Susan jumped as the telephone startled her. Who could be calling this early in the morning? She shivered and slipped on her nightgown.
"Hello?" Her voice unsteady.
"Mrs. Davis?" a male voice asked.
"Yes?" Suddenly Susan was acutely aware she was cold. Goosebumps ran up her arms. She felt the wetness at the top of her thighs. The cold air stung.
"Mrs. Davis, I'm sorry to be the one to inform you, but your husband is dead."
"Wha . . . What?" Susan broke into tears before she could consciously comprehend the message. "Who . . . Who are you?"
"I'm terribly sorry. This is Sgt. Murdock, Youngstown Police Department. I'm afraid he was robbed. We are doing an autopsy to gather trace evidence, but I'm not sure how much it will help. You will need to come here to identify and claim the body."
The voice droned on. Susan heard little after "Youngstown Police Department." Her mind was reeling -- she could not process the message.
"Mrs. Davis, are you still there?" Sgt. Murdock asked.
He could not hear Susan's almost inaudible sobs as she collapsed to the floor beside the telephone stand. Susan pulled compulsively at her night gown, trying vainly to cover her nakedness. The cold wetness between her thighs spread and consumed her buttocks as she rocked, still clutching her nightgown as she tried to stop the spread of the cold.
Her plaintiff cry was too low for Sgt. Murdock to hear, "No . . . No, no . . . noooooooo . . .."
"Well . . . what do you think?" Susan appeared from her closet and, with a flourish, pirouetted with her hands held high.
David looked up from his computer screen where he was checking e--mail he had received since he left the office two hours earlier. His wife of five years stood in the threshold of her closet. She wore a classic black cocktail dress, cut low in the back and plunging far enough in the front to emphasize her bountiful cleavage. David noticed the dress after he recovered from his initial distraction.
"Oh, wow! Killer! You're gonna knock 'em dead at the party." David sincerely complimented his wife. "Come here."
"Oh no, no. I have to get back to dinner before it's ruined." Susan protested as she turned back into her closet and started stripping off her new dress.
David finished answering an e-mail marked "urgent," and walked downstairs to join his wife in the kitchen. When he first saw her at the counter tossing the salad, he immediately thought of her new cocktail dress. I'll be the envy of most everyone at the party, David mused to himself. He was jolted back to reality by Susan's question.
"What salad dressing do you want?" she asked without looking at him.
"Wha . . . What?" David struggled to withdraw from his musing and comprehend what he had been asked.
"Salad dressing. What dressing do want for your salad?" she repeated, this time turning slightly to look at him.
"French. French, if we have it." David stuttered. Susan was dressed in a simple pair of shorts and a yellow tee--top. When she turned to look at him, he caught a tell--tale jiggle that told him she had not replaced her bra after trying on her new dress. David could not help thinking about how much he loved Susan's teats. His thoughts were cut off by the sudden realization that he was becoming aroused.
"Come on and sit down. Everything's ready." Susan had placed his salad in front of his chair and was preparing to sit. David sat.
"Are you looking forward to the company party?" David asked as he used his fork to distribute the dressing on his salad.
"Well, yes. We've missed the last three, and between my job and yours, we haven't been out in nearly a year, except to eat." Susan looked up at him.
"I know," David replied. "I keep meaning to discuss a vacation with you, but with the fight before the merger, the merger and then the reorganization, I don't have to tell you even taking off one of the days of the weekend has been tough."
"I know . . . I know. Still, its growing old, and we really need some time to ourselves." Susan said what was on both their minds. "The party will be fun. We can drink and dance, and then afterwards . . . there will just be you and me."
"I don't know about drinking. The rest sounds fun though."
"I think it will be safe," Susan said with a slight smile, "I ordered a limousine."
"You what?" David asked with a laugh. "What possessed you?" There was no reproach in his voice.
"I don't know. A whim. A fancy." She paused. "I guess I just wanted the night to be perfect."
"Well, I'll try to live up to your wishes." David smiled and, for just a moment, he thought he saw a slight blush as she bent her head to her meal.
The rest of their dinner would have passed with small talk about their jobs if David's meal had not been interrupted by the telephone. Robert Gannon called. The bank had moved the meeting on refinancing for the Youngstown line of credit to Monday. Once the reorganization was complete, the chief bank in Atlanta would handle all of the company's financing, but for now, the line of credit had to be refinanced to bridge the gap. Robert was looking for a complete accounting of receivables, and he had no confidence the man appointed to complete the accounting would finish in time. The man assigned to the task was scheduled to have the figures to Robert by close of business in Atlanta today. Robert had not heard from him, and didn't know if he would complete the accounting tomorrow. David had no idea what he was supposed to do about it.
Robert had assigned the man in charge of the accounting. "How the hell did this become my problem?" David thought. Nevertheless, the call threatened to consume his entire evening until he told Robert he would look into it in the morning.
David was looking forward to the company party as much as his wife. He had counted on pushing paper at work tomorrow until he could slip out of the office early, come home to his wife and prepare for dinner and the party at their leisure. He had neglected his wife lately. Well, she had reserved a limousine, and he was going to make it all up to her. Now he had to deal with the Youngstown accounts receivable some how. If nothing else, it was certain to aggravate him.
"Thanks, Robert." David almost said out loud. David did not need this latest irritation to have reason to resent Robert. Robert Gannon was David's rival at the company. As officers of the acquiring company, David and Robert not only survived the transaction euphemistically dubbed a merger, but had risen in the corporate hierarchy during the ensuing reorganization. And although David had received a promotion with a substantial compensation package, Robert got the position David wanted. This is the way it had been for the past twelve years. Both joined the company fresh out of business school. David was Harvard; Robert was Yale. The young lions had traded conquests at the company on their way up the corporate ladder. Both men used their positions to make their rival's life difficult when the opportunity presented itself. Now Robert was one rung above David, and it was Robert's turn to twist David's nipples.
To David, his relationship with Susan seemed like the only part of his life in which he did not have to deal with Robert. They married five years ago. He was twenty--eight and Susan was twenty--two. Robert and Susan had met only on three or four occasions -- at company functions. Robert had turned on the charm, but Susan reacted coolly to him at every meeting. Inwardly, David glowed with the thought Susan disdained Robert as much as he did.
When David hung up the phone, it was nearly ten--thirty. Susan was taking off her makeup and getting ready for bed. When he entered the bedroom, Susan just pulled the blanket up around her shoulders. David undressed and joined her in bed.
"Robert again?" she asked.
"Yeah. He thinks his problem in Youngstown is my problem. Come to think about it, I guess it just became my problem." David answered in resignation. "I have to see what I can do about it tomorrow."
"Oh no," Susan moaned. "This isn't going to keep us from attending the party, is it?"
"No, no, no. I promise." David reassured her as he placed his arm around her waist and pulled her back into his stomach. "But what in the world am I going to do about the Youngstown accounting from Atlanta?" David thought. That thought played over and over in David's mind until he drifted off to sleep.
"What?!! He did what? When?" David was shouting into the phone. His secretary opened the door to his office, concerned. David gave her a sign everything was okay and she backed out, shutting the door. "No, . . . no, don't do anything. I'll get back to you."
David hung up the phone. He was breathing hard. What the hell is he going to do now? David's mind was reeling.
David picked up the phone again. "Robert, we have a big problem in Youngstown. Your man Collins quit."
"When?" Robert snapped.
"Yesterday evening, apparently. Probably while you and I were on the telephone." David presented his best executive demeanor, but underneath his Brooks Brothers custom suit, his heart was beating out of control. The company must have those figures Monday. If the accounting was not available, someone's head would roll. Up to last night, it probably was Robert's; now, it might be his.
"Who else do we have out there?" Robert asked.
"Clark. Tim Clark, but I don't know him. He was with the former owner. For Chrissakes, . . . I didn't know Collins either." Some frustration was creeping into David's voice. "You know those guys better than I do. You picked Collins!"
"Well, no one knew Collins would walk. Should'a canned all of them." Robert replied. "You have to go out there."
"No, no, I'm not going. I didn't create this mess. Hell, I didn't even know there was a problem until last night." David retorted.
"Listen, David. I know we have had our differences in the past, but I need our best troubleshooter out there. That's you. We cannot afford for our CFO to walk into that meeting on Monday without those figures. We have zero chance of refinancing if we fail. Someone has to make sure those assholes in Youngstown get that accounting done before Monday. You are going." Robert's tone was firm and adamant. David could go or start looking for a job immediately.
"Alright, alright." David hung up the phone. He could not decide whether he was mad, dejected, or both.
Just one floor above, Robert hung up the phone and a slight smile slowly emerged.
David started to pick up the phone to tell his secretary to get him on the first plane to Youngstown and then call Susan when he realized that his emergency assignment was going to wreck his plans with Susan that evening. "How the hell did this happen?" David thought. He gave his secretary her instructions, and then sat looking at the phone. "How can I tell Susan?" he despaired.
"Mr. Davis?" It was David's secretary. "Your flight leaves in an hour and forty--five minutes. You have reservations at the Marriott on Green Street. A driver will be downstairs in fifteen minutes, unless you want to drive yourself?"
"No. I'll meet the driver. I'll have to buy some clothes and toiletries after I arrive in Youngstown."
David gathered the employee roster for Youngstown and a couple other documents he thought he might need. "I don't have a clue what I'm going to need," David said with frustration.
"How did I get myself in this?" David wondered out loud as he noticed the time. He put on his suit jacket, opened the door to his office and left to meet his driver downstairs.
On the way to the airport, David knew he had to call Susan, even if he did not know what he was going to say to her. He pushed the speed dial on his cell phone.
"Hello, David." Susan practically sang. "Ready for a big evening?"
"Well, no. Actually . . .," David paused, not sure how to continue.
"What do you mean 'no.' David, what's wrong?" Susan pressed, her voice rising.
"Susan, I'm on the way to the airport. I have to go to Youngstown," David started.
"No! No! You do not have to go to Youngstown or any where else." Anger was creeping into Susan's voice.
"Honey, listen, there is a meeting on refinancing the line of credit for Youngstown on Monday and the team needs Youngstown's accounts receivable before the meeting."
"What does that have to do with you?" Susan challenged David.
"The man Robert put in charge of the accounting quit yesterday. Robert ordered me to Youngstown to ensure the accounting is finished by Monday."
"You're not an accountant! David, you know I have been looking forward to the company party for weeks. I bought a new dress. You can't cancel and run off to Ohio at the last minute," Susan shouted.
"I can go or I can find a new job. If the accounting isn't completed, I may have to find a new job any way." David hoped to end the painful exchange. "Damn it," he thought, "I wanted to go to the party as much as she did."
"I would think you could've found another solution," Susan said. Then she added the obvious, "I am not happy about this David."
"Me neither," David said. And after a perfunctory "I love you," he pushed the end button on his cell phone.
* * *
Susan arrived home to an empty house. She was angry. She understood what her husband had told her, but she could not help but think he could have avoided the trip to Youngstown some how. She poured herself a glass of white wine and consumed it too fast. She poured a second glass but took more time drinking it. Susan's thoughts turned to herself. She had been looking forward to the company party for weeks. It had been months, "almost a year" she heard herself say, since she had been any where with David. She bought a new dress. She probably paid too much for it. And she had reserved a limousine for the evening.
Susan's thoughts turned to the previous evening. She had wanted the evening to be perfect. David had mentioned his telephone conversation with Robert but promised nothing would interfere with their plans.
"He promised!" Susan said out loud as she downed the rest of her second glass of wine. She poured a third and took the bottle with her to her bedroom to change.
After entering the bedroom, Susan walked to the bathroom and put the wine bottle down. Continuing to sip her wine, she walked into her expansive closet and went directly to the cocktail dress she purchased to wear this very evening. As she held the dress out, Susan asked herself, "Why do I have to stay home just because David can't make it?"
As she turned and poured another glass of wine, she wondered, "Do I dare? What will everyone say?" As she continued to think about going to the party without David, her thoughts increasingly favored the idea and next to none were opposed to it. Fortified by wine, she boldly decided she would go to the party.
"I'm glad I didn't cancel the limo," she giggled out loud.
The dye was cast. Susan began running bath water. The decision had slowed her consumption of wine and she took her fourth glass with her as she slipped into the warm water. Susan relaxed in her bath until the water turned tepid and she felt a chill. She drained some of the water from the oversized tub and added more hot water to bring the bath back to a luxurious temperature. Then armed with her razor, Susan went through the ritual of shaving her legs and under her arms.
Having finished shaving under her arms, a deliciously wicked thought occurred to Susan and she began shaving her pubic hair, leaving only a narrow triangle just above her labia majora. She picked up her towel and hurriedly patted herself dry. Retrieving the scissors in the top drawer of her vanity, Susan sat on the edge of the tub and trimmed close what little hair remained above her nether region.
Susan finished drying herself and then stood in front of the full--length bathroom mirror to appraise her new look. She approved. She stepped into the sexy, lacy underwear her husband gave her for her last birthday. Susan then proceeded to apply her makeup and perfume as carefully as if she were going on a first date.
Susan put on the cocktail dress and checked herself in the mirror. Had David been present, he would have said Susan had not looked more desirable since their wedding night. Susan looked at the clock. The limousine would arrive soon.
* * *
David had been depressed the entire flight. When he arrived, his fortunes did not improve. The car rental company inexplicably had given away his car. He found a compact car for rent at the fourth agency at which he presented himself. Circumstances did not improve outside airport grounds. David had never been to Youngstown before, and the car rental agency map predictably was bad.
His first order of business was to obtain suitable clothing and toiletries. After asking for directions to the nearest mall at the rental counter and making two wrong turns, David found the mall and began gathering the necessities for what he hoped was a short stay in Ohio.
* * *
The ride to the Ritz Carlton in Buckhead was uneventful. Nevertheless, Susan felt like a princess riding to a ball in the limousine. The driver could not help stealing looks at the incredibly sexy, voluptuous woman traveling alone in his car.
Susan arrived, as she had planned, fashionably late to the company party. As she walked unescorted across the ballroom to the open bar in the center of the dance floor, she noticed she turned the heads of many of the men she passed. Susan smiled to herself and ordered a glass of white wine at the bar.
Unbeknownst to Susan, one of the men who had taken notice of her entrance was Robert Gannon. Robert had done a double take and spent several minutes trying to place where he had met the beautiful, young woman who had just entered the room. Then it came to him. He was pleased he not only remembered this woman was his rival's wife, but her name was Susan. Robert wondered to himself why he had not placed her name sooner and amused himself with thoughts of how he had flirted with David's wife the few times they met several years ago. Robert always had considered Susan extremely desirable and counted her as just one more reason he hated David. Suddenly and much to the confusion of the man with whom he had been talking, Robert laughed as he realized the reason Susan was at the party alone. He had sent David to Youngstown. "This evening," thought Robert, "is getting sweeter and sweeter."
Robert excused himself from his colleague and walked to the bar where Susan sat with her glass of white wine. Susan saw him coming from across the room. As he approached, Susan took her turn wondering how she knew the handsome gentleman who appeared to be heading straight for her. She judged he was about 6'1" tall and weighed a well--proportioned 190 to 200 pounds. Even through his tuxedo, Susan could tell he was no stranger to the gym. While she sat watching this attractive man approach, Susan realized, almost too late to recover, he indeed was walking to her.
Robert stopped barely a foot in front of Susan. Unaccustomed to a stranger invading her personal space, Susan momentarily was uncomfortable.
"Susan, you look absolutely stunning!" Robert beamed as Susan's emotions changed quickly from discomfort to delight and wonderment that the handsome stranger knew her name. Who was he? Susan smiled broadly but, not knowing how to return the greeting, hesitated.
"You don't remember me, do you?" Robert continued smoothly, as he slipped between her and the man to her right at the bar. His leg was now touching hers as she sat on the bar stool.
"Well, no . . . I mean . . . I remember your face, but I can't place your name or where we have met." Susan replied and again flashed a welcoming smile.
"I'm Robert Gannon. We met several years ago. I work with your husband." Robert continued. "I am sorry that David's obligations prevented him from attending tonight, but I am glad you came and I promise I will do everything in my power to help you forget his absence."