in late Fall.
“Too bad they ended it the way they did,” Neal said. “I thought you had potential for a series there, But they wrapped everything up in a tidy little bundle with the kiss at the end.”
“Yeah, well it was never meant to be anything but a filler.”
“Too bad life can’t be that easy, huh?”
Karen dropped her fork, looked at her husband, “Whaq” she squeaked. “What do you mean?”
“Oh, it’s just that I saw a bunch of holes in the script that just got glossed over.”
“Really? Like what?”
“Well, if Ray Morse’s ID was stolen, how did he get back into the building to go to work? Don’t you need one of those magnetic things on the back of your ID card?”
“Wow, I never caught that, I wonder if they’ll catch it in production? You’re pretty good at details aren’t you?”
“Better than you think,” he said.
She thought about that statement through the rest of their dinner.
Next afternoon Karen watched the clock as the hours and minutes dragged on. Finally, at 4:30, the phone rang.
“”It’s father Jerome again,” her secretary said. “Boy that church doesn’t mind how much of your time they take do they?”
“Thank you Marie, I’ll take it in my office,” Karen said as she walked in and closed the door behind her.
“Karen, I’m sorry it’s taken so long to get back to you, but I just got back from the bishop’s office.”
“I’m waiting,” she said, she could hardly breathe.
“We need to talk face to face. Can you meet me right away?”
“Well, yes, but why can’t you tell me on the phone?”
“This is something that’s best done in person,” Jerry said.
Paul B. Dominick
Father Jerome raced to pick up the phone before the answering machine responded to its call to duty. He always promised himself that he’d reach the phone before its third ring so his parishioners would never have to speak their need to talk to a priest into a digital recording device. It was his only vow still intact. The Bishop’s secretary was calling to inform him that he had been granted another audience and that he should proceed immediately to the chancellery office. Perhaps this was the answer to his prayers. He left a message on Karen’s cell phone telling her he’d have to postpone their meeting.
Father Jerome stood as Bishop Lawrence, the diocesan attorney and a video technician with his camera, lights and microphones entered the room. The bishop was wearing his tailored but traditional black gabardine suit and displaying the eight-inch pectoral cross of his office. He had decided to forego his vestments and ritual paraphernalia. He would appear humble but patriarchal for the required video.
Father Jerome’s eyes darted from the briefcase to the camera, from the lawyer, to the witness. He hiked his shoulders and set his jaw. The bishop watched Father Jerome underscore his surprise and then his defiance as the young priest widened his stance and crossed his arms. The bishop offered a hurried and rehearsed explanation for the retinue that accompanied him.
“Ever since those law suits over sexual abuse began”, the bishop declared, “we’ve been advised to video-tape all interviews and to have legal counsel present.”
“Your Excellency”, Father Jerome, responded, “it was my understanding that our meeting was to be private and that our discussion might, therefore, be both candid and protected by the seal of the confessional.”
“Those days are over. Father, please be seated.”
The room had been prepared for this session and two chairs were placed facing one another. The bishop sat in the large leather covered wing-backed chair and Father Jerome took his place on a desk chair with a pelican carved into its wooden back. The attorney sat to the rear and to the right of the bishop. His chair, like Father Jerome’s, had been commandeered from the adjacent conference room. There was an uneasy heaviness to the room that was made even more oppressive by the over-powering aroma of wood polish struggling to impose itself amidst the exotic smells from a tropical floral display. The vase stood stoically on an oak and brass library table that dominated the room.
Father Jerome abandoned hope for a frank and private dialogue. He knew this conversation would be a bench mark for the rest of his life. Nothing could remain the same once he left this room. After the audience with his bishop, Father Jerome had to prepare for his meeting with the woman he loved. This day would be unlike all other days.
Once the bishop was seated, Father Jerome and the diocesan attorney took their seats as well. The video technician was absorbed in the details of placing lights and attaching microphones the size of pencil erasers to the lapels of Father Jerome and Bishop Lawrence. They were held in place by the gentle jaws of miniature clips the sight of which immediately and incongruously reminded Father Jerome of his high school days. He pictured the party where he was first introduced to marijuana and how he struggled to master the necessary finesse to inhale the smoke and then to pass the remnant of a previously precisely rolled joint while holding the roach clip precariously with his thumb and forefinger. He decided he would not repress the smile that was creeping onto his face. The bishop should see him as bemused but unaffected by this poorly staged effort to intimidate.
After a thumbs up from the young man with the video camera followed by a deferential, “Your Excellency”, Bishop Lawrence began the audience that, by now, had all the trappings of a deposition.
“So, tell me a little about your girl friend, Father Jerome.”
“Excuse me, your Excellency, but girl friend is a term that demeans and belittles the love I have for Karen. Can’t we simply refer to her by using her Baptismal name?”
“My son, it’s best to avoid using their names. We must address this issue from the perspective of the laws and traditions of Holy Mother Church.”
“Do you want to know how she earns a living or to which parish she belongs or if she’s even Catholic, or whether she supports the cause of removing British troops from the streets of Northern Ireland?”
“Father Jerome, your sarcasm is quite inappropriate.”
“Your Excellency, I love this woman. She’s pregnant with my child. I want to marry her, to hold her, to feel her warmth at night, to smell her hair when I awake, to hear her murmur as she gently turns in her sleep. I have come to ask your permission to seek release from my vows, to leave the priesthood and to be free to love as Jesus and Saint Paul have exhorted us to do.”
“My son, my son, your faith and exuberance are indeed admirable, but you must know that is impossible.”
“We have a shortage of priests and we have even fewer good priests like yourself. We are being consumed by the pecuniary effects of law suits seeking damages for the victims of sexual abuse alleged by so many. Our diocesan treasury is so seriously depleted that we may have to sell some churches built by the faithful of earlier generations of immigrants. I have even ordered the appraisal of a German-built church and a Polish-built church that have both stood on the East side for over one hundred and fifty years. We have to sell these beautiful houses of God or to at least strip them of their elegance by selling off the stained glass, the marble and even the statuary.”
“Are you saying, your Excellency, that it is better for me to deny my love than for you to sell windows?”
“Be careful, Father Jerome, remember your vow of obedience.”
“And to whom was my vow made? Am I not to honor my love? If God is love then to love is to honor God. Isn’t love God’s greatest gift to man? Isn’t our willingness to risk loving one another, what makes us in God’s image?”
“My sources tell me that your girl friend is married. Is that so?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“So her pregnancy could simply be accepted as the natural consequence of carnal co-existence, could it not?”
“It could but it would be a lie.”
“This woman, my son, has been unfaithful to her vows. In addition she has led a good priest astray. My obligation is to protect the diocese. Not to promote promiscuity.”
“Karen is trapped in a marriage without love. Her husband has refused her affections for quite some time. The child can not be his. The truth will be known.”
“Would she consider any other alternatives?”
“Do you mean, will I encourage her to murder our child?”
“These are unusual times. What is the greater good, the greater evil? How do I protect the assets of Holy Mother Church? Aren’t her priests among her most valuable assets? Whose life is more precious? The life of an unborn child or the life of the Church?”
“Your Excellency, I am here to seek release from my vows. I love Karen and will love our child. I believe love should trump obedience.”
“Of course, Father Jerome, your position is conveniently self-serving.”
“Self-serving, your Excellency? Forgive me, but you are the one who is serving the selfish interests of protecting the value of real estate, building materials and your work force. This conversation could be occurring in a room with a CEO, a CFO and their board members. What can be more valuable or more Christ-like than love and life?”
“My dear Father Jerome, this meeting was agreed to so that you could be apprised of the difficulties inherent in your request. You had a right to know why your release from Holy Orders is impossible. Pray and meditate on your vow of obedience. Write this woman, Karen, and tell her she must return to her husband’s bed and never again seek you out. I will grant you absolution. Now, make a good act of contrition and you can return to your life as a faithful servant of God.”
Father Jerome stood, removed his roach clip and said with resolute firmness, “I will not.”
By John S. Bis
Neal Newlin raised his eyes upward and held the phone away from his ear. After a few seconds he slowly spoke into the mouthpiece, “Mrs. Prentice – – – Mrs. Prentice, please shut-up!” The voice on the phone went silent.
Neal spoke into the void.
“I’m very much aware of what you are telling me. I’ve been aware for some time that your priest, that Father Jerome, has been, as you say, carrying on with my wife. But this is . . .”
“You don’t understand,” Mrs. Prentice interrupted, “He’s a man of God and what they are doing is a mortal sin! This is not just some oh, I don’t know what.”
At this last statement Neal could hear Mrs. Prentice starting to sob.
“Please, Mrs. Prentice, I appreciate you dropping those photos off here at the house. That was clever of you to do when you knew Karen was out with the priest. And ringing the doorbell and then driving off, that was worthy of a spy novel. But your concern is misplaced. Karen is my wife, this is about my marriage, and it is not your business.” He paused, then said, “You should worry about your cuckolding priest and I’ll worry about my wife. Good-bye!” And, with that firmly delivered statement he quickly but quietly put down the telephone.
Neal got up from his desk and walked over to the liquor cabinet, mixed himself a Manhattan, and then returned to his chair, looking at the photos arrayed on the desk. That bastard, he thought. And Karen too. He could feel his anger growing as he picked up the photos one by one and then methodically dropped each into the shredder at the side of the desk.
He leaned back in his chair, turned it slightly and reached for his drink, taking a long sip. As he put the glass back on the desk he saw the copy of “The Computer Case” episode he and Karen had talked about yesterday. He remembered pointing out some of the inconsistencies in the story about Morse’s missing ID card. He was amused at Karen’s remark, “Wow, I never caught that, I wonder if they’ll catch it in production? You’re pretty good at details aren’t you?”
“Better than you think,” he remembered replying.
And now, with the Manhattan beginning to temper his anger, he said aloud to himself, “Karen, you really have no idea who I am or what I do as a Security Investigator for Federalist Enterprises.” But Neal knew what he did, and what he did he did very well. He was certain he could ‘one-up’ the intrigue in the Ray Morse, “Computer Case” story. And, he thought, dear Mrs. Prentice, with her religious passion and anger at Father Jerome, she may be poised to play an interesting part in his demise. “I’ll fix that fuckin’ priest,” he said aloud. He took another drink of his Manhattan, smiled, and thought, yes, literally a fuckin’ priest.
The following morning as Karen Newlin was about to leave the house, she was in an agitated state. She hadn’t heard anything from Jerry and was anxious to get to the office to call him. She had wanted to call him right after breakfast but Neal, instead of leaving at his usual early hour, was lingering over his coffee while he read the paper.
Karen turned to him and said, “Hey, you’re not your usual self this morning. You never linger after breakfast.”
“Oh, I’ve got some things on my mind I’ve got to think through.” He said this with a wry smile on his face knowing full well it would add to Karen’s agitation.
“Things going OK at the office?”
“Yeah, things there are going very well. It’s just some other stuff, you know, about life in general.”
Karen’s face began to flush. “Oh, well, I hope your general life is OK. Anything we need to talk about.”
“Nothing right now, maybe this evening. In fact, let’s go out to dinner, we haven’t really done that in a while.”
“Sure,” she said with hesitation. “I should be home about 6:00 but, right now I’ve got to run.” And, with that, she abruptly turned and went into the garage and got into her car.
Neal looked out the kitchen window and watched Karen drive off. I wonder how long before she is on the telephone to Father Lover-boy, he thought. Well, she better make good use of her time with him because it is limited. He then walked into the study he used as an office and sat down at his computer, signing into his account at Federalist Enterprises. Using one of the company’s priority software programs he was able to log on to the GPS tracking device he had installed in Karen’s car. He wanted to make sure his dear wife really was going to the office. Satisfied that her car was headed toward her office he went back into the kitchen and poured another cup of coffee. He took that and the newspaper back into the den. He leisurely finished the paper and sipped his coffee, occasionally glancing at his computer screen. When he saw that Karen’s car had entered the parking garage of her office building he logged off and sat drumming his fingers on his desk.
Karen brusquely said good morning to her assistant Carla as she rushed by her. Once at her desk she immediately picked up the phone and called Jerry at the rectory.
Mrs. Prentice answered as she always did, and, as always when she found out it was Karen, changed her tone.
“Yes, I believe he is in. I’ll see if it’s convenient for him to speak to you.”
You bitch, thought Karen as she waited for Jerry to pick up.
“Hello, this is Father Jerome.”
“Jerry, it’s me. What happened with your meeting with the Bishop?”
“Yes, hello, Mrs. Newlin,” then he paused. Karen could hear him say away from the phone, “Thank you, Mrs. Prentice, it’s Mrs. Newlin about the publication.” Then a pause while she assumed Jerry waited for Mrs. Prentice to leave the room.
“Karen, I called you a few minutes ago but Carla told me you weren’t in yet. Where are you?”
“I’m here in the office now. Neal was acting odd this morning and I couldn’t get away as I usually did. But, that’s not important. What did the Bishop say?”
“Nothing good, I’m afraid. But it did help me to resolve a decision. I’m, well, I’m finished with the church.”
“Jerry, how can you just do that? It’s been practically your whole life.”
“My whole life,” he paused, “My whole life has been focused on love, love of God, and helping people to love and serve the principles of Christ. I, well, I don’t belong in this Church anymore. It is more interested in preserving itself than in following principles.”
“But, Jerry, how can you do that, give up your religious beliefs?”
“Karen, I love you, I want to marry you and help raise our child. That is what is of utmost importance to me. And I am not giving up my religious belief, I’m giving up on a religious organization. I’m giving up blind obedience to rules and regulations that change as Popes, Cardinals and Bishops focus their concerns more on real estate and institutional finances than upon souls.”
“Oh, Jerry, I do love you too, but I’m scared, and worried for you. Are you sure you want to do this? You are giving up so much.”
“This is not something I jumped at. Karen, you know me, you know I spend a great amount of time thinking things through. I’m sure about this. I’m through with the Catholic Church. But . . . ,” at this point Karen thought she almost heard Jerry sob, “but in my heart, I know I’m doing the right thing. I still have my firm belief in my faith in God. I’m sure he’ll see the righteousness of my decision.”
“Jerry, dear Jerry, I know you are a good person and I love you so much. This evening, I’ll tell Neal that our marriage is over. As it turns out he wants to go to dinner so the timing is right.”
“How about you, Karen, are you sure? I want you to be very sure of what you are doing.”
“Yes, I’m sure. And I’m sure Neal and I can come to an amicable agreement on a divorce.”
Neal called his office and asked his secretary to put him through to a secure connection to the firm’s Paris office. He then dialed the number of Olga Gabler, who was the agent assigned to the European automotive industry division.
“This is Gabler.”
“Olga, Neal Newlin here, how are things in the motoring world?”
“Neal, my God, it’s been over a year or so, what are you up to?”
“Oh, you know, a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Some public works intrigue at the moment. That why I called. I need to arrange a meeting in an out of the way place but I need to do it in a special way.”
“So now I’m a social secretary, huh?”
“Olga, you can be anything you want, and any time you want, that’s why you get the big bucks, uh, Swiss Francs, right?”
“OK, Euros. What do you know about Citroen?”
“The PSA Peugeot Citroen company, or the car?”
“The car, a model C6. I need to make it stall. I need to have it stop at a particular location so I can meet the driver without any witnesses.”
“Well, a couple of ideas come immediately to mind but, give me an hour, I’ll call you back.”
“No, don’t call. Send a secure fax to the office. I’ll be there in an hour or so. And thanks, Olga, I owe you.”
“Oh, I’m sure you do. Take care.”
Neal hung up and began whistling the “Marseillaise.”
He put on his jacket and went into the garage. He went crossed the space vacated by Karen’s car and walked around the back of his Ford to a door on the far wall. He unlocked it and walked into a small but neatly organized storage room. He took out a small metal carry case, locked the room, opened the trunk of the Ford and put the case in it. He then got into the car, opened the garage door, and drove away, making certain the door closed and the house alarm system was activated.
That evening, at the Roseland Restaurant, Neal and Karen had spoken little during the meal. Karen had tried a few times to find out from Neal what his concerns were, as he put it, about life in general. But each time he had reverted to small talk. Now, she was nervous but wanted to find a good opening for bringing up the subject of a divorce. Yeah, she thought to herself, if there ever was a good opening for that topic.
“Neal, what is it? You’ve been almost silent this evening. I’ve been wondering ever since this morning, what is it about life in general that’s concerning you?”
“Well, I was thinking about that potential radio serial of yours, “The Computer Case.”
“Really? What about it?”
“I liked the intrigue, the complexity of plot. You know, the homosexual boss of this guy, Morse; her theft of thousands of dollars from the agency; her attempted blackmail of the young woman, and the supposed kidnapping of the daughter.”
“OK, Neal, I can see that, but you also said it had some flaws. And what has this got to do with life in general?”
“Well, flaws can be fixed, you know.” He stopped at this point and signaled to the waiter who was passing.
“Please, Frank, another Manhattan. That last one was particularly good.”
Turning to Karen, he asked, “Karen, another Rob Roy?”
Karen looked nervously at Neal saying, “Yeah, OK.” The waiter walked off.
Karen said, “OK, fixing flaws in the story and life in general, I don’t quite see the relationship.”
“Well flaws in relationships can be fixed, you know. That is if the parties want them to be fixed.”
At this Karen started to blush and said softly, “But what if the parties don’t want the relationship to be fixed? What if the relationship is too far gone?”
“Is it,” asked Neal? Has religion taken both your publishing soul and loving heart?” He stared directly at Karen.
She felt like scrunching into the back of her chair. Her face was flush and her voice felt scratchy as she said, “There is no other way to say this, Neal. Yes, my soul and heart have been taken. No, not taken, freely given. It is too late.”
Neal began to reach out for Karen’s hand just as the waiter brought their drinks to the table. He pulled his hand back and said, “Thanks, Frank. You can bring the check at any time.”
Karen watched Neal pick up his drink and swallow about half of it. She knew that was not a good sign. But, rather than some angry response, he said in a measured tone as he reached into his pocket, “Here are my car keys, you go on home. I’ll take a taxi to the office I’ve got some final editing to do on a report due in the morning. I’ll be along in a few hours.”
“No, you keep your car, ask Frank to order me a cab. I’d rather not be driving right now.”
Just then Frank brought the check and Neal placed his credit card on the tray. “Thanks, Frank. Would you please have someone call a taxi for Mrs. Newlin, I have to go to the office.”
After Frank walked away Neal said, “Just like that, huh, too late. That’s unfortunate.”
With that he got up, leaned over and gave Karen a peck on the cheek, and walked off toward Frank who was processing his credit card. Karen sat motionless as he said a few words with Frank and then walked out the door without so much as a glance toward her. Finally she fingered her drink and took a long sip. She felt tears well in her eyes as she sat there waiting to be told the taxi had arrived.
The Federalist Enterprises building was pretty deserted when Neal arrived there after leaving the restaurant. He did notice several technical people huddled over their computers as he walked down the corridor to his office. Now, at his desk, he was carefully rereading the de-coded facsimile message Olga Gabler has sent him earlier that afternoon. Interesting, he thought. That C6 Citroen the priest is driving is fairly new and was pretty expensive. Neal wondered where a person of the cloth got that kind of money for such a purchase. Maybe, he thought, I need to look into the background of this guy before I take any other action. He smiled as he finished reading the memo, noting the highlighted comments of Olga:
Two primary electronic ignition components of the C6 model Citroencan easily be disabled by radio signal. The engine would immediately quit. Question – do you want him to coast or stop dead in his tracks? Let me know. I can provide a cell phone for the task.
The C6 has a ventilation system perfumer – it has the potential to be used as a paralyzing agent dispenser. (That is, if the driver, not the car, is to be disabled.) Let me know.
Neal sat there amused. Hah, he thought, only the French would think of putting a perfumer into a car’s ventilation system.
By Debra Sherman
During the taxi ride home, Karen began feeling overwhelmed as the realizations regarding her situation hit her, one at a time. She wondered whether ending her marriage was the right thing to do…yes, it’s the right thing…Neal and I haven’t been husband and wife for years, rather more like roommates who are merely civil to each other, she thought. She worried about Jerry, and whether he’d someday regret his decision to leave the church, and wondered if that regret might eventually manifest into resentment…toward her. She thought about the baby, and couldn’t help but think it significant that she hadn’t become pregnant all the years she’d been married to Neal, yet conceived easily while in a relationship with a new man. She wondered how she and Jerry would cope with the inevitable outrage they’ll likely be bludgeoned with once people find out – about their relationship, about his leaving the church, about her and Neal’s divorce; and about the baby. I hope we’re moving away from here, she thought, as she visualized her and Jerry being hung in town square once people realized what they’d perceive as the worst of it – that a baby was being brought into this mess. Karen and Jerry had regularly fantasized about packing up and running off together, but until now – until she’d actually ended her marriage, until he’d actually decided to leave the church – and until the additional shock of their realizing she was pregnant had occurred, it had been just that – fantasy. But now she realized their moving away together was a real possibility; maybe even a requirement.
When she arrived home, Karen changed into pajamas, took three aspirin hoping to lessen the headache that seemed to get worse the more she thought about things, then went to bed.
Jerry noticed Mrs. Prentice peering through the blinds of his office window while he gathered his belongings. She turned away quickly once she realized she’d been spotted. Jerry realized her sticking her nose into his business only cemented his decision to leave. As he lugged boxes out to his car, he wondered why he hadn’t made this decision years ago, why he’d stayed loyal to the church given the fact that he’d had doubts about their teachings as far back as he could remember. Even as a small child, he’d been aware of the inconsistencies, the laws and rules that never really made sense, and he’d always wondered why he was being told that God expected people to live a certain way – when that way was, more often than not, in direct contradiction to the natural ways and desires of people. The way I love Karen can’t be wrong, he thought, as he loaded the last box into the backseat. And just as he hoped it wouldn’t, sure enough, the lyrics of that old Barbara Mandrell song flooded his head: “If lovin’ you is wrong, I don’t wanna be right….”
Jesus, I’m crackin’ up, he thought.
“I told him,” Karen said, as she closed the door to her office so Carla wouldn’t overhear her conversation with Jerry. “I told Neal our marriage is over.”
“I’m afraid to ask, Karen…how’d he take it?”
“I’m not sure, actually,” she said. “He knows I’ve met someone, and he knows I have no intention of staying with him,” she continued. “But as to how he’s taking it, I can’t really say.”
“Well, was he angry?” Jerry asked.
“Yes, but judging from the short conversation it seems he’d be open to the idea of reconciliation.”
“Reconciliation?” Jerry was surprised. “Did he say that?”
“Not straight out,” Karen said. “But he did say, ‘flaws in relationships can be fixed.’”
“Do you want to fix it, Karen?” Jerry asked hesitantly. “Honestly, Karen, if you think there’s a chance your marriage could survive, perhaps you should consider it.”
“No, Jerry, I don’t feel that way.” Tears stung her eyes and she swallowed hard. “I don’t love Neal anymore; it’s you I want to be with.”
There was a long pause as the two sat silently, realizing the enormity of what was ahead of them, but rejoicing in their love at the same time. Jerry managed to lighten the tone of the conversation.
“I’m calling the real estate office about the house in Clearwater today,” he said.
Jerry had purchased a vacation home in Clearwater, Florida ten years ago when he inherited a large sum of money from his Uncle Clarence, a retired investigator who’d worked for the government. “My Uncle’s with the C.I.A.,” Jerry had proudly stated to his childhood friends on numerous occasions, but was never believed. Jerry had spent every Easter and Christmas vacation with his Uncle Clarence and Aunt Sandra the entire time he was growing up, and had continued regular visits well into adulthood. After Clarence passed away, Jerry purchased the house in Clearwater so he could continue visits with Sandra. He drew one more check mark on the pro side of his mental weighing the pros and cons list regarding leaving the church as he remembered that the bishop had been angry with him for keeping the inheritance rather than donating it to the church.
“You’re thinking about us moving down there, aren’t you Jerry?” Karen asked, trying not to squeal with delight.
“Well, it sure beats the heck outa sticking around here with this mess,” Jerry chuckled.
Karen couldn’t wait to talk about it.
“I’ll be leaving here at six o’clock,” she said. “I’ll meet you about 6:15, ok?”
“I’ll be there,” he said, and the two hung up.
Jerry and Karen had regularly met in the parking lot of a local drugstore, then driven to a motel about 20 miles from town whenever they had opportunity to be together. Jerry was thinking about how much had changed since their early meetings in this parking lot as he watched Karen pull up. He motioned for her to wait, then got out of his car.
“We don’t usually take my car,” she said, confused as he got into the passenger’s seat.
“I know,” he said, “but mine’s filled with boxes and I can’t see out the rear window while I’m driving.”
“Ok, well you drive, then,” she said. “I’ve got a headache and would rather close my eyes for a few minutes.”
They traded seats. “I’m sorry you’re not feeling well,” Jerry said, as he adjusted the rear view mirror for his height. As he did so, he noticed a small red light. “What’s this?” he asked, as he realized the light was coming from a small box affixed to the windshield behind the rear view mirror.
“I don’t know,” Karen said, as she leaned over trying to see what he was referring to.
“Do you have a remote car starter in this?” he asked.
“No, but some cold mornings I wish I did.”
They spent three hours together at the motel, excitedly discussing their moving to Florida like two small children planning a camping trip. By the time they were driving back to the drugstore parking lot, the decision had been made. Karen would submit her resignation at her job the next morning, and by the end of the week she’d see an attorney and file for divorce. “I’ll arrange for the movers,” Jerry said as he got out of the car. “We’ll try to make the move as quick and painless as possible.”
“I love you, Jerry,” Karen said, and just before she drove away, she looked back long enough to catch a sweet wink from Jerry. Any doubts she might have previously had about continuing in this relationship or about leaving her husband had now completely disappeared. Just as she placed her hand on her abdomen and began thinking about their baby and the new life she and Jerry would start together in Florida, she remembered the box Jerry had discovered on her windshield. She slowed down while she tried to get a better look at it. What the hell IS this thing, she wondered.
Jerry returned home and pulled his car into the garage. He got out, but as he opened the back door to begin unloading the boxes, he decided to put off moving everything into the house until morning. It had been a long day, and the thought of relaxing in his recliner with the remote was more appealing than lugging boxes. He closed the car door and he hit the lock button. When he heard the doors lock and saw the headlights flash on, then off again quickly, he was reminded of the box with the red light he saw in Karen’s car. This is gonna bug me, he thought.
When he got into the house, he took his coat off and threw it over the back of the couch, then went directly to his office to boot up his computer. He spent the next half hour researching car devices, trying to figure out what the box was on Karen’s windshield. Finally, he came across a picture of an identical box. He double-clicked on the image, then quickly got up to get his cell phone when he saw, “FoxTrax Real Time GPS Tracking Device.”
“He’s tracking you,” Jerry nearly shouted into the phone to Karen, grateful she hadn’t arrived home yet and was still in the car to receive the call.
“He’s tracking you, Karen,” Jerry continued. “The box on your windshield is a GPS tracking device.”
“Jerry, where are you?” she asked, confused about the call and what he was saying. “Are you home?”
“Yes, I’m home, and I just found a picture on the computer that matches the box in your car. Neal must’ve installed it, Karen. He’s probably been watching your every move.”
There was silence while Karen tried to process what she was hearing.
“I’m pulling into the driveway, Jerry,” she finally said. “I understand – I won’t say anything to Neal – we’ll talk about this tomorrow.”
Karen was furious. What she wanted to do was rip the box off the windshield, then march straight into the house to confront Neal with it. I can’t believe he’d do this, she thought. By the time she reached the front steps, her rage was heightened as she thought about the betrayal, his sneaking around to install this thing in her car without her knowing, about how he’d done something behind her back. Watching me? she snarled.
She went inside and realized Neal wasn’t home yet. Good, she said aloud sarcastically, then went into Neal’s office. She had to find out more about this thing. When did he get it? How long has he been tracking me? What the hell was he looking for, anywa..
Suddenly, a realization came over her and she gasped as she plopped down into Neal’s office chair as if she’d been slugged in the stomach. He’s known about Jerry all along, she thought.
She reached for her cell to call Jerry, then realized she might not have much time until Neal returned home. She searched the office, looking through drawers, inside filing cabinets. There must be some sort of print out or report or something, she thought, as she rifled through the papers on his desk.
Frustrated, she sank back into the swivel chair. She sat there several moments, hands together in a praying position, with her index fingers resting against her lips. She tried to figure out when he might have done this, what exactly, and when…
Her thoughts were interrupted when she heard Neal’s car pull into the driveway. She exited the office quickly, switching the light off on her way out, then realized she couldn’t possibly face Neal right now. She was too upset, too angry. She had to find out more details before she confronted him with this. She went to the bedroom and quickly changed into pajamas, then crawled into bed. If Neal thought she was already asleep, there wouldn’t be any discussion. About this, or about anything else, she thought, as her heart raced and she tried to slow her breathing.
She heard the front door open, heard Neal place his car keys on the foyer table, then let out a sigh of relief when she heard the sound of the TV. She laid in bed quietly, wishing she could call Jerry.
Karen awoke the next morning to the sound of the shower running in the master bath. She got up and put her bathrobe on, and as she headed toward the kitchen, she wondered how she could be so engrossed in such a whirlwind of emotion before she’d even had her morning coffee. She thought about Jerry, thought about Neal, and as her anger started to build all over again about Neal’s installing a tracking device in her car, she was suddenly aware of her own betrayal. Of course your husband’s watching you, she thought. You’ve been cheating on him for months. Still, she couldn’t get over the shock of having been watched, of knowing that Neal had been aware of everywhere she went for who knows how long. She walked toward the living room, and just as she began wondering how she’d find out when he’d installed the tracking system, she spotted Neal’s briefcase on the foyer table next to his car keys. Her heart began racing again as she quietly walked back toward the bedroom, leaning in slightly to hear whether Neal was still in the shower. The shower was still running.
Karen returned to the foyer and opened Neal’s briefcase. As she quickly thumbed through the papers inside, she noticed a memo that didn’t look the same as all the others. At first glance, it appeared to be a facsimile cover page, but Karen quickly realized what made it different than the others. This one was from Paris.
By Mike Miller
The FAX from Paris. Can Karen retrieve it and read it before Neal comes out of the shower? Rather than try to figure that out, she simply takes it, folds it, and places it into the pocket in her open robe. Neal will just think he misplaced it, she hopes. Then she can read it when she is alone, and replace it later.
Karen and Jerry, Jerry and Karen, those are Karen’s thoughts as she plans her, their, getaway. Her list includes packing, moving her stuff, and getting her car serviced for the trip to Florida, or to wherever they choose, for their escape. Karen and Father Jerry, she sees the double entendre, smiles.
Karen and the baby, those are Jerry’s thoughts as he plans his, their, getaway. His “to do” list includes committing, once again, to leaving the priesthood, arranging service for his auto, evicting the residents of his Florida house, and packing and moving.
Nagging details remain: the GPS tracker that Neal placed into Karen’s car; Jerry’s departure from the church; the as-yet unread FAX.
Karen makes an appointment at Wetherall’s Service Center: drop the car off the next day, Tuesday, 9:30 am, get the rental car, pick up her car Thursday. Tuesday morning, she collects items from her car into a canvas bag, loose change, Tic-Tacs, paper, pens, some clothing, things from the glove box, ahh, there’s the bra. As she sits in the passenger’s seat, she is attracted by the flashing red light – the GPS tracker. And a plan takes shape – hide the GPS in the rental car. That’ll serve that bastard right. He can chase the rental car wherever it goes.
Waiting at the service center Tuesday morning, she has some time to read the FAX. Although more technical than she cares to read, she understands enough that she has to call Jerry. And she sees the irony: Neal bought her the cell phone months ago, Neal pays for the call.
J: Hi, Karen.
K: I took a FAX from Neal’s briefcase – it’s about the Citroën, some kind of police stuff about disabling your car. What should I do?
J: Don’t panic, I need to see it, so we can figure out what he intends to do. Where are you?
K: At Wetherall’s, down the block from our home, I mean, my house.
J: Will Neal see me if I drive over there?
K: Probably not, he’s not speaking to me, but his calendar shows an appointment for 20 minutes from now.
J: I’m on my way.
Mrs Newlin, we will start work on your car later this morning, here is the key to the rental car, just sign here. It has a full tank of gas, please return it with a full tank. There’s no charge for the rental. We will call you when your car is ready.
Karen takes the canvas bag to the rental car, removes the stuff she needs for the day, and removes the GPS tracker Velcroed in, its cover askew. Damn Chinese products. She knows the GPS won’t work if surrounded with metal, the more non-metal exposure, the better. Looking around, she notices a sunglasses holder just above the windshield. This is plan B until there’s a plan A.
Jerry arrives a few minutes later, looks around the lot for Karen’s car, sees that it is empty and locked. Up one row and down the next, there she is, and parks a few cars away.
Karen is preoccupied, and doesn’t see Jerry approach. He taps on the window, startling her. She points to the passenger seat; he walks around, opens the door, and sits. Karen hands him the FAX. Jerry notices the Paris address of the sender. And he scans the text and illustrations.
J: Never studied this in seminary, he mutters. The first words uttered in the rental car.
K: What can we do?
J: First, does Neal know you have the FAX? Does he have a copy of the FAX?
K: I don’t know.
J: Well, don’t give it back to him; for one thing, how will you give it back? For another, he’ll probably figure out that he lost it for a while – was it folded like this when you retrieved it? Let’s just assume that he didn’t have any plans to do this disabling stuff, or he won’t now because he knows we are on to him. I really dislike all this intrigue.
K: I do too.
J: Maybe we’re wrong in doing this, divorce, move, live together, etc.
K: But we’ve talked about this, and we are so committed, at least I am, to it, to us, to the three of us.
J: Let’s take a step back. Are we infatuated? Or is this genuine?
K: Why are you asking this? Why now? Do you want out? I thought we understood what we were doing.
J: Well, Carla, I know we’ve worked through a lot of the details, but-
K: Carla? What the fuck?
J: Carla? I said Karen.
K: No you didn’t. What’s going on here?
A car enters the lot, driving row by row, pausing in front of the rental car. Carla driving, Neal, the passenger. Carla blasts the horn to attract attention. Karen and Jerry look up.
Carla drives off the lot. Moments later, a vibrating, ringing, cell phone. But where? The vibration pops the sunglasses holder open. The red light is no longer flashing – it’s on. But not for long.
Minutes later the police, firefighters, and ambulances arrive. Seven cars are involved in the explosion and blaze.
Wednesday’s Newspaper Article:
Service Station Explosion Under Investigation
The explosion which destroyed several cars at Wetherell’s Service Tuesday at 10:10am is under investigation. Sources say there are two unidentified persons of interest.
Karen Newlin, wife of Neal Newlin, and Father Jerome of SS Peter and Paul parish both suffered severe head trauma. Mrs Newlin was pronounced dead at the scene; Father Jerome was transferred to the county hospital. A distraught, sometimes incoherent, Mr Newlin stated that Mrs Newlin was taking her car in for service, and Father Jerome, a close family friend met her at the dealership to give her a ride home. Several unexplained aspects of the case are being investigated. The security video of the parking lot will be examined later in the week.
By Robert Kerins
Karen woke with a start. She grabbed her head. Yes, still there, thank God. To her right, the alarm clock brayed at her. She reached out from the comforter and hit the silence button. She rolled to her left and found Neal resting his head on his hand, looking at her with a smile that would rival the Cheshire Cat’s.
“Bad dream?” he asked.
“You bastard!” she spit out as she jumped from the bed. “You killed us both.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The, the tracking thing. You, you and Carla, the phone rang. I…”
“Karen, what are you talking about? You woke from a dream, a nightmare, probably.”
“No, no, no. I saw the GPS unit. Don’t deny you put one in my car.”
“I should have told you about that. I got two of them from the car insurance company. You put them in the car and they record how much you drive, how fast you go, how hard you hit the brakes, how fast you pull out, all that stuff. If we drive within their standards, they give us a thirty percent discount on our premium. I have one in my car, too.”
Karen stood in the middle of the bedroom floor. She didn’t know what to believe. How much was dream, and what was real. What Neal said made sense. What if he didn’t suspect Jerry and me?
Was Jerry part of the dream? My God, what if my love for Jerry is a figment of my imagination? My baby? No, this can’t be. It’s too real. She ran to the bathroom, reaching the toilet in time. Could this be morning sickness?
“Are you okay?”
“Leave me alone.”
“I didn’t mean to make fun of you. I didn’t realize the dream messed you up so much.”
“I… just go. Leave me alone for a while.” Neal closed the door behind him, leaving her to her thoughts. She splashed water in her face, cleaning up after her sickness, and turned on the water for her shower.
Karen dropped her pajama bottoms to the floor, and bent down to pick them up. She spotted the gold anklet chain on her left ankle. She stumbled backward, almost falling into the open toilet bowl. She closed the lid, sat, and looked at the jewelry.
Jerry had given this to her two months ago. She’d started to put the chain on her right ankle, and he stopped her. He put it on her left foot, saying a married woman told him in confession she wore one on her right ankle to signal men she was available for sex. She’d said an anklet on the right foot is a well-known sign among swinging couples. He told Karen since then, he’d been peeking at women’s ankles when they came forward for communion.
She smiled at the memory, and the reassurance her relationship with Jerry was real. Now, what to do about Neal? Perhaps she hadn’t been clear enough when they had dinner the other night. He certainly didn’t act like a man who’d been cuckolded and dumped. In fact, what was he doing in her bed? Why did he act so nice? I’ll have to face him. Tell him straight out, I’m leaving.
She finished her shower, dressed for work and went to the kitchen. On the way, she steeled herself for the showdown. Neal wasn’t there. She checked the rest of the house. A wet towel on the floor of the guest bathroom told her he’d showered in there. She peeked into the garage. His car was gone. He must have left for work while she showered.
Back in the kitchen, she toasted some bread and poured some orange juice. The toast smelled delicious. However, after one sip of the juice, she was running, in search of a toilet. Morning sickness it was. Karen drove to work on an empty stomach.
As she walked past her assistant, she greeted Carla with a cold smile, then remembered Carla was part of her dream. She was innocent, or was she? At her desk, she called her department head, explained she would be resigning immediately, and apologized for the short notice. Her next call went to Jerry. After sparing with Mrs. Prentice, she eventually got through to her lover. “Jerry, I’m not sure if you were right about the GPS thing. I confronted Neal. He said the unit is from the insurance company to track how good we drive. He said he has one on his car, too.”
Jerry took several moments to answer. “I suppose the unit could be used for something like that, but why wouldn’t he tell you? He’d want you to be extra careful about how you drove, if the insurance company was playing Big Brother.”
“Either way, it doesn’t matter anymore. I resigned this morning. I’m going home to pack. I suppose I’ll have to return later to get the rest of my stuff. I don’t want the furniture and stuff, just some personal things. I want to start over with you and the baby, Jerry.”
“I’ve called a moving company. We can ship one of the cars along with our boxes of clothes and stuff. That way, we can drive to Florida together. I reserved a small container to store all the boxes. Take your things to ACE Movers and tell them you need access to container 5209.”
“Okay, I should have everything I want in three loads. Which car should we ship?”
“I had mine serviced a week ago, so why don’t we ship yours. I wish I could help you with the moving, but I don’t think I should come to your house.”
“No, you should stay clear of the house.”
“Okay, I’ll probably catch up with you at the movers.”
Karen hung up and busied herself around her office. Seven years, eight hours a day in this office, and she couldn’t think of anything she wanted to take with her.
In the outer office, Carla hung up the extension after listening to Karen and Jerry’s conversation. She immediately dialed Neal’s cell phone. After relaying the conversation to Neal, she asked if she should follow Karen.
“No, she’s going home to pack her things. I’ll catch up with her there. Thanks Carla.”
Karen appeared at Carla’s desk, startling the assistant. Karen had a designer shopping bag, filled with knick-knacks and brick-a-back from seven years of office work. She dropped her company ID and building pass on Carla’s desk. “I won’t be back,” she said. She turned and walked away without a goodbye or good luck.
At her car, she looked at the blinking GPS box stuck to her windshield. Maybe it is from the insurance company, she thought. She pulled it off the glass. As she moved the unit toward the passenger seat, it jumped out of her hand and stuck to the metal gearshift column. “Magnetic, too,” she said to herself.
She got out of the car and searched for a place to put the damn thing. A city bus pulled up to the stop twenty feet from where she stood. Karen walked up behind the bus, slipped the GPS unit behind the bus’s bumper, and walked back to her car. “The insurance company will be amazed at how consistently I drive. I never go over twenty miles an hour, pull out slowly, and always stop slowly and carefully. And if Neal is checking up on me, he’ll go crazy wondering why I keep driving out to the university and back, six times a day.” She drove home to pack.
Father Jerome loaded one last box into the Citroen. He got in and drove west on Buffalo Avenue toward ACE Movers. As he got to the area that used to be the factory belt, but was now a lonely stretch of road that few people used, his engine died. He fought the power steering, to get the car to the side of the road. He wasn’t mechanically inclined, and even if he was, new cars were far beyond his ability to diagnose. He tried the ignition, nothing. He pressed the emergency flasher button, nothing. The entire electrical system was dead. “I’d better call triple A,” he said to himself, as he fumbled through his pockets for his cell phone.
A car pulled up behind his, too close to determine what kind it was. In the side view mirror, a man walked toward him.
By John S. Bis
As Jerry sat watching the tall figure came closer, he began to feel a sense of panic. He clenched his eyes closed and made another attempt at trying to start the car. Not a sound came from the engine. Then a rap on the driver’s side window startled him and he cringed. He slowly turned toward the window. He opened his eyes expecting to see what? He wasn’t sure but he knew it would not be good.
“Jerry, it’s Bob Clarkson from the Episcopalian Ministries. Are you OK?”
It took Father Jerome about 5 seconds to recognize Clarkson. With relief he opened the door and started to get out of the car.
“Bob, yeah, sure I’m alright. It’s just that I’m a bit tense. I was in a hurry to get someplace and my car went absolutely dead. I didn’t know what to think. Then, when I was on my cell phone calling Triple A I saw a car rush up behind me.”
Jerry was now outside the car and as he and Bob shook hands, Bob said, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. I stopped by the rectory and Mrs. Prentice told me you had just left. She didn’t seem very friendly when I asked when you’d be back. All she said was, ‘He won’t, and good riddance.’”
“Yeah, well that’s because . . . “
“It’s OK Jerry, I know about your leaving the church. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“How did you find me here?”
“Pure luck. I was driving back downtown when I spotted your car. Not many Citroens around this town. I thought I’d try and catch up to you. And, well, you stopped suddenly. I wasn’t sure if you had seen me and that’s why you stopped or if you were having some sort of an emergency.”
Jerry shook his head. “I don’t know what happened. All of a sudden the car just went dead. Nothing worked, not even . . . “
He stopped speaking and both of them looked up the street as a car that had been approaching suddenly made a wild u-turn and, with tires screeching, sped away in the opposite direction.
Bob said, “What was that all about? It was almost as if the driver changed his mind about something at the last minute.”
Jerry stood looking toward the retreating car as it sped away. He thought he had recognized the driver. He was almost sure it was Karen’s husband, Neal. What the hell is going on, he thought? Did Neal expect that I’d be alone with my disabled car?
Seeing the look on Jerry’s face Bob again asked, “Are you sure you’re OK? Let’s go sit in my car rather than stand out here. I’ll wait with you until the service truck arrives. Meanwhile I can tell you why I wanted to talk to you.”
Jerry nodded and they both walked back to Bob’s car. As they got in Bob asked, “What do you know about St. Louis?”
Karen sat in her car until she saw the bus with its newly attached tracking device disappear into traffic then she started her car. But, instead of heading directly home as she told Jerry, she went to her bank and opened up a new account. She transferred half of what was in her joint account with Neal into the new account. Then she went to see her attorney. It was two hours later when she finally turned the corner into her street. As she neared her house she was surprised to see the garage door open and Neal’s car sitting in its usual spot. That’s odd she thought, why did he come back home?
Just as she pulled into the garage her cell phone rang.
“This is Karen.”
“Karen, it’s Jerry. I’m at the Citroen dealer on Ellicott Street. My car died on the way to the moving place and I had it towed here. Where are you?”
“I just pulled into my garage at home. What’s wrong with the car?”
“Norm, the service manager, told me he isn’t sure. They can’t determine why the electrical system is totally disabled.”
“Does that mean we’ll be taking my car to Florida?”
“It’s a bit more complicated than that. I’ve just had a long conversation with a friend of mine from the Episcopal Church. I need to talk with you right away about what he had to say. Can you meet me at Ashker’s Coffee shop on Ellicott? It’s just down the block from the dealer.”
“Sure, uh, I was going to go inside and start packing my things. Oh, and Neal’s car is here. He must have come back home for some reason. I should talk with him.”
“No. Don’t do that. There is something very strange going on with Neal. I think I saw him here when my car stopped.”
“What do you mean, strange? He was there?”
“Please Karen, just pull back out of the garage and come to Ashker’s. I’ll explain everything over coffee and Danish.”
“Well, OK, if you insist. I’ll be there in 10 minutes.”
Karen started the car and reversed out of the garage. She was both concerned over Jerry’s insistence and with her sudden queasiness when he had mentioned the Danish. She almost stopped the car, thinking she better rush into the house and use the bathroom. Instead she took a couple of deep breaths and slowly backed into the street. Then, two more deep breaths later, she drove off toward downtown. Just as she reached the corner, her cell phone rang. Reluctantly she looked at it thinking it might be Neal. It wasn’t, it was her Boss at the publishing house. Instantly she mentally corrected herself, ‘Ah yes, my former boss’.”
“This is Karen,” she answered.
“Karen, Stan Kramer here. I just heard you’ve resigned. You can’t! I just got off the phone with ABC-TV. They want to serialize the Ray Morse stories. You’re to go to New York and producer the shows. It will make your career.”
All Karen could say was, “Oh shit . . . “
Neal had been impatiently sitting at the kitchen table drinking bourbon and water when he heard Karen’s car pull into the garage. Finally she’s home, he thought. He slowly pushed his chair back so he was facing the door to the garage. He took a quick drink from his glass then moved it aside. He pulled the gray plastic case that had been sitting on the table toward him, quickly opening its cover. He smiled as he removed the soft cloth and looked at the Browning Buck Mark semi-automatic pistol it was covering. He picked up the pistol and did a couple of quick aims at the door to the garage. Then he reached into the case and took out the clip, checking to see that it was fully loaded. Only .22 caliber, he knew, but he also knew he could squeeze off all ten rounds in less than half as many seconds. He slid the clip into the Browning, pulled back the slide and released it, chambering a round and cocking the hammer. He smiled to himself. At that distance he knew he was capable of putting all 10 rounds into a target the size of a grapefruit. He calmly sat in his chair holding the Browning. As he waited he pictured that grapefruit centered, about halfway up the door.
By Paul B. Dominick
Father Jerry pushed the driver’s seat back, swung the door on his Citroën wide open and eased his large frame, now taut with tension, out of the car. Every time he knocked his knees on the steering wheel he cursed the decision to buy a circus car built for French midgets.
He and his good friend, Bob, from the Ecumenical Council walked to Bob’s car and sat to wait for the triple-A truck to tow Jerry’s disabled car to the garage. The Citroën dealer always bristled when a customer called his place a garage. He liked to refer to his business as a diagnostic and repair facility for European internal combustion machines.
As soon as they got comfortable in Bob’s Mercury Marquis, whose interior easily accommodated passengers with the wide hips and long legs of well fed Americans, Bob repeated his query.
“So, Jerry, what do you think of Saint. Louis?”
Jerry’s nerves were stretched and ready to snap when he blurted, “What do you mean, Saint Louis? What are you talking about?”
“My bishop has asked me to talk to you about joining our team.”
“He’s been made aware of your conversation with Bishop Klyzek and he believes that good priests like you would be a welcomed asset to the Presbyterian family.”
“You mean, become a Presbyterian?”
“Of course. Why not?”
“You know about Karen’s pregnancy, right?”
“No problem. Presbyterians love women. We encourage our priests, both men and women, to marry. We don’t see love making as the original sin. You Catholics have been obsessed with the crucifixion for way too long. The rest of us celebrate the resurrection. We climbed down from Golgotha centuries ago. Jesus became Christ when he left the tomb. On the cross, he was just another Jewish victim of Imperial Rome. We embrace life and her mother, love. Why not join us?”
“We have a Youth Counseling and Rehab Center there. You would be replacing a priest whose health has deteriorated and needs to be under hospice care. There’s a nice home on the campus and you and Karen could raise your child and even have more children. You’ll still be doing God’s work.”
“When will the position be available?”
“As soon as you want. I just have to let my bishop know that you’re interested.”
“Bob, I’m overwhelmed. Ten minutes ago I thought I was about to be killed by the man I cuckold.”
“Jerry, I see the flashers of the tow truck. Why don’t you ride in the truck, take care of your car and give me a call in the morning?”
“No need. This is the perfect solution. It’s a God-send. I’ll do it. I can start almost immediately.”
“My bishop will be very happy. He’s heard such good things about you.”
“Including renouncing my vows and committing adultery?”
“Hate the sin, love the sinner.”
“Bob, you saved my life. Thank you so much.
They shook hands. Jerry left the car and waved as Bob pulled away. The tow truck had a large flat bed that, when lowered, provided a platform onto which the Citroën was winched and secured. Jerry sat next to the driver and signed the necessary Triple-A form.
“Where to?”, the driver asked.
“The Citroën dealer on Ellicott Street.”
“Know it well. Been there lots of times”
After the car was unloaded and Jerry spoke with the service manager he walked the long block to Ashker’s coffee shop and took a seat looking out onto Ellicott Street. He could not help but smile at this amazing turn of good luck. “Perhaps this is God’s will,” he thought. “I am confused, however, over being rewarded for sinning.”
* * * *
Karen drove to meet the father of the child that stirred in her womb. The brief talk with her former boss about the proposed ABC series on the Ray Morse saga intrigued her. “I’ve always dreamed of this,” she thought. “My own show. I could produce my very own show.” Slowly, reality began to seep into her thoughts. “Jerry would never move to New York City. He hates the thought of being on a small island of over eight million people with their jostling and garbage overpowering your senses. He told me about a conference he once attended in mid-town Manhattan. He almost had a nervous breakdown and left a day early. Is New York a good place to raise a child? This may be my only chance at an opportunity like this. Does it mean more to me than my love for Jerry and our child? Well, I guess as long as it’s in me, it’s really MY child.”
Karen pulled off at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and sat in the empty parking lot to think. As she looked up at the stoic Greek columns and the courtyard full of modern metal sculptures, she realized how out of place she felt.
“I found Jerry’s bed,” she thought, “only because Neal had denied me his love. I had once considered terminating this pregnancy in order to keep our love secret. If I take this New York City job, I’ll have to give up Jerry and the baby. My God, this is a nightmare.”
Karen stared up at the wide stairs of the Art Gallery and an image of Rocky Balboa at the Philadelphia library flashed in her mind.
“Go for it!” Rocky yelled.
Karen recovered from her Rocky vision and headed toward Ellicott Street to meet Jerry. Her head hurt and her eyes burned. As she turned onto the expressway, she realized her hands were shaking and her grip on the steering wheel had turned her knuckles white and her nail beds red.
“What should I do?” she cried to herself. “I can’t have it all,” she thought. “I can have New York City or I can live with Jerry and be a mom. If he really loves me, maybe he’ll come with me. He was willing to leave the priesthood for me. If he won’t leave with me so I can follow my dream, then, perhaps, I’ve confused love with lust.”
Karen parked her car in the street adjacent to Ashker’s. She was not used to parallel parking and the concentrated effort needed to back in between two cars seemed to clear her mind. She turned off the ignition, rested her head on the steering wheel and closed her eyes so tightly that tears formed in their corners. Karen took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
“I’ll do it!” she said so forcefully that she startled herself. “I’ll go to New York and produce an award winning series. It’s a dream come true.” As she walked towards the coffee shop she saw Jerry sitting at a window table. “Be strong,” she said to herself. “If he really loves me, he’ll be happy for me.”
* * * *
Neal thought he heard the garage door opening. He fingered his Browning semi-automatic and then cradled it between his palms. He went through his practiced sequence. Safety off, check. Line of sight clear, check. Shoulders relaxed, check. Trigger engaged, check.
His mind’s eye visualized the target. “As soon as she opens the door, I’ll put two holes in her face and three in her chest. The other five rounds will be for that God-damned fallen priest. I’ll find him next. They’ll see each other in hell.”
Neal waited. Took another deep breath. Repeated his check list. “Something’s wrong,” he thought. “Where the hell is she?” He soon realized she wasn’t in the garage. Where could she be?” He flipped the safety back “on” and returned his weapon to its case.
“Got to think. Where’d they be?” He knew Jerry’s car was disabled. He saw some nosey Good Samaritan stop to help. “Where would they go?” Neal had Googled, ‘Citroën’, earlier when he had a question about an idiosyncrasy in their electronic ignition. “The only place that priest could get his car fixed is on Ellicott Street in Buffalo. That’s it” he thought. “He must have towed the car there and she’s meeting him to give him a ride.”
The image of his wife and the priest smiling, talking and touching sent him into a rage. He could feel his pulse quicken. Neal’s breath came in shallow and rapid spasms. “I’ll drive around Ellicott Street, find them and kill them. Five rounds each. I’ll splatter them with their lover’s blood. I’ll do it.”
By Debra Sherman
Jerry ordered a second cup of coffee as he excitedly imagined Karen’s reaction to the great news about the job in St. Louis. Karen was equally excited as she approached the coffee shop. The more she thought about it, the more she was convinced Jerry would agree to move to Manhattan; he’d never expect her to let an opportunity this big pass her by.
Jerry stood to embrace Karen as she walked in the door.
“Jerry, I’ve got great news!” she said, as she started to remove her coat.
Just then, Jerry’s cell phone rang.
“I’ve got news too, Karen,” he said. “Just let me take this.”
Karen sat down and motioned to the waitress to bring another coffee. She waited impatiently as she listened to Jerry on the phone.
“Can’t you just tell me now?” Jerry asked the caller, sounding irritated.
“You really should come down here,” the caller insisted. “We’re required to notify the police regarding what disabled your car.”
“The police? What the hell is going on?”
“Just get down here and I’ll explain.”
The caller hung up.
“Jerry, I got a call…” Karen began excitedly. Jerry interrupted.
“Karen, I’ve got to go back over to the car dealership. Something’s up with my car and they say they’re calling the police.”
“The police? Why?”
“I don’t know; all they said was they’re required to report my car being disabled.”
“Disabled?” Karen asked, confused.
“I think Neal has something to do with it.”
“Neal? Well let me drive you over there.”
“You better stay here, Karen,” Jerry said as he grabbed his coat. “There’s something screwy going on and I don’t want you involved until I find out exactly what.”
“What is it, Jerry? What’s going on?”
“Please just stay here,” he insisted. I’ll come back as soon as I find out what’s happening.”
Karen dialed Jerry’s cell phone number again, only to be connected to his voicemail. She didn’t leave a message; she’d already left three. It had been hours since Jerry left the coffee shop and never returned. Not knowing what else to do, she’d come back home to start packing, as she originally planned before Jerry had asked her to meet him at the coffee shop.
Neal hadn’t come home, luckily. Karen was relieved that she didn’t have to
deal with him in the midst of not knowing what happened to Jerry. She went to the fridge for a bottle of water, then sank into a recliner in the living room, trying to calm herself. She was getting more worried as the time passed. She turned on the TV.
“A gunman opened fire at the Peugeot dealership on Ellicott Street this afternoon,” a reporter stated. “One man was fatally wounded, and local police officer Matthew Larsen was injured while disarming the gunman. Both Larsen and the gunman, who is yet to be identified, are listed in stable condition at County Memorial. The victim’s identity is being concealed until family can be notified.”
“Jerry!” Karen screamed, as she realized this was the same dealership where Jerry’s car had been towed.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the front door. She looked out to see two police offers standing on the front porch.
Oh my God, they’re here to tell me about Jerry, she thought. But then she was confused – how would they know about her association with Jerry? She opened the door.
“I’m Detective John Halloway and this is my partner, Pete Murray.”
“What is this about?” Karen demanded.
“Mrs. Newlin, I’m afraid we have some bad news regarding your husband.”
Karen stood outside Neal’s hospital room. She’d been escorted to the hospital by the police officers, but against her will. During the car ride she asked the officers for the name of the man who had been shot at the car dealership. Initially they’d refused to tell her since the name was being withheld until family could be notified, but when she said Jerry’s name, and asked if it was him, Officer Murray nodded. Once she realized Neal had shot Jerry, the last thing she wanted to do was visit Neal at the hospital. She didn’t care whether Neal was alive or dead.
There was a police officer standing outside Neal’s room, and when she looked inside, she could see that Neal was handcuffed to the bed, and that their lawyer, Tom Milligan, was standing at Neal’s bedside. Tom turned around and saw Karen, and walked toward her.
“He’ll be transported over to the County Jail sometime tonight,” Tom said. “He’ll be arraigned in the morning, but they won’t likely allow him out on bail. I’m so sorry, Karen.”
Karen nodded. “Tom, would you mind giving me a ride home?” she asked. Tom looked confused.
“Aren’t you going to see Neal?”
“I really can’t.”
“I understand,” Tom said, and he drove her home.
Karen sat in the back row during Jerry’s funeral. When it was over, she longed to approach the casket, to see Jerry’s face again, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to control her grief; unexplainable to the dozens of people present who didn’t know she had a romantic involvement with Jerry. Instead she chose to visit his gravesite that evening, long after everyone had left the burial. She didn’t cry. Instead she left flowers, said a short prayer, and went back home. It wasn’t until she awoke at 3:00 am that the reality of his death became clear to her. It would be 6:00 am before her sobs subsided enough for her to fall back to sleep, and 9:00 am before she’d be awakened again by the ringing of the telephone.
“Hello?” Karen answered, barely awake and in a mindless haze; eyes swollen and her throat scratchy.
“Mrs. Newlin?” The voice responded.
“Yes. What is it?”
Karen was barely able to walk as she approached the security desk at the County Jail. The events of the last several days flooded her exhausted mind, and she found herself moving forward in a trancelike state. She’d been called to the jail to discuss “an urgent matter,” and she’d decided the first thing she’d say is that she had no intention of handling any of her husband’s affairs – legal or otherwise. She had no desire to see him, and certainly had no desire to visit or support him in any way.
“I won’t be coming here again,” she began, as the officer at the security desk greeted her.
“Mrs. Newlin, come with me, please,” he said, as he escorted her into a small room across the hall.
“Mrs. Newlin, I’m afraid we have bad news. Neal committed suicide in his cell last night.”
Karen looked at the officer, looked around the room, looked down at her feet…then passed out.
She awoke in an office where the jail’s nurse was pressing a cold cloth against her forehead. “One of the officers will drive you home,” the nurse said, as she handed Karen a small glass of water. “Are you feeling well enough to stand?”
Karen put her head back and closed her eyes on the ride home. She realized all thoughts of Jerry, Neal, and everything that had happened had escaped her, replaced by only one thought: sleep. As the officer escorted Karen to the front door of her home, he handed her an envelope.
“Your husband left a note, Mrs. Newlin,” he said, then turned to walk back to his car.
Karen walked into the house, put the envelope on the foyer table, dropped her coat on the floor on the way to the living room, then fell asleep on the couch.
She awoke several hours later with the details of what happened flooding her mind. She found herself void of emotion, unable to grasp the enormity of what had transpired. She didn’t think about her future, her grief about Jerry, her shock at Neal’s actions, or even her unborn baby. She sat quietly for some time, thinking about everything, and nothing, until she was jolted out of her trance when she remembered the envelope the officer had given her. Neal’s note.
Karen retrieved the envelope from the foyer table, sat in the recliner, and reluctantly opened it. Legal stuff, she told herself, he left me instructions for the insurance, stuff about his job. Her heart began beating rapidly as she began to read.
Words cannot express how sorry I am for the pain I have caused you, not only as a result of the terrible thing I’ve done, but also about what brought us to this place to begin with.
I’ve been aware for some time that our marriage has deteriorated significantly over the last several years, yet I foolishly and selfishly ignored the sadness I saw growing in you with every passing day. I now see that your seeking a new relationship was inevitable, and I’ve only myself to blame.
When it became clear to me that you were not willing to give our marriage another try – when I realized that, as a result of my own stupidity, your heart belonged to someone else – my pain was so intense that the only way I could cope with it was to turn it into rage. I had no idea that rage would ever escalate to this level; once it started, it was like a train I couldn’t stop.
Perhaps someday you’ll be able to forgive me. I can only hope that you’ll be able to put this ordeal behind you and go on to live a happy, fulfilling life. I hope you’ll take the job in NY. I’m aware that my efforts in seeing that your Computer Case story landed in the right hands has finally paid off, and I hope it results in a fresh, new start for you – toward a life I know you’ve always dreamed of.
As for me, I can only say that I am not strong enough to endure the consequences of my actions, nor am I strong enough to endure the pain of knowing that I have taken a life. I’m choosing to go to a place where I can seek forgiveness, understanding, and clarity.
I have always loved you Karen, and I love you still.
With sincere remorse,
For the next several weeks, Karen is in deep thought – about her marriage, about why she started seeing Jerry – about how all she ever wanted was what Ray Morse and Janine had – a loving relationship, and a family. She thinks about all she’s lost, the pain and turmoil she’s endured, and wonders how she’ll ever feel normal again. She doesn’t know whether she’ll ever be able to forgive Neal; murder isn’t something she can wrap her mind around enough to understand. But she realizes that Neal had loved her deeply, so much so that her infidelity had driven him to madness and cost him his life. The guilt of cheating on her husband, and the pain of knowing she’d brought Jerry into her life, causing his death at the hands of her distraught husband, is overwhelming. The pain of knowing that these two men lost their lives for having loved her is nearly more than she can bear.
For now, she’ll bury the pain. She’ll keep it hidden in the furthest corners ofher mind to make way for rational thought. She has decisions to make: big ones.
Six Months Later
Karen was glad she’d decided to go back to her maiden name when she realized seeing “Karen Briggs, Executive Producer” would’ve made her parents proud. The mere thought of Karen producing what could be a successful series is a dream-come-true for Karen, and living in Manhattan is even more exciting than she ever dreamed. The experiences she’s had, the people she’s met – the extraordinary life she’s living now – though sometimes exhausting with a very demanding schedule – has left little time for Karen to think about Jerry, about Neal, and about the terrible ordeal she left behind.
Karen wonders often whether there will ever be a man in her life again, whether she’ll ever have anyone to have a “happily ever after” with like Ray Morse and his beloved Janine. But for the time being, and in spite of everything, she is happy; grateful for the many blessings in her life.
Five Years Later
As Karen approached the Trinity School on the city’s Upper West Side, she took a moment to glance at the plaque affixed to the building’s grand entrance. As she read words like, “300-year history,” and “one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious schools,” she was nearly overwhelmed with pride that she was even standing on these steps, let alone in a position to afford such an education. As she went inside, she was immediately directed to the main office.
“Well hello there, little guy,” the receptionist said. “Are you here to sign up for Kindergarten?”
“Yes, please,” Karen interrupted. “I’m Karen Briggs. I called yesterday afternoon.”
“Certainly, Ms. Briggs,” the receptionist replied, as she pulled out a folder and opened it to reveal an empty form inside. “Let’s get all the information, shall we? The child’s full name, please?”
“Neal Jerome Briggs.”
By John S. Bis
Karen Briggs completed the registration procedures for her son, Neal Jerome, and was leaving the Trinity School’s main office just as a man and a woman approached the office entrance. They stopped just outside and the man held the door open for Karen and her son to exit.
“Thank you,” she said as she walked by holding her son’s hand. Then she almost stopped as she momentarily stared at the man. “Thank you, again,” she said, and then slowly continued on her way giving him another glance.
The man and women walked into the main office but the man stopped and looked back over his shoulder at the doorway. Then he shook his head as he walked up to the receptionist. Meanwhile, his companion said, “Ray, what was that all about?”
“I’m not sure, Janine, but that woman that just left the building with that little boy, she seemed so familiar.” He then turned to the receptionist and said, “Hello, I’m Ray Morse. My wife and I are here to see the Director. But first, can you tell me who that woman was that just left.
The receptionist looked down at the folder on her desk. “That was a Ms. Karen Briggs. She was here to register her son for kindergarten.”
Ray looked at Janine and shook his head, “Strange, I don’t know any Karen Briggs but I have this odd feeling of familiarity. I must have met her, somewhere, sometime.”
“What’s wrong mommy?” asked little Neal Jerome as Karen stopped and looked back at the office door.
“Oh, nothing, I guess. I just had a curious feeling I knew that man and woman. But, never mind, we’re going to have fun this afternoon. Let’s go visit the zoo, all the animals there have real names.”
THE END, REALLY
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