My brothers-in-law and I occasionally get together for an evening of poker. It isn't a scheduled thing. We only manage it a few times a year. It happened that our wives had gone on a shopping trip together. That made the perfect opportunity for us to get together for a few hands.
My wife, Kate, has a sister and a brother. On this particular evening, her brother, Timothy O'Malley, had invited Sean Clark to sit in on our game, which was at Tim's house. Tim sat to my left and Sean was across the table from me. Sean and Tim both were lawyers that worked at O'Malley, Preston, and Peterson. That's the area's most successful law firm. Kate's father, Joe, was one of the original partners. Joe bought out the other two years ago and now the firm was controlled totally by the O'Malley family.
Kate and her sister, Patricia, were both lawyers. Patricia, or Pat as she was known in the family, had married Donald Casey, a civil engineer. He sat to my right. He was a pretty upright guy, for an engineer. I got along with him pretty well.
Kate was stuck with me, Jason Henderson. I wasn't Irish, and I wasn't a lawyer. Those two facts had been a source of some family consternation. If Kate's mother, Rose, hadn't taken a liking to me for some reason, I never would have been able to take the shit that old Joe and his son, Tim, piled on me.
I was a mason, a man that worked with brick, mortar, blocks, and concrete. My dad had been one before me and I never really wanted to do anything else. Dad insisted I go to school to learn the trade. I had resisted because my father could lay block all the way across the state and back and be within a quarter inch of square and level. All I had to do was learn what he knew. What more was there?
Well, there was a hell of a lot more that I needed to learn, and learn I did. After two years of school, I joined Dad is his business. I was soon using my schooling to improve the materials and mixtures we worked with. I modernized and mechanized every chance I had. I showed Dad some new, faster methods to build in brick and block. He showed me the difference between slapping up masonry and true craftsmanship. Together we learned to maintain the quality of our work while doing much of it faster and easier.
The business grew and we took on three men to help keep up with the work. I was 27 years old and a partner in a productive, successful business when I met Kate. We had trouble with a supplier that took our deposit money but failed to deliver the materials. I went to the O'Malley law firm to see what options we had in the matter.
Somehow, Kate was assigned our case. She was 26 and the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She handled our suit and we got our money back, without going to court. By that time, I was completely infatuated with her. Every time a payment was a day late or a delivery we ordered was delayed, I would try to convince my father that we needed the services of a lawyer again.
"Damn it, Jason!" he finally erupted one afternoon as we were laying blocks for a huge house in the Poconos. "Why don't you just ask her out on a date? It would save me a shit-load of money, and allow me to keep on good terms with my customers and suppliers. I can't sue every Tom, Dick, and Harry we do business with so you have an excuse to see that red-headed girl!"
I was stunned. Why did he think I just wanted to see Kate again? How could he know what I was thinking? Was it that obvious?
"You must think I'm blind or something," laughed my father. "It's pretty clear that girl has you all wrapped up. I was the same with your mother, but I didn't need some flimsy excuse to plead my case. I kept after her until she finally gave up and married me."
"She's a lawyer, Dad," I whined. "I'm a mason. She won't have any use for a guy like me."
"She'll have no use for a damn chicken-shit whiner, that's for sure!" replied my father. "You don't seem to have any idea what women really do want. I admit I'm not an expert on the subject, but I know one thing. You are a damned good mason, maybe the best I've ever seen. You'll never have to apologize to any man, or woman, for making an honest living building things with your hands. She spends most of her time with those soft, backstabbing weasels and she's probably sick of 'em. Be a man. Ask her out, and don't act like a second-class citizen when you do it. If she turns you down, ask her again in a week. It took me two months to get your mom to agree to step out with me."
I spent the rest of the week thinking about what my father had told me. It's funny how it works. When I was 17, he didn't know anything about anything. I felt like just being around him was making me dumber. How did he get so smart in the ten years since?
That Friday, I was waiting in the parking lot when Kate left her office. I hadn't had time to change after work. I was sweaty and streaked with dust from head to toe. I had made up my mind that day to ask her out and I decided if I went home to clean up first, I'd lose my nerve.
"Hello, Kate," I began. "I don't know if you remember me, but I'm..."
"Jason Henderson!" laughed Kate. "I remember you very well, Jason. Are you having another problem with your suppliers?"
"I'm having a problem... thinking about anything but you all the time, Kate," I answered honestly. "I was wondering if you'd go out to dinner or a movie with me?"
"I hope you'll at least take a shower first!"
I hadn't seen Kate's brother, Tim, come up behind me. He had listened to the conversation that I thought was private.
"So, Sis, are you going to go out with this hard working man? Maybe he'll take you to McDonalds and then a documentary on how the Hoover Dam was built. If he lays a hand on you, we'll all know. There'll be dusty fingerprints all over you!" he remarked snidely.
I had determined he was Kate's brother from his looks and his comments, so I knew that knocking him on his ass would be a mistake. Still, it hurt too much to laugh, so I decided to try to salvage some pride by just leaving. Then I thought about what my father had told me.
"Kate, will you go out with me?" I repeated.
Kate looked at me, and then at her smirking brother. She took my hand and tugged it.
"Walk a ways with me, Jason. We'd don't need this jackal listening in on our conversation, do we?" she asked rhetorically.
I walked across the lot with her to a small park. She sat on a bench and motioned for me to join her.
"Jason, you've just met my brother, Tim. I love him, but he's snobbish and self-centered. My dad is pretty much the same. Whenever boys, or men now, come to my house to take me out, the two of them really are like jackals. If I agree to go out with you, you'll be ridiculed and insulted by them. No matter who shows up to take out me, or my sister, Pat, they aren't good enough," sighed Kate.
"Ask yourself if you think being with me is worth the misery and torment you'll be experiencing. I'm telling you this because I'd love to go out with you, but I don't want you to take a beating from my family. If you've changed your mind after meeting Tim, and what I just told you about my family, I'll understand," she concluded.
"Would seven o'clock be okay?" I asked.
That was the beginning of a difficult courtship. Her brother and father were as miserable a pair of bastards I had ever encountered. They did everything they could think of to discourage me, but I kept coming back. I was in love with Kate and nothing could dissuade me. We were married just over a year and a half later.
It took a while, but old Joe and even Tim eventually came to accept me. I know that having the two children, Mary and Joey, sure didn't hurt my family standing any. It's funny how the worst son-in-laws can create the best grandkids. Kate's mom, Rose, had been my strongest supporter, right from the start. I never knew why, but I was grateful for her kindness. After 17 years of marriage to her daughter, Rose treated be like a son.
Kate's cousin usually made the fourth in our card games. He couldn't make it this time, so Tim had invited Sean. He was a problem. He had diarrhea of the mouth and an extremely high opinion of his persuasive skills with the ladies. He was Tim's best friend and had even dated Kate a few times before she went to law school. He was a pain in my ass!
"In the six months I've been back in Montrose, I've fucked at least ten different women," bragged Sean. "And seven of those women are married. There's something about banging another guy's wife that really gets the blood pumping."
"It sounds more than a little dangerous, Sean. If you don't get shot first, you could be involved in lawsuits and other legal problems," suggested Don. "As a professional, your reputation could be destroyed."
"No guts, no glory!" laughed Sean. "The 'bad boy' image is good for business. Men fear me. Women know I'm a fucking machine and seek my counsel."
"You could hit on the wrong wife, Sean. She could complain to the old man," insisted Don. "He'd toss your ass out in a second for bothering a married woman."
"Old Joe won't be running the firm much longer," Sean responded easily. "Timmy will be sitting in the big chair pretty soon and he'd never listen to baseless allegations made by some jealous husband, would you, Tim?"
"I'd do my best for you, Sean, but you'd be well advised to not find yourself in that position. My sisters will have a lot of input with decisions regarding the firm," reasoned Tim.
"Well, then I'd just have to fuck them into agreeing, wouldn't I?" chuckled Sean.
I tossed my cards down on the table and stood up.
"I'm through with this game, and this arrogant asshole!" I declared.
"Hey, it's not my fault that you can't satisfy your wife!" Sean shot back. "I just supply a service for wives that need to be fucked properly, and I bet Kate fits in that category."
"You miserable, worthless prick!" I hissed. "If you ever even look at Kate cross-eyed, I'll rip your fucking heart out and shove it up your ass!"
Tim and Don both stood and started talking to me.
"That's just Sean's humor," soothed Tim. "Don't take it personally, Jason. He didn't mean anything by it!"
"The hell I didn't," snarled Sean. "You can't expect a fucking bricklayer to understand women or be able to please them. Women like men of power and influence, men with savoir faire, if he even knows what that means."
"You pompous weasel!" I spat. "I've had my say and you've been warned. Stay away from Kate!"
"Well, I'm not shaking, cement-boy! I've decided to accept your challenge. I'll be fucking your wife within a few weeks," predicted Sean. "She'll forget all about you and your little dick by the time I finish with her."
I started around the table but Tim and Don both jumped in front of me.
"He's just trying to save face," reasoned Don. "Kate wouldn't give him the time of day and you know it. Don't let his mouth and your temper get you into a world of trouble."
"Well, fuck you, too, Don!" yelled Sean. "Just for that, I'm going to fuck Pat, too. I'll show those two cunts how a real man fucks a woman."
Sean was spraying spit as he spoke and his eyes were darting around like some kind of rodent. I now found myself placing a hand on Don's shoulder to restrain him. I wasn't sure Don could handle Sean. Besides, if it was going to head down that road, I wanted the honor of tearing the fucker apart.
"The game is over," declared Tim. "I'm asking both of you, Don and Jason, to please leave. We all need to cool down."
I realized Tim was right. We did need to back off a little. Besides, it was Tim's place. When a man asks me to leave his house, I leave. When I tell a man to leave mine, he damned well better be moving before I finish my sentence. That was a basic belief of mine. A man's house, his castle and all that.
Don and I turned and headed for the door. Don was still muttering and I wasn't feeling much better. That Sean was a miserable prick.
I decided not to mention the whole affair to Kate, at least until things settled down and I could decide on my course of action. Of one thing I was certain. Sean would regret any harm or pain he brought to my family.
Monday evening rolled around and Kate met me at the door with a cold beer and a bunch of questions.
"I hear you left the card game early Saturday night, Jason. Why was that?" fished Kate.
I'm not good at telling lies. I had thought the whole thing over and decided to just tell Kate the truth. She was a smart, capable woman and would keep Sean at bay.
"I left early because Tim asked both Don and me to leave," I replied honestly.
"There's a hell of a lot more to it than that, isn't there, Jason?" Kate insisted. "You threatened Sean. You told him to stay away from me, didn't you?"
"I think of it as a warning, not a threat, Kate. No man tells me he's going to fuck my wife; not while I'm still drawing a breath," I replied calmly.
"I'm sure Sean didn't use those exact words. He told me all about how hostile you were to him. He thinks that you're still jealous because I dated him long before I met you. Tim pretty much agrees with Sean's version," revealed Kate. "You lost your temper and made too much out of an innocent comment, didn't you?"
"For some reason, Tim has his head so far up Sean's ass he can't get enough oxygen to feed his brain. They both seem to think your father's about done with the firm and Tim will be the next O'Malley to rule the business. Sean's going to sit at his right hand; fuck Tim's sisters and anyone else he can get his dick into. That's pretty much the gist of the conversation," I responded.
"Jason, I know that can't be accurate. Pat and I will have a say in any decisions regarding the company and Tim knows it. Sean has to know that as well," reasoned Kate.
"That's why he has to fuck you and Pat into seeing things his way. He seems to believe that once he dips his wick in the O'Malley girls, they'll do his biding just for another chance at his wonderful cock. It looks like your fate is sealed. At least it looks that way to Sean."
"Jason, Tim is my brother and would never condone those words or actions from Sean!" Kate replied indignantly. "You've blown everything all out of proportion. I never knew you to be jealous before."
I reached down and put my hands under Kate's arms and lifted her up to me so her face was very close to mine.
"Kate, I love you more than you'll ever realize. That said, I'll never tolerate any infidelity. Nor will I stand by and allow that asshole to attempt to ruin my family. Make no mistake about that. I can see where you might think Tim and Sean would have more couth than to have said what I told you. I'll give you some slack because Tim's your brother and you love him. Just don't fall for Sean's bullshit," I warned.
"You're such a big strong man, holding a little girl like me up like this. Do you think I'm afraid of you, Jason Henderson?" laughed Kate suddenly. "I know you love me completely and will never hurt me. The kids are at Mom's tonight so I suggest you either put me down or show me why I don't need another man, if you're up to it, that is!"
That's the way it was with Kate. She would drive me crazy and annoy me with all kinds of asinine stuff and then suddenly demand I make love to her. I think it was her way of being certain I would listen to her as well as to keep me mollified. It always worked. I carried her into the bedroom and made her realize I was all the man she could ever need. At least, I thought I did. She reinforced my belief that I couldn't love her any more than I already did. I know that.
As time went on, I noticed that Kate seldom mentioned Sean. That troubled me. She worked with the guy every day. Why didn't she ever talk about him?
I became closer to my brother-in-law, Don, after the blow-up at the card game. He was furious that Sean would imply that Pat would even consider being unfaithful. Sean has really gotten Don's Irish up. Whenever Don and I got together, we'd discuss Sean and what we thought he was doing, and with whom he was doing it. Don told me that he had asked Nancy Wahl, old Joe's secretary, to keep an eye on things and let him know if anything seemed amiss. He even went so far as to tell Nancy why he was so interested in the politics of his wife's work. Don had quickly ascertained that Nancy had no use for Sean Clark and was happy to help.
Thus far, Nancy had seen nothing unusual. The lack of information about Sean Clark's activities simply caused me to worry more, rather than less. Had he suddenly become a choirboy? My gut told me the he couldn't change his stripes that fast or easily. I watched Kate closely and was extremely attentive to her. She seemed to enjoy my attention and I was rewarded for it more than a few times after the lights went out.
The family had planned a big party for Rose and Joe's fiftieth anniversary. All the kids, grandkids, cousins, nieces and nephews and hangers-on were to attend. In Irish families, you never missed a family party without a written excuse from a doctor.
Kate and Pat had been taking care of most of the arrangements, with some help from Tim and his wife Ann. Tim had met Ann when she worked for the firm as a temp one summer. No one ever suggested to Tim that her pedigree wasn't acceptable to the family, as he had done to Don and me when we first started courting his sisters. The fact that Ann's last name was Ryan seemed to go farther in the O'Malley family than Don's last name of Casey. I never could understand why that was.
The party was to be on Friday, July 15th, the very day Joe and Rose had been married, exactly fifty years prior. I noticed that Kate was tense on the Wednesday before the party and it only seemed to get worse as the date of the party grew closer. She spent a lot of time at her parent's house and on the phone, making certain every possible problem was covered. I guess that's why she was such a good lawyer. She worked hard to avoid any surprises in court and it carried over into her everyday life.
It was noon on the Friday of the party when I got a call from Don.
"Jason, Nancy just called. She told me she overheard part of a phone conversation of Sean's. He was telling someone to meet him at The Tuck'Em Inn at 3 PM today," revealed Don. "I don't know where Pat is and if I call her cell she can tell me she's anyplace she wants. Do you know where Kate is?"
"I know she had to run some last minute errands, like pick up the flowers and stuff like that. I'll tell the guys I'm quitting early and swing by the motel before three. I'll let you know what takes place," I promised Don.
"Bullshit!" Don shot back. "I'll be at the corner coffee shop by my office. Pick me up on your way."
The problem was, it wasn't on my way. It was already after two and picking up Don would cost me valuable time. Still, he had kept me in the loop.
"Okay, Don. Just be sure you're there and ready to jump in when I pull up. We don't have any time to waste!" I replied as I hung up and started for my truck.
It was ten to three when I picked Don up in front of the coffee shop. I nodded to him and quickly pulled my truck back into traffic. It was going to be close.