Thanks to the knee doctor for editing assistance.
It was seven o'clock in the morning, and my wife was out in the driveway washing her car again. I got her the 1965 red Mustang convertible for our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. It was a special present, and I was hoping it would be well worth the twenty thousand dollars it cost me. I was wrong.
Julie had been having an affair with one of the guys who worked in my office complex. She thought that she was being discrete, but it just wasn't so. She was sloppy and careless about meeting him, and he had a big mouth. I found out about what was going on, when I started to get snickers from some of the guys in the break room. It wasn't hard to put it all together. Frank Toliver was enjoying my wife's company, and was bragging about it to all his work-mates. It had been going on for over six weeks now. Twice, I have mentioned to Julie that I had been hearing stories about her and Frank, and that I wanted them to stop. Both times, she denied that anything was going on. She also expressed great indignity: that I had the nerve to question her fidelity after twenty-five years of marriage.
We married straight out of high school. I realize now that we were just too young. I don't know if it was puppy love, or just a teenage crush, but it was about to end. We had one daughter, Sharon, who was a senior, getting ready to graduate. She would be leaving for Iowa State University in less than a month. Over the years, I had plenty of opportunities to spread some wild oats, but restrained myself, to preserve the marriage. What a waste. If it hadn't been for Frank's big mouth, I probably would have never found out about Julie's fling. Now I found myself wondering if it had happened before, and I was too dense to realize it. I had always trusted her.
Frank usually took Wednesday's off. I was betting that Julie would spend as much time washing her body this morning, as she did her precious car.
"Dad, are you going to drop me off on your way to work?" Sharon was ready to go, so I finished up my coffee and we hit the door. I stopped for a moment, beside my wife, as we walked to the car.
"This is the last time I am going to mention it. Stop seeing Frank Toliver."
All that got me was a nasty glare. "Damn it, John. Frank Toliver and I have nothing going on. I said it before, and I'll say it again, whoever is feeding you this bullshit is just trying to get your goat. Stop worrying yourself about something that is not happening."
Julie turned and continued drying her car as I just stood and stared at her. I finally walked to the car and backed out.
The first few minutes in the car were quiet. Sharon was looking out the window and I got the feeling that she was upset with me.
"What's wrong? Why are you being so moody?"
Without turning her head Sharon responded: "Dad, how long are you going to let her get away with this? It's been a while now, and I am really having a hard time putting up with the crap. Thank God I am going away in a couple of weeks. I am getting as disgusted with you for not doing anything, as I am with her for doing it."
"What crap are you putting up with? How is all of this affecting you? Your mother isn't doing anything at home is she?"
"No dad, it's Margie Toliver. She is dumping on me everyday about my slut mom stealing her dad away from the family. Her mom and dad have been divorced for over a year, but she just started bitching about three weeks ago. Apparently, her mother is fully aware of what is going on, between mom and Mister Toliver, and complains about it at home, everyday. Margie's home life sucks and she is passing it on to me."
"Sorry, I wasn't aware that you were getting flack about this. I have asked your mother three times to stop, and three times she has just denied it. I'll try and put a stop to it today."
The look my daughter gave me seemed to indicate that she didn't believe me. "Thanks for the ride anyhow, dad." I watched her walk up to the school, and I knew now that it was time to end things.
I knew where Frank Toliver lived. When he got divorced, his wife took the kids and moved in with her parents. Frank tried to sell the house, but owed too much on the mortgage to break even. With alimony and child support, he was having trouble just keeping up the house payments.
I have been avoiding the break room at work for the last month or so, so that I can miss the digs at my manhood. I stopped and got coffee before getting to work. After making my presence known to everyone, I told my secretary, Joyce, that I would be stuck in a meeting on the third floor over lunch, and for the rest of the day. She said she would hold my messages until I got back. It was easy to walk out the back door and drive away.
I sat down the street from the Toliver house waiting for my wife. It was only twenty minutes later when she showed up. She actually had her own garage door opener for his house. After the door closed, I waited thirty minutes before I walked up to the house. No one noticed as I tried the side door to the garage. It was unlocked. Julie had the convertible top down on the Mustang. Frank had a little BMW convertible- Z car or something like that. I don't know much about cars, but I knew it was expensive. I picked up Julie's purse which she had left sitting on her car seat.
I would have loved to go into the house and surprise them in bed, but that was not my plan. I didn't need to see it, to believe it. Frank had a five gallon can of gasoline sitting by his lawn mower. There was enough in it to douse both cars, and spread some around his shop storage area. By the time they realized the garage was on fire, there would be nothing they could do to stop it. I had to hustle a little to get back to my car before there were any indications. In my rear view mirror, I was just able to make out a few wisps of smoke, as I turned the corner. Ten minutes later, I was back at work and told my secretary the meeting was canceled. It was as if I had never left the building.
When I got home, Sharon was sitting in the living room watching TV. Julie was not there, and Sharon had no idea where she was. I was a little worried. Did the two lovers get trapped in the house? Were they overcome with smoke or burned alive? Were they at the hospital being treated for something? I was beginning to regret what I had done, when the phone rang.
The phone call was from Julie's sister.
"Hi John. It's Candice. I just wanted to let you know that Julie is over at my place. She had an accident with the Mustang. She is all right but the Mustang is ruined. She is a little nervous right now, and can't talk. I'll bring her home later tonight, and she can explain everything then."
"Do you want us to come over there and pick her up?"
"No. John, she is pretty upset and I think it would be better if you wait until I bring her home. She is sorry about the car."
"Okay. Where is the car right now?"
"I am not sure. I think they towed it to a lot somewhere. Julie can tell you about it later. Thanks John. I was sure you would understand."
When I hung up the phone, I had a big grin on my face. Sharon noticed it, said nothing, and smiled back.
"I think you should take my car and drive over to see your aunt Candice. Your mother seems to have had an accident with the Mustang, and she does not want to talk to me right now. You could offer to help, and quietly stick your nose into things. I would love to know what happened, but I can't ask. Maybe you will get lucky. Just a suggestion, in case you are interested."
"You know I am. Give me your keys. Do you want me to bring her home, or leave her there?"
"Surprise me." I said.
She was lightly laughing, as she walked out the door.
I settled down to a quiet evening of beer and TV. Sharon came home about a couple of hours later, with a bigger smile than she had when she left.
"I didn't think you had it in you. You are one rotten son-of-a-bitch, dad. I love it."
I was being very careful. There was no way I was going to admit to anything. Any conclusions that my daughter might come to, would be on her own.
"Where is the car?"
"I am not sure, but it can't be moved until the insurance company checks it out. Mom did not want to talk about it, and was very evasive."
"Where is your mom? Why didn't she come home with you?"
"It appears that she is concerned with how you are going to react. I asked her to explain, and she became flustered. Candice said she would be staying there for a few days, until things straightened out. I don't know what that means. I asked for explanations and didn't get any answers."
"I hope you don't have any questions for me, because I won't answer them either."
"Good boy, dad. I don't want to know any more. I can wait for the sequel."
Sharon went to bed and I got another beer. Things worked out just right.
The next day at work, things were a little different. There were no snide remarks from the break-room gang. My secretary, Joyce, was even a little more attentive than normal. Frank Toliver did not show up for work. I did not inquire about him, and nobody offered any information. A few of the guys seemed to be avoiding me. That afternoon, a small bouquet of daisies was delivered to my desk. The note said, "Thank you, M.T." Frank's wife was named Marsha. I didn't know any other people with those initials. Joyce was now smiling every time she looked at me. I was a little worried that Marsha had jumped to that conclusion as fast as she did. I was hoping the police didn't do the same thing.
Sharon was in a good mood when I got home. Margie Toliver apologized to her for being a bitch for the past few weeks. Nothing else was said between them. There was a small article in the back of the newspaper about a home fire that destroyed two cars. Candice called Sharon on her cell phone earlier, and told her that Julie would be staying there a few more days. Sharon and I went out for sushi.
Friday morning, the police showed up at work to discuss the fire at Frank Toliver's house. They talked to me in my office and they also talked to Joyce. Joyce told them that I had been there all day on Wednesday. She didn't mention the short time that I went upstairs. No one else was able to contradict what we had said. It was odd, because Joyce and I had not conspired ahead of time, yet we both said the same thing. The police did indicate that the fire at Frank's house was definitely arson, but had nothing else to go on. They were very, very careful not to mention my wife, or her part in the whole situation. I found that interesting. I was also interested in why Joyce stuck her neck out to defend me.
Sharon did the laundry and house work Saturday, while I got the yard work all done. We got a payfor-view movie and a pizza that night. Both of us were careful not to talk about anything relating to the problem at hand. I was impressed by how grown up my daughter had become.
Julie came home Sunday. She had on clothes that Candice had given her. I wanted to ask her where her clothing was, but decided against it. She spent most of the day in her room. Sharon made supper for us, but Julie didn't seem to be too hungry. We didn't talk or discuss anything about the car, or what had happened to it. I slept on the couch that night.
Joyce was in a good mood Monday morning. The gang of smart-asses with the snide snickers had disappeared. There was a definite attempt made by many of the male employees to avoid eye contact with me. Frank had taken a week's vacation time. I contacted my auto insurer and told him to stop by the house and get the claims information on the Mustang, from my wife. I couldn't admit to knowing anything about it, without tipping my hand. I did happen to know that a car that is burned up in a garage is covered by the home-owners insurance, not the automobile insurer. That means that Frank's insurance company would have to pay for Julie's car. I was interested in seeing where this was going.
The arson investigation team and the insurance company both determined that the fire was indeed, arson. After investigating Frank Toliver's financial status, the insurance company refused to pay any of the claims, unless he could prove that he was not responsible for the fire. They felt that the fire would benefit him financially, and that he had a motive to set it himself. The police felt the same way, but they had to prove that he did it.
Sharon was home alone when I got there. She handed me a note that Candice had left, informing us that she had taken Julie to the doctor to get some sedatives, and that Julie would be staying at her house for a few more days. The insurance man had left some papers on the coffee table. I didn't look at them. Sharon and I went to Red Lobster for supper.
Officially, I still did not know where Julie's car was or what happened to it. All I knew, officially, was that the Mustang burned up. I found it interesting that noone was telling me anything. The next morning, I made a quick call to Candice.
"Hi, its John. Just wanted to let you know that I appreciate what you are doing for Julie."
"Thanks, John. I think she needs to stay here a few more days. The doctor gave her some pretty strong medication."
"I am okay with that. I have just two questions. I understand that her car was in a fire. I would like to know where the car was when it caught fire, and why it was there. Call me later today and give me the answers to both of those questions. If I don't hear from you, or I don't get an answer, I am bringing all of Julie's belongings over to your house tonight. Do you understand?"
"Under the circumstances, John, I think you are being unreasonable. Julie is under great stress right now. Something like this is not going to help her."
"I don't expect the answer from her, I expect it from you. I am sure you know what is going on. Either you tell me, or Julie becomes your new house guest, permanently. Do you understand me?"
"I understand, John. I'll do my best."
Joyce was full of bubbles and joy. I was hoping that would be a good sign.
"I made you a luncheon appointment, Mister Woods. You will be meeting Marsha Toliver at the Olive Garden at noon. She will have a table waiting when you get there."
I didn't really want to have lunch with Frank Toliver's wife, but felt obligated. All I could do was try and be a gentleman. I looked over at Joyce. "Would you like to come along? I would prefer not to be alone in this situation."
"Sorry boss. I'd be glad to join you for supper, but I am not interested in lunch."
I noticed a slight smile as she walked away. What the hell did she mean by that? I never sent any signals to Joyce or anyone else that worked for me, indicating that I might be available. That was a strict no-no. I think that my new status as "potentially divorced," was affecting some of the ladies around me. What the hell could Marsha Toliver want?
At about ten o'clock, Joyce stuck her head in the door. "There is a Mister Brian Mapes here to see you. Are you busy?"
"No, send him right in." Brian was married to Candice. He was a big, gentle-giant, type of guy. Brian looked nervous as hell as he walked into the office and sat down. I just looked at him for a second, waiting for him to start the conversation.
"Candice asked me to come see you. She said she was afraid you would get mad at her, because of what she had to tell you."
"Brian, you look troubled as hell. Why is it such a problem having to talk to me? I never did any thing to bring this on, did I?"
"No John. It's something I did. I lost my temper. It never happened before with Candice, and I am scared."
"Why are you scared? What could you possibly be afraid of?"
"I think I hurt her. I hit her pretty bad, John. I dropped her off at the hospital, and then came over to see you. I didn't know what else to do."
Now Brian is not a simpleton. He is a smart and clever man, who provided well for his wife and children. Both of his kids have left home now, but he was always a good father to them. I never suspected that there was a problem in their marriage. It appeared that Brian didn't either.
"Why don't you start at the beginning, Brian? We have plenty of time, so you don't have to rush."
Joyce brought in two cups of coffee as Brian tried to relax himself by taking deep breaths. In a few seconds, he was feeling better.
"You're not going to get mad at me are you, John?"
"No, I promise I will not lose my temper."
"Candice told me that Julie had a boyfriend: Frank something. I don't remember his last name. She was over at his house when there was a fire in the garage and her Mustang got burned up. Julie thinks you started the fire, but the police don't believe her. She is afraid to come home. She tried it over the weekend, and had a breakdown, or something. That is what I was supposed to tell you."
"That doesn't sound too traumatic. I still don't understand why that would get you so upset."