Note: This story is copyrighted in the name of Daghda Jim. Hmm! That's a pen name. Can a pen name hold a copyright? Have to look that up in Wikipedia. Later!
This is an adult work of fiction, intended for readers who are at least 50 years of age, unless they have their spouse's permission. In writing.
Anyone between the ages of 21 and 49 reading this without spousal permission will get a visit from Mr. Cheney and his minions.
Anyone below the age of 21 reading this will get permanent acne and may possibly go blind. You have been warned!
My name is Edward L. Humphries. Well, that was my original name, and now I've come full circle and have resumed using it. Today seems like as good a time as any to finally tell my story, if you're willing to listen.
I'm 34, average size and build, nothing special to look at. About the only thing that might stand out about me isn't what I look like; it's what I do. I'm a financial manager and investment counselor. Not bragging, but I'm good at it; I've never had a long-term client lose money, not even close. A good part of the reason for my success is simply this: I'm a dogged researcher and I follow every lead until I get to what I know is the truth. That's how I develop my investments; that bottom line information. I can be stubborn. No, I AM stubborn.
When my story began, I had been at the business for quite a while, and I have to confess, I was getting a little bored by it. It's still hard work, but less and less of a challenge.
My wife Carole was another matter entirely; nothing was ever boring about her. Throughout our entire relationship, from casual college dating through going steady as college sweethearts and right up to fairly recently in our marriage, I could never understand how a woman who looked like that could find me to be so special. That was an endless surprise.
Not that I ever complained, mind you, but I had to put it down as one of life's little mysteries. She's tall, at my eye level in moderate heels, 28, and well-proportioned. She has dark brown hair and I'm not sure what to call her eyes. She insists on hazel, so hazel it is. Kind of a striking yellowish brown.
I drown when I look into her eyes. There were depths there, hidden depths that I longed to penetrate. I was hooked on them from the first day we met. Some men are breast men, others are ass or leg men, Me, the first thing about a woman that really gets to me are her eyes. Life with her has always been exciting. And up until recently, all in a good and pleasurable way.
We've been married about seven years, living in a refurbished old house to the north of Endicott City. I ran my consulting business from an office in Downtown Endicott City, and she worked out in the suburbs on the other side of the city, about 35 miles from our house.
She was a manager at a temp agency, or at least that's what I thought. It never occurred to me to question that or check up or snoop on her. She had her own personal and professional space, just as I had mine, and early on we had agreed to back off and let the other's space alone. That was part of when we were forging our relationship; our life partnership.
As part of that discussion, we talked about children. Briefly. My four year Navy hitch put me behind my college contemporaries. When I found the woman I wanted to spend my life with, I naturally thought of children.
It turned out that I was out ahead of Carole on that. She thought that it was way too soon, that we should explore being a happily—married couple for some years before thinking of that radical a life change.
And I was just starting to establish myself in my business, she said, first as a Financial Management analyst for a firm, then out on my own.
Well, it was obvious that I was more eager to be starting a family than she was, but it was her body that would be more affected by it, so I went along with her. I thought about it often, and brought it up every once in a while, but Carole was not ready, she said. So we went on, working and loving each other.
I had never been to her workplace. She said it was in a run-down building with few amenities, almost a warehouse with partitions. I'd offered to come visit her a few times, maybe meet her coworkers and take her to lunch, but she nixed that idea. She said they were a cold bunch, not that much for socializing.
So I had never been there. Letting her define her space.
On the day when everything began to go to hell, I got a call at my office. Per the Caller ID, it was someone from the Suburban County Hospital. I assumed it was a potential new client.
"Are you Mr. Edward Humphries?" went the voice.
"Yes I am. Were you referred by a client of... ?"
"Mr. Humphries, we got this number from your wife's emergency contact list. She's here in the Suburban County ER for treatment."
I stared at the phone in my hand for a brief moment of shock. "Wha, ... What's wrong? Are you her Doctor? How is she?
"No, I'm in patient intake. My name is Mrs. Rollins. I'm not supposed to release any medical information, that's up to the medical staff. But I can tell you that she's conscious and asking for you. Mr. Humphries. Look, I'm not supposed to tell you anything, but I think you should know before you come over: Your wife was beaten and raped."
I was stunned and unable to speak for a second. "Uh, ... I, ... thank you; I'm on my way."
Suburban Country Hospital is southward, out toward her work address. I got there in twenty minutes and was escorted back to a treatment room. Carole was resting there, but as soon as I came in and called her name she came awake and was sitting up in my embrace despite a tangle of tubes and wires. From my first look at her I could see that someone had done a job on her face; she had bruises, and a blackening eye.
God, I thought, I will find out who did this and I will kill him.
She told me what she had told the police. She was walking through a park on her lunch hour and was attacked by two men in an isolated area concealed by shrubs. They stole her tote bag, beat her into submission, and then took turns raping her.
The doctor came in and took me out in the hallway. He tried to reassure me, saying that the injuries looked worse than they really were. He said she should come out of it with no scarring or facial distortions. He said she'd be as beautiful as ever.
As if I cared about that! I'd love her no matter how she looked.
He also said that experience told him that the mental and emotional problems from her ordeal would probably be more lingering than any physical marks. He said a sexual assault counselor would come by later to see us. She would talk about that aspect of Carole's recovery.
I hadn't noticed at first, but there was a woman sitting in a corner of the room. She was from Carole's office, she said, a small blonde woman with a certain air of authority, named Celia or Christa or something like that.
I was so upset and angry at what those bastards had done to my beloved wife that I wasn't paying that much attention. She said that they were all praying for a quick recovery, but that Carole should take all the time she needed before she even thought about coming back to work.
I thanked her, but I was having other thoughts. Hell, as far as I was concerned, Carole would never go back to work again. I was making enough money for us to live very well.
From her W-2s, she was clearing maybe $22K a year. That would be a very bad month for me, and I had very few bad months. But I knew I would have to be careful how I worked up to that; Carole insisted on making her own decisions and her own way. I had to be careful about intruding on her space. I started mulling some ideas about how Carole could help me in my research work with me and be safe near me instead of away in some office in a dangerous part of town.
They moved her into a semiprivate room after their initial treatment. As I sat with Carole that afternoon and evening, one thing that puzzled me was her apparent reaction to the rapes. Or to be more specific, her lack of reaction. She just didn't seem that affected. It wasn't that she didn't want to talk about it, as in shutting it out It was as if being raped was no big deal.
Which made no sense. Back when we were dating, we had a soul-searching discussion and she had been very forceful about the violation in the act of rape. Where was her outrage?
The patient rape counselor did come by, and Carole was obviously uninterested. Before she left, the woman took me out into the hall and said that many victims act out a form of denial. She said that can last for months, until, generally, something eventually triggers a delayed reaction. She gave me a schedule of meetings for victims of rape and their families.
She said it was something approaching a group therapy session, but very loosely structured. She cautioned me that Carole might be reluctant to engage in sex for some time, possibly up to six months or more. I said I understood.
I went back in the room and talked to Carole. I started to tell her what the counselor had said, but she interrupted me. She said that she was not at all interested in the sessions, and said very firmly that she had no intention of giving up or putting off our sex life. I uttered some conventional words of encouragement, but I was getting increasingly concerned that she was burying her problems. That just didn't seem healthy.
They would keep her overnight for observation and for further treatment of her facial injuries, the doctor said. As I sat with her, Carole drifted off into a deep sleep. She was getting some pain medications intravenously and the latest dose did her in.
Detective Sergeant Raul Campos of the Endicott City PD came by and took me off to the cafeteria. He was a short burly man with thinning hair that he wore a baseball cap to conceal. His expression hinted that he was not having a good day.
Well, neither was I.
He asked me if Carole had said anything more specific to me about the attack.
"Mr. Humphries, your wife gave us very vague general descriptions of her two assailants" he said. "Since our criminal ID database is full of men who fit those descriptions, they aren't much good to us. With an assault that lasted so long, I would expect a victim to remember some more details, like how they were dressed, hair color, marks, tattoos, how they talked, accents, and the like. But your wife remembered nothing like that."
I got a little pissed off. It sounded like he was building a rationale for why they'd have little chance of catching the rapists, and was putting the blame on Carole and her "vague" description.
He anticipated my protest and said they were running every lead they could. "We haven't even been able to positively identify the place where the attack took place, to look for physical evidence. 'Somewhere in the park, behind some bushes.' Was all that Mrs. Humphries could tell us.
"We've been to the park. There are no bushes. It's all grass and lawn and a few small trees that were just planted. That and some low benches."
He said that once Carole got out of the hospital, he wanted to take her back to the park so she could show them the spot.
I said that she might do that to help. I couldn't speak for her, of course. Normally I would think that the last thing on earth that she would want to do would be to revisit the scene of her trauma. But the way that she was non-reacting, I had no idea. I certainly didn't want these two bastards to get away with raping my wife.
But I had no idea whether that even mattered to her, the way she had been reacting.
Campos said they had a high priority on the case. This was the first attack of this kind in the area in over two years and the police wanted to catch the guys.
I said that was sure that Carole would help in any way she could. "But you have to cut her some slack, Detective Campos," I said. "This has been a great ordeal," I said. Or at least I hoped she felt that way.
He said he understood, and would be as easy on her as possible.
The next morning, as Carole lay sleeping, the blonde woman from the temp agency was back. She asked me if we could talk privately.
We went to the Meditation Room. Nobody seemed to feel like meditating that day, so we had it all to ourselves.
Now that I knew that Carole was going to be ok, I was more observant. She reminded me that her name was Celeste. Celeste was petite and slender, with only a modest bosom, but very trim and very nicely shaped. A cool, cool blonde with light green eyes. She avoided looking directly at me so I could gain nothing from her eyes.
Very sharp and focused. An attractive woman. But not a particularly friendly one.
Apparently she had somehow gotten wind of my discussion with Detective Sergeant Campos, yesterday. I wondered just how she had heard...
In response to her questions, I told her the police were unhappy with the description of the crime and the scene. I told her that I felt the same way, and that as soon as I got Carole settled back home, I was going to go to the park and start poking around, asking people who might be regular lunch-hour visitors if they had seen or heard anything.
"I'm not convinced the police are really doing a thorough job, no matter what Campos tells me," I said.
She told me that it would be better if I didn't do that.
That riled me. I told her I had no interest in her opinions.
"Where do you get off telling me what to do?" I asked.
So then she produced credentials. It seemed like she was pulling them out of her shapely ass, but I suppose they came from her handbag. There was a photo ID that said she was with the Department of Commerce, naming her as Celeste Calliway, Special Agent. The same leather case held what was supposed to be a DoC badge.
I looked at her, puzzled and confused.
"Mr. Humphries, my job right now is to make you understand some things. There are reasons why Carole could not be more helpful in her description.
"For reasons of Government interests, you will have to take what I'm telling you on faith. I am limited in what I can tell you.
"Carole told you she works at a temp agency. That is not true. That is a cover for her real work."
She took a card from a small case, and handed it to me. It read, Celeste Calliway, General Manager, The Hierarchy Group.
"The Hierarchy Group is what we call a cut-out; a dummy entity. The temp agency is also a dummy, a creation of the Group. It exists on paper and as a taxable business for Federal and State tax purposes. Your wife works for a clandestine bureau in the Department of Commerce in a classified capacity."
I was listening to all this with growing bewilderment. "Are you trying to tell me that my Carole is some kind of spy?"
"No, not exactly. She is a clandestine analyst, not an operative, with her area of expertise being smuggling. She analyzes data and puts together information that we use to track down and intercept smuggling operations, often involving illegal drugs and weapons.
"Normally she would never be involved in operations with any chance of physical danger.
"However, no system is perfect. Someone made an error, and a one in ten thousand event occurred. It put her in the path of three dangerous men who were not only smugglers, but also murderers and rapists.
"That's why she was assaulted. We got to her before they might have killed her, but not quickly enough to prevent the assault that has put her in the hospital.
The small woman was gazing very earnestly up at me but she would not meet my eyes. She seemed to be almost pleading. "Mr. Humphries, I have already told you much more than I should, because Carole is not only my colleague but also my friend. You are a forceful man, and we are concerned about your reaction to this event. What Campos told you has set you off, and I have to get you to give it up.
"Beyond what I've said, you aren't cleared to know more. You simply have to accept that Carole cannot tell you any more than I have just done.
"You cannot help the police. They cannot solve the crime, because the crime she described is a fabrication. It's best that they just run out of leads and incentive, and write it off and turn to other things.
"You can be certain that we are seeking the individuals who did this, and sooner or later we will catch up with them. They will never see the inside of a courtroom, but justice will be done."
I was trying to process all this. I was being overwhelmed by all this confusing information about my wife, who if all this were true, had been leading a double life. That made me queasy. No matter what the reason, Carole had been living a lie with me.
I said, "You're asking me to take a whole lot on your say-so, Ms. Calliway. I feel like I'm being told to go away and be a nice little boy while the grown-ups take care of everything.
"Well, I'm not inclined to do that, not with my wife down the hall recovering from being beaten and raped. That is a fact. And no matter what you say, I don't feel that there is anything the police or the fucking DOC and its secret squirrel agencies will do to those two or three or however many men that will make up for their crimes. I want some justice. I want some retribution. I want some fucking people to die."
She was getting red-faced as I spoke. "Dammit, man! I'm saying in the plainest way possible that you don't have a say in any of this. This is way above you. You have to stop pressing Carole. You have to let this go! She understands what we are doing and does not want you to go off cowboying.
"The three men are far away from here by now, so there's nothing you could do to them anyway. We are tracking and closing in on them. We will take care of them.
"Now, I can understand your anger and concern, believe me, I do, but there is nothing you can do that won't make things harder for the enterprise and your wife. The men will be taken care of. You have my word."
"Your word? Who the hell are you? I don't know you. I've never heard of you and your fucking enterprise, this Hierarchy Group.
"I'm not going to just take everything you say on faith. Hell, I could buy an ID and a badge like yours off the internet for a hundred bucks.
"This all is just coming out of left field. Carole is going to have to explain a lot more before I'm buying in on any this."
She glared at me. "Carole will not tell you a thing beyond what I just did. And she won't be happy with you if you act like a fucking moron in matters beyond your concern. Do you understand me?"
I shut my mouth and got up. I was done talking to her.
I left her stewing. Screw her, I thought.
I realized her card was still in my hand so just jammed it in my wallet, out of habit. In my business I get lots of cards and I tend to hang on to them.
I decided to hold off on questioning Carole about what Celeste had laid out. The truth was that I was worried about how Carole would react.
I was worried now about so many things about Carole. I didn't know how much of that story was true, but either this Celeste was a complete loon, or my beloved wife had been keeping a double life from me all this time. I didn't know whether I believed any of this secret bullshit, but I felt pushed aside and left out. Bottom line, Carole had been lying to me about her work.
Was there anything else she was lying about?
What other secrets might she have been keeping from me?
I took the coward's way out. I let it slide for a while as I thought through it. Despite all my bluster to Celeste, I was very uneasy.
I got Carole home and got her settled. The bruises were turning colors, which was awful- looking, but a sign that the healing was proceeding rapidly. I thought about her cover job and her cover office. Was any of that true? Out of a testing spirit, I asked her if there was anything from the office that she would like me to bring home, but she said no, that was being taken care of.
End of discussion.
Then, that first night, not two days after she had been raped, she said she wanted me to come to bed with her. She said she was a little sore still, but she wanted to feel me inside her.
I left the lights on, which was not unusual for us. I began by going down on her, also not unusual. But as I closed in on her pussy, I was wide-eyed and observant. Carole had a beautiful, shaven pussy, around which any marks or bruising would still be clearly visible.
There was nothing. No fading bruises or scratches or marks of any kind. She claimed to be sore, but there was no redness. Nor was she tentative, desiring more comfort than sex. Not so. Sore or not, she was as passionate as she could be. The only sensitivity was from the soreness on her face and around her lips. Not from her pussy.
Our marital relations were apparently back to normal, just like that. Hardly what those experienced professionals had predicted back at the hospital.
And nothing that I saw or experienced added up. I loved her. And I loved making love to her. But there was a cold analytical computer deep in my mind that was accumulating impressions and information, just as it did when I was researching a potential investment opportunity.
Only this was much, much more personal. And I didn't like the faint outline that I began to see.
The next day, an Amazonian young woman named Heidi Something-or other showed up with a box of doodads from the nonexistent office: A photo of me, some CDs, a small combination radio-CD player, and the like. I guess that was to show me that she theoretically really had an office.
But I already knew, if Celeste was to be believed, that there was no office. I think that somebody was executing Plan A when she was supposed to be on Plan B. Maybe she missed the memo. I didn't ask Heidi for her ID. Probably she was licensed to kill, or something.
It all sat sour in my gut. More deceptions with Carole at the center.
When I asked Carole about going to the rape victim meetings, she said she didn't want to waste her time. I sat mute, showing no reaction. I guess I should have fussed over her and called her my brave baby and all that, but I was too upset and concerned to try to act. Was she suppressing all this stuff, and would it all blow up for us down the road? Or was it worse than that?
I wondered. And pondered.
By now I felt I was leading a multiple life, too. Concerned husband. Caring lover. Skeptical husband. Wannabe detective. Worried man who wondered what he might find if he turned over too many rocks. I would sometimes wake up hours after we had made love and just lie there looking at this beautiful passionate stranger in my bed.
I was still putting off asking her the questions that were burning inside me. Too much worried about getting answers I wouldn't like. The potential for unveiling disaster was making me a coward.
I had built much of my adult life around my love for Carole and my certainty of her love and fidelity.
After a few days she insisted that I go back to work. So I was down at the office, catching up on several screens worth of email, when I got a visit from Detective Campos again.
Considering everything, I wasn't expecting to hear of any progress. It was worse than that. He was agitated. He kept pulling off his cap and running his hand over his scalp. He did not want to sit down, but rather paced.
"Mr. Humphries, this is one of the most frustrating cases I have ever had," Campos began. "Frankly, we don't believe there is any way that your wife was attacked where she said she was. Nothing adds up. There was a big environmental cleanup and tree- planning event there that entire day and there were Boy Scouts and parents and news media cameramen all over. The park is flat and open. There are no bushes, no secluded spots where a woman could be attacked unseen.
"There's no point in taking Mrs. Humphries down to the park, because I don't think anything happened to her in that park."
"So you are calling my wife a liar?" I said. With what I had been told recently, I basically agreed with him, but he had to think I was still the same old jerk as before. I had to appear consistent, while I tried to think my way through the puzzle.
"I'm not calling anyone anything," he snapped. I'm just telling you what the evidence says, and it doesn't support her story.
"Now I see that you don't like what you're hearing, Mr. Humphries. I guarantee you're gonna hate what comes next.
"There's no doubt that she was beaten. But there's no physical evidence that she was raped. The hospital was very thorough in their examination. There was a fair quantity of semen residue in her vagina, but not enough to indicate more than one man. We have a DNA analysis going, but I have no confidence of it matching any known sex offenders.
"Therefore, there was sex, but nothing, no vaginal bruising or any other evidence, to show it was anything other than consensual sex."
I guess I should have jumped up and reacted more. But what he said further confirmed the evidence of my own eyes, and further discredited "Special Agent" Celeste and her bullshit story of the three international smuggler-rapists. It was all a fantasy to cover up something else, all centered on Carole, the beautiful stranger I had lived with for so long, and so unknowingly.
Yet I still had human reactions to hearing this. Consensual sex! My Carole! I harbored a growing, unfocused anger. I began to focus it on Campos, the messenger. If he wasn't a police officer, I think I might have slugged him right then and there. And he knew it. I think he was braced for it. Hell, he might have welcomed it. I could see now that he was boiling mad, almost as mad as me. He just concealed it better.
I made an effort to restrain myself.
"Don't kill the messenger, Mr. Humphries," he said, finally and presciently. "I don't like to have to tell you this. I'm only doing it to explain why we don't think there were any two dudes. There was only one man's DNA, although she said she was raped by two men. The hospital results say that she was not raped. We have nothing to go on but the DNA, and I told you what I thought of that.
"I don't know why your wife is doing this, Humphries. Technically I suppose I could charge her for filing a false report, but I don't think it would serve any purpose.
"And I will add this last bit. I have been feeling pressure from above to write this whole thing off. Subtle but unmistakeable.
"I know when I'm licked. We are dropping this whole mess. We have plenty of real crimes to deal with. We won't spend any more time on this, ... whatever it is."
He got up to leave. Neither of us offered to shake hands.
As he walked to the door, he turned back and said, "I feel sorry for you, Mr. Humphries. I don't think you know what is going on any more than I do. You have some damned serious problems with your wife..."
Then he was gone. Fuck him and his sympathy!
And yet there it was. What he told me meant I had to have that talk with Carole at long last.
When I got home, I looked up the stairs toward the bedroom where Carole was waiting for me.
I got a beer for myself and an Arizona tea for Carole, and went up.
I told her we had to talk. Carole got a very cold, pained look on her face.
I told Carole everything that Detective Campos had said and she looked me squarely in the eye and said he was wrong. She knew what had happened and where, and she was sticking to her story.
So then I told her what Celeste had said. She was startled for a second and then recovered. She simply said she could not talk about that. End of discussion!
When I pressed her, she got irritated and angry. She told me I was going to have to take it on faith that she knew what she was doing and saying. She told me I had to support her on this. There was nothing more that she would say, except to tell me to leave her alone if I was going to make accusations.
Now that beautiful stranger from the night was awake and defying me. What the hell was going on? I tried once more to press her. Why were there no signs of rape, if she had been raped?
"You can get the fuck out, Edward!" were her exact words. "Stay out if you are calling me a liar," were the next. Then, "I'm sleeping alone tonight."
That beautiful stranger seemed to have replaced my loving wife for good.
I had been angry before. I was furious now. If nothing else, she had to talk to me about the evidence of intercourse. There couldn't be any Goddamned government secrets about that. How and with whom did she have intercourse. She owed me the truth about that.
I told her that.
She screamed at me to get out again, her face contorted with anger.
Those were very strained times. No matter how I broached it, Carole told me I had to accept her word and her decisions. I was already enduring the "or else," part, sleeping in the spare room.
She called down to me after two cold lonely nights and said that if I would not question her, she would welcome me back to her bed. All would be forgiven.
She was going to forgive me? I climbed the stairs and looked in at her. I said, "What the fuck have I done that I need to be forgiven for, Carole?" I told her that I was getting to like the guest room bed better. At least I was warm there.
That was the first time in our marriage that I felt the possibility that the marriage might not survive.
When I get mad, I get stubborn. When I get stubborn, I become driven and will not be stopped.
There was no yielding on her part, either. There would be no answers from her.
So I went digging for answers elsewhere. This was research. This is what I do.
Carole was a covered dependent on my very expensive, full coverage health insurance policy. Before, Carole had explained that the temp agency had pitiful coverage. Now, I simply assumed that the Department of Commerce, or the Hierarchy Group, or the Illuminati Society, or the Church of Latter-Day Dianeticians, or whoever the hell she was with, was just a cheap outfit.
The hospital billed all the expenses to my insurance carrier, but they sent me copies of all the bills. See, I would have to pay the co-insurance; the remainder after the insurance company paid their share. I guess the idea was that after I saw the initial billed amount, which was more than the GDP of some small third-world nations, seeing how much the remaining merely huge number was less than the original humongous number would make it more palatable.
I didn't care about any of that. I paid whatever the bottom line was.
What I was looking for was the bill for the ambulance service. When I finally got it, I called Medical Transport Associates and said I had a few questions about the details of the pickup. Since I was the covered insured, and I would not stop pushing, they eventually agreed that they had to give me everything they had on the service call. But they made me come down and show my ID before they showed me the file.
The call didn't come from a concerned person who found Carole at the park. It came from a business: Relationship Matches. That was on the caller ID, along with the phone number...
The pickup wasn't made at the park. It was made at an address in a nearby mixed residential/business zoned area. A few minutes' work on the internet matched that address up with the phone number of Relationship Matches.
Bingo! I didn't know exactly what all of this meant, but I didn't like any of it. I found myself more and more removed from knowing who my wife was. I had a feeling I was losing her.
Considering what was going on at home lately, maybe I already had.
I figure I couldn't make things any worse, so I went in to see Carole again. She was wary and alert. I told her some of what I had found, although I left out the part about the name of the business. I said that the pickup was not from the park. I told her the neighborhood where it was made, but I lied and said the ambulance service didn't have a record of the address.
I just wanted to see what she would say. She said she didn't understand how that could be. I told her I was tired of listening to her lies.
She screamed at me to get out. And stay the fuck out!
Not much ground lost there; I was already out.
A couple of hours later, I got visitors.
Celeste, of course, accompanied by a large male companion.
"Ah, Special Agent Celeste, and I assume this is Deputy Dawg. Or is it Dudley Do- Right?"
They were not amused. Obviously not cartoon fans.
One reason why I like to do my business via written communication or over the phone is that face to face, I sometimes have a quirky sense of humor that sneaks out when I should be serious.
Neither of them bothered with credentials as I stepped aside to let them in.
They said nothing as they seated themselves, studying me intently. Her companion had Celeste's coloring, and something of her features, but was as oversized as she was small. A big brother? He had a decidedly unfriendly expression as he stared at me.
I decided to be hospitable and offer them a beer.
They looked at me as if I had two heads. I guess they weren't beer people. I was, so I went and got myself one.
She didn't beat around the bush. "Mr. Humphries," she began. "You seem determined to make trouble for yourself."
"I'm here because Carole called me for help. She was crying. Very upset. You are upsetting her with these things you keep throwing at her.
"I am choosing my words carefully, Mr. Humphries. What I am telling you is the truth. Carole loves you and would never willingly harm you or your marriage, but as I told you before, there are some things that she needs to keep private. They do not have to impact you or your marriage in any significant way, unless you keep prying. The whole matter is an official secret. The details are classified. The little I've already told you is classified.
"You must stop playing detective."
I couldn't believe this. I jumped to my feet, and the big man did, too, wary. Watching me. Getting ready if I moved toward Celeste. "And just who the hell are you to come waltzing in here as if you have any authority over me?"
"I told you who I was, and who I work for," Celeste said. "And who Carole works for."
"And I don't believe a fucking word of it," I came back. "Not your story, nor your bullshit credentials."
The big man looked like he was starting to come for me, but Celeste stopped him with a word. Damn good thing, too. This guy was even bigger than I first thought. Since I never caught a name, I'd tagged him as Bruno. He looked like a Bruno.
But still, I wasn't going to be intimidated.
"You say that three men raped Carole," I said. "Carole told the hospital and the police that it was two men. But the hospital says that she showed no sign of anything but consensual sex, and with only one man. If she had consensual sex with another man, then I'm not the one in trouble; Carole is. That sure as hell qualifies as something that impacts my marriage in a significant way. That's adultery. I have to know all about that. I have to know the truth."
I was pacing now, with Bruno watching me carefully to make sure I didn't approach Celeste.
"Right now, she won't talk to me, and you just want to tell me stories," I said. "So the only plausible explanation is that Carole has been having an affair. I don't know about the beating, but an affair accounts for the one man and consensual sex. And that sounds like a reason for me to consider divorcing my loving unfaithful wife.
"And you people come at me out of left field and for some unknown reason you are trying to cover for her with this wild bullshit story of yours. I don't buy it and I am going to keep on digging until I get at the truth. Then I will decide what to do about it."
She looked at Bruno with the first hint of a worried look that I had ever seen. I had the feeling that Celeste was used to having things work out her way.
He looked back at her, with an obvious unspoken "I told you so."
Celeste was obviously trying to keep in control of herself. "Please, Mr. Humphries, there are other reasons, plausible explanations, believe me, but I can't tell them to you. I can only implore you to believe me; Carole is not and has not been having an affair. Carole loves you and only you, exclusively."
"Yeah, she's so fucking crazy about me that she gets her cunt filled with cum and then cuts me off."
That did it! I was past caring how big he was; I went after him. He moved to meet me. This time Celeste stepped in, physically, interposing herself. "Carl!" she snapped, as I pulled up to avoid knocking her down.
Bruno pulled back. "Sorry," he said.
I kept glaring at him.
Celeste touched my arm to get my attention.
"You forget that Carole has been through a horrible ordeal from the beating, and now you are hounding her with questions that she can't answer. She is only pushing you away because she can't respond to your questions.
"Please, Mr. Humphries. Stop these inquiries. Carole desperately wants you back in her arms and in your bed. Just let it be and things will get back to normal between you two."
"Normal? Are you out of your mind? Carole has broken our marriage vows and been unfaithful. Someone, ... some man put a load of sperm inside her and it was consensual! And she and you have been lying to protect him.
"I don't believe anything you say about the reasons and the secrets and all that. I know the basic facts. Consensual sex! I WILL find out the truth!"
I was done talking. I was already up, and I was ready to leave, if they were going to stay there.
"Would you wait just a few minutes so that I can go up and speak with Carole?" Celeste asked.
"Sure," I said. "She must be getting lonely. She doesn't speak to me any more."
Celeste went up and Bruno and I sat staring at each other.
After a few moments, he cleared his throat. "I apologize, Mr. Humphries," he said. "I really do. I shouldn't have laughed. There's nothing funny in any of this."
I was surprised at his tone, but nodded.
Then Celeste came down. She looked at Bruno and shook her head and they left without a word.
I didn't bother going up to talk to Carole. She has legs and she can damned well come to me when she has something to tell me. I was tired of pleading.
I cooled it for several days. Worked my business. Slept in the guest room. Made meals for the two of us and brought in her tray without saying a word.