Visiting Richard Gronierbyohio©
[Author's Note: When this story was nearly completed I realized that parts of it have a very strong resemblance to certain scenes in H. Jekyll's wonderful story, "Truth and Marriage". Thanks and apologies to H. Jekyll for the unintentional borrowings.]
It was Wednesday, October 22nd.
I stood in the shower, letting the hot water pour over my head. I'd been doing this a lot lately—taking longer showers, spending time just standing or leaning against the wall while the hot water coursed over my body. Often I'd been crying. For some reason the tears tended to come while I was in the shower. Come to think of it, the shower was really the only private place I could cry, except while driving the car, which wasn't very practical.
Over the past few weeks my showers had gotten longer, with my bouts of tears sometimes adding an additional ten minutes to my routine. I wondered if Liz had noticed how long my showers were taking—then again, she didn't seem to be noticing much about me lately. I was the one who had noticed things, things she didn't seem to realize I was aware of.
But this morning I wasn't crying. This morning I was going to see Richard Gronier. Today things were going to start changing dramatically—though I wasn't all that sure that what was to come would be any less painful than what had happened already.
As I toweled off in the quiet house—Karlie and Kristina were already at school, and Liz had left for work—I thought about my conversation two days earlier with Ernie Mattazollo.
Ernie had a very unprepossessing office, in a rundown section of Cincinnati far from the upscale department stores. But he'd been recommended to me as a guy who knew his business.
"Okay, Mr. H.," he said when we sat down together at the table in his tiny office. "I did it just like you wanted, though I've never had a client ask me to handle it this way before."
I nodded, and he went on.
"I didn't do any video, because you said you didn't want none. I've got audio from three of their times together; I put it on this CD for you and sealed it up, like you said. You sure you don't want to hear any of it?"
I shook my head. "As I told you, Ernie, if there's any chance at all for me and Liz I can't be carrying around in my head the sounds of the two of them together. Just summarize for me, all right?"
"Well, there's nothin' special goin' on. It's just fuc ... I mean, it's just sex. They don't talk too much, and certainly nothin' lovey-dovey, like 'if only we could be together' or 'when I've gotten a divorce' or anything like that."
"Do they talk about me at all?" I asked. "Or Gronier's wife?"
He thought a moment. "Gronier never mentions his wife at all. A couple of times he brought up your name, like 'I'll bet your husband can't make you come like that', but she always tells him to stop. She never lets him put you down or nothin', and she doesn't ever talk about you herself."
"What DO they say to each other?"
"At the beginning it's mostly just horny stuff, ya know, like 'oh look how hard it is' or 'you feel so good' or 'ooh yeah, like that'." I must have winced, because Ernie stopped for a second, gazing at me. "You okay, Mr. H?"
"Yes," I said. "Please go on."
"That's pretty much it. Then at the end, as they're showerin' and gettin' dressed, it's just figurin' out when's the next time they can get together."
"Does Liz love him?"
"Not that I can hear," Ernie said. "I guess some affairs are like that, but most of 'em are more like this one. Two people gettin' together to boff their brains out. Uh, sorry I put it that way, Mr. H.
"What I mean is that it sounds like they're hot for each other, but there's nothin' more to it than that."
"And are they doing anything special? In bed, I mean?"
"I don't think so. I didn't hear nothin' about anal, or any weird positions or anything. She's certainly suckin' his ... I mean they're certainly doin' oral sex, but I guess most people do that."
We sat in silence for a few minutes. It wasn't any worse than I had feared. It was unspeakable—it was crushing—but it wasn't any worse than what I had imagined. In fact it was not quite as bad. She didn't love him; they weren't planning to run away together; they weren't working their way through the Kama Sutra.
She was just fucking him. Just an affair, just an ordinary affair with a man who wasn't her husband. With a man who wasn't me.
"Okay, Ernie," I said finally. "Thanks for everything. What do I owe you?"
I wrote him a check, nearly $8000, without a second thought, and he pulled out the three manila envelopes.
"Like you said you wanted 'em. This first one has about a dozen shots of the two of 'em goin' in and out the door of one of the motels they used. The ones of 'em doin' the down-an-dirty, about four dozen or so, are in this big envelope, all sealed up with tape like you asked. I've got the negatives tucked away, along with a copy of the audio CD.
"And this third envelope, like you asked, has one of the down-an-dirty photos."
"Just one, right? And both their faces are clear?"
"Yeah," he said. "
"Thank you, Ernie," I said again, and got up to leave. "Wait," I said, "I almost forgot. What did you find out about Gronier?"
Ernie smiled a hard smile. "A pussy-hound, like you figgered. Betsy, the assistant of mine I told you about? She spoke to 5-6 people in his firm, and it sounds like he's the number-one skirt chaser in the whole place.
"He seems to be somewhat careful about it, though. Seems his wife is some kinda heiress, worth like $80 million, and he doesn't want to fall off the ol' gravy train."
On the drive to Gronier's office I thought back over the past few months. The earliest sign of trouble I'd detected had been at the beginning of August, about three months ago.
We'd been through an exhausting, difficult and frightening year. Karlie had been diagnosed with leukemia just before Halloween the year before, and we'd been plunged into a nightmare of doctors, hospitals, chemotherapy drugs, and nights sleepless with worry.
Our little girl was only eight, and she bore the pain and fear and disruption with unbelievable courage and patience. Kristina, two years younger, was her constant companion and support. Needless to say Liz and I put everything else in our lives aside to care for Karlie, doing just the bare minimum at our jobs and abandoning all thoughts of our social life or our own relationship.
By last summer, thank God, Karlie was in remission. She was regaining her strength and growing her hair back again, and the odds were at least 90% that she was completely cured. We'd gotten the good news in mid-June, and celebrated with a week at Disney World. Almost crazed with exhaustion and relief, Liz and I had let the kids do whatever they want, ride all the rides and eat all the food and stay up as late as they could. It was a memory I would always cherish.
But the ordeal took its toll, above all on Liz's and my relationship. As things began returning to normal, I plunged back into my work as an economic analyst (I worked in the Cincinnati office of one of the big New York banks). My colleagues had covered for me for months, and I was frantic to get back up to speed and start pulling my weight again.
Liz's job was less demanding—she was Assistant Director of Human Resources at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center—but she too was eager to get caught up, and we were both exhausted from months of worry and fear. In retrospect, I could see that neither of us had been paying enough attention to our marriage.
The first I heard of Richard Gronier was quite innocent—in early July, Liz had to give a deposition in a lawsuit against the Medical Center, and Gronier was the Center's attorney. The evening of the deposition Liz told me all about it over dinner, and casually mentioned that Gronier was impressive—tall, very good-looking, and extremely effective in the legal wrangling that surrounded Liz's testimony.
I heard about two further meetings with Gronier over the following couple of weeks, ostensibly to go over some of the details in her testimony—and then nothing. She stopped saying anything about him, and I assumed he was finished with her.
Not a very accurate assumption! Liz was still seeing him, but as their meetings started turning from legal maneuvering into something else, she simply stopped telling me anything about them.
We took our usual two-week vacation in August up to a cabin on Lake Michigan. It was always a relaxed and romantic time for us—the girls would play hard all day long, and after they were asleep Liz and I would catch up on a lot of the love-making that we hadn't had time for during our busy year.
But this vacation was different—noticeably so, though it was hard to put my finger on exactly how. It wasn't that we made love less, or that Liz was less interested, at least not on the surface. She was still affectionate, and certainly not reluctant.
But she was less "present"—both when we made love and at other times. She was abstracted, off in a world of her own, in a way that concerned me. I had no idea what was up, but I knew something was going on. But the few times I asked her about it, she pulled her attention back to me and said it was "nothing—I guess I'm just still recovering from the past year, honey", or something like that.
I was frustrated. I missed my wife, and I could tell that she simply wasn't all there with me. But her explanation seemed convincing; God knows both of us were emotionally wrung-out after Karlie's battle with cancer, and I just figured things would gradually return to normal.
But by mid-September things were worse, not better. Liz seemed strained all the time, and uneasy around me. I occasionally saw her with a haunted look on her face, gazing out the window at nothing, when she didn't see me looking at her. She was more forgetful than usual, sometimes not remembering to be home in time to cook dinner when it was her day (we alternated doing the cooking), or going out on a Saturday to do some errands and coming home without the dry cleaning she'd intended to pick up.
By then I was seriously worried—I spent a lot of time thinking about her behavior and what it might mean. Of course "affair" arose as one of the possibilities, though it seemed crazy to me. Certainly our sex life had not diminished—we still managed sex a couple of times a week, which was about average for us since the girls had been born.
And on a couple of evenings Liz was more enthusiastic than usual, even a little wild and demanding. I loved those nights at the time, but when I thought about them they only added to my concern. Did something make her extra-horny? Or guilty? What was going on?
I certainly asked her from time to time whether something was bothering her—was there a crisis at work, did she feel all right physically, had I done something to upset her? But her invariable reply was a tight 'oh no, honey, I'm fine, really! Maybe just a little tired.' And this was delivered in an elaborately casual way, followed by a hug and kiss that were meant to reassure me but had just the opposite effect.
On September 26—I'll never forget the date, because it was Kristina's birthday and we'd had ten of her friends over for a party—I happened to ask Liz about the hospital law suit, and whether she was still in touch with Richard Gronier.
"Who?" she replied, looking suddenly a little pale.
I stared at her in some disbelief, and she said, "oh, of course! that lawyer who handled my deposition for the lawsuit last summer—how stupid of me! No, I haven't spoken to him in a couple of months, I guess. We ... we met a couple of times after the deposition, but I think he must be all done with me."
She turned back to the dishes, and neither of us said anything else for a moment. Then she started asking me about our gutters, and whether I'd called our yard guy yet about cleaning them out.
It was a startlingly unconvincing change of subject, and it shook me up quite a bit. But I didn't push it. Her pretending to forget who Gronier was was so alarming that I had to think about how to proceed.
That night when she was asleep I found her purse and looked carefully through it. I didn't find anything damning, but there was one mystery. Her cell phone's list of made and received calls didn't show anything unusual—I specifically looked for Gronier's office number and didn't find it. In her datebook there was a time and place written down for the deposition on July 8th, and I found two further notations for meetings with Gronier.
Then no more about him. But there were three places, two in August and one in early September, where things she'd written down had been painstakingly erased—it was impossible to figure out what had been written there. Since then, nothing out of the ordinary.
I'd lain awake until nearly 4 am that night, unable to sleep, full of worry. The next morning I got a recommendation from a friend and went to see Ernie Mattazollo.
He called me on October 3rd, and he didn't mince any words. "She's havin' an affair. With a guy named Gronier, he's a lawyer."
It hadn't surprised me. But it had shattered me.
After about an hour, I called him back and told him to stay with it. "I'd like you to record two or three of their little get-togethers. Just audio, no video. And some photos—some of the two of them going in and out of the motel or wherever they're meeting, and then some of the ... the actual sex, if you can get it."
"I can get it," he said flatly, and then we discussed the timing of it, and his fee.
Richard Gronier worked on the sixteenth floor of a fancy office building downtown, and his young, bosomy blond secretary took great pleasure in informing me that, unless I had an appointment, he was far too busy this morning to see me.
I smiled at her, then took a business card out of my wallet. On the back I wrote "on my way to show some photos to your wife—I'll wait 5 minutes".
I gave the card to Ms. Blonde and said, "please do me the favor of giving him this. I'll wait here."
Not more than two minutes later she came back to me, her face doing a rather bad job of concealing her annoyance, and said, "Mr. Gronier will see you now."
I didn't know how he'd play it, but at first he treated me with easy affability. Came out from behind his desk, big smile, hearty handshake.
"Mr. Hendricks, how are you? Please come in and have a seat."
I'd never seen him before, but he matched Liz's description from so many months before. He was probably 6'2" or so, and unusually handsome. He was in his mid-30s, about the same age as Liz and me, and had a strong well-tanned face and piercing blue eyes.
It wasn't hard to see how women would fall for him, though that hardly provided me consolation at that moment.
I sat in silence, waiting to see him start to look nervous. He covered it pretty well—maintained his smile, no tapping or nervous mannerisms—but after about 30 seconds he couldn't wait any longer.
"Well, Mr. Hendricks, how can I help you?"
"Mr. Gronier," I said quietly, "my wife is Liz Hendricks. And right now I have your balls in my hand. How hard I squeeze them is entirely up to you."
He was silent, but this time he couldn't stop his fingers from jiggling a little. He said, as calmly as he could, "I'm afraid I don't understand...."
"You've been fucking Liz," I said, still very quietly. "I have pictures. And I'm pretty sure that the pictures could cost you this nice office, your job, and access to your wife's trust fund."
He glanced in alarm at the manila envelopes in my lap, but blustered, "I'm sorry, I don't know what you're talking about."
This was turning out to be more fun than I'd hoped! I sat for a long moment, then silently passed him the first envelope.
When he opened it and glanced at the pictures he nearly sagged in relief, and the blood rushed back into his face. Smiling broadly he said, "but these don't show anything beyond Liz and myself going in and out of a meeting room."
"A motel," I said. "The Chesterton Motor Court, on Route 52 in Riverview Heights. Kind of cheap of you not to spring for something classier, don't you think?"
He stood up, hoping to get rid of me. "These pictures are not proof of anything, Mr. Hendricks. I'll have to ask you ..."
Without rising I passed him another envelope. When he opened this one he pulled out the single photograph and looked at it for a long time. Then he slid it back into the envelope, sat back in his chair, and ran a hand through his hair. He looked very unhappy.
"I've got several dozen more just like that one," I said. "With copies in a number of safe places."
We sat in silence. I watched him, while he gazed aimlessly at the wall behind me, working through it in his mind.
"What do you want?" he said finally.
"How long has it been going on?" I said. "And why?"
He laughed without amusement. "The why is easy—your wife is a babe, man, in case you hadn't noticed! I saw her and I wanted her. You ever seen my wife?"
I shook my head, and he continued. "She must be 250 pounds, and she sweats! She's...well, you get the picture. Liz is gorgeous, much more my cup of tea."
"About a month. Took me forever to get in her pants, if you want to know the truth. I worked on her all through the summer—nice and slow, very subtle, just professional at first. She fought it hard, kept telling me she loved you, the usual thing.
"They all say that, you know, but usually they give it up a lot faster than she did. It probably wasn't until nearly the end of September that she..."
"Stop," I said. "You've answered my question."
Despite his predicament he couldn't keep a smug grin entirely off his face. It must have been fun for him, sitting across the desk from the poor cuckolded husband. I wondered whether that was part of the pleasure for him, not just the sex but putting one over on clueless guys like me.
"All right. Call her, right now, and break it off. It's been fun, she's wonderful etc. etc., but the time has come to move on. I imagine you've done it before."
He eyed me. "And what happens after that?"
"I walk out of here. And if you're lucky, I don't take my photos to the managing partner of your law firm, or to your wife."
"Hey man, if I call her you've got to give me the photos."
I smiled, nastily. "No luck, Rich. You've got just two options here. You break it off with Liz, you've got a chance your whole life won't blow up in your face. You don't break it off with Liz, the happy life of Richard Gronier ends in the next couple of hours."
He sat and looked at me—angry and unhappy. Then he picked up the phone.
"I'd like to speak to Ms. Hendricks, please—this is Richard Gronier, from Parker & Medoff."
He spun in his chair, turning away from me as he waited for Liz to pick up the call.
"Hey baby, it's me ... yes, I know", laughing lightly, "you too. I guess we were both unbelievable!
"Listen, I ... no, I can't ... no, it's not that—just listen, Liz, okay? This has been fantastic, and you are so fuckin' gorgeous, but, y'know, we knew there would come a time, and this is it.
"No, no, don't say that! It's nothing about you, baby, it's just that ... well, these things have a life of their own, y'know, and ... like in that song, 'our love was too hot not to cool down'.
"Now, now, don't be like that! We both knew it wouldn't ... listen, Liz, don't cry, all right? We both knew it was a matter of time.
"Of course there isn't anybody else! What kind of sleazy jerk do you ... hang on now, it took two of us! I didn't put handcuffs on you and drag you into bed that first time...
"Listen baby, there's no need to yell. We both..."
After a moment he put the phone back in its cradle. "She hung up on me," he said.