Her husband was looking outside of the bar. "Chris," I said, snapping his head towards me.
"Take it for a spin. The clutch takes a little bit of getting used to. You need a heavy foot to shift it." Without a word he plucked the keys out of my hand and was gone.
"You do realize that he's going to want one now," she said looking at me with a pained expression on her face. "We're supposed to be putting money away for a bigger house in a better suburb, so we can have some property around us to start raising our kids and you have to go and give him the keys to a car that costs nearly three times as much and only goes maybe twenty or thirty miles an hour faster."
Her expression said it all. "Billie Jean, as Mr. Burns already told you, has no money. We really can't figure out any motivation for her attack on you, but it seems as if she's slowly rolling out more information a little bit at a time. I have a friend who works in Florida. He's digging up things as we speak. I also have found out in the past few hours that she's filed some type of suit against you that originates in Florida. We don't know what type of suit it is though. We're sure this whole thing will come down to money. My goal is to give you and Mr. Burns enough information to give you a heads up on the whole thing and possibly to give you ammunition for your fight against her if necessary."
"So you're taking my case?" I asked. She nodded her head.
"Two reasons," she said. "The first is that I'm almost a human lie detector. I believe you when you say that you've never cheated on your wife. I really believe that there are some men out there who are faithful. In fact I married one. You were telling me the truth and every time I look at her I get the feeling that she's hiding something. I don't trust her."
"What's the second reason?" I asked her. "Him," she said, pointing at her husband as he rejoined us, smiling wide enough to light up the whole room. "He said we should take your case. We'll be in touch." Chris threw me back my keys and gave me the thumbs up sign.
I went back to work and tried to concentrate on my career and my clients. Mary Beth was still trying to fuck me to death every night. She also assured me that she believed me too. But Billie Jean seemed to be everywhere. TV, Radio and print, all of the media seemed to be eager for every tidbit she put out.
Burns had finally decided that we needed to meet. He still wanted to keep me out of it, but he wanted to meet with her. Thus far she hadn't asked for anything. Mary Beth though claiming she believed me had begun asking me questions. She asked more and more of them as the week went by.
She even got out my old college yearbooks and spent a lot of time looking through them trying to see if Billie Jean appeared in any of the pictures. When I pointed out to her that Billie Jean was at least a couple of years younger than us, she gave up the yearbook search.
"Blake, I hate myself for asking you this," she said. "I'm giving you a one-time get out of jail free card. Tell me the truth. Have you ever had an affair since we've been together? With Billie Jean or anyone else?"
I was shocked. My mouth dropped open and words refused to form or come out. I think more than anything else, I was hurt. People were always trying to find out who the hell was under the Lone Ranger's mask, but Tonto never tried. Mary Beth was supposed to be my Tonto. She was my rock. She was the person I wanted to grow old and live out my life with. Everything I did was for her or for us. Her faith in me was one of the biggest sources of my seemingly unshakeable confidence.
Without saying a word, I gathered up a pair of pajamas and my shaving kit and moved down the hall into the guest room. A few minutes after I lay down I heard her twist the knob but I'd locked the door. She called me a few times, but I didn't answer.
The next morning I had just gotten to sleep after tossing and turning all night. It seemed like just as I closed my eyes the loud buzzing of my cell phone woke me up.
"It's a paternity suit," said a voice from the phone as soon as I pushed the button to connect the call.
"Whuh?" I said. "Who the fuck is this? Do you know what time it is? I just got to sleep."
"Mr. Alexander, this is Sarah Price. I'm sorry to call you so early. It's just after nine a.m. here. I forgot about the time difference. But I wanted to give you a heads up. So you could plan your strategy. The way I figure it. I've given you a few hours of lead time, but that's all," she said.
"Sarah what are you telling me? I'm not sure I understand you. Say it all again, now that I'm awake." I told her.
"Billie Jean claims that you are the father of her child," said Sarah. "She's filed a paternity suit through the Florida Attorney General's Child Support Enforcement Bureau. You wanted to know what she's up to and after. It looks like she wants two things. The first is to ruin your reputation and your life. And the second is to suck out a shit load of money from you."
"You can tell that the money is only a part of it. If it was only the money, she could have come to you quietly, under the radar and told you about the child and asked for you to pay child support or even asked for cash settlement outright to keep quiet. She did this publicly and dramatically because she wanted to pull you down. Either she or someone she's working with has a big fucking grudge against you. Can you think of anyone who hates you badly enough to want to do this to you?" she asked.
"Not off the top of my head," I said. My brain was still only half functioning.
"Well I'm looking further into it. I'm trying to cross reference and check out every person she's known to associate with over the past five years. She's scheduled to go on TV and blab all of this soon. She also claims to have proof, so be careful," Sarah said before she hung up.
I had to admit, Sarah was good. The other investigators that Burns had put on the case and the ones that McMillan Worth had hired had all come up empty so far. Thanks to Sarah at least I wouldn't be surprised when the news papers came out or the TV shows hit today.
As I headed for my morning shower, I realized that last night had been the first time that I can remember that Mary Beth and I slept apart.
In the space of a week I'd gone from controlling the media on behalf of my clients and their products, to hiding from them on my own behalf.
Just as the sun came up and far before anyone was out on the streets I snuck into my office. I actually got there before Myra did for a change.
When she walked in at eight, she was surprised to find the lights already on and me already in the office.
"Myra, sit down," I told her. "Over the next couple of days things are going to get worse."
"Oh Boy," she said. "How much worse can it get?"
"Billie Jean is doing all of this as part of a paternity suit," I said.
"Why didn't she just ask you for the money," asked Myra.
"I don't know. My investigator thinks that she also wants to ruin my reputation," I said. "I'm telling you this because I don't want you to have to find out by reading it in the papers tomorrow. Apparently she's going to be on TV today."
"How is Mary Beth taking it?" she asked.
"I guess I should call her and tell her," I said.
"Why haven't you told her already?" she asked.
"I'm not sure Mary Beth believes me anymore," I said sadly. "I guess there's just too much of this too soon."
I did call Mary Beth to try and give her the news too. Her cell went straight to voice mail, so I left her a message. I was glad it happened that way, because I still wasn't ready to talk to her. The fact that someone I loved so deeply and so completely didn't believe me was devastating. I realized then that I had to take a closer look at my friends.
Billie Jean appeared on A.M. California. It was a popular morning news magazine type show. She had changed her appearance. Instead of the glamorous beauty queen persona she'd shown at the party she was trying the poor mistreated girl role.
I watched as she theatrically wiped a tear from her eye. The hosts of the show were trying to comfort her as she choked out her tale of woe. She claimed that she'd been at a party barely four years ago. The party had been in Florida. Some of my old college friends had arranged it and we had danced on the floor in the round. It was pure bullshit. I hadn't done the swapping partners thing since long before I'd met Mary Beth.
She told them that she'd been instantly in love with me and that was the only reason she'd had sex with me. She also told them that I'd led her to believe that we had a future. She said she woke up the next morning and I was gone. She had no contact information and no way to get in touch with me. Then she dropped the big bombshell. She claimed that she'd discovered a few weeks later that she was pregnant, and I was the only person who could possibly be the father.
With no way to contact me, she'd raised our child alone. She'd struggled and took whatever jobs she could get just to make ends meet. Then finally a few weeks ago she'd seen a picture of me in a magazine. She'd borrowed every cent she could for a cheap flight out here. She'd tried several times to contact me, but claimed that she couldn't get through to me. She was crying, the hosts of the show, though they were supposed to be unbiased were trying to vilify me and of it was up to the studio audience I'd probably have been both castrated and tarred and feathered.
As Myra and I were watching the Billie Jean circus on TV, Burns called me.
"I've got a meeting scheduled for tomorrow with her," he said. "Hopefully after that I can figure out what it'll take to get her to just go the fuck away."
"I want to be at the meeting," I snapped. A few minutes later Mary Beth called me. Her sister, who I couldn't stand had shown up at my house early this morning and told her about the show. Mary Beth had apparently heard all about it. When I told her about the meeting, she insisted on being there as well. She was also very suspicious about how I'd known this was going to happen.
Later that morning I was summoned before the partners for another wonderful meeting.
Arthur Harris was all over me as soon as I walked in the door. "I thought that you were going to take care of this embarrassing situation of yours before it affected the company," he said.
"I am working on it Arthur," I snapped. "The problem is unlike the affairs that you've had this woman seems to want more than just money. There's of course the added problem that unlike you, people know who I am, so when something happens to me, it's news. And lastly there's the fact that unlike you, I'm innocent."
For a second he was shocked; first by the fact that I had called his old ass by his first name and secondly because all of my points against him were true.
"Your innocence or guilt in this matter is irrelevant," he hissed. "The bottom line is the main thing. Some of our agents are reporting that they're having a more difficult time selling our ad campaigns. Some of our clients are watching this and waiting to see which side wins before they continue to do business with us. Once again, I'm asking you to handle your uhm...affairs."
When I got home that evening, I was hoping I could talk to Mary Beth. Us not being together was killing me. It wasn't going to happen though. Before I even shut off my engine her sister Tina was out in front of my house trying to pull my door open. I unlocked the door, pushing her away from my car.
"Be careful, Tina," I snapped. "This car costs more than three years of your alimony payments."
"You cheating asshole," she snapped. "You finally got caught. I knew you would."
"You mean you hoped I would, don't you Tina?" I snapped. "Come on you were hoping that I would cheat on Mary Beth so she'd divorce me and you and I could get together. Some kind of a birds of a feather thing." She was seething. She was so angry and so red I thought she would explode.
"The difference between us though is that I didn't cheat. And my people are going to prove it," I said.
Mary Beth came out then, wondering what we were yelling about. I went into the house, walking right by her and back into the guest room.
The next morning I knocked on the door to our room and told her that I'd left the address to Burns' office on the table. I also told her that Tina couldn't come to the meeting.
"Blake, why are you sleeping in the guest room?" she asked. "I really miss you. It's tearing me apart not having you next to me. Tina says that you're acting guilty."
"Thanks MB," I said. "It's good to know that the woman I love believes me and is behind me." My sarcasm was lost on her. "Maybe you should have Tina sleep in here with you."
I drove to the office alone. When I got there Burns was there along with another man who was one of his associates.
Mary Beth got there about 10 minutes after I did. I could tell by looking at her that she hadn't really taken the time to put on the show that she normally would have. She'd swept her hair back into a pony tail and thrown on some relatively casual clothes compared to what she normally wore in public. Maybe she was as upset about this whole thing as I was, but more than likely it was simply because she thought that the meeting would be a semi private affair.
Finally with a great deal of fanfare and a bunch of reporters trailing after her, Billie Jean arrived. She made a big deal of wiping a tear from her eye as she saw me. Then she smirked as she looked at Mary Beth. "No wonder he wanted me," she said. Then added for the benefit of the reporters, "She's built like a skinny teenager."
Burns started the meeting out by simply asking her what she wanted. She told him and it sounded as if she'd rehearsed the speech many times, that what she wanted was for our son to have the benefits that he'd been denied for so long. She wanted for him to be raised in the lifestyle that he was entitled to. And she wanted to make a point that big shots can't go around loving and leaving innocent young girls.
Then she recounted the whole fantasy that she'd spouted on the TV show. Mary Beth started asking her questions.
That's my baby, I thought. Maybe Mary Beth was back on my side. She asked Billie Jean a lot of tough questions. Like how long were we together that night. And what kind of proof did she have that the child was mine. Billie Jean was unruffled though by Mary Beth's questioning.
She told my baby we danced til three. Then she looked at me, and showed a photo of a baby crying. His eyes looked like mine. It was a very high resolution photograph, and very clear. The boy did look a lot like me, too much in fact. The purple eye coloring was extremely damning. Even I was shocked.
Mary Beth got up from the table and ran out of the office. She was clearly upset. Billie Jean's nearly hysterical laughter followed her as she ran away.
"I'll be in touch," smirked Billie Jean as she too left the meeting. I saw her in front of the office playing up to the reporters as I snuck out the back like a God damned criminal. There was an itching in my brain though.
Again I drove to the office, but this time I was too late to avoid the crowd of reporters who greeted me.
"What do you think about you lover's claim that she's raising your child alone and nearly destitute?" asked a reporter as I got out of my car.
"Billie Jean, is not my lover," I said. "She's just a girl who claims that I am the one. But the kid is not my son." I really wasn't sure if I was trying to convince them or myself.
Luckily building security held them off as I got on the elevator and went to my office. I spoke to Claude Gascon in Paris about the hotel deal. He wanted me to come over there and actually look at their operation and see a couple of their buildings. The deal was going nowhere so I finally agreed. I told him I'd have my people coordinate with his and we'd work out dates. Perhaps this would be a good time for Mary Beth and me to get away for awhile.
Burns called me and told me that we needed to go to Florida to file our counter claim or at least answer the claim that I was the father of Billie Jean's son. I told him that we could leave later that afternoon. I would arrange for us to take one of McMillan Worth's Jets.
He said he'd arrange for us to handle our business there as efficiently as possible, so we could get back here to keep things going with as little disruption in my schedule as possible.
Myra came into the office and told me that the office gossip was now split forty/forty. A lot of the associates and the people who worked with me on a daily basis believed me. Though the evidence was damning they knew me and were on my side. The secretaries and a lot of the other workers there were sure I was guilty. The remaining twenty percent didn't care one way or another.
I sat there thinking about my life. It had been less than two weeks since I first met Billie Jean and she was systematically tearing up a life that had taken me years to build. Again I thought about my wild and misspent youth. I really was kind of wild back then, but it was all in fun. People always told me, "Be careful what you do. Don't go around breaking young girls' hearts."
And it wasn't just people who gave me that advice. Mama always told me, "Be careful who you love. Be careful what you do. Or the lie becomes the truth." And God damn it that was what was happening here. Slowly but surely all of that bitch's lies were becoming the truth. Fewer and fewer people believed me. I was still sure even after seeing that fucking kid that I had never set eyes on Billie Jean before the night of my party. The funny thing was that as soon as I'd seen the picture of the child, I'd felt a connection between us. Not necessarily with Billie Jean but with me and the boy. I didn't know how to explain it but it was there.
I tried to call Mary Beth, but somehow got Tina instead. "Why are you answering my wife's phone?" I snapped.
"Because she's so busy crying over what you did, that she can barely do anything," said Tina, snarkily.
"Could you please put MB on the phone?" I asked.
"I'll see if she wants to talk to you." There was a big clunk. She'd obviously dropped the phone.
"Sorry, I dropped the phone," she said. "I hope it didn't hurt your ears."
"You probably dropped the phone about as quickly as you drop your panties when sailors are in town, just give the phone to MB," I snapped.
"Hello," said Mary Beth. Her voice sounded as if all of her strength and life had been drained out of her.
"I have to go to Florida," I said quickly. "Would you like to come?"
"Why are you going to Florida?" she asked flatly. Just hearing how dead her voice sounded made me want to kill Billie Jean and whoever else was behind this.
"Billie Jean's Paternity suit originates from there. I could probably phone this in, but I want to appear there in person. It will let everyone know first that I'm taking this seriously and second that I'm not hiding from it," I said.
"Blake, you're going to have to do this one without me," she said. "I really can't take anymore of this. That baby looks just like you. He even has those freaky eyes of yours. God damn it I gave you a chance to come clean about this and you fucking lied to me. I don't know if I'll ever be able to trust you again. Maybe someday we'll come close to what we had, but it's going to take time and it's going to be hard. You're going to have to go to Florida without me Blake." She said all of this with the same flat tone to her voice. There were no highs and lows in her delivery, it was emotionless. I was shocked.
"Thanks for believing in me," I said quietly. I hung up the phone. I punched in another number and waited for it to ring.