The Troubador wrote a story entitled How High a Price in March, 2003, about a man and his cheating wife. That is always a popular subject. Since then, other authors have written stories based on The Troubador's theme and his characters, Early and Susan Conroy. Thanks to Lazeez, those stories can all be found at storiesonline.net
This is my story using the same theme and characters. It is a realistic story. Not sexy. Not sweet. Sad. Heavy. But realistic.
I thank The Troubador for allowing me to follow his lead. The title of the story, plot idea, and character names are his, but the story is mine. So if you have problems with it (or if you like it), contact me, not him.
Early Conroy, a friendly, sunny-natured man with a constant smile on his face, was a trouble-shooter and negotiator for his company. Travel was part of the job. When he traveled, he always left a detailed itinerary with Susan, his wife. Susan, a lawyer for a large firm, always informed him in detail as to her schedule. It was automatic after all these years together.
A business problem called Early out of town, this one a long trip to Los Angeles scheduled from Tuesday through Saturday. He had planned on catching the return flight out of Los Angeles at 9:15 Saturday evening. As usual, his car was at the SeaTac Airport. He would be home and with Susan by one a.m. Sunday morning at the latest.
Thursday morning, the deal suddenly came together. The people he was negotiating with signed the contract by 11:00 AM and left to deal with a crisis in one of their East Coast operations. With the change in plans, he could take the 1:45 p.m. shuttle on Thursday and be home by dinner. He rushed to the airport. He wanted Susan to know he was on his way home, so, once in the air, he called Susan's office from the in-flight phone.
"Jenson, Sharone and Anderson, how may I help you?" the receptionist greeted him.
"Oh, where's Jennifer?" Early asked. Jennifer, Susan's personal secretary, usually answered Susan's calls on the direct line Early called.
"Mrs. Conroy's secretary is out of the office today and tomorrow. May I help you?" came the perky response from the office receptionist.
"May I speak to Mrs. Conroy?" he asked.
"Um, Mrs. Conroy is tied up at the moment. I'm not sure when she might be available. Would you like to leave a message for her?" was the reply from a suddenly mildly flustered receptionist.
Something in the woman's voice activated Early's well-trained people skills. He thought for a moment. "No, thanks. I'll call back later," he said and he hung up.
The conversation with the receptionist troubled him, but it took him another half hour to put his finger on it. Susan told him on the phone last night that she would be in the office all day today. Still, it was possible she was working on a legal file or with a client and couldn't be pulled away. The real stickler was Jennifer's absence. Susan made it a point to have Jennifer working the same hours she did. The only times Early remembered Jennifer out of the office when Susan was working were when she was sick.
The plane landed on time in Seattle, and he was home by 6:35 PM. Susan wasn't there and the house was dark, which was surprising. The only times his wife worked late was at her office. If she was with a client, she was almost always home by 6 PM. He called her private office number again, only to get the answering machine. He left no message.
Early unpacked, tossed his dirty linen in the hamper, and changed clothes. When Susan wasn't home by eight o'clock, he made himself a toasted cheese sandwich for dinner. He started to sit in front of the TV to wait, but worrying about Susan overcame him. Had she had an accident? But if she had, someone would have called the house, and, at least, left a message. He was too restless to sit still and he found himself pacing the floor. He dialed her cell phone, but received the "out of service" message, indicating the phone was turned off.
The suspicion something was terribly wrong had grown to a hot ember by 9:20 when his own cell phone rang.
"Early, I was getting worried when I hadn't heard from you, but then I realized my cell was off. I'm so sorry about that."
"No problem. Where are you?" Early asked.
"At home," she replied. Was there a change in the timbre of her voice or had Early imagined it? "I'm just finished cleaning up the kitchen. It's been lonely around here without you."
"I miss you, too, baby," he replied.
His eyes were fixed on the darkened, deserted kitchen of their home. "No wife there," he thought.
He said, "I tried to get you at the office this afternoon." He let the sentence hang and waited for Susan to reply.
"I was there," Susan finally said.
"They told me you couldn't be interrupted. Something important going on?"
"Uh, I was working with John Stickner. He got me through that mess with the Melrose account this week. I owe him big time for that," she said with a voice that seemed to have a hidden meaning in it, one which Early couldn't yet fathom. "Honey, after I was able to turn that disaster around, it looks like I'm going to get that partnership! Mr. Jenson practically promised it to me!" Susan crowed. "Isn't that grand?"
"It sure is honey. We'll have to celebrate when I get back. I'm just sorry I wasn't there to get the celebration off the ground."
"Don't worry about that, love. Will you be home Sunday as scheduled?" Susan asked.
"Right on target." he replied.
"We can start our fiesta Sunday when you come home. It's going to be lonely in that big bed without you tonight."
After chatting about domestic issues for a few minutes, they broke the connection. Early thought of the many lies Susan had thrown at him. Until tonight, he believed his marriage and their love was solid and strong. It had been something he never questioned. Now he feared the worst.
Early Conroy was a man who always chose action over inaction. Discovering facts and making decisions under pressure was what he did for a living. He suspected his wife was lying to him and he needed more information.
He began to go through Susan's belongings, writing down on his legal pad anything he thought was missing and carefully returning everything to its exact place so she wouldn't discover his investigation. He inventoried her clothes, her chest-of-drawers, and her closet before turning his attention to her medicine cabinet and cosmetics. He finished with her home computer.
The computer yielding nothing but the clothing search proved fruitful. She had not taken sporting clothes, such as things she would wear if she was going to play tennis. She had taken her slinky black cocktail dress, a stunning pants suit, and her best high heeled shoes. She had taken her sexiest lingerie, including her red teddy and her lacy g-string panties. She hadn't taken her regular swim suit but her thong bikini, the one she refused to wear anywhere except in their own back yard by their hot tub, was missing. Most significantly, her birth control pills were gone from the medicine cabinet. Early knew his wife's habits. If she thought she might be gone overnight, she packed those pills.
Since Susan had mentioned John Stickner, Early decided to begin there. He found Stickner's address in Susan's home office Rolodex.
They owned a dark green Explorer used to tow their camping trailer and for trips into the Cascade Mountains. Since they rarely drove it in town and it was a common vehicle in a common color, it would be less conspicuous than his Mercedes. He drove the Explorer to Susan's Bellevue office, entered the parking garage, and drove directly to her private parking space. Susan's gray BMW wasn't there. To be sure, he checked every car in the garage before departing.
With a sinking heart, he drove towards John Stickner's home. He found it in a wooded area in the exclusive Medina area. The grounds were surrounded with an eight foot red brick fence and heavily shadowed with towering fir trees. As he slowly drove by, he saw Susan's BMW parked beside the garage where it didn't block the circular driveway. The house was dark, without a light to be seen.
Death can come slowly with old age or the ravages of cancer. Death can come quickly, with the screeching of tires on the highway or a heart attack. However death arrives, there is intense pain - a pain no one can share or relieve.
The death of love is the same - quick or slow there is enervating pain.
With Early Conroy, it came quickly as he sat in a green Ford Explorer on an exclusive street outside an expensive home wherein his beloved wife, Susan, was fucking another man. Early felt his body tingle and a cold, clammy sweat break out on his forehead. He threw open the car door, took a single step, and fell to his knees to puke out his guts in the damp grass. He puked until only green bile remained. Wobbly, he staggered to his feet and climbed back in the driver's seat. He started his car and went home.
When he got home, Early called Steve Majors, the head of security at his company.
"Jesus, Early, it's one fifteen in the morning. What the hell's wrong?" Steve exclaimed.
"I need the name and number of the private investigators the company uses," Early said.
Steve gave Early the name of John Wells and Wells' home phone number. "Anything else, Early?" Steve asked.
"I want my phone bugged," Early replied.
"Tell Wells. They'll do it. Do you want to talk?" Steve said.
"No. Thanks for the information," Early replied.
Early called John Wells and explained what he wanted. By four a.m., the Stickner house was under surveillance.
Early had no desire to sleep or drink or eat. He was a man possessed with a single thought: end his marriage as quickly as possible.
He could not stay married to Susan. He didn't love her. Not now. Her betrayal severed his love like the falling blade of the guillotine severed Louis XVI's head. Nothing could repair it.
Early knew men and women who had taken back their spouses after adultery. Once, he thought that was both civilized and loving, but now that he was the cuckold, he couldn't imagine a man letting a cheating wife back into his bed or his life.
Early went to the basement room where Susan stored old things. There were boxes on hers he had never opened. Now, he rummaged through them. He read her high school and college diaries. There he found evidence she was sexually active with eight men before he met her. She had told him three. He wondered if that was the first lie she had ever told him. But he found nothing to indicate she had cheated on him. He found references to him and how she loved him and loved sex with him. They made his stomach churn.
At six a.m., he called Paul Landon, general counsel for his company. Paul was already at his desk in the office. Early asked Paul for the name of the best divorce attorney in the Seattle area.
"Her name is Cynthia Rodgers. I'll have her call you," Paul said.
Ten minutes later, Cynthia Rodgers called Early. They talked for twenty minutes as he told her his situation and what he wanted out of the divorce and she gave advice. She promised divorce papers would be filed before the day was over.
Early returned the task of searching through their belongings for clues without uncovering any more. At nine, Early was at their bank. He began by purchasing bank money orders payable to his attorney and his private investigators for their estimated fees. He opened a new account in his name only and transferred half the money remaining in the joint accounts to it, before removing his name from the old accounts. He was home by ten fifteen. By ten thirty, all joint credit cards had been cancelled. He thanked his lucky stars that they had kept separate brokerage and investment accounts, so he didn't have to unravel their investments. He did contact his broker to remove Susan's authority to use his accounts.
Since it was clear Susan wasn't coming home, he called her office. When the receptionist answered instead of Jennifer, he just asked if he could speak with Mrs. Conroy. When she told him Mrs. Conroy wasn't available, he thanked her, told her it wasn't a pressing problem, and asked when he should call again.
"She's out of the office on personal business and won't return until 9:00 Monday morning. Would you like to leave a message?" was the friendly response. Early left no message for her.
Early pulled the Explorer out of the garage and drove toward Bellevue, stopping for a breakfast so belated he had to call it brunch. It was 11:30 when he sat down and ordered eggs and pancakes with hot tea. His stomach was too upset to take coffee. Eating slowly, having to force each bite to stay down, he finally finished the meal, paid for it, and left the restaurant an hour later. He returned to the road past Stickner's place. Susan's car, still in Stickner's driveway, had not moved. His P.I. was no where to be seen.
Early called the P.I. firm from his cell phone and asked for John Wells. In a moment, Wells came on the line.
"I'm out by the Stickner place and your operative isn't here," Early said coldly.
"Shit, man, get out of there," Wells replied. "If they saw you, it will blow everything."
"But..." Early began.
"Get out of there. Go somewhere, park, and call me back," Wells ordered.
Ten minutes later, Early called Wells again. "All right. What's going on?" Early demanded.
"Are you parked?" Wells asked.
"Yes," Early replied curtly.
Wells said, "Our first operative is back in the office, but his replacement is on site." Wells chuckled. "We're old pros at this, Mr. Conroy. You aren't supposed to see us."
"Where is he?" Early asked.
"There's a park behind the Stickner property. He parked on that street, worked his way to Stickner's property line, and climbed a tree. We have proof positive of your wife's adultery, Mr. Conroy."
Wells waited, listening for the slightest clue of Early's state of mind. He had never met his client and he didn't want anything bad to happen. It was the reason he told him to park before they talked. Finally, he heard Early breathe. It sounded like a shudder.
"Go on," Early said. His voice sounded drained.
"It's a good thing you called us in the middle of the night. It seems they like early morning sex outdoors by his hot tub."
"What do the pictures show?" Early asked.
"Do you really want to know?" Wells responded.
"I do," Early said.
"Everything. Missionary position. Anal. Fellatio. But the best are of them doing it doggy style. Both of them were facing our camera, and our man click-clicked away." Wells waited almost a minute before asking, "Since we have the proof, do you want to continue the surveillance? I mean, the meter is running."
"Keep after it until I tell you to stop," Early replied. "When can I get prints of the photos?"
"Later today. He took over two hundred shots, so we haven't developed them all yet."
"Give me fifteen or so, all in eleven by fifteen, and all showing their faces."
"We'll deliver them to your house. Any for your lawyer?"
"Not now, but I want all the pictures developed so we can send them to her later," Early replied.
Early drove home, his mind numb from loss yet thinking clearly. His marriage and the life he had enjoyed were over. He wondered if he would ever smile again. He wondered what would become of him. Whatever it was, it would be better without Susan. On that point, he was perfectly clear and without a doubt.
Home wasn't home any longer. It was a house. Nothing more. Yet, Early hated it. As he drove into the driveway, he was tempted to go out to a motel or sleep on the damn street or anywhere but there. He steeled himself and parked his car in the garage. There was too much to do to walk away now.
Early called Catherine Means, a realtor they knew. Catherine and her husband were old friends of theirs.
"Hi, Early?" Catherine said brightly. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?"
"I want to sell the house. Can you come over now to do the paper work?"
"Are you and Susan moving?" Catherine asked.
"We're getting divorced on grounds of adultery. Hers, not mine. The house is in my name only because I bought it before we married, so I can sign the papers. But I want it done now, Cathy. And I want the for-sale sign up in front by seven."
"Early, I..." Catherine began.
"No counseling. No discussion. You're a realtor and I'm a home seller. Nothing more. If you can't do it that way, I need to find a realtor who can," Early said.
"We'll do it your way, Early," Catherine replied. "I'll be there in thirty minutes."
Early had not picked Catherine idly. She loved to talk. She would spread word of the Conroy divorce and why it happened in their social group and beyond. She might even come on to him. She had once before at a party given by a mutual friend, but he had turned her down. He hoped she wouldn't approach him now. Sex didn't interest him at the moment and he didn't want to deal with someone else's cheating wife.
Early went from room to room in the house that once was his home. He saw the memories and shoved those thoughts aside. He was planning what to take with him and what he ultimately wanted, making notes on his legal pad. He was in the basement when he heard the doorbell ring.
Expecting Catherine, he girded himself as he answered the door, but it was a messenger from the P.I. firm with his copies of the pictures. Early looked through them quickly. They did show Susan and John Stickner eagerly engaging in consensual sex. As he placed them on the mantle, he felt his stomach roil. He barely made it to the toilet before he puked again. But this time was different. Unlike the first time he vomited over his mess of a marriage, he didn't have the shakes and the cold sweats were milder. Early took that as a good sign. Hell, in times like those, he would take whatever good signs came his way.
Catherine was the consummate professional when she arrived, never once asking about the impending divorce. She got the contract signed and installed a for-sale sign in the front yard, then left without further comment.
At five fifteen, Cynthia Rodgers, Early's divorce attorney, called to inform him the divorce papers were filed before the courthouse closed at five.
"Is a copy on the way to me?" Early asked.
"Yes," Cynthia replied.
"Good. I'll serve them on her."
"Only if you have a disinterested party witness it," Cynthia said. "We need proof she was served the papers."
"My P.I. will photograph me giving them to her," Early said.
"That will work," Cynthia said.
Early then called John Wells again and asked what was happening.
"The second operative is in for the day. He got a few pictures but nothing as damning as the ones taken earlier. Our current operative just called in. They are on the move. He said they were dressed like they were going someplace fancy and had suitcases with them."
"Keep following them," Early said. "And I need something else. I want someone out here ASAP to take pictures of the stuff in the house."
"A photographic inventory?" Wells asked.
"Exactly, but I need a witness, too. I need proof of what I did to her just in case she claims I did something violent, and I need proof the divorce papers were served."
Wells asked neutrally, "Are you feeling particularly violent?"
"No," Early replied. "But she and her lover are lawyers and liars by profession and practice. I just want to get out of this thing the best I can."
"We should video rather than use stills," Wells said.
"Good idea. Call me when they get to their restaurant. I'll call her there and confront her," Early said.