It was the third time in the evening that she had dropped by my seat at the bar to make idle chatter. That she was evidently targeting me surprised me. I couldn't figure it. She was a nice looking woman, shoulder length brown hair, dark eyes, flaring hips, and maybe C-cups. She was also six feet tall. Me? I'm way on the short side of average in the looks department, a shade over five-six in height and not an ounce above 140 pounds. I was most definitely not in her league on any level that I could ascertain. But here she was again talking to me—about football for chryssakes!
"'Bama," I said. "I went there, so I have bragging rights."
"They're gonna have problems with Arkansas this year," she said. "I went there." I looked at her with what had to have been a questioning look.
"Why? What's the matter?" she said, noting my apparent quizzical attitude. I started to speak, shut up, and then started again.
"Margo, Margo Potts," she said. "And yours?"
"Uh—oh yeah, Ely, Ely Barnes. Okay, Margo. Margo, you're an awfully pretty lady. And, well, I'm not an awfully pretty guy," I said.
She giggled. "You're fine," she said. "But what would looks have to do with anything anyway. Can't I talk to a gentleman if I want to?"
"Well, yes of course. But—well—there's all of these good lookin' Southern boys in here eyeing you; and well, me?" I said.
"Ely, there are indeed some nice looking Southern boys, as you call them, hanging out here tonight. I'm sure they'd be fine to dance with once or twice, but after that—and I do know several of them—they pretty much run out of anything meaningful to do or say if you get my drift," she said.
"So you don't wanna dance," I asked.
"No, it's not that, rather it's that I want more than just that," she said.
"Well, that still doesn't explain why me," I said.
"Because you have a mind," she said. "I've overheard you talking to the bartender several times tonight, and also about a week ago. You actually have something to say. You're not boring.
"So how about it?" she said.
"How about what?" I said.
"You gonna ask me to dance?"
"Huh?" I said. "Me—you?"
"No," I said.
"How come? I'm not pretty enough for you?" she said, wrinkling her brow.
"Hardly," I said. "Listen, Margo, I like myself well enough, don't get me wrong. But, well, you are clearly way out of my league. You may not have noticed, but I'm only maybe five-six. You on the other hand, I'd estimate, are six-foot, and that even without those three inch heels you're wearing. I'd feel funny." She slid out of her shoes.
"Six-one," she said. "And I wouldn't feel funny." The look I gave her forced her to choke back an outright guffaw. "Hey, I ditched the shoes, okay?"
"You wouldn't," I said. "I mean feel funny?" In spite of myself I was really becoming interested in a girl this much in control of her own person. She apparently did not need the approbation of her peers. She was what she was and was happy with it.
"No, I wouldn't," she said. I shook my head indicating I wasn't sure if I believed her.
"Okay, in some folks minds, a girl must always be shorter, weaker, and dumber than the man. But, I don't live and die by other people's mind sets or rules. Do you?" she said, challenging me.
"Well, do you?" she said.
"Well, no, I don't guess I do," I said. "Say, you wanna dance?"
"Love to," she said.
My face came up to maybe her chin. She leaned her head forward onto my shoulder. I guess we didn't look as ridiculous as I thought we might, nobody laughed. We danced several times that night. Six months later she became Mrs. Margo Barnes.
That was twenty-five years ago. Now, at our common age forty-seven, we have settled down. Margo is a sales rep for Heidi Salon, a beauty products distributor. I'm a lawyer with Brooks and Siefert. We've been doing fine. One kid, a daughter, Marissa, at state university; a four bedroom ranchstyle, with pool, in the subs; good friends; and a good sex life overall. Well, the sex life part was good until this past year or so. It seems to have fallen off pretty dramatically ever since the Christmas before last, a fact that has put a strain on me if not on her.
The kitchen is large. She's standing in it, on the phone, near the entryway; her back was to me.
"No I can't ... Maybe next week ... He's very bothered by it ... You're asking too much ... No, I've been cutting him off too much; you're asking too much... (laughter) ... Okay ... like I say maybe next week." She hung up. She walked through the entryway and into the front room. She hadn't seen me.
I was stunned, "cutting me off," she'd said. It could only mean one thing—couldn't it? Twenty plus years down the shitter? I had to know. All those years and nary even a suspicion that she was unhappy with me or with our sex life; well, again, except for the past year. Looking back now it had started, I'm guessing, around the time of our Christmas party year before last. After that things in the bedroom went slowly downhill. It wasn't all that noticeable at first, but had become a bone of contention lately: twice a month doesn't do it for me, but it seems to be more than enough for her. And when we do do it, she acts bored. It's been pissing me off, and now maybe I knew why.
I'm a lawyer, after all, I've had a bus load of experience with this shit. Well, now I was in it myself, the shit that is. That said, I knew just how to handle it. All I needed was the evidence and then I would act.
The Big Tuna was still my favorite watering hole even after all of these years. The name derived from the limited but terrific menu that the bar had. It's where we'd met, Margo and I. As I sat on my favorite bar stool, I was thinking that it, life, had come full circle. It, our life together, had begun here, and now it looked like it might end here. The tap on my shoulder broke me out of my reverie.
"Hello, Ely, got your call," said Jude. Jude is Jude Mason, a stand up guy: he'd saved almost as many marriages as he's gathered evidence to destroy. He's not only a licensed private-eye, he also holds a doctorate in Psychology. To say he's been useful to the firm wouldn't even come close to telling the real story.
"I think she's cheatin', Jude. Need you to find out," I said.
"What! Margo!" he said. "No way."
"Yeah way, and it's killing me. Can you do it?" I said.
"Of course I can do it. It's what I do. I mean I am a private dick, right?" he said.
"Pics, audio, all of it: okay?" I said. "I hope I'm wrong, but I know I'm not."
"Okay," he said. "I'll call you when I have what you're asking for. Any idea who he is?" said Jude.
"No, but I wanna know, and I wanna screw him over if I can. Find out about him too while you're at it," I said.
"Okay. Ely, I'm sorry, man."
"Yeah, me too," I said.
I decided to settle in and keep a low profile for the interim. I knew Jude was on the job and there was no use calling him every five minutes for updates. Unless I was totally off base, and I knew I wasn't, I'd know soon enough. It was two weeks later that I got the call. We decided to meet at the Big Tuna.
We sat in the booth farthest from the bar. "Is it bad?" I said.
"The baddest," said Jude. "As a psychologist, Ely, I like to save marriages if I can, but—well, in this case I would advise you to just divorce her and forget it. Do not listen to the tapes or look at the pictures or watch the videos. Usually, I mean very often, there is some way to save marriages that have lasted so long, but ... here, I just don't know."
My look brought him up short. "That bad, huh?" I said. He didn't say anything. He just looked down.
"Well, okay then. Anyway, what about him?" I said.
"Name's Fawcett, Harvey Fawcett. He's a realtor; got his own shop. Married, four kids. A few years younger than your wife. History as a womanizer, but seems to be pretty exclusive with your wife at the moment," said Jude.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck," I said. Jude looked at me and noted my hurt.
"It happens, guy. You gotta let it go," he said.
"Make a second set of everything for his wife," I said.
"Already done. Say the word and she gets it all. For the record, they bad mouth her even worse than..."
"Yeah, than me. I get it," I said.
We talked for a while more, and he advised me as to how I should deal with it all from his point of view as a psychologist.
"Well, I gotta be goin'," I said. He slid the overly fat manila envelope across the table to me. I picked it up as though it were toxic. Well, it was, to my marriage at least.
Actually knowing was, if possible, even worse than the possibility of knowing. I wanted to be sick but couldn't. My stomach was roiling, but nothing was coming up. I tried to force it, but still nothing came up. I cried instead, like a baby.
I looked back on our beginnings. I was so desperately in love with that woman, still was. There would never be another; I was sure of that. The hurt was too deep. I was forty-seven years old. The prospect of being single again terrified me.
Jude had strongly advised me not to look at the evidence. To just give it to an associate at the firm and let him or her handle it. "Save the good memories," he'd advised, "don't create a whole new set of bad ones."
I'd decided to take his advice at least in part. I'd listen to the audio, some of it, but leave the pics for the legal eagle I'd ask to take care of the divorce.
Divorce? A very nasty and evil thing; I hated the very idea of it. But what other option was there? What else..."
I was sitting on the veranda nursing a martini; I made very good martinis, I thought as I sat there. It was early evening. She'd be home in a few minutes, I knew. Two sips later I heard her car pull in.
I'd listened to the audio, two hours of it at least. There were six hours of it in total. She and good 'ole Mr. Fawcett had gotten it on four times in the past two weeks. My wife and I? Not once, not one fucking time, not that I'd wanted to; she hadn't even noticed.
I was dressed casually: jeans, Henley shirt, loafers. My back was to the kitchen door. I was in a lounge chair under the patio umbrella I'd opened to shelter me from the rays of the setting sun. It was twenty minutes before she bothered to come out and say so much as hello.
She looked good. Tall, pretty, even at age forty-seven. Gray skirt and jacket, dark blouse, CFMs: she did look good.
"Ely? Why are sitting out here?" she said. I remained silent. She started. She took a sudden step back when she saw the gun on the table beside me. It was a Browning model 1911 forty-five caliber auto.
"Ely! What is that out for!" she said. She was backing up toward the pool. She stopped at the edge. I remained silent. I could sense she was swallowing hard trying to think of something to say. She must have gathered her courage. She returned to the table and took a seat opposite me. She seemed to want to reach for the gun. I short shanked her.
"Don't touch it," I said. My tone was cold. I think so was her blood at that moment.
"Ely? What?" I turned slowly toward her. I faced her. My face was blank; I was remembering the things she and her asshole lover had said about me. I seethed, but outwardly I must have appeared indifferent.
"I need to be alone. Kindly leave me alone," I said.
"Ely? What..." I clicked the little micro-device I'd been holding in my hand. I figured it would say it a lot better and more eloquently than I could considering my emotional state at that moment.
There was some rustling noise in the background...
"That was good baby," said the voice. I knew it had to be good 'ole Harvey. "Little dick ever thrill you like that?"
"Not hardly," she laughed. "I can hardly feel him in me, at least not since you and I—well, you know," she said.
"You still doing him twice a month? I told you to cut the little wimp off?" he said. "You're mine and you know it, at least sexually."
"Now, Harvey, you know I can't cut him off completely. How many times have we talked about that? I have to give him a little, or he'll start getting suspicious. He's no fool, don't ever think that. He's a very bright guy, and he takes care of me. Plus, he deserves something every now and then, dontcha think," she said.
"Well, no more than twice a month. I suppose you do gotta keep the little creep quiet," he said.
"How about your wife," said Margo. "She been gettin' any lately?"
"I think the last time was a year ago"—more laughter. "She is so frigid I have to wear long johns to bed to keep from freezing," he said.
"You know, I can't figure it. You're so tall and pretty; he's so damn short and goofy lookin'. Why did you marry the wimp in the first place," said 'ole Harvey.
"Because I knew from the git go he was going to be somethin', and I was right. He makes four times what you do, lover. I ain't givin' that up for sex, not even with you," she said, laughing. "I have the best of all possible worlds, Harv. He pays for everything, and I get to keep my money and do what I want besides. He loves me. You might say he's my insurance. All I gotta do is treat him half way decently, and tell him I love him every once in a while; it's hard to do, but I do it," she said.
"You sure he has no clue about us? I mean that could be disastrous. That's why I'm not kickin' up a fuss about you fuckin' him every once in a while," said asshole.
"No, he's as blind as a bat when it comes to me. That much I can assure you.
"Your wife?" she said.
"No, she just doesn't care. I don't know, sometimes I think all she wants to do is breathe, eat, and eventually die." He said.
I clicked off the recorder. "Wanna hear yourself having sex with asshole," I said, looking her straight in the eye.
She was stunned. She hadn't uttered a word as the machine played out her feelings about me. She slowly shook her head no. "I thought not," I said.
I took another sip of my drink. She looked at the gun. She looked at me. She slowly rose and headed back into the house. Her steps quickened as she got closer to the door.
I wondered what she was doing in the house. Packing? Calling her lover? Calling the cops?
I didn't know why I'd taken my gun out and cleaned it. I'd bought it for house protection, but hardly ever had it out. I did take it to the range maybe once a year to shoot, kinda reminding myself of what it could do, I suppose. But, it had served its purpose tonight, if an inadvertent one, she was definitely shaken; and I had wanted that.
A few hours later, I got up, jammed the gun into my waistband at the back, and headed inside. The divorce was a foregone conclusion. She'd end up getting half; that was the law, but she wouldn't get proprietary rights over anything; I would if either of us did; I had the evidence. Plus, whatever her half ended up being, my accountants would see to it that it ended up more like a third. Wild shit a really talented accountant could do.
She was sitting in the dark, and she was not alone; that surprised me. Harvey was sitting next to her. I'm pretty quick witted for a guy as witless as the two of them thought me to be. I figured he might have a gun, and they'd had a chance for their eyes to get used to the dark; I hit the lights. It startled them.
He had a gun all right: a goose gun. For those who may not know, a goose gun in a long barreled shot gun. Long barreled to reach farther out when hunting fast flying birds. Unwieldy, they were, but could be deadly depending on the shot they were loaded with. I had to smile and did.
"Get out asshole," I said to the man.
"Ely," said Margo, "he's here to protect me—and you too if it comes to that. I just wanted to make sure you didn't do anything dumb. Something that couldn't be undone, okay?"
"Get the fuck out asshole," I repeated. "Oh, and take this cunt with you," I said looking at my wife. That oughta take care of any worry about my doing anything dumb. Right, Margo?"
"Ely! Stop it. Stop it right now," said Margo, showing the first signs of emotion since she'd seen my gun on the veranda table. "We have to talk. I know it looks bad for me—us. I mean that recording. God! How I wish you hadn't had to hear any of that!"
"I'll bet," I said. The gun was in my waistband but at my back. I had my trigger hand behind my back. I leaned back against the door jamb; my hand was resting on the gun's butt. I was no pistolero, but at the distance I was from them, I wouldn't miss if he touched his shotgun, which was leaning up against the side of the couch where he was sitting. I figured I better tell him so too.
"Harvey, old buddy, let me warn you. If you touch that shotgun, you're a dead man," I said. "Now, if you don't mind, just leave it where it is, and the two of you take off. I'll see you get your gun back with her stuff as soon as you let me know where to have it delivered."
I was watching them closely. They had to know I had my hand on my forty-five. They also had to know I could get it into action long before he could get his shotgun up and cocked even though I would have to pull the slide on my forty-five to chamber a round. They looked at each other.
"Ely, please, can't we talk?" she said.
"Why? I know what you think of me now. What's there to talk about? Tell me. Maybe you can convince me that what I heard wasn't what I heard," I said. I was almost sneering.
"Ely, things—well, I guess they've changed over the years. We've—we've gotten stale. You know? The things I said, well, they were cruel. And, if it matters mostly nonsense, you know?" she said. "And, Ely, I'm sorry I said them. I never will again. Tonight was a wakeup call for me: mentally and emotionally. I was an asshole—okay!"
"Nonsense?" I said. Harvey was so far keeping his mouth shut; he did have some good sense after all I supposed.
"Yes, nonsense. You are good in bed. I mean I know what I said on that recording. But it was just bullshit. It sounds self-serving, I know, but you know it's true if you think about how we do in bed. I mean when we do it," she said.
"You mean the twice a month you let me have a mercy fuck to keep me off balance. You mean those times? You mean the times you almost yawn when I cum, those times." I said. The man beside her was trying to hide a smile. He evidently had no idea how close he was coming to having me wipe it off his face. I decided to take a chance at wiping it off the soft way.
"You got something you think is funny asshole?" I said. His face changed expressions at light speed. I whipped my gun out from the back of my waistband and drew the slide so suddenly that the two of them froze. His hand went too late to his long gun. Mine was pointed straight at his gut, but ten feet distant. He slowly drew his hand back and rested it in his lap. "Good thinking," I said. I stuck the gun in my front waistband this time. They both knew his shotgun was worthless now.
"Mister Barnes, I think I'm going to take your advice and leave. I will leave my gun here, like you said. Okay?" said Harvey.
"Sounds good, Harvey baby," I said. Now, I was sneering. He looked over at Margo to see if she was going to accompany him. This was going to be interesting. Him or me, big dick or big income, which would she choose?" I couldn't help myself; I smiled and that broadly. She didn't get up when he did. He gave her a look that could only be understood as disgust, but she didn't say anything.
After he left, we just stared at each other for some little time before I broke the impasse. "What, you didn't wanna go home with him to meet his wife and four kids?" I said.
Her eyes lit up. "You know about him? But of course you do. You have those recordings. You must have it all I suppose," she said.
I didn't say anything.
"Where do we go from here?" she said. She looked defeated. And, yes, dear reader, I felt sorry for her, but not very sorry for her.
"I suppose divorce court. I mean now that I know how you feel about me. What's left for us? But, look on the bright side; you've still got asshole to have and to hold and to cheat with. Well, until he cheats on you, or you on him," I said. She flinched when I said that.
"Ely, I don't want a divorce. I know what I said, but I knew it was bullshit to placate him when I said it; and that's the God's truth," said Margo. "I'll take a lie detector test to prove it too. I know you do that in your business all of the time. Give me a chance to prove that I love you."
"Prove that you love me. Well, let's see. The reality is that I get a mercy fuck twice a month and you act as bored as anyone could act; no, you are as bored as anyone could be. You state quite clearly in the tapes that it's my income that keeps you at home nights—most nights. He has a bigger cock than me. I'm a short, wimpy-assed, pussywhipped little man, that bores you to tears. Uh—did I miss anything. Will the lie detector show that that was all bullshit?" I said.
"Yes," she said. "It will show exactly that." I looked at her like she truly was full of shit.
"Even if it did, you've been fucking him for over a year?" I took a flyer on that one. I still didn't actually know how long it had been going on. She laughed.
"Your info isn't as good as I thought," she said. "It's only been these last three months. We'd had lunches together at first, then some dinner dates, finally he fucked me in the back of his SUV about three months ago. You were in California at that ABA confab. I was lonely and he does have as big dick, and yes he is bigger than you by about an inch and a half, and no it's not that big a deal to me; and a lie detector will confirm that too."
"Really. And, how am I supposed to get by the fact that you let him fuck you at all? I mean even if the lie detector backs you up on everything else?" I said.
She looked forlorn. "I don't know. I guess all I can do is hope. Other couples have gotten by affairs of the one or the other. I'll even go into counseling if you like." She said. She was clearly grasping at straws. The one thing that was drawing me however was the certitude with which she was claiming that the lie detector test would clear her of everything except her actually fucking the guy which she was owning up to; of course she had no choice there. But, now I had options.
I could have her take the test. Jude could do that one; he was one of the best. But it was him who told me to divorce her and just get on with life. I would run the whole idea by him on the morrow. And there was one other thing I could do, and was determined to do.
"I have to say your protestations here interest me," I said. "You say you don't want a divorce. You say you love me. Does that mean that you want to grow old with me and have sex with me and only me for the rest of our lives together?"
"It means exactly that," she said. I smiled the smile of Seabiscuit in race against a field of long in the tooth, broken legged, milk cows.
"Okay, here's how it has to play out, and you have to know there can be no compromise. We'll hold off on the lie detector for the moment. First, you will talk to Jude; he'll know if you're lying almost from your first word.
"Second, the recording you heard is not the only thing I have. I have pictures and videos and several more recordings that I've neither looked at nor listened too on advice from my investigator. He says they are too bad for my soul to tolerate. I have decided he is right. I will destroy them if you are really willing to go the whole nine yards on this," I said. I waited for her to respond.
"I am willing," she said. "I will do whatever it takes."
"Third, I have not contacted Marissa, our daughter. But, I will, and she will get all of the stuff I've got if at any point you decide that you can double-cross me and get away with it.
"I promise I won't," she said.
"Well, your promises aren't going to even be enough," I said. "Maybe someday they will be again, but not even in the short run. I'm sure you can understand my reticence."
"I do Ely. Like I said, I've been a cheatin' asshole, but that's behind me now. You accused me of giving you only mercy fucks to placate you; I never saw it quite that way, but I suppose you may have been right. Hindsight is twenty-twenty. I will spend the rest of my life proving my love for you if you give me a chance," she said.
I nodded my understanding of her words. "Next, I am going to sink your lover's ship. His wife is going to get a call from you. You will meet with her, and give her everything I've got. I am going to screw the adulterous bastard in technicolor. No compromise on this one; don't even ask." She looked shaken. This part of the game, confessing to asshole's wife, had not been part of her thinking. Too damn bad, I thought.
"Finally, if everything goes well to this point. I will see to getting the lie detector administered. If that goes well too, we will remain married and try to get by all of this. But, you will sign a legally binding agreement that if you cheat again, I get everything. Put another way, you'll end up with the clothes on your back and that closet full of shoes you've got upstairs," I said. "Any questions?"
"Ely, I really am sorry. You didn't deserve any of this. I really was an asshole, but no more," she said.
"Okay, we'll see," I said. "Call her now."
"Harvey's missus. Set up a meet time for tomorrow. There will be no delays here," I said.
To her credit she didn't hesitate. She headed for the kitchen, the nearest phone. She made the call and the date. It would be lunch tomorrow.
I went into my office and retrieved the manila envelope. I brought it back in and handed it to her. "I have other copies and so does my PI," I said. She nodded.
"Ely, could I ask for one small favor?" she said in a soft voice. I nodded.
"Would you please put those guns away in the safe—his and yours? They really do scare me," she said.
I smiled. "Yes," I said. "I'll do that now."
I bugged her purse. I wanted to be there in technological-spirit when she met with Mrs. Fawcett. Margo didn't know of the recorder of course, and she wouldn't unless she did a close search of her purse. I figured that to be unlikely.
It was a Friday, a work day for all concerned. I didn't know, of course, whether or not Mr. Fawcett would be taking the day off given the traumatic happenings of the night before. But that wasn't my worry; it was Margo's. If she met with him, I would have it recorded; then we would all be going to plan B. If she did as she said she was going to do, we might be okay—in the long run. Whatever her skills as a seductress and they were considerable; she wasn't my equal intellectually nor was he. I was pretty sure she realized that, but him? I doubted it. He would try to stop her from sinking his ship if he knew. He had to try; his wife was about to get enough evidence to all but totally destroy him economically.