A Cautious Man Ch. 17-20bycoaster2©
Please excuse the delay in posting these last segments of A Cautious Man. As I have explained, there were some issues with chapter numbering and, according to some readers, plot! Darn, just when I thought I was getting the hang of this gig.
As always, I am grateful to ErikThread for his editing skills. Any errors or omissions are mine.
As their children entered their teens, Bill had become aware of the closeness he had established with them. He was not surprised that Bill Junior would connect with him. Both of them had similar interests. Young Bill was chomping at the bit in anticipation of his sixteenth birthday and the driver education class in which he was enrolled. It was still over a year away, but "Junior," as he now wished to be known, was counting the days, nonetheless.
Lexi, was the surprise. She and her father were exceptionally close, and that surprised Bill. He expected that she would bond with her mother, especially as she progressed through her early teen years, but that didn't seem to happen. In fact, lately, it seemed that the two were constantly at odds with each other. More than once he had to intervene and act as referee between the two strong-willed females. When he tried to talk to Marion about it, she brushed it off as typical mother-daughter conflict, and told him not to make too much of it. Still, it left Bill with an uneasy feeling.
Father and daughter were sitting on the back deck on a sunny, warm Saturday afternoon, chatting about nothing in particular when Lexi changed the subject.
"Dad ... is Mom OK?" It seemed like an innocent question, but Bill was alerted to it immediately.
"What do you mean? Healthwise?" he answered carefully.
"Yah ... maybe. She doesn't seem the same lately. When you're not here, we seem to be arguing a lot more. Sometimes, I feel like she's angry at something other than me or Junior."
Bill willed himself to calm down. This wasn't good news. Were they the same signals that he had missed five years ago?
"I don't know, Lexi. She seems OK to me. To be honest, I haven't noticed anything like that. Does this just happen when I'm not here?" He was probing with caution. He wanted his daughter to open up.
"Yah ... it seems like that. It's been going on for a while now. I think I'll be happy when University starts in September and I'll be out of the line of fire, but I feel for Junior."
"What kind of things cause the arguments?"
"They aren't really arguments. It's more like ... little temper tantrums, I guess. Maybe it's menopause."
"I hadn't thought of that. That can cause all kinds of reactions in women, I hear," he said.
"I hope it's as simple as that. I'd hate to see you back sleeping in the front bedroom again."
It was all Bill could do to will himself not to react. "What do you mean?" he asked in a controlled voice.
"Oh, come on, Dad. You weren't fooling us. I know you and mom went through a bad time a few years ago. We were just happy when it was over." She was talking to her father as if he was a kid who'd tried to pull a "fast one" on his parents, and hadn't gotten away with it.
"So, what did you think was happening?" Again, the cautious tone was evident in his voice.
"Well, back then, I thought you had gotten into some kind of fight and neither one of you would apologize. I don't know how many times I was going to say something, but I chickened out," she said in a matter-of-fact way. "Now, I think maybe she did something bad ... maybe had an affair ... or something. We were just relieved that you guys made up."
"Did Junior know too?"
"He knew what I thought back then, but I've never said anything to him about what I think now. He's been giving mom the silent treatment for quite a while. Telling him wouldn't make things better." This time, it was in a tone that said she viewed the situation more seriously.
Bill looked at his daughter and was amazed. She'd grown up so fast. She was so smart. Better yet, she was handling it like an adult. Who was he trying to fool?
"You're a pretty smart cookie, Lexi," reaching out with his hand toward her. She took it and squeezed. The look on her face was one of unconditional love. He turned his head so that she couldn't see the tear forming in the corner of his eye. The little bells were ringing again and it was Lexi that helped him hear them.
They sat on the porch for another hour, comfortable in each other's company. Lexi talked about her boyfriend Clem and how he had become a "workaholic."
Lexi and Clement Troughbridge were destined for university in a few weeks. They had agreed on the same school, but not the same courses. Lexi would study economics and business administration, while Clem tackled mechanical engineering. Both Bill and Marion wondered if this was going to be a life partnership. Both of them liked Clem. He was a serious and yet, a light-hearted young man. Both of them also wondered if they had been intimate. Marion said she couldn't find any signs of it, but in this day and age, she wouldn't be surprised. Bill tried not to worry about it. He was confident in Lexi's sense of responsibility and good judgement.
The following Monday, Bill asked Tex Langhorn to come to his office.
"Hi Boss," the lanky security manager chirped as he strode into Bill's office. "What's up?"
"I'm afraid I've got another one of those personal assignments, Tex," Bill said in a resigned voice.
"Aw shit, Bill. Not again? Surely she didn't fall off the wagon again? He was hoping to hear Bill tell him otherwise.
"I don't know, just a feeling that something isn't right. Maybe this time we can nip it in the bud, if there's any bud to nip."
"The usual then? Follow and confirm, one way or another?"
"Yah ... only this time, if she is ... this time, I'll probably need some pictures or video. I just hope I'm wrong."
"Yah ... me too. This stinks, Bill. I don't know what she could be thinking. After last time, you'd think she'd learned her lesson." Tex stopped talking, running his hand over his face and shaking his head. "This stinks!" he said as he rose to leave. "I'll get back to you pronto." He turned and walked slowly out the door.
It occurred to Bill that Tex seemed almost certain Marion was straying again. He didn't seem to have much doubt. Strangely, Bill didn't feel as upset as the previous episode had made him. Perhaps he already knew as well. Was there such a thing as male intuition? When Lexi had talked about her mother's behavior, he remembered similar circumstances when her first affair was uncovered. It was all too familiar.
By Wednesday, Tex had called and asked to see him. Bill didn't need to guess, he could tell by the tone of Tex's voice. It wasn't going to be good news.
"Well, at least this time, she's moved uptown," the big man began. "She's seeing some hotshot named Douglas Bingham. He's a real estate developer, President of Valley Green Developments."
"I know who he is," Bill said with a slow, disgusted tone. "He's a member of the Chamber of Commerce and a big blowhard. Ask him how good he is and he'll spend hours telling you." It was clear to Tex that Bill had no use for the man.
"So, what's she up to this time?" Bill was in no mood for pleasantries or diversions.
"Well, she's seeing him at a couple of places that I've tracked down ... mostly upscale hotels. He's not shy, that's for sure."
"Hummph!" was Bill's only comment.
"As soon as I have a pattern, I'll get some film on them. In the meantime, I need your permission to 'bug' your house, the phone and set up some cameras. I'd like to get that in writing in case we need to use it in court."
"Done! Draft up what you want and I'll sign it." The statement was abrupt and he slapped his hand down on the desk.
"Bill, I'm going to need at least a week to get what we need. Are you OK with that?"
"I've been married to that woman for nearly twenty years. Another week isn't going to make it worse. Take the time you need to get what we have to get, OK?"
"Got it. I'll let you know as soon as I think we're done. Take care, Bill." His parting words were meant sincerely. He turned slowly and left the office.
Within seconds, Vera was at the door. "You OK, Bill?"
He nodded solemnly, and Vera knew instantly what the meeting with his security chief was about. She stepped into the office, closing the door behind her.
"It's happening again, isn't it." It was a statement, not a question.
Bill looked at her wearily and nodded. There was nothing else that needed to be said.
"What can I do to help you, Bill?" It was a sincere offer.
Bill stared out the window, lost in thought. Finally, she deserved an answer. "Just be here, Vera. I don't know how I'm going to handle what's coming, but I know I'm going to need you to look after things when I'm off in outer space." He grinned slightly as he said it.
"You don't even have to ask, Bill. We'll all help you get through this. You can count on us." She meant it, and Bill was confident she was right. He was surrounded by good people who had helped him succeed. They wouldn't abandon him now. It was Marion who would need support, Bill thought. She didn't really have any true friends outside the family. She had never bothered with others unless they were useful in some way. Now, she would discover how valuable friends are when things go to hell in a handcart.
Bill had waited until Lexi and Junior were out of the house before he sat down with Marion. He had been in turmoil for several days as he reviewed the evidence of her latest infidelity. The arrogant, pompous Douglas Bingham was less than he seemed, and the patience and strategy that Bill and Tex had employed was going to pay dividends. Marion would have no hint that her life was to be turned upside down, and that there would be no way for her to completely right it again. Mr. Bingham would pay an even higher price, he thought.
"Well, Marion, I guess the time has come for us to have another one of 'those talks,'" he began. This time he was watching closely and he saw the color drain from her face and her eyes narrow."
"What is it this time, Bill?" She appeared to be putting on a brave front.
"This time it's Douglas Bingham," he said simply.
She looked directly at him without reply. She seemed composed and certainly not distraught at her husband's discovery.
"So, what are you going to do, Bill?"
"I'm going to divorce you, Marion. You were given a second chance and you threw it away. There is no third strike." He was speaking in his typical controlled and even-tempered voice.
"You realize of course, that I will get half of everything and probably the children." It was now a more cold-blooded Marion speaking.
"You may get half of my ... our ... assets. As for the children, Lexi will be eighteen soon and beyond your control. I will do everything possible to protect Bill Junior from you and your pathetic boyfriend."
"You may think Douglas is pathetic, but I can assure you, he is not. He is a skilled and dynamic lover. He is president of his company and he is a very important man in this community. When he divorces that wife of his, I will marry him and I will be on the arm of a powerful man." It sounded almost rehearsed.
Bill silently thanked Marion. She was making this much easier. He was repulsed by her comments and the complete lack of shame at her actions. It was time to deliver a few of the facts of life.
He took a white legal-size envelope out of his pocket and passed it to her. "Tomorrow, you will be served with the divorce papers. This envelope contains a proposed settlement that you should present to your lawyer. If you choose to accept this settlement, then the grounds for the divorce will remain irreconcilable differences. If you chose to fight it, the grounds will be revised to adultery."
"Why should I care? I'm still getting a divorce," she said with no apparent concern.
"Well, I thought you might want to preserve your dignity and what's left of your reputation. That might be a more important consideration when you read and look at this," he continued calmly, as he produced a large manila envelope from his briefcase.
Marion took the envelope and opened it. She spilled the contents onto the coffee table in front of her. There were a number of typed pages, several photographs and three DVDs. She briefly looked at the pictures and her face turned bright red.
"How did you get these?" she mumbled.
"The same way I got the DVDs of you and Bingham together in our bed. The same way I got recordings of your telephone conversations with him. The same way I got the receipts from your hotel adventures." His voice was still controlled, but Marion could sense the implied anger and intensity he was conveying. "You should give some thought to how a judge would view this evidence when it comes to the custody issue."
"You can't use this in court. They'll never allow it," she spat.
"I have news for you, Marion. I can and will use it in court if necessary. It was done in our house with my written permission. That is perfectly legal and admissible." His voice had risen and he was broadcasting his disgust with her. "As far as the custody hearing goes, that is not bound by the rules of evidence, and anything relevant to the welfare of the children is admissible. This material doesn't cast a very complimentary light on you, does it?"
"It doesn't change anything. I'm still going to get half of what you're worth and marry Douglas. I can live without the children."
"Yes ... I'm sure you can. However, your plans with Mr. Bingham may not work out."
"What do you mean?" She was paying close attention now.
"As you can see from some of the typed reports, there is another woman that Mr. Bingham has been ... visiting, a Mrs. Brian Clipstein. Mrs. Clipstein is an employee of Valley Green Developments. Apparently, Mrs. Clipstein's husband has become aware of her indiscretions and is now contemplating his legal options. I am told he is preparing to sue Douglas Bingham for sexual harassment and also named in the suit are Valley Green and its parent company, InterCon Investments. They have a strongly worded policy on sexual harassment as well as other office monkey business, and in all likelihood, there will be some drastic fallout for your friend."
Marion had now lost all color in her face and was visibly shaken.
"Not working out the way you thought, eh? Well, here's some more news for you. His wife, whom I have met, will be given copies of his adventures with you, and based on my discussions with her, Mr. Douglas Bingham can expect a very unpleasant time when she files for divorce. I understand she has hired a well-known lawyer, renowned for his aggressiveness."
Marion could see her carefully crafted plan dissolving before her. "I didn't realize you hated me this much," she finally managed.
"I don't hate you, Marion. I pity you. I didn't think there would come a day when I wouldn't love you, but I can honestly say that I no longer love you. There's a lot of pain in that admission, I can tell you. I won't ever understand why you had such a low opinion of me, but I have come to accept it. In the meantime, I have packed most of my clothes and personal items and I will be leaving here this evening. The children are at my parents' home, and they are aware of what is happening and what will happen. I wish I could say they were distraught and in tears over this, but that isn't the truth. I think they knew the real you before I did."
"What about me?" she asked meekly.
"Well, as your lawyer will tell you, the settlement agreement gives you this house and a generous financial settlement; more than you deserve, in my opinion. So, you can stay here. I will continue to deposit funds in the joint checking account, but you will find all the other accounts have been closed and unavailable until the divorce settlement is reached. Your car is leased, and you are responsible for the lease payments. The mortgage payments will also be your responsibility until the divorce settlement is finalized. I suggest you manage your financial affairs with care. They are not unlimited"
He had finished and he was looking at a beaten woman. He felt little remorse and yet, somewhere inside, he was in pain that it had come to this. He rose from the chair and picked up his briefcase.
She looked up with a mournful stare, but said nothing. She hadn't moved since she had sat down for this talk. Bill looked at her sadly, turned and left.
With the help and advice of Lexi and Junior, Bill found a new home for them. It was in a nice three bedroom, split level in a middleclass neighborhood and it had a pool in the back yard. The youngsters were delighted with that feature. It would be the magnet for many of their friends over the next few years. For Bill, however, it was a lonely and unsatisfying life. He loved his children and they returned that love many times over. When he took a moment to examine his existence, he was forced to admit he missed Marion; not the Marion she had become, but the Marion he had loved and who had carried and given birth to their children.
He felt he had been generous in the divorce settlement, but Marion didn't agree. After her first affair, Bill had taken the precaution of putting his shares of CSI in trust for Bill Junior and Alexis. They were untouchable until the children were twenty-one. Marion was furious. She saw that as a deliberate attempt to take what was rightfully hers in the settlement. Of course, she was right. On the advice of Charlie Stanbridge, it would put the shares beyond her reach, and when the children reached the age of majority, they would be set for life, and their mother wouldn't be able to touch a dime of it without their consent or generosity. Bill had carefully explained this to Lexi and Junior, and could see their smiles of understanding. Their mother would not profit from her deceit. To them, it was justice well served.
Bill and Dave Markham had spent many an hour discussing Marion and her betrayal. Bill began to think he was flawed. When he thought of his life with her, he was amazed that he had never really understood her, and was so easily deceived. He was forty two years old, and his personal life was at ground zero; starting all over again.
It took Bill a long time to come to terms with what Marion had done to their marriage. He was at a loss to understand how she could have turned so cold and calculating in such a short period of time. He finally decided to take Vera's advice and visited a psychiatrist; Dr. Jack Wasserman. At first, he wondered if there was any value in the sessions at all. After all, it was Marion who had cheated on him, and she was the first to admit that it wasn't his fault. What he was seeking to understand was what drove Marion to these extremes.
Bill spent an hour a week for two months with Dr. Wasserman and when they mutually agreed that he had gained as much as he could from their meetings, he ended the therapy. The doctor had formulated a theory about Marion from what Bill had told him. He believed that the root of her ambitions was power. When she was a teenager and everyone acknowledged that she was very pretty, if not beautiful, she realized that her looks gave her power. She would decide who would date her. She would decide who could have sex with her and who could not. Her shortcomings in her school work would often be overlooked by some teachers because she was one of the "chosen ones."
Her power continued on into her adulthood. Her beauty brought her suitors, and she could make choices about whom she would date. She could even make choices about whom she would marry. When Bill was chosen, it was suggested that Marion believed he could transfer even more power to her. After all, he was an important and respected member of the community, and she would be his wife.