"Bert, will you drop me off at home?"
This was my father-in-law James Whitlow, and more importantly, my boss speaking. I married Riley, his only daughter and heir, a short year after going to work at his engineering firm. Riley was a beautiful woman, tall, blonde, well put together and I loved her with a passion. She looked much like her mother, but Riley was of a sweeter disposition.
Now, two years later, my boss and I were returning from a job site in North Dakota that needed attention from both of us. We had been gone two weeks and had flown home a day earlier than expected.
"Sure, I'll swing by my house, drop my bag, and then I'll be able to stay for a drink with you. I do want to tell Riley I'm home." Jim and I get along great, and I was considered by him as son, more than son-in-law. I pulled into my driveway and saw Riley's car was missing. She could be anywhere, but most likely at her Jim's house swimming in their pool. Jim and Joanna had an Olympic-sized pool in their backyard. It was hot even for August and I looked forward to joining Riley shortly.
I didn't bother with leaving my bag, just backing out into the street before going on. It was only two miles to the Whitlow's house and I was anticipating seeing my wife in one of her bikinis. Two weeks was too long to be apart for two people as much in love as we were. As I approached, I could see Riley's car was there. Parked beside it in the driveway was a strange car neither of us knew. "I wonder whose car that is, I don't recognize it."
Jim was wondering too. "I have no idea."
Jim stopped off in the kitchen to get beer and I went into the living room which overlooked the pool. The drapes were almost closed against the heat. I parted them and immediately said, "Jim, come here, you better see this." From the kitchen door, Jim looked at me and could see how serious I was. I parted the drapes wider as he came up beside me.
We looked out on Joanna, my mother-in-law, who was having sun block applied by a younger man while lying down on one of the lounges. Her top was off and she appeared half asleep. The man putting the lotion on said something to her we couldn't hear. Joanna shook her head no. He was urging her, we assumed, to turn over and let him do her front. Twice more she shook her head, and then we heard her give in with an, "Okay."
She sat up and turned to face the man. Her face was flushed, but then she straightened her shoulders so he could reach her breasts easier. The man caressed them, but didn't linger until he reached her nipples. She let him fondle her breasts and we could see she was enjoying it. When she told him to stop, he said something.
He stopped, but then he had her stand and they clinched so they could kiss. She then pushed him away. Joanna was being seduced, but hadn't totally given in. Just then my wife, who had been watching her mother, came up out of the pool. The man turned his attention to her. She lay face down on another lounge and he headed her way with the bottle of lotion.
"If that bastard so much as touches her, he's dead."
"Wait Bert, don't do anything rash. We'll stop him if he goes too far."
"Jim, he's gone too far already. How could you stand to see him do that to Joanna?"
"What harm has he done? So he felt her breasts. He stopped and hasn't done her any harm. There are some things you don't know about and this is one of them."
I turned and stared at this man I had admired since I went to work for him. I had looked up to him even more so after I had joined his family by marrying Riley. I couldn't believe what he was saying. "You're sick."
Jim just closed his lips, not answering. I returned my attention to the pool area. The man went over to Riley and untied the string that held her top. She hunched up enough so it could be pulled free from under her. There was no doubt in my mind that this guy was going as far as he did with Joanna and probably further. It also looked like my wife was a willing participant.
Riley turned over and exposed her breasts to the man, and yes, unknowingly to her father, who was watching what was taking place. I looked at Jim with disgust, turned and walked through the house and out the door to my car. At that moment I hated Jim and worse yet, I included my wife. I wanted nothing more to do with any of these people I had come to love. My instinct was to get away. I jumped into my car and squealing the tires I took off, but not to home.
I headed for the only person whom I knew I could talk to about something like this. My Aunt Greta had always been the one I turned to when something troubled me. She lived nearly five hundred miles away. Did I want to fly? No, I needed to be alone with my troubled thoughts. I filled my gas tank and hit the road. I would have to fill my tank again and I only had enough cash left in my pocket for that one fill up. After that my aunt would cover for me.
It took me nine hours to reach her house. Riley had already contacted my aunt to see if I was there or had called. According to Aunt Greta, my mother and father, who lived in the same town with my aunt, were contacted as well. The message to them all, "Call me Bert, please call me!"
Fat chance I would do that ... someday maybe, but not until I could get my head around this. I was so disappointed in Riley. How could she be messing around when I loved her so much? And my father-in-law, why wasn't he more upset with Joanna? He let that man paw his wife. That damned man hadn't used force he just talked her into letting him fondle her. Then my mother-in-law was standing by and letting this person do the same to Riley. And Riley was letting him.
Jim had directed me to wait. What in hell was that all about? And me ... I was so used to listening to him I did what he told me to. Fuck them, I would be through with the whole family, I was that disgusted with them. My problem ... I was more disgusted in myself.
Aunt Greta listened to me spill my sadness and disappointment. "Bert, calm down. Something must be going on you don't know about. Eventually you will find out what it is and then you can deal with it."
"You weren't there. I mean that guy acted like it was his right to be doing what he did. I could tell that Joanna and Riley didn't want to at first, but they didn't resist and did it anyway. You can't tell me Joanna didn't enjoy it if you could have seen how she kissed him. Riley let the man take her top off ... not just untie it, but she then helped him remove it."
"You did the only thing that you could do then by leaving. You say you were going out to kill him? That wouldn't have been smart. What are you planning to do now?"
"Find a job and forget the Whitlows."
"You must remember one of the Whitlows is Mrs. Bertram Collins now. What about her? You still love her too much to forget her."
"No, I will never forget her, but I don't know if I love her anymore."
"Get some sleep. Decide what to do after you calm down."
Surprisingly I did sleep. When I awoke in the morning my thoughts turned to my aunt. My father and my aunt were born into old money, but Aunt Greta was extremely intelligent and multiplied her inheritance while running the family business. My father was content to sit back and enjoy life, depending on his sister to see that he was comfortable. His inheritance was invested in conservative bonds that never grew much and inflation was slowly eating them away.
He did educate me and I wasn't extravagant, so I never had to call on my more substantially well-to-do aunt ... not that she wasn't willing. Her gifts at my wedding opened people's eyes, especially when she handed me the deed to a nice house in the same neighborhood as my in-laws.
At breakfast the question of what I wanted to do came up as the eggs were put down before me. "I would like to find another firm to work for. I can't get over Jim telling me to wait and not do anything when action was clearly called for. I'll never look at him the same way again."
"Well do it. I deal with engineers and firms all the time. I'll check around to find the best one."
"Whoa, if I get a job it will be on my merits, not because of your say-so."
"Fair enough, but I'm going to check anyway to make sure the one that hires you is the best for you. I won't say anything to anybody, but if some place makes you an offer and I don't think you would be happy there or can advance, I'm going to tell you. Now, how are you fixed for money?"
"Don't have a cent. I put all I had into the gas tank getting here. I didn't want to be found so didn't use my card."
Aunt Greta got up from the table and went into her study. Soon she returned with a bundle of cash. "There is five thousand dollars to tide you over. If you run out, I can find another penny or two. How soon do you think your wife or her parents will show up here looking for you?"
"I have no idea. They may be glad to be shut of me or they may show up by tomorrow."
Aunt Greta looked at me. "You're hoping your wife will come looking for you, aren't you? If she comes searching for you that soon, it will be a measure of her love for you. Am I not right?"
"Yes, I suppose so, but I don't want to see her yet. If she loves me, I want her to hurt like I am hurting. If she doesn't, it won't matter when I see her."
"Are you going to talk with your Mom and Dad?"
"Just by phone to tell them Riley and I are having some difficulties. I'm sure they suspect it already, seeing that she called them. If I go see them, Dad will tell anyone that asks that I was here in town. He can't lie for crap."
"You are saying I can lie?" I smiled at my aunt and she agreed. "Yes, I guess I can ... for you anyway."
I took the money and stashed it in the trunk of my car. If I needed to leave here suddenly, it would be with me. I planned on hiding out with my aunt for the time being, but if Riley showed up and we couldn't settle this, I would escape in my car. In the meantime I checked out two engineering firms here in the city. I knew an engineer and friend from college who worked at a firm here in one of them.
I called him about eleven to see if he was in. He was and we spent a few minutes reminiscing. "You don't need someone like me here in your firm do you?"
"Why, are you looking for a position?"
"I might be. I have been working for my father-in-law and right now we are at cross purposes on some personal things. I'm looking at my options."
"Good. Ask for me and I'll put in a word for you. Hey, it would be great if we worked in the same place. I'm looking forward to seeing you more than I have been. I'd like to have you meet my wife and I have a little girl. How about you?"
"I'm married, but my wife is the personal issue I was speaking about."
"Sorry for you, Bert."
I lay in bed that night, my mind whirling round and round. Maybe Riley was being blackmailed. What could she be blackmailed for? It had to be something that happened while Jim and I were in North Dakota. But then Jim didn't seem surprised and told me to wait and not do anything. There was just no logical explanation.
Damn it, why didn't I rush out and confront the bastard? What am I, a wimp? I guess that is what is bothering me the most ... I didn't do anything and just ran away.
Aunt Greta phoned me from her office. "I have a number I think you should call. I believe it is a lawyer and it concerns Jim, your father-in-law who is in trouble. Call him and then get back to me."
What was this all about? I knew Jim's attorney, Roger Duncan. I rang the number Aunt Greta had given me. "Hello, this is Bert Collins. I was asked to contact Roger Duncan about Jim Whitlow."
"Yes, just a minute. Mr. Duncan has been waiting for your call."
"Bert, ah, yes, it seems that Jim has got himself into a spot of trouble. He is in the hospital with some broken ribs collected when he tackled a much younger man at his home. Also he has a court hearing for domestic abuse as soon as he gets out of the hospital. I guess Joanna got hurt in the altercation and is blaming Jim for it. She is pressing charges so I'm trying to keep him from going to the lock-up.
"Would it be possible for you to meet him before he is discharged? He tells me that you are the only one that knows what is going on at the firm and wants to put you in charge until things settle down for him."
"If all he has is some broken ribs, he will be out soon."
"There is a little more to it than that. He tried to drown the man that he had the fight with. Joanna is pressing charges and the judge considers him a danger to the community. I'm working on getting him out on bail, but she has another attorney fighting it."
"Okay I'm heading home and will see Jim tomorrow. It will be too late tonight."
"Good, I will let him know you are on the way. You don't know anything about what went on to cause this, do you?"
"I might have some idea." I related what had caused me to leave, saying I was as mystified as to why Joanna was acting as she was. "What does my wife have to say about this?"
"Riley? I didn't know she was even involved. There is nothing in the police report about her being there."
"Well she was, although she might have left before the fight. Somehow I'll find out what is going on."
When I reached home late the next night, Riley wasn't there. That was good, I wasn't ready to talk to her yet. I caught five hours sleep and headed for the hospital to see Jim. I had trouble getting in, but when I explained I was his son-in-law and the part-time manager of the firm. I let them know we had imperative business to discuss so the hospital immediately let me in to see Jim.
"Hey there Rocky, which fight was this?" Jim was a fight fan, so he knew I was referring to Marciano.
"God Bert, don't make me laugh. I've got three busted ribs and it hurts to even breath."
"Did that guy break them?"
"No, I broke them when I went over the edge of the pool. Peter Tinker, the son-of-a-bitch, was trying to drown me. All I was doing was trying to get free. I had no idea that he would get so physical."
"Your attorney said it was the other way around."
"It most likely looked like it, but believe me, I was just trying to save myself. The only place I could hold onto was his neck. He was holding me underwater as much as he could. Thank God the cops came when they did. I think it was Riley that called them even though she was spaced out."
"I don't know. Roger said she wasn't mentioned in the police report."
"It wasn't Joanna that called. The bitch was helping Peter attack me. I understand she got injured slightly. If she did, it was because she was right in the middle of the fight. We have been married for twenty-eight years. I've put up with a lot of her shit just because she has money, but no longer."
"I take it you knew this person that was messing with our women."
"Yes, I know who he is. I know the guy's father better and there lays the problem. The father wants Joanna and from what I could see, his son wants Riley. I guess Joanna has gone over to their side, so now all I have to do is to get rid of her. Honest, son, I don't think Riley was in any way responsible for the other day. I think Joanna set her up with drugs or something. Joanna has totally gone crazy."
"I didn't know you and Joanna were having problems."
"We've always had problems. Joanna thinks her money is everything. I've always tried to teach Riley better values and when she and you got together, I was damned happy. Now my wife resents you and probably Riley too. I tell you she is crazy."
"There has to be more to it than that."
"Oh there is. You may not want to hear all this, but years ago Joanna convinced me that to spice up our sex life, we should open up our marriage by joining a swing club. I hated it. I love Joanna and making it with other women doesn't appeal to me. Sad to say I went along with it to make her happy.
"It wasn't too bad until we met Harrison Tinker and his wife. Joanna fell for Harrison and I had to put my foot down when she wanted to keep seeing him privately. That was a few years ago. Joanna didn't want to give up someone that she thought was everything I wasn't. However, Mrs. Tinker was on my side and she and I were able to stop things from proceeding any further."
"Where does this Peter come in?"
"He is Harrison's son by a previous marriage. Two months ago, I suspected Joanna was seeing someone on the side. When we looked out the window, it came to me that Joanna was involved again in our previous lifestyle and much to my displeasure it was with the Tinkers again. I know what I did to make you leave was disgusting to you, but it was my problem and I had to solve it in my own way. Besides, when I walked out to the pool I realized I had already lost Joanna, but I was going to save Riley for you. This shit I'm in now will eventually go away."
"How are you going to do that?"
"Think son, I was in my own home and I saw someone molesting my married daughter. If I had let you go out there and confront him and you killed him, look where you would be. This way I have a good shot at escaping being held accountable. I didn't say much to the detective, but I asked him to look into Peter Tinker's past. There will be something there and I'm betting that will absolve me."
"You're pretty smart, did you know that?"
"I do my best. Would you do one favor for me? When I get out of here, may I stay with you? I don't think I am going to be able to go home until this domestic assault thing with Joanna is resolved."
"You certainly can. I'm going to need someone there with me when I first face Riley."
I was startled by the voice behind me when a pair of arms went around my waist. "No you won't. Bert, I've got you now and I'm never going to let you go." Riley was holding me so tight I couldn't turn around. "I know I've done some bad things, but they could have been a lot worse. You will forgive me won't you?"
"If all the things your father has said are true, I might and I might not, but I will consider it after I learn more about your involvement. We will talk about it anyway."
"Good. I guess I have a lot of explaining to do."
"Do you want to speak with your father present? If you do, start talking."
"I don't mind for it concerns him more than it does you, dear. Dad, Mom is really in trouble and I know you and Mom haven't been getting along. She has done something she is being blackmailed for. The Tinkers have a hold over her and she was afraid to come to you. The other day we were both being drugged by Peter. For me, it was like I was hypnotized and just following directions. I didn't come out of it until I realized my daddy was seeing me undressed. I'm sorry about that."
Riley was facing her father and his face was as red as hers. "Give it no thought, Punkin. You are built much like your mother and God knows I have seen enough of her. I guess others have seen your mother a lot more than I realized."
"Dad, Mom told me that she and you used to swing at parties. I think her trouble began at Harrison Tinker's house one time after you said you weren't going to participate anymore. Peter Tinker knows me slightly from the club Bert and I belong to. He enlisted his father in trying to seduce me into having an affair with him. His father blackmailed Mom and she had to do as he asked. I was lucky when you showed up to put a stop to it or I would be an unfaithful wife to Bert and that would just kill me."
I broke in. "What is so bad that Joanna couldn't come to your father with it?"
Riley answered by explaining to her father. "I think Mom got involved with more than one man at a time and she was doing things that made her look awful. There was a tape of the activities made and he threatened to show you."
"Well he can show it to me anytime now. What she has done by trying to get you involved is something I won't have. She is toast as far as I am concerned. She was helping that bastard when he was trying to kill me. Not only that, she is pressing charges for domestic assault."
"But Daddy, Mom was under the influence of drugs just the same as I was."
"She isn't at present. How can you stand there and defend her when she was leading you down a path to shame and where you have almost lost your husband? I always thought I could trust her, but never again."
"Jim, let's let it settle down before you get too upset. Joanna will wake up after she thinks about this."
"Bullshit Bert, you didn't feel that way when you looked out the window and saw Riley exposing herself."
Riley glared at me. "You saw what was happening and you didn't do anything? You were going to let whatever happened, develop and you just walked away? Bert, how could you?" Tears were forming in her eyes.
"Riley, I thought you were doing what you wanted to be doing. At that point I thought I had already lost you and just wanted to get away. Jim was urging me to do just that for his own reasons. I'll tell you right now I regretted it before I got to my aunt's house. I have been beating myself over leaving ever since."
"Well you should," she paused, "but I love you anyway. Just don't leave me again. We could always talk just as we are doing now so if you see me and need to have something clarified, speak up. Now the question is, is Mom worth saving?"
Jim exploded with a loud, "No!"
"I think she is Jim. You don't ship her down the road after loving her this long."
"Maybe not, but she has got to change an awful lot before I could trust her again."
"How about making her change?"
"What do you mean, Bert? How is that possible?"
"A few weeks ago I ran into an old college buddy of mine. He has developed a program to have people live in virtual reality for awhile. It is something to make a person stop and realize what the consequences can be if a person continues on the path they have chosen. The program has been tested, but he needs more case files before he can have it approved for the general public to use. He can program it for as little as two hours or as long as six hours. That is real time. The virtual time would cover two months for each hour while the subject is hooked up."
"How would this help me to trust Joanna?"
"Okay, say you and Joanna go back over your experiences in swinging. They apparently were not happy ones for you, but they were for Joanna. Sheldon, my friend, could program in pleasant experiences for her to live through for the first two hours, but then shit could hit the fan in your relationship just as it has now. Then in the next two hours, he could have her living alone without you, maybe even without her daughter loving her anymore. Would Joanna regret the decisions she made that brought her to this pass? I'm betting she would."
"I'm not sure she would. You don't know your mother-in-law like I do."
"You have taken care of two scenarios in the first four hours and you have two more hours of real time to load up on the program if need be. That would be four more months of living in virtual time. Load up the other two hours.
"Say this. Harrison Tinker convinced her to become a call girl earning good money. But then he drops her and she has no home, or friends, or husband or daughter to turn to. To live, she is forced to walk the streets. Her looks are leaving her. She is raped a couple of times and has spent days in jail for prostitution. If she begged you to take her back after seeing what her future would be like, would you?"
"She'd be a damn fool if she didn't. But what about me, I need to trust her wholeheartedly?"
"The last hour of real time, which would be two months of virtual time, could be made really nasty for her. Say when she came out of the police station at the end of the second segment of this and someone kidnapped her. After all she is just a prostitute and nobody cares. She is abducted and transported to Mexico and put into a crib in some low-life bar. The owner buys these women from white slavery gangs and if this one dies, he can buy a replacement.
"Her body is being sold for a couple of pesos a pop and she has no control or say over who uses her. Then there is always the specter of disease. If she hasn't contracted anything yet, she soon will. She is thinking about suicide and her life flashes before her. Her real life up until the time she was hooked up to the program and then the six hours of real time programmed for twelve months of virtual time.
"This is when you come through the door of the whorehouse and say you have been searching everywhere for her. If she loves you and promises to be faithful from then on, you will take her home and love her as you used to. What do you think she would do or say then?"
"Is this safe to have a person going through this?"
"If Joanna did this, she would be monitored every minute she was traveling in virtual time. There is no doubt it would be stressful. Of course there are other ways to make her aware of what she has done and how being unfaithful has had cause and effect. We could program in how her descent into the low lifestyle in the first two hours affected you, her husband. We could show where her unfaithfulness drove you to drink. You might have an auto accident while drunk and kill someone and be sent to jail for 25 years."
"It sounds complicated."
"Not really. By just programming a few sequences of likely happenings and the end result, the human mind of a person would fill in the details. Our minds do it all the time. You know when you come home at night with a problem at work and can't get to sleep, your mind continues to present likely scenarios. With this program the scenario is put in place and her mind will get her to it."
"How expensive is this procedure?"
"Actually they would pay all the costs just to get the case file. Joanna and you as her husband, would have papers to sign absolving them of any medical consequences that developed. That is why the monitors are watched so carefully by two people on duty all the time. Anyway this is an option that is out there if you love Joanna enough to want her as your loving and trusted wife again."
Riley put her two cents in. "Daddy, I want Mom to do this. I want us to all be a family again."
"Bert, would you do it if it was Riley who had done these things?"
"Loving Riley like I do, I definitely would. Of course I know that Riley has been faithful, even if other men have viewed her body that she should have only reserved me as her husband." I said this not knowing if it was really true. I wanted it to be though.
"Bert, I love you. And if I had strayed, I would sign up for this program just to show you how much I needed to regain your trust and make you love me again."
Jim was struggling to believe this was all that I said it was."This is all well and good, but if Joanna doesn't want to live with me anymore, or should I say wants me to live with her, I'm not even going to suggest something like this. As the saying goes, screw her. Now you two get out of here and make up. Both of you have something to forgive each other for. Good luck kids."
"So what were you thinking when I exposed myself? I have to know so I can make it up to you."
"Dear, I didn't know what to think. I have since remembered that you staggered a little when you got out of the pool and I noticed that you kind of flopped down on the lounge instead of lowering yourself. Thinking back over everything I realized that you were not as graceful as you usually are, so when Jim told me you were drugged I knew he was telling me the truth. One other thing that I filed away in my memory ... your mother has beautiful big tits."
"You didn't let me finish. I like yours better and they are mine to play with whenever I want."
"You mention my mom's breasts again and these babies are off limits. Well probably not for too long 'cause I like them being played with. So are we okay? I mean are we still on track to be the longest ever married couple in the world?"
"You got it Babe ... that is if you can forgive me for running out on you."
"I will, this time, but you better not do it again."