Chapter 1

It was almost enough to make him forget his anger and disappointment. It was the eyes that did it. In them, he saw intelligence, warmth, and ... sympathy? Apparently, word spread rapidly. Of course, he had not been at all discreet about his upset at the assignment, so no wonder she knew.

Well, it wasn't her fault, and maybe she did not like it any better than he did, so he tried to call up his manners. "Good morning. I'm Gordy Alford."

"Marielle Gilson," she replied with a smile and her hand extended, "and yes, your objections were pretty much heard all over the building. If it's any consolation, I screamed almost as loudly when I was put on one of these assignments the first time."

"Yeah, but this is more lawyers' work and not for engineers. I want to do constructive things. I built this thing. Why can't someone else play the political games? It's a waste of my time," Gordy objected.

The breakthrough device, which he stubbornly insisted on referring to as his 'cardiac roto-rooter', had indeed been his baby from the beginning. Of the many competing technologies for clearing clogged arteries without surgery, all in the company agreed that the 'Tru-Pulse' was the best available combination of safety, effectiveness, and ease of use. Cardiologists who had been involved in field tests agreed.

The problem was that until the FDA agreed with those attributes, all of the development expense would be sunk cost. His company, Medi-Vanced, had from its founding followed a policy of having developers shepherd their products all the way through approval. If there was one thing that had almost caused Gordy to look for another company, it had been that policy.

Fortunately, he could be working on his next miracle while the approval process groaned on. He could also spend time with the product manager monitoring live field tests of the Tru-Pulse with cardiologists. Even so, he would never be happy about the 'dead time' this would cost him. Working with the very attractive lawyer should at least make the time more pleasant than it might be.

"I suppose you have done this numerous times," he observed. "It's my first 'sentence', so you'll probably need to keep me out of trouble."

Her laugh was as captivating as her eyes. "You are correct. All of us on the legal staff spend a lot of time on approvals." She pointedly looked him up and down with a half-smile, half-smirk on her face and commented "Well, I least I don't have a presentability problem with you. I'm working with Jerry Grunewald on his device, too."

"Ohhhh. My sympathies," he joked, and they shared a laugh.

"I'm not sure how you view our 'team', here," he went on. "Since I know nothing about the approval maze, nor do I really care to learn, I will consider myself to be a resource that you can use as you need me. If you can tell me where to show up, what preparation to have done, and how to behave, I will comply to the best of my ability. Hopefully, that will get us through to making money in the shortest time."

Marielle tried to keep her astonishment from showing. The proprietary attitude of the engineers almost always led to many struggles over who was actually in charge of the approval team. If Gordy would really do as he claimed, this could be one of the most pleasant assignments yet.

She had already noted the lack of any condescension on his part. That was also unusual. The assumption that the lawyers knew little about the technology was widespread among the developers. She would not advertise the fact that she had her B.S. in mechanical engineering.

Her choice of undergrad study had triggered a monumental battle with her parents. Her father, Peter Gilson, was a billionaire, some by inheritance, but even more by his own drive and skill. He did not take kindly to that kind of show of independence from his daughter, the only child from him and his equally controlling wife, Frances.

Peter's assumption had always been that Marielle, even though she was not the son he had hoped for and expected, would be groomed to take over his real estate development business, along with ownership in dozens of other generally successful enterprises. What he considered his daughter's naively idealistic wish to do something 'more significant' had not set well with him.

Peter's problem was that he was no more immune to Marielle's personality than was any other male. To his credit, once inevitability was conceded, he supported her. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of Frances. She did not come from money, as did Peter. Even with everything she now had, the 'grasping' instinct had not been satisfied, but had been translated to her only child. She regretted that Marielle was aspiring to be 'less than she could be'.

When Marielle decided to go into law rather than seeking advanced engineering degrees, it was a great relief to both parents. They believed that she would eventually abandon her idealism and get into the more lucrative areas of the legal profession, or perhaps even politics. That would be much more fitting, given her social status.

Fairly early in life, Marielle had decided that she did not like being separated from other young people because of her family's wealth. By no means did she reject the wealth or the things it could provide for her. She just did not like the idea that she was limited in who she could associate with.

At Medi-Vanced, very few people knew about her family's wealth. What she wore and what she drove were perhaps beyond what might be expected of a staff attorney of her age, but not way beyond. Her speech and manners showed impeccable breeding, but were in no way affected. In short, Marielle had become adept at 'passing' as just a classy, successful, well-off young staff attorney.

At his first meeting with Marielle, Gordy was, of course, unaware of her privileged upbringing. That she was very attractive, classy-looking, polite, and composed was immediately apparent. That she was very intelligent, caring, and perhaps fun-loving took only a direct look in her eyes to detect.

Responding to his offer to let her run the show, Marielle finally answered "I appreciate your consideration, Gordy. Actually, we are in a time bind already. Please don't be offended, but do you have a nice business suit?"

"Oh. A suit? Not just a blazer?"

"I'm afraid not," Marielle said. "It's company policy. Even though a lot of the people on the government side will be dressed more casually, we are supposed to maintain a standard."

"I do have two suits, both conservative - non-formal wedding grade, if you know what I mean," he admitted. "One of them has been worn only once."

"It sounds like you are well prepared, then," she said with obvious relief. "If you need to, take off now and get to a one-hour cleaner. We are scheduled to leave on the corporate jet for D.C. at seven tomorrow morning."

"Will there be time on the flight to brief me?" he said, trying not to let either the irritation or the slight panic show.

"Since this is the first meeting after submission of the request for approval, everything should be very preliminary," she assured him.

"Will it be just the two of us? I would think there would be someone, uh, more senior involved."

"Very astute," she said with a nod. "The V.P. or Cardiac Products will be present for all interactions until we get down to technical squabbling."

"I'll bet she doesn't like this much more than I do," Gordy quipped.

"I think she realizes that it is the key part of her job. With wizards like you in development, getting products ready is the easy part."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that, given some of the shouting matches I have heard. Thank you for the compliment, though."

She just nodded in acknowledgment. Once again, she had to suppress her surprise and pleasure. Despite his protestations, Gordy promised to be the best engineer to work through the red tape with that she had ever been assigned.

As much as anything else about Gordy, the fact that he did not seem at all flustered by her was a pleasant change. She knew the affect she had on men. The generally unsophisticated engineers were usually the worst. Not Gordy, though. There was a moment of irritation that he seemed resistant to her charms, but she swatted that down quickly. This was business and Gordy was behaving just as he should.

After two months, it seemed to Gordy that no progress at all had been made. The people that they worked with at the FDA seemed to have no appreciation that Tru-Pulse could save lives and needed to get into hospitals as quickly as possible. He was sure that they were being purposely obtuse about the technology used. Either that, or their IQs were far too low to merit such key government positions.

The V.P. of Cardiac Products, Dr. Gretchen Kohen, M.D., had graciously spent a number of hours explaining reality to him. "Face it, Gordy; you will not be dealing with best and the brightest, here. Our job is to get approval and support from people who don't really understand what we are doing and who don't feel any particular incentive to approve our products. On the contrary, they feel it their duty, or privilege, as the case may be, to 'protect' the public from what we want to sell."

"And we have no choice but to go through this silly dance?"


"How do we get beyond the drones to someone who understands and who can make a decision?" he asked.

"You certainly understand the essence of our challenge. Despite the seeming disinterest, our clinical trials are being closely monitored. Uniformly positive results, especially if some are dramatic, are the best way to speed things along."

"All of which is out of my hands," he lamented. "So, it is perfectly understandable that I feel helpless."

"I'm afraid so."

"Doesn't the company recognize the waste of my time, here?"

"Yes, and no," Gretchen answered. "They recognize that you are being kept away from what you do best. On the other hand, things would go even more slowly if we did not have the proper technical expertise always available."

"Even if no one understands a word I say? Even if they don't know meaningful questions to ask me?"

"Even if."

On the good side, the frustrating negotiations meant time spent with Marielle. For really the first time in his life, Gordy had encountered a woman who could hold his attention for more than a few weeks. Romance had never been high a priority for him. Not to say that his libido was in any sense atrophied. He just had a very disciplined approach to what was truly important in his life. Early on, it had been survival and recovery. Then, it was completing his education. After that, it was establishing himself. None of that left room for romantic entanglements.

Every ten to fifteen days, there was another trip to DC, always requiring an overnight stay, and usually more than one night. After the often brief sessions with the FDA people, there was a lot of free time. From the beginning, Gordy and Marielle spent that time together.

She had been to DC many times, but she never showed any reluctance to tour the various sites and attractions with Gordy. They shared numerous dinners. They even went dancing, something that Gordy felt embarrassingly incompetent doing. She was persistent, though, and as in most things, he was a fast learner.

When the dates continued back home, things progressed to hand-holding, hugging, kissing, and very light petting. Marielle was beyond ready for things to go all the way. Gordy, however, always retreated from greater intimacy. Assuming that he might be trying to retain some semblance of professionalism, she took his retreats with outward calm. All the while, the longing and frustration was tearing her up inside. She had passed 'in love' very early in their acquaintance.

That a healthy, well-built, good-looking young man should have such disciplined control over his hormones had everything to do with the tale of Gordy's late teens and college years.

He grew up in a very typical family: mother, father, and a sister a little more than five years older. He had heard many times how easily his mother had conceived his sister, Cheri, and how hard they had tried to get her pregnant with him.

Perhaps in one way, his family was not completely typical. His mother was a beauty of movie star or beauty contest caliber, even in her forties. His father, quite a handsome man in his own right, was well aware of his wife's beauty. Unfortunately, he lived in fear of losing her to someone more wealthy, dashing, or perhaps unnaturally endowed. Also unfortunately, no suspected how much that fear dominated his life.

Unlike just a typical jealous husband, Gordy's father was never accusatory or overly suspicious. He channeled his fear and uncertainty into efforts to make his wife as happy and as satisfied as his time and resources allowed. He just could not be confident that his best would be enough.

Gordy's father's fear had no basis in his mothers' actions or inclinations, though. She was in no way pretentious about her beauty, and she was completely devoted to her husband.

They lived in a medium-small town that was dominated by one industry. That industry was owned by one Robert Krenz, the man who was the de facto baron of the area. Krenz's privately held company was certainly not abusive of its employees or the area, but there was no question that he was in complete control of everything.

Gordy's father had held a responsible financial position in Krenz's company for as long as Gordy could remember. He did not hold a high opinion of Krenz, but never, ever mouthed anything negative where his family could hear it. In fact, if Gordy or his sister ever parroted the widespread dislike of Krenz, his father rebuke them sternly.

Gordy's mother did some part-time and fill-in work at the executive offices of the same company, but she was always home for the children. When Gordy reached high school, though, his mother began spending more hours working.

One summer day, Gordy's comfortable little world came to a cataclysmic end. His summer job was at the local country club, and it had rained too heavily for any course maintenance, so everything was shut down. Arriving home, he was surprised to see that his father's car was there.

Casually entering the house, he heard his normally soft-spoken father yelling "Just answer the question! Is it true that you have been having sex with Krenz?!"

As Gordy was frozen by the shock of those words, his mother tried to stammer "But ... but ... I had to ... your job ... I..."

"Did he threaten my job?" His father demanded.

"He ... he ... didn't say ... I mean, there was no ... Ohhhh, please, I ... I..."

By then, Gordy, had come out of his frozen state and moved from the back door where he had entered the hous toward the front entryway, where the unbelievable confrontation was taking place. He arrived just in time to see his father put a pistol to his head and pull the trigger.

From all psychiatric evidence, the sight of her husband's brains blowing against the wall was the last completely conscious memory his mother ever had. She essentially checked out at that moment. From then on, she was able to move, to speak, to eat, and to do most normal actions. She just did them without any connection to reality. The psychological overload of what she had seen was just too much. Her own feelings of guilt and responsibility must have contributed, as well.

She never saw Gordy watching the grisly scene. Later, psychiatrists would debate whether concern for the impact of the tragedy on her son might have kept her from withdrawing if she had seen him there, but it was all just meaningless speculation.

Once his autonomic system forced Gordy to take a breath, his mind started to work. Despite being shocked at what she had just admitted, she was his immediate concern. It was only when he got close enough to see her eyes that he sensed that he had effectively lost both parents.

From somewhere finding the poise, Gordy backed away from the scene, leaving his mother standing there in a catatonic state. It came to him that the reason for his father's suicide must never be known. He called 911 and simply said that he had heard a gunshot as he approached the house and had found his father shot to death and his mother unresponsive.

The next call was very, very difficult. He and Cheri, because of the difference in their ages, were not very close, but they always got along very well. She had to hear it from him first. Fortunately, she was in her small apartment on the campus at a nearby city. He could barely speak the words.

Somehow, he was able to call his grandparents on his father's side and he was on the phone with them when the police arrived. All he had told Cheri and his grandparents was just what he had told the 911 operator.

Gordy would most likely have carried the terrible secret to his grave, except for Krenz's arrogance. Well, that may not be completely fair. Gordy's father had, after all, been a faithful, valued, long-term employee of Krenz's. Given Gordy's mother's catatonia and Gordy's statements to the police, Krenz had no reason to think that Gordy or anyone else knew about his dalliance with Gordy's mother. Thus, the baron came to the interment to pay his respects to a loyal vassal.

Gordy stood at the grave site between the people he wanted to protect, his sister Cheri and his paternal grandparents. His maternal grandparents were not there, too upset at their son-in-law for his action that had sent their daughter into insanity. Gordy loved them and wanted to protect them, also. It took unexpected psychological strength for a fifteen-year-old to hold the awful reality to himself.

When Krenz made his grand entrance, Gordy's psychological strength was exceeded. The minister had just taken his place to begin the burial rites when Krenz emerged from the limo, his personal assistant/body guard holding the door for him. Naturally, all of the sixty or seventy attendees looked toward the limo, just as Krenz had carefully planned.

Gordy snapped. Disentangling himself quickly from the comforting arms that were around him, he dashed straight toward Krenz, yelling at the to of his lungs "You get out of here, you monster! You can't be here! You're the reason he's dead! We had a happy family until you went after my moth... !"

At that point, the bodyguard reached Gordy and clamped a hand over his mouth. "You stupid kid! Shut your fuckin' mouth! What are you trying to... ?"

It was not a very masculine reaction, but in his rage, it was instinctive for Gordy. He bit down as hard as he could on the flesh of the bodyguard's hand. A few moments later, when he tasted blood, Gordy would realize just how hard he had bitten.

As soon as the hand was pulled away, Gordy continued his tirade. "She was a good wife and mother and you tricked her! What right did you have, just because you own everything? You're a murderer! A murderer!"

Once again, the bodyguard had Gordy restrained and silenced and the man looked toward his boss for instructions. With the augmented strength of a super adrenalin rush, Gordy stomped on the man's foot, then used the slight release of pressure to spin away.

Being restrained had only amplified Gordy's rage, but he had enough awareness to realize who the true target of his rage should be. He charged toward Krenz with such ferocity that the man recoiled, leaving himself vulnerable to Gordy's frenzied kick at his groin.

"You won't ever want to steal anyone's else's wife! Never again!" Gordy screamed, landing a second kick before Krenz could turn away. Both kicks had landed, but it was late fall and Krenz wore an overcoat. He was unable to stand straight as he staggered back to the limo with the assistance of the driver and the battered bodyguard.

As the roar of the departing limo died out, there was no sound but a few wintering birds to replace it. It took fifteen or twenty seconds for sounds of crying from relatives and close friends to fill the silence. Then, Cheri rushed to the now motionless boy and wrapped him in a hug. "Oh, God, Gordy! How awful it must have been to hear that. You weren't going to tell, were you?"

"I'm sorry, Cheri! I'm sorry! I didn't want to tell, but when he..."

"It's OK, Hon. It's OK. You can't keep that to yourself. At least, now, I know why ... OH, God!" With that, she lost it in tears, and Gordy went with her.

It was over ten minutes before the minister was able to do a very abbreviated service.

Gordy's Grandfather, Bent Alford, was a very astute man. He did not live in town, but from many discussions with Gordy's father, he had a good idea how Krenz would react. Bent immediately called a lawyer friend from his own town and asked him to get to Gordy's house right away. The lawyer said that the best he could do because of court commitments was about two hours. Bent got both Gordy and Cheri in his car and they all drove away quickly.

"Where are we going, Grandpa?" Cheri asked.

"To the TV station in Braxton. They would love a chance to do a negative piece on Krenz. He has tried some pretty rough stuff on them."

"They will probably arrest you for assault," Bent warned Gordy as they drove.

"But that goon assaulted me, first," Gordy objected.

"I know. This gets complicated. Krenz himself did not touch you, but the goon was his agent. We have to file charges right away. What makes it tough is that Krenz pretty much owns the police here."

"Let's have a big trial, then," Gordy snarled. "We can call all sorts of witnesses and they have to testify. We can find out what he really did to Mom."

"They have to testify, but they don't have to tell the truth," Bent warned. Gordy's poor grandmother was so grief-stricken over the loss of her son that she was not able to enter into the conversation. Only Bent's concern for the boy and his natural sense of fair play enabled him to take charge. He had been in combat in the army and he tried to view this situation the same way. It did not ease the pain in his heart, but it helped him function.

It was a forty minute drive to the TV station. With the confusion of finding someone to talk to, they knew it would be more than two hours before they got to the house. When Gordy was finally talking to a reporter, Bent called the lawyer's office and they assured him they would reach the lawyer and have him wait down the street from the house. The astute admin also asked for a credit card from Bent to seal Gordy as a client.

After some initial puzzlement and skepticism, the reporter quickly became very excited about the story. Because of his age, there was a question whether Gordy's name and face could be shown. They ended up shooting both with and without ID and would let the lawyers sort it out. After all, underaged victims of accidents, fires, etc. were routinely identified. It was only the underaged accused that were to be strictly anonymous. At that point, Gordy was not accused of anything.

Just as they were finishing off the interview, Bent received a call from the lawyer advising them to meet him at the police station to file charges against the bodyguard. "Won't they be apt to arrest Gordy if he shows up there?" Bent asked.

"Quite likely. But if so, it would have happened anyway," the lawyer answered. "This is to put them off-balance and cause a little confusion."

"Will the charge be just against the bodyguard?" Bent inquired.

"No. Against Krenz, also. Does the boy seriously want this to go to trial?"

"I believe him," Bent answered. "He wants to do anything that will get back at Krenz in any way."

"Would it be all right if I set up a polygraph?" the lawyer asked. "It will only be useful with the media, but if the idea is to hurt Krenz..."

"I'm sure Gordy will be more than willing," Bent agreed.

"If I can, I'll set that up before we go to the police station," the lawyer said.

The adrenalin of the encounter and the interviews had pulled Gordy out of his remaining funk from the tragedy, and his anger and lust for revenge seemed to increase by the minute. When Bent explained the plans, he was all for them.

The lawyer succeeded in setting up the polygraph, and it took quite a while. Since only binary questions could be evaluated, they first had to write out a script of what Gordy heard between his parents and what his own actions were. Then, the analyst broke every part of the grisly drama down into 'yes' or 'no' questions. The resulting probability of falsehood was insignificant. Bent immediately called the TV station and asked how they would like to receive the results.

As they were waiting at the police station, the lawyer suggested that Gordy file suit against Krenz for sexual harassment of his mother and alienation of affection. He thought it would be productive to come up with two or three more complaints, as well. "It's the shotgun approach, Gordy," the lawyer explained. "We want to create enough irritation so he offers a settlement."

"I don't want any of his damned money!" Gordy snarled.

"Yes, you do. What if your mother needs care for the rest of her life? Who will pay for that?" The lawyer had not meant to cause tears, but the two women and Gordy broke down at that. Gordy finally nodded in agreement.

Because of the way complaints and arrests were handled by different people, they were able to get the assault complaints filed before anyone realized that there was a charge against Gordy. Having him at the station with a lawyer on a misdemeanor assault charge meant that even a 'captive' police force could not find justification to hold Gordy.

The TV station was in a different town and even a different county. At one time, Krenz had attempted to close them down because of some unflattering coverage of one of his business moves. They had weathered the attacks, but the same ownership and management was still in place, and they definitely held a grudge. Gordy's heart-rending tale got a long teaser on the dinner-time news and was the feature story for the late news. It was obvious that the station's best people had been put on it. It was tight and hard-hitting.

Nor was it a one-shot effort. Somehow, the station's investigators had found out who tipped off Gordy's father to his mother's infidelity with Krenz. That led them to anonymous statements from several of Krenz's employees. Some statements described his mother's lengthy times in Krenz's office suite and her appearance and attitude afterwards. Others told of different female employees who seemed to have succumbed to the same allure or pressure. In all, parts of the story occupied air time for four nights.

The lawyer felt that going to the TV station had damaged the potential for a lucrative settlement. Gordy, however, was adamant that the money was not as important as getting back at Krenz any way he could. The lawyer tried to compensate by flooding the docket with seven different suits.

All that Krenz had to hit back with was the assault charge. Keying on Gordy's attitude, the lawyer acted as if they were eager for the trial. He stated that his defense would be based on extreme mental distress and laid out a long list of Krenz's employees who would be called as witnesses. He also petitioned early for a change of venue to the next county, citing undo influence and close friendship between Krenz and almost the entire county judicial structure.

Even though he was the kind of autocrat who surrounded himself with yes-men, Krenz did have a lead attorney who told it straight and to whom he listened. "Robert, don't fight the change of venue. If you have to pursue the charges, let it be moved. I suspect even your friend Cecil will have to grant the change."

"He wouldn't dare! He owes me a lot," Krenz declared.

"Look, Robert, if you get a conviction here, it will be granted an appeal. There is no doubt about that. There is no judge in the county who is not too close to you. Getting retrial on appeal is a very bad thing for a judge, particularly for that reason. Why get your friend disbarred?"

"You sound as if I shouldn't even push the charges," Krenz grumbled.

"I thought I was very clear on that. I know their attorney. He is very, very good, and very, very tenacious. He will have people on the stand that you don't want there."

"But they wouldn't dare say anything against me!"

"They won't even know they are doing it. They will just answer seemingly innocent simple questions, and suddenly, he will have built something damning.

"Robert, you have nothing to win with the assault charge. The weight of sympathy will be with the boy. The fact that your agent attacked first will make even a conviction questionable."

"But he kicked me!"

"After your man grabbed him."

"And the kid bit Mark!"

"Legally, words are not sufficient justification for a physical attack, Robert."

"The kid can't get by with what he did - the TV shit and everything. Nobody gets by with that!"

"The problem, Robert, is that it's true. How much more exposure do you want for your, uh, philandering?" The attorney was the only man alive who could have said that to Krenz. "How much more do you want your wife and kids to be subjected to. What if Claire decides enough is enough. She could clean you out."

"So, you're suggesting... ?" Krenz asked testily.

"Set up two trusts. One for lifetime care for the woman. One for living expenses and college tuition for the kid. I'm sure they only filed all the suits to force that."

"So, you want me to let them win?"

"Robert, you are not all-powerful. You are not exempt from the law and from public opinion. You have been lucky with all of your manipulations of women until now. If you don't do everything you can to put a lid on this, you could be hurt quite badly. Believe me, absolutely no one is on your side, this time."

Muttering "And she wasn't even that good - too fuckin' full of guilt. Sure wasn't worth this," Krenz gave in. The attorney knew that the resigned flap of Krenz's arms was the most definitive go-ahead he would get.

Thus, Gordy's educational future was taken care of, along with his mother's long-term future care. At first, he wanted nothing to do with Krenz's 'blood money'. The other four were able to change his mind, but he would never be happy about it. It certainly did not soften his hatred for Krenz, a hatred that extended to all wealthy, powerful, manipulative people who took advantage of their underlings.

Gordy was puzzled when he heard the doorbell at about 8:30 on a Friday evening as he was reading a book. It was a little over two months since he and Marielle had started working together. Marielle was out of town at some family event for the whole weekend. Otherwise, they would have undoubtedly been together. Looking through the peep hole, he saw a man that he did not recognize. The man wore a suit and tie, but that was all that Gordy could tell through the tiny lens of the peep hole.

Company security had given all of the employees stern warnings about personal security. It had been pointed out that industrial espionage was not above kidnapping to gain vital competitive information. However, Gordy did not like to seem a frightened wimp, so he opened the door.

Before Gordy could say anything after opening the door, the man introduced himself, named the law firm he was with, and asked if he could come in and speak to Gordy for a few minutes.

Having already committed when he decided to open the door, Gordy motioned the man in. Without bothering to sit down, the man said "I am here on behalf of Mr. & Mrs. Peter Gilson. I am authorized to offer you a healthy cash settlement for your agreement to terminate your relationship with Miss Marielle Gilson."

Gordy was physically knocked backward by the brief, blunt statement. Before he could compose himself, he blurted out "Peter Gilson is Marielle's father?"

The man looked at him quizzically, and the slight widening of his eyes told Gordy that the man assumed Gordy had known that. "Yes, of course," was the man's response after his very brief look of surprise.

As Gordy's surprise diminished, his anger more than took its place. "What kind of arrogant asshole sends a lackey to 'protect' his daughter from a gold digger? For your information, I had no idea that Marielle was anything but a successful lawyer. I'm doing my best to control my temper. Get out before I lose it!"

"I'm just the messenger," the man protested.

"Then, I'm sorry you're so hard up for employment that you would work for someone like that!" Gordy shot back. While Gordy never considered himself physically imposing or frightening, the lawyer was obviously not interested in any kind of confrontation.

"About the offer... ?" the man tried to ask.

"OUT!" Gordy shouted, visibly trembling with his rage.

There was a long-unused bottle of Scotch somewhere in the apartment, and he searched for it like a man dying of thirst. When he found it, he barely managed to open it because of his trembling, then drank straight from the bottle. The resulting burn and the gasping it produced controlled the trembling the hard way. A second, slower swallow gave him a chance to get his pulse and respiration down to something at least in the vicinity of normal.

Marielle was the heiress to the Gilson billions! Rationally, that should have sent him into wild celebration. Because of what had happened to his family at the hands of Robert Krenz, though, Gordy was not at all rational on the subject of wealthy people. The attempted 'buy off' hardly disturbed him. It fit perfectly with what he would expect from such people. His overwhelming anger was because Marielle had hidden everything from him - lied to him, in his opinion.

The next hour was divided between teeth-gnashing, stomping rage and wracking sobs. He had been on the precipice of falling in love with Marielle. Now, his irrational but very real hatred of wealth and all that it had done to him made a relationship with her impossible. He alternated between anger at how she had deceived him and sorrow that she could never be his.

Marielle called as planned around ten that evening. He took the coward's way out and let it roll to voice mail. The only sleep he had that night was from sheer exhaustion while sitting in his chair in front of the TV. It was on, but later, he could not have recalled anything that he was supposedly watching.

Early Saturday morning, he decided that it was best for both he and Marielle if he did not try to talk to her until he had some kind of control over his emotions. Part of him understood why she felt the need to hide her wealth, but no part of him could accept it. Other than the big thing, though, her treatment of him had been without reproach. Breaking off with her would hurt her, but she deserved to have the blow softened as much as possible. An angry blast over the phone would definitely not be the way. He knew he could not yet contain himself while talking to her.

Because he could not stand the guilt of just ignoring her calls, he packed a bag and set off in his car with no particular destination. He also turned off his cell phone. After driving for about two hours, he found some roadside cabins on a river bank and rented one. The rest of the day and evening, he just walked, skipped stones, and thought.

"I believe he truly had no idea that she was your daughter," the lawyer who had brought the offer to Gordy told Peter and Frances Gilson. They had summoned him Saturday morning to find out if they had successfully chased away Marielle's unacceptable suitor.

"Have you ever talked to her about this Alford character?" Peter asked his wife. "Do you believe she could be that successful at hiding who she is?"

"The only times I have talked about her social life," Frances answered sharply, "all I got was complaints about the men I had arranged for her to meet."

"I thought you had connected her with the cream of the crop," Peter commented.

"She definitely does not think so."

Turning back to the lawyer, Peter asked "So, did he accept the offer?"

"No. He, uh, got extremely angry and chased me from his apartment. He never even heard the amount."

"So, he plans to continue the relationship?" Frances probed.

"I have no way of knowing that," the lawyer answered.

"Replay the encounter," Peter ordered.

"I wrote notes when I got to the car," the lawyer said, "I, uh, hate to repeat some of the things he said. They're rather harsh."

"I want it verbatim," Peter insisted. "We're trying to get a feel for this guy."

Obviously worried about the reaction, the lawyer nevertheless replayed the short meeting.

After the lawyer had left, Peter got rather agitated. "I guess we'll have to do something stronger to chase this guy off."

"Don't you think we should investigate a bit more? We know nothing about him. For that matter, we don't know that there is anything serious between them," Frances cautioned.

"Now that he knows she has access to serious money, I'm sure he will become serious in a hurry," Peter predicted.

"If they just weren't working together, perhaps things could die down," Frances suggested.

"If we offered Marielle a better job..." Peter wished aloud.

"We've tried that several times," Frances pointed out. "If she is interested in him, there is even less chance of success now."

"Could we do something to get him fired?"

"You mean frame him?" Frances asked, genuinely surprised. "Are you really that concerned?"

"We know he is not the right kind of people," Peter stated emphatically. "We have enough problems with her without some white trash gold-digger turning her head."

"I just think we should check him out a lot better before we set anything up," Frances said. "Maybe we could offer him a job."

"After what he said to the lawyer, that would be worse than useless..."

"But if one of your companies called, he might not realize the connection."

"Hmmmm," Peter mused. "That might work. You are right, though. We have to stop them working together."

By Sunday morning, Gordy felt he was calm enough to treat Marielle decently, so he turned on his phone. It took less than an hour for her to call.

"Gordy, I've been worried. What happened."

"I found out who Marielle Gilson is," he answered as gently as he could.

A strangled-sounding "Oh" was her only response for many seconds. "But why wouldn't you talk to me?" she was finally able to ask.

"I ... I had to get control of myself. It took a while."

"Oh, nooooo!" she moaned, and he heard a catch in her breath. "Gordy, why does it have to make such a difference."

"Marielle, I'm afraid it makes a very big difference, and not just the way you deceived me."

"Deceived you? I didn't do that!"

"Marielle, I'm terribly sorry. You can't know how sorry I am, but this is just something I can't deal with."

"So, you're breaking up with me just because I happen to have a lot of money?" she whimpered.

"It's ... it's like we live in different worlds," was the only answer he could find.

She was about to lay into him about being chauvinistic. It had been a fear of hers since she started dating, and now it was coming true in the most painful way. Instead, she said a soft 'goodbye' and hung up.

By unspoken agreement, Marielle and Gordy avoided each other at work on Monday. They knew they would have to work together, but it was just too soon. For his part, Gordy accomplished almost nothing that morning.

Just before noon, he received a phone call that surprised him. After the greetings, the caller said "I am the head of Human Resources for RCS International. We have several engineering positions to fill and you were recommended by someone on our staff who attended college with you. When could we talk in some detail about the position, the compensation, and our company?"

At took Gordy several seconds to absorb this unprecedented event in his experience. On top of his general upset because of the breakup with Marielle, this was not a welcome intrusion. His first identifiable reaction was anger. Rather quickly, though, it occurred to him that from a career standpoint, being sought was a very good thing. He forced himself into polite mode.

"Ma'am, I am flattered that you called me. Please thank my classmate for the recommendation. Right now, though, I am deeply involved with a new company that has great potential. I am the lead engineer on a critical new product, and there is no way I could leave until it is approved for sale."

"Mr. Alford, we are prepared to offer you substantially more money than you are making now."

"I suppose I should be offended that you were able to find out my compensation in a private company. All I will say, though, is that it does not really matter. I have committed to seeing this through. I would not be a credible professional if I abandoned the product just for more money. Even more than that, I could not live with myself. I am just not wired that way. So, thank you again for the call, but there is zero chance that I would leave Medi-Vanced in the near future."

"You mean you never even got around to talking money?" Peter almost shouted at the woman who tried to recruit Gordy.

"He cut me off very politely but very firmly. Mr. Gilson, I have to say that I wish we had many more employees with his attitude on our staff."

Frances had heard the short conversation on speakerphone. When it ended, she said "Peter, just buy the company and have him fired." Having said, it, she wanted in the worst way to take it back. It was an idea fraught with danger. "Off course, that is a ridiculously extreme way to handle it," she backpedaled.

"No, it's not. I'll do it." Frances was both surprised and concerned at her husband's vehemence. All she could figure out is that the insulting reference to Peter from Alford to the lawyer had turned Peter into Alford's bitter enemy. Peter had indeed bristled when the lawyer had fearfully related the 'asshole' comment.

"But what if his firing hurts the company?" Frances cautioned.

"I don't see how it could matter," Peter declared.

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Romantic /