My thanks go to PapaGus and Deryk for their perseverance while assisting me in preparing this story for posting.
"Ooh Duncan, what have you been getting up to on the quiet?" Alice said, with a grin on her face, just after we'd taken our seats to stake claim to a large table in the hotel lounge.
Alice is my PA and we were in town - along with most of the rest of the staff in our department - for a major seminar. It was the first time I'd been called upon to give public presentation at one of those do's and the rest of the team had come along for the kick, the free trip to up-country and supposedly to offer their intellectual support; but more than likely, to take the Mickey out of me if I fluffed it.
We'd all had dinner together and then some of us — four of the girls Alice, Myra, Jean, young Brooke and myself -- thought we'd sit in the lounge for a while and have a couple of drinks,, before we retired to our rooms; maybe some of the girls would even get to have a dance or two, if they felt like it. Alice and I had gone ahead to grab a table whilst the other younger girls went off to repair their faces.
The rest of department's scallywags had headed straight for the bar, no doubt to get well and truly tanked-up.
"And what's that supposed to mean?" I asked, having no idea of what Alice was alluding too.
Which wasn't all that unusual. Alice had worked closely with me for a few years by then, as had almost all the lab techie's and our support staff. But Alice had this habit of going off on unexpected tangents whilst we were talking. Not two seconds before, we'd been discussing the itinerary for the following day.
"Well, there is an extremely good looking wench over the other side of the room who was somewhat surprised to see us walk in here. She watched us come in extremely intently. Somehow, I can't believe that she found my arrival so fascinating!"
"Sweetheart, you should know by now, that when you're with a handsome fellow like me, beautiful women can't help but stop and stare." I replied with a wink and a grin. "I'm surprised she's not looking daggers at you, because she thinks you have me all to yourself for the evening."
"You should be so lucky! The girls will be here in a minute to put an end to your wicked plans." Alice grinned back at me,
It was an old in-joke; I worked mostly surrounded by women, and - even if a do say it myself - I am not a bad looking bloke. Like Alice most of the females in the lab and office are happily married or at least in long-term relationships; my choice, I do all the hiring -- and firing -- at the Research laboratory. I find people who are committed to long-term relationships are just a little more diligent in their work. Yes, there's sometimes child illness or minding problems, or, another pregnancy can mean I lose one of the team for a while. But I can rely on their results in the lab and that's what I felt was most important.
I tried to promote the atmosphere of the lab being one big happy family and most everyone appreciated that. I might be the boss, but nearly all the staff treated me like a big brother most of the time. I was always being invited to parties, weddings, christenings and the like; Jesus I've become godfather to five -- or is it six?-- of the staff's off-spring in the six years I've run the laboratory.
As those years have past, it had become apparent that most the female staff has developed a favoured leisure activity of playing matchmaker where I'm concerned.
I, in return, play the spurned lover to whichever one of them I'm talking to at any given moment. So - when they do attempt to fix me up with their friends or relatives - I can tell them they are wasting their time, it's they who I'm in love with.
Okay it's an old and somewhat worn joke, and if any of them were to get googly eyed over me, I'd run a bleeding mile, and don't they know it! But it led to a light-hearted atmosphere around the lab and office, which we all enjoyed.
"Well now Duncan, I'd say that's the trouble. Now, she has got a face on her that would stop Napoleon in his tracks. But I'd say that she's looking those daggers at you, not me. Actually I'm surprised that you haven't been turned to stone already. Honestly, if looks could kill, I'd be calling the undertaker now."
Alice might have been speaking humorously, but she had an unusually serious expression on her face.
"Oh my Alice, and just where about will I find this purveyor of my imminent doom?" I asked smiling, joining in as best I could Alice's little joke.
I was sure that Alice must have been mistaken. Our table was quite near to the lounge's main entrance and I suspected that the female Alice was talking about, was probably showing her displeasure at the late arrival of somebody in her party. Come-on, fella's, we've all seen that kind of expression on a woman's face.
"Over there with the crowd on that corner table." She replied, gesturing with her head to the far side of the lounge.
I looked in the direction Alice had indicated, and immediately located the woman she had been referring to. The face I saw glowering back at me, took me so completely by surprise that it caused me to lose my decorum for more than a few seconds.
"Oh shit, Elvira!" I blurted out without thinking.
"And, just who is Elvira, when she's at home? And, pray tell me, Duncan, why is she giving you the evil eye?"
Now I really should have kept my big fat mouth firmly closed. But the shock of suddenly seeing Elvira, after all those years, had kind-a knocked the old brain out of kilter.
"My wife!" I heard myself telling Alice quietly.
"Your ex-wife," she repeated with an aghast tone to her voice. "Christ, I didn't know anyone had ever managed to get a rope on you!"
The shock at hearing the news, that I'd ever been married, was audible in Alice's voice and clearly visible on her face.
Regretfully I must have still been in a state of shock myself, because I found myself unintentionally explaining.
"No, I think she still is my wife, we were never divorced. Well, I don't think we were!"
Alice didn't reply to that; when I looked back at her, she was sitting there, staring at me with her mouth agape. As they say, catching flies.
Alice still had that surprised expression on her face when Myra, Jean and Brooke arrived at the table.
"You all right Alice? You look like you've seen a ghost." Myra asked as she sat down opposite her.
Alice moved her gaze from me to Myra.
"Duncan's just told me that his wife is sitting over there!" she said in a monotone.
A bemused expression came over Myra's face; she had obviously been confused by Alice's statement.
"That woman over there, the one with the long black hair, who's looking daggers at us. Duncan has just informed me that she's his wife!"
"Never!" Myra replied, looking wide-eyed at me for an instant, and turning to search around the lounge, trying to locate Elvira amongst all the other patrons.
I noted that Jean and young Brooke were doing the same thing. Luckily by then, some people had got up to dance, so spotting Elvira hadn't been as easy as it had been when Alice and I had first arrived in the lounge.
"Leave it out, girls; it was all a long time ago. It was an accident; I really didn't intend to tell Alice about her." I said trying to think of a way to extricate myself from the hole I'd so inadvertently stepped into. The girls -- I feared -- where going to want know chapter and verse.
"What was an accident, marrying her?" Alice asked.
"No, of course not! Telling you that she was my wife was the accident."
"Oh come on Duncan. After all the time we've known you, you aren't going to get away with suddenly announcing that you are married, and not give us the low down. Why have you never mentioned her before?" Alice insisted.
"Oh I see her, she's very beautiful." Jean blurted out. "If not looking a little peeved about something!"
"Where?" Brooke demanded.
Then she, Jean, Myra and Alice fell into a detailed discussion -- that excluded me -- of exactly where in the room Elvira was sitting, what she looked like and with whom she was seated. Eventually they came to the communal conclusion that none of them knew any of the party Elvira was sitting with.
"Jesus Alice, it was a long time ago, and best forgotten." I said, kinda breaking into what had turned into a private discussion amongst the four of them.
"I don't think so Duncan. Ex-wives you try to forget. But you just told me that you believe that you are still married to her. How come you've never divorced her ... or, come to that, she's never divorced you?" Alice demanded.
"Not much point really; I never intend to get hooked up permanently again, so why should I bother? I would have thought you'd have realised that by now. Why should I go through all the bother and expense of getting a divorce? If she wants to get married to one of her ... Well, she can have all the hassle! Now, if we may, can we try to forget that she's here?" I asked.
But my subordinates weren't going to let me off that easily. I suppose you probably could say that I had brought it upon myself, for being so easygoing and open with them all over the years. The atmosphere we — or rather I'd — tried to maintain in our department, was more like that of an extended family than it was a workplace. That day was the first time I'd regretted doing so.
.... There is more of this story ...