Assembling the bomb:
Thinking back to my younger years and vacations by the ocean, I can remember the sounds in the middle of the night; the small waves lapping softly at the shore and on occasion, a larger wave would wash up, followed again by the smaller ones. That was how my stomach felt that Friday morning; small waves of nausea interrupted by an occasional larger one. Not quite causing a gag reflex or the need to empty the contents; I had done that already a couple of times. I swiveled around in my desk chair and looked out my second floor office window. It was another idyllic May morning; the sun shining, a few white puffy clouds scattered across the azure sky, the flowers rampant in our building's carefully tended gardens. It should have been a sight of great comfort and pleasure and yet I was unable to grasp the scene in any positive way. I saw it all and yet I saw nothing.
Peter Dennison had set these sensations in motion earlier during our brief meeting. The baby-faced investigator had presented me with his second and probably final report on the activities of my wife, Caroline. I had been steeling myself for this meeting and I thought I was prepared for the inevitable tragedy that would spill from his compactly typed account. I was wrong. Nothing could prepare me for what he revealed. I sat in shock, first with the written report, then the photographs and finally the audio tapes. Neither of us had said a word since he had handed me the six pages of the printed document that would change my life forever. I remember standing and offering my hand to Peter and thanking him for his thoroughness and the speed with which he had conducted the investigation. He must have shown himself out because I have no recollection of him leaving.
I couldn't bring myself to listen to the tape recordings again and I tried once more to read the report, but the words just blurred and I was unable to concentrate. Instead, I just stared at the eight by ten glossy photos; ten of them; each more destructive and demoralizing that the others. I'm not sure how long I sat there after Peter left, but gradually I became aware that I needed to act. I needed someone to talk to and that someone had to be my brother Bob. I slowly picked up the telephone and punched the preset for his office number.
"Bob Thorpe here." was his ever pleasant greeting. Bob was one of those wonderful people who actually answered his phone without screening, caller I.D. or voice mail classification.
"Hi Bob, it's Mark." I said in a soft voice.
"Mark... what's up... you sound awful." I could hear the concern in his voice. We were close and each was in tune with the other's voice tones.
"Can you meet me for lunch today? It's really important or I wouldn't ask on such short notice."
Bob probably had a lunch appointment but he clearly understood the meaning of 'really important'.
"Yah, of course. Anyplace special?"
"How about 'The Snug' at 12:30?"
"See if you can find a booth in the lounge that's private, away from the usual crowd." I asked.
"Sure, I'll get there a little early. Do I need to bring anything?"
"No, I'll look after that." I said cryptically. "And Bob... thanks."
I sat back in my chair and stared again at the items on my desk. Six neatly typed pages, three audio cassettes, ten photographs and a plain manila envelope. It might have just as well been the components to a hydrogen bomb. I gathered the items together and slipped them in the envelope and then into my soft leather brief. I took a sip of water from the glass on my desk, stood up, took my jacket from the coat rack and walked out of my office, closing the door quietly behind me.
"I'll be gone for the rest of the day, Elizabeth. If it's absolutely urgent, call me on my cell. I may not answer, but leave a message." I said quietly to the elegant woman who truly controlled my business life.
Elizabeth looked at me and heard the tone of my voice and asked, "Are you all right, Mark?" Only this wonderful sixty something year old woman called me by my first name. She was the dean of the executive assistants and probably knew me almost as well as Caroline. She too understood the hidden meaning of my words.
"I may or may not be in Monday, Elizabeth. I'll call you and let you know what's go... uh... what's happening."
"Take care Mark." she said sincerely. I was conscious that she hadn't wished me a 'good weekend'. Perhaps that special radar of hers had already concluded that it wasn't in the cards.
As I walked into the lounge of 'The Snug', I spotted Bob sitting in the furthest corner booth. While there were people in the adjacent booths, the seat backs were very high and afforded a reasonable amount of privacy. The noise level was moderate and it would mean we wouldn't have to raise our voices to be heard. I slid into the seat alongside Bob and shook his hand. I'm sure my expression was dark and Bob didn't waste any time with unnecessary pleasantries. The waitress was nearby and stopped at our table. We both ordered a double single malt scotch, Bob's on the rocks and mine with a side of water. We passed the time in small talk until the drinks arrived. I silently held mine up toward him and he responded. He looked at me questioningly and I knew the time had come.
"Bob, I've discovered Caroline is having an affair."
"Oh god, Mark... I'm sorry. I would never have thought... I mean... she never hinted that she was unhappy..." his voice trailed off.
"No, I'm just as shocked and bewildered by it all myself. I didn't have any hint that she was involved with anyone." I replied.
"How did you find out?"
"About six weeks or so ago, I got an anonymous phone call that went something like 'Did I know what my wife did on Friday afternoons?' It was a man's voice and that was just about all he said and then hung up. I guess I dismissed it as a crank call and almost forgot about it. We were having a dinner party with some of her Real Estate friends the next weekend and on Friday I knew I had forgotten to do something, but I couldn't remember what it was. I had to call her on Friday afternoon. I never called her on Friday. She made it clear she didn't want to be disturbed because that was the day she got ready for the big weekend open houses and showings. Anyway, I called her office and asked for her and her sales assistant said she was gone for the day. I thought that was kind of strange, so I asked her when she left and the girl said she left about 1:30, just like she did every Friday. It didn't register right away, but a few minutes later I remembered the crank call. I phoned home, but no one answered. I tried her cellphone, but it was obviously off. I called back to her Real Estate office and asked her assistant if she had gone to one of the show homes and was told that no, she didn't work on Friday afternoons. I was buffaloed and suddenly, I was getting an ugly feeling that something else might be happening." I had stopped at this point and took a pull at my drink, looking at it like it might contain some undiscovered truth. No such luck.
"What the hell did it mean?" Bob asked. "Where would she go?" He hadn't spoken since I'd begun and was intently listening to my story.
"When she got home that afternoon I asked her how her day had gone and she said it was fine but it was a shame to have to spend all day in the office when the weather was so nice. I have to tell you Bob, the bottom fell out of my guts when she said that. It was a lie. I had a hard time holding myself together for a while. I kept hoping and praying that there was a logical explanation for everything. On Saturday, she was out before nine on her way to work and I was on my own. The thing I had forgotten to do was to get some flowers for the table for tonight's dinner party, so I headed out to the florists to look after that and stopped for a latte at the Espresso Shack on the way home. I was really starting to obsess about this business of where she was and maybe who she was with. I remembered that Caroline kept a planner on her home office computer and when I got home, I had a look at the past few Fridays. There were lots of notes for the mornings and a few lunches at noon, but nothing for the afternoons but one strange symbol. On some Fridays, there were the letters aK and on others the letters bK. They sort of alternated on each Friday, but not always. I checked back to the beginning of the year and I think almost every Friday had one of those two letter codes."
"I've got to admit, Mark. I'd be damn suspicious too if it were me." Bob offered. "What did you do about finding out?"
"I did something I thought I would never do. I hired a private detective to find out what she was up to. I'll tell you Bob, I felt sick about that decision too."
"I guess you would."
.... There is more of this story ...