Ghosts & Shadows Pt. 01byDanielQSteele1©
She just shook her head and stood up.
"Are you going to be back to work Monday? I'll give you more time if you need it."
"I'll be in the office. I think I'm all boozed out, business doesn't stop and I need to work."
She was at the door and stopped. She just stood there for a moment and then turned back to me.
"You haven't said anything, Hugh, but I know you have to be thinking about me -- and Robert and Cameron."
"No. No. That was you. This is me."
"You don't have to be in 'uncle' mode, Hugh. I know you're thinking it. Robert loved me and I cheated on him for months, I screwed Cameron in boardrooms and in motel rooms and in limousines. Then I dumped Robert after Cameron and his friends nearly killed him. After I dumped a good man, the man I loved turned out to be a world class shit."
"Things happen, Gail. I stopped judging people a long time ago. And if you look at me as an uncle, I have to admit I've looked at you as a kind of niece. I thought you were making a mistake. I thought you were hurting a good man and I knew Cameron was a piece of shit who would hurt you. Everybody knew it, except you, but it was your life."
She ran her hand through her mane of blonde hair. The sunlight gleamed on it like a soft helmet. She was a beautiful woman. I loved Mary and there was no woman in the world I would have chosen over her for my bed, but I knew objectively that Mary was just an attractive woman, and Gail was a stunner.
But she slept alone except for the regular turnstile of tall, dark and handsome studs that she ran through her bedroom since she'd thrown Cameron out. Meanwhile Robert Sandler, who had loved her, had vanished off the face of the earth as far as the Hunt Banks were concerned. No one could mention his name in her presence. I thought sometimes that she fought too hard to ignore him but, like I'd said, it was her life.
"The reason I mention it, and I know I've made it law that nobody ever talks about that anywhere I can hear of it, is this. I know I'm royally pissed at Mary right now for what she's doing. It hurts me to see you hurting like this, and you are, no matter how much you carry on the stiff upper lip act, hurting. However, despite my current view of Mary's actions, I know what it's like to fall in love, to be obsessed, overcome with passion for someone when you know it's wrong and you know you're hurting people you shouldn't hurt, yet you do it anyway. It's like falling off a cliff. Suddenly you're there and you don't know how you got there, but nothing else matters except that one person.
"I've talked to other people who've gone through it and I know it happens to men, but I think it hits women harder, because we're supposed to be the GOOD sex. We expect men to be dogs."
"The point is....?"
"Have you thought about, what if she comes back? What if she decides she was wrong and tells you she just went crazy for awhile?"
When I didn't answer her, she asked, "Well?"
"There isn't anything to come back to, and she won't."
"How can you be so sure?"
"You didn't see her face when she was talking about him. She isn't coming back."
Work turned out to be a tonic. I went to work that Monday and walked into my office. If anybody knew what was going on, I couldn't tell - it was just another day, except that in that day and the days that followed, nobody asked me how Mary was doing. None of the secretaries that had exchanged recipes pulled off the Internet mentioned trying to reach her and being unable to.
There was a dinner and dance the very next weekend at The Lodge and Club in Ponte Vedra, a high dollar beachfront hotel south of Jacksonville where the Hunts had been wining and dining investors, rich clients and important politicians for a generation.
This was a combination business bash and $1000-a-plate Goodbye Dinner for former Jacksonville State Attorney Dallas Edwards. He had been a personal friend of Old Man Hunt going back more than 20 years, and Gail had been a good friend of the woman who had been the wife of Edwards' former number one Assistant, who had played such a part in the Massacre at the Courthouse.
All the major officers were expected to show the colors and be there, so I attended. There was a time when Mary would have been at my side, but Coffee Allaporte, a 30-ish mathematical whiz who had revolutionized the computer side of the banking business and looked better in a formal gown than most women did in nothing at all, sat beside me at one of the four head tables.
I felt like a cradle robber. She looked younger than her 35 or so years, and there was so much damned gleaming, Mocha-colored skin showing that I felt like I should show an erection just to be polite. But she made little jokes about the banking business and about how secretaries had been subtly hitting on me since the early 20th century, and got me to smile. Not to laugh, but even smiling was saying something.
She talked me into going out on the dance floor and she molded herself snugly against me and I could feel the soft spheres of her breasts cushioning themselves against my chest.
She looked up at me in the middle of a slow dance and there was a hint of a smile, a sad one, on her face as she said, "You're going to give me a complex, Hugh. I'm practically giving you a massage with my boobs -- and nothing. Am I losing it?"
I bent forward and gave her a slight kiss on the forehead like you'd do to a favorite grandchild as I said, "If you weren't young enough to be my daughter, and if - things were different - I'd be embarrassing us both, Coffee, but I wanted to thank you for volunteering to spend time with me. It was a charitable gesture on your part."
She leaned forward and cradled her face against my shoulder and said so softly other dancers couldn't hear us, "I know I should keep my mouth shut, but if that damned bitch was here right now I think I'd scratch her eyes out."
The following Monday about 11 a.m., as I was reading The Drudge Report on my desktop while pretending to be working, my secretary Lucy buzzed me to tell me I had a visitor.
When she told me who he was and why he was there I just leaned back in my chair and tried to catch my breath. It was like being hit a good, swift punch just under the ribs, so hard that your breath caught in your throat. Then I told her to send him in.
Matt Henry was about 6 foot 1, with a mane of silver hair, dressed sharply and you could have known he was an attorney from a mile away. He handed me a large manila envelope. I didn't bother to open the tab.
He extended his hand and I automatically took it.
"Mr. Davidson, my name is Matt Henry. I'm with the firm of Martin, Devon, Bailey and Bartley. Thank you for seeing me."
I just looked him with open curiosity.
"Mr. Henry, I have to admit I'm puzzled. Why are you wasting your valuable, billable minutes doing what any courier could. You don't need an attorney to deliver divorce papers."
He gestured to the seat in front of him and said, "Could I sit and I'll explain why I'm here."
He sat and pointed at the manila envelope.
"I didn't tell your secretary why I was here or what was in that envelope. Why would you assume those were divorce papers."
"You said you were here representing my wife, Mary. Not much suspense there. The only question is what exactly she wants."
He sat and just looked at me for a moment, and I could tell his curiosity had been piqued by something. I waited.
"Quite honestly, I'm here because your Ms. Davidson - only now she's going by Meadows, her maiden name, right? -- asked our firm to personally deliver these documents and a message."
"She's already gone back to her maiden name? I was surprised she moved so quickly to kick me to the curb, but dropping her married name? After 36 years?"
"That's what I was curious about, Mr. Davidson, to be honest."
He gave me that same odd look.
"I was trying to figure out what the hell a husband could do to arouse those kind of feelings in a wife."
"I'm not sure I follow, yet."
"It's uh, fairly simple but pretty stark. Ms. Meadows wanted us to inform you that she has already moved her residence from Jacksonville to Chicago and her company is transferring her to an open position there. She wanted us to let you know that she's taken any and all possessions she has any interest in from her former home. She has no interest in the home itself and will allow you to buy her out for 30 percent of the assessed value, or you can sell it and send her share of the proceeds on to her."
"That neat and surgical? That doesn't sound like my Mary, and she wants nothing else from the house. She took everything she wanted in a few days?"
"You have no idea how neat and surgical she has been. She said to tell you that you are welcome to keep all your photos. She took only a handful of photos of your children. Any and all personal items of hers, including clothing, that you find still in the house you're urged to sell or give to Good Will.
"She noted that you are probably aware, or should be, that she has removed about 40 percent of your combined savings and that she is in the process of separating all IRAs or combined financial assets. Again, if you have any questions, you are urged to contact, or have your counsel, contact our firm. There should be no reason for you to need to contact her, but if you should try, she will refuse to speak or communicate with you."
"She said that?"
"She told me that personally in a conference call Friday. She said to tell you personally, myself, that she does not wish to ever see or talk to you, or be in the same city, if that is possible.
"She said further that she has requested the simplest type of divorce possible, simply separating your financial affairs and allowing both of you to walk away and make new lives for yourselves. Again, that is to avoid the necessity of ever having to engage in further contact with you."
I just stared at him. Even after what had happened already, I was stunned.
He lowered his voice and ran his tongue over his lips as if they were dry.
"You're welcome to have your attorney check out the documents, but they're simple and clear cut. Ms. Meadows is literally cheating herself out of the settlement she could have after such a lengthy marriage and considering your income and assets. I tried to convince her to do the legally responsible thing, but she said the only thing she wants is her freedom, at the earliest possible time."
He shook his head a little.
"So I have to ask - what the hell did you do to piss off your wife so badly?"
"Nothing. She just fell in love with somebody else. It does happen, even to people who've been married for 36 years."
He stared at me again, undoubtedly wondering what I was lying about and concealing. The lawyers I've known have had the milk of human kindness curdled by constant exposure to the worst impulses of human nature and the formalized tortures of the legal system. If, like him, I'd walked into a situation where a couple, happily married two weeks before, had suddenly been cast into the lowest realm of Hell in Dante's Inferno, I too would have figured there was more than the obvious going on. I knew what he had to be thinking. I was the bastard who had been screwing around on my long-suffering wife and I'd finally gone one step too far.
I gestured at the manila envelope.
"I'll have an attorney look at it and get back to you."
Henry looked down for a moment and then back at me with a look of almost embarrassment on his handsome face.
"I hesitate to ask because this is somewhat unusual, Mr. Davidson, but is there any chance you could do this on an expedited basis? That is, see your attorney today and possibly get back with the signed papers by Wednesday at the latest?"
I tapped my fingers on the gleaming washed oak surface of my desk and thought idly that I needed to get a manicure. I'd had a problem with biting my fingernails -- actually my fingers - until they bled when I was younger. I never could quite figure out where I picked that up, but manicures were cheaper than visits to a psychiatrist so I'd made that, along with $25 haircuts religiously the first of every month, a routine for the last 20 years. The last few months had played hell with my routine.
"Just so I understand you correctly, Mr. Henry, my wife - who leaves me and our home of nearly 40 years AND our married name - wants me to drop everything so I can EXPEDITE the paperwork to make her a free woman in an seemingly over hasty fashion? Am I following you? I guess she forgot that I am a professional too, that I have a job and responsibilities."
Henry held my stare for a moment, then dropped his eyes again and reached into his jacket pocket. He opened a piece of typewriter paper and looked up at me.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Davidson. But your -- Ms. Meadows -- read the following statement to me and asked me to read it to you if there was any -- if you had any problems complying with her request for haste."
When I said nothing, he ran his fingers around the edges of the paper in some practiced gesture and then said softly,
"Hugh, I know this has been hard on you and I am not giving you much time to come to terms with what's happened. However, as you said, if you ever loved me, if any part of that love still exists within you, give me my freedom. Let me go."
I had thought I was past it. I had thought that she had done all the damage to me that she ever could. I was so wrong. I sat there and wanted a drink so bad I trembled.
Henry stood up, carefully folding the paper up and putting it back in his jacket. He wasn't looking at me. He walked to the door and then looked back at me. I met his eyes.
"I'm sorry Mr. Davidson. There's nothing easy about divorce and I know this is hard. I can look at you and tell how hard this is going to be - I've handled a lot of divorces over the years and the only ones where it ever made sense to delay and dig your heels in were the ones where there was hope of a reconciliation - where both sides still wanted the marriage to work.
"In this case, have your attorneys check it carefully, but your wife isn't out to screw you. It's the fairest proposal I've ever seen except for maybe one I handled last year. And that was a divorce that shouldn't have happened. I still have bad feelings about that one. But in this case....it's like pulling off a band-aid. This is personal, one man to another. Don't draw it out. Get it over with for both your sakes."
Then he was gone and I was left with the manila envelope. Nobody came in for the hour I sat staring at it. Finally I lifted the telephone on my desk and made the call that I knew I had to make.
CHAPTERS THREE AND FOUR COMING