Ghosts & Shadows Pt. 01


"Yes, I changed hotels, because I've been in the Wyndham before. I love the hotel and it's far enough away from all the circus atmosphere of the meetings that I can relax in the evenings. It's worth spending a little of my own money. I earn a lot of money doing what I do baby, you know that.

"But I still don't understand why you even bothered to check on where I was staying. Why in the world would you...." and then her eyes widened.

It felt for all the world like we were actors in a play, reciting our lines, looking ahead to the climax we knew was coming. At least, it felt that way to me. For the first time in nearly 40 years, I couldn't be sure about her.

"Hugh, you don't - you don't think - how could you?"

"Where were you on the nights that I called your cell. At 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. and 12 midnight and 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.?"

"But you never...."

"They weren't from any number you'd recognize. One of the hacker gurus at the bank did me a favor and gave me some hardware that allows your call to be bounced around the world so it comes in from unknown numbers. You would have ignored them as crank calls, but where were you on nights when you had to be at an 8 a.m. meeting and you weren't answering your phone past 5 a.m.?"

"Did you ever stop to think, Hugh, that the phone might have been turned off, that I might have had it in the other room and couldn't hear it. That I might have had a migraine -- which you know I've gotten for 35 years -- and put the phone under a pillow so I could go to sleep early so I could get up for one of those damned 8 a.m. meetings?"

"Honestly Mary, no, but I could see any of those things happening. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being out of touch, with transferring your hotels, with paying the extra from your own funds. You're well paid and you could do that easily. I wouldn't tell you how to run your business anymore than I'd expect you to be instructing me on how to run a bank.

But what about the meetings in Des Moines, Madison, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Kansas City. What about the nights when I caught you just before you went to bed and you said you were undressed and in bed, yet you were breathing so damned hard. Or the time in Madison when I could swear -- I could swear -- that I heard a man laughing in the background as you answered your cell in your room at midnight."

She stood and tears glistened in her eyes.

"You mentioned that and I told you the television was on. That's what you heard, and I was running from the bathroom to catch the phone because I was afraid I'd miss your call and I was afraid you'd wonder where I was. I was running because I was afraid, because I know you've been -- afraid - of something happening, ever since I told you about Chicago. I had to tell you but I wish I hadn't now. You said it didn't bother you, that you could forget it, but you haven't. It's been sitting there in your head, festering and poisoning every look you've given me for nine months. Every time you try to call me and you can't reach me, it's because - I'm with him. When you hear the radio, or a television show, it's him in there making love to me. The only thing - the only thing - I don't understand, Hugh, is why you haven't had private detectives following me and taking pictures. Why haven't you put tiny tape recorders in my purse or my car or in my phone, so you can have proof that I'm fucking a strange man behind your back. So you can divorce me, throw me out of your house, give the pictures of me fucking around to our children to make them hate me too. You used to love me. You used to trust me. I used to know who you were. I don't anymore."

She stood five feet away from me looking at me as I sat in the easy chair, and it felt as if she were on another continent. I tried not to, I tried as hard as I could to keep my dignity, but I felt the tears come.

"When we lie in bed together, when your naked skin is against me, it's almost as if I can see him. It's as if there's a ghost in the room, in our bed, with us, between us. When you laugh, I can almost hear him saying something and I think it's him you're laughing at, or with. In the bed, in the dark, when you should be asleep, your eyes are open and I know you're thinking of him. When you're gone, I try to think of what you're doing and imagine you doing what you've always done, meeting and selling and being my friendly wife who would never touch another man, but I can't see you anymore. It's as if there are shadows between us."

I stood up slowly until I was facing her. Now the tears were flowing down my face.

"I haven't hired private detectives because, how could I be hiring private detectives to watch my wife? To watch you, Mary? What kind of a world am I living in when I could even think about hiring detectives to watch you? About bugging your purse or your cell phone or tapping our home phone? That happens in cheap novels, not in our life. I keep telling myself, this can't be happening. Then, when I confront you, it's the television, or you racing to catch the phone, or a radio broadcast, and you're changing your hotel away from anyone who knows you and could spot you with another man, because you like the other hotels better.

I don't know what the truth is, but I KNOW, Mary, I know. I know you've requested trips to Madison and Kansas City and those other mid-west cities because they're close enough that a Chicago education exec could get to them for a few days, could spend them with you and inside you and you thought I'd never know."

I raised my hands to her and even that seemed so melodramatic. It just wasn't me.

"How could you do that, Mary? How could you do that to a man that loves you? How could you betray me like that? Just tell me. Make me understand."

She just stared at me and now the tears were rolling down her face. Now we were both blubbering.

I reached out to her, grabbing her hands and pulling her to me. I looked down at her and felt her flesh, then I remembered what she felt and looked like on those nights so long along when I stroked her and she stroked me, when I filled her and she moaned her pleasure at my touch - so damned long ago.

"Just tell me, Mary. For God's sake, tell me. You can go on torturing me, driving me crazy, knowing but not knowing. I can't make you be honest, but if you ever loved me, if there's even a tiny bit of that love left, don't leave me hanging here. Tell me the truth. I don't want to hear it, but I need to hear it, and I can't hear it, yet I do hear it, soft but clear and distinct.

"Yes, I've been meeting him - being with him, since three months after - you were right, about everything. When you heard laughter, that was him, I had just climaxed, cum so hard I almost threw him off the bed and he was trying to stifle his laughter. When you couldn't reach me, I was with him, all night, three and four times a night. I even missed a few morning meetings because I couldn't tear myself away from him. I think about him at night, lying next to you and I think about him when you're inside me. It's him I'm thinking about."

I let her go because her touch burned. It hurt to even look at her now.


"I - it was just something - I had to do. I fought it, Hugh, I really did. Because I knew I'd lose you and our life, but in the end, I threw everything away to have him."

"Do you love him?'

This was the last handhold. This was the last thing holding me to even a tiny fragment of the life I loved.

"I - I don't know, Hugh."

That said it all. Game, set and match. The fat lady had sung. All hope gone. I could have said something dramatic. I could have cursed her faithless heart, placed a gypsy curse on her and her lover. But, like I said, I'm not a dramatic sort of guy.

"I'll find an apartment, Mary, and get a new phone -- my own phone - where you can reach me. I'll forward the number. I guess you can tell the kids."

I looked into her eyes.

"Get an attorney. We don't need to fight. We can divide our assets. We both make good money. The kids are grown."

She still didn't say anything.

"Goodbye, Mary. Thank you for a lot of good years. I hope you're happy with him."

Then I walked out on 36 years of my life.



The next few days are a little fuzzy in my memory, because I don't think I was ever sober for more than 30 minutes to an hour. Just long enough to walk from the dive I was renting to a liquor store on the corner. It was down on 8th street in downtown Jacksonville. Pawn shops and video shops and hamburger joints and hookers in short shorts watching the cars go by and sometimes stop.

I've never been really sure how I got there. I've lived in Jacksonville on and off for 30 years and I've driven through the neighborhood often enough that I know what 8th street is like.

Guys that look and dress like me only show up to buy crack or pot or hookers. The cops would give me an odd look, and once or twice they asked me for ID, which I gave them. I was so drunk I don't know why they didn't put me in the drunk tank, but these young men and women seemed to be just embarrassed about confronting a sobbing man old enough to be their grandfather.

Sometime -- it could have been five years or three days -- after I checked into the Heart of The Southland motel someone was tapping me on the face and then trying to drown me. I coughed and wondered who the hell would be water-boarding a 57-year-old bank executive. Had I somehow run afoul of Homeland Security?

Someone turned my head to the side and I first coughed and then vomited over the side of the scummy bedcover. God only knows what had dried on it. I really didn't want to think about it. I gasped and choked and thought I was going to die there. It felt like water had gone down into my lungs and I couldn't breathe in oxygen too.

Somehow I was on my feet with two sets of strong arms supporting me. I was hacking and coughing, still trying to draw oxygen into my lungs. For those few terrifying seconds I just knew I'd never inhale another breath and I was going to black out in this cheap suburb of hell.

For the first time in a long time I remembered my son and my daughter. Why the hell had I done this to myself? Why had I decided to commit suicide in this cheap motel room. Then I remembered why and I wanted to forget again, or get drunk again, or just black out and never have to worry about anything again, but some asshole kept pounding my back and telling me to breathe. I remember vomiting again, after which I found myself breathing once more. The next thing I knew I was leaning back against cool leather, swaddled in clean-smelling towels that wrapped my naked genitals, naked arms and naked legs. Hell I was stark naked. And I smelled a familiar scent.

I managed to pry my eyelids open. As I thought, I was sitting in the back of Gail Hunt's stretch Rolls Royce. She was sitting across from me, dressed as immaculately as ever, cool in green and blue blouse and skirt. It was cut low enough to show the swells of her breasts. Her cold blue eyes, so brilliant they seemed to gleam against the overhead lights, were focused on me. Her legs, which gave her breasts a run for their money in terms of showiness, were crossed and garbed in sheer silk that was sexier than nudity.

"H-hi - boss. Fancy meeting you in hell."

I could see Percy Coals sitting to one side of me. For a guy named Percy, he was the biggest hunk of manhood you'd find outside most NFL locker rooms. Despite his size, he was as gentle a man as I'd ever met. He was the Vice President for Personnel for the Hunt bank chain.

On the other side of me sat Bobby Beaufort, Vice President for Financial Planning of the Hunt banks, and the only man I'd ever seen put Percy down in the arm wrestling championships that were among the favorite spectator sports of the semi-annual team building weekends Old Man Hunt had instituted to build team morale 20 years before.

Percy was whiter than typewriter paper and Bobby blacker than the inside of a coal bin. I had known both of them more than 20 years and had held Percy's head, while he threw up into a wastebasket at his desk, the day his longtime lover had told him they were through and he had found another man. I had pulled Bobby's black ass out of a Beaches biker bar the night he found his wife with his brother and had invaded the Biker Bar challenging any and all comers to trade punches.

"Hi guys." I paused, then continued on, "You should have left me where you found me. I'm dead. Just take me a little while to make it official."

"Shut up, Hugh," Percy said, not unkindly.

"And please try to stop throwing up on us," Bobby said.

"Go back to sleep, Hugh," Gail said. I tried to remember why I had never even thought about fucking her over the nearly 30 years I'd known her. She was a beautiful, big-breasted, blonde worth, conservatively, 50 million dollars. What was not to like? Then I remembered that she had been a little girl when I first met her and that was always the way I'd looked at her. Also that her grandfather, Old Man Hunt, had been one of the finest men I'd ever known and he had hired me and I'd built my life around his bank.

When I woke up again I was in clean sheets, didn't smell of vomit, I couldn't hear roaches rustling in the corners of the room and my mouth didn't taste of blood and alcohol. I was wearing stiff, clean white pajamas.

Memory came back with the clean smell and feel of the room and I wondered how long I'd be able to stay out of hell this time. However, it wasn't fair to Peter and Nicole. They were married, had children and I was one half of their parents. I had lost my father too early and my mother only a few years later. It was one of the few things in which life had not treated me kindly. How could I make them semi-orphans, just because their mother had turned out to be a fucking whore.

But how could I go on breathing when it felt like one of the sandspurs, those little round balls of sharp spikes that used to grow all over the yards of my childhood, had somehow gotten lodged deep within my heart and every breath made the spurs tear my flesh. There had to be a trick to it. If I could keep breathing long enough, I'd find it.

The door opened and a vision in pink and white silk glided in and sat down on the bed beside me. As she moved, her heavy breasts swayed to and fro under the dressing gown. I tried to understand how Gail Hunt could be here in what had to be sometime during the late morning judging by the light coming in through the large French windows. Why wasn't she at the bank?

"It's Saturday, Hugh," she said, reading my mind effortlessly.

Saturday? Mary had flown in on a Monday and this was Saturday? What had happened to the week?

"You've been drinking yourself into a stupor for most of the week," she said, again reading my mind.

"Why, Gail? Why all this?"

I gestured to the room around me. I knew where I was. I was in the Hunt estate's main house, a 20-room Shangri-La that had been started and mostly finished by her grandfather. I had been here during parties. I had been here when she was married. I had been here when she announced that she was leaving her husband, a high school teacher, because the marriage hadn't worked out.

I watched her face as she beamed upon the tall, good looking, evil son of a bitch who everybody knew she'd been fucking around with for months before her idiot husband ever had the slightest idea of what was going on. I'd wondered then how any human being could be so stupid. Now I knew.

I'd been there a year later when the evil son of a bitch made the mistake of backhanding her in front of his crew of thugs. Only before I could reach him Percy had broken both his arms and threw him through a door.

And Bobby had sent his three cronies through a large plate glass window, one at a time.

They say love is blind. But it only took that one blow to dissolve her second marriage. And now she, like me, was enjoying the single life. Of course, she had a head start on me.

"You didn't show up for work, Hugh. That was all it took. We couldn't find you. And when I finally tracked down Mary, she would only say that you had left your house and wouldn't be coming back. She had no idea where you were."

She looked at me and the pity was clear in her eyes.

"She flew up to Chicago Tuesday, the day we learned later you'd started trying to drink yourself to death. We talked to her on her cell. She didn't say, but we found out she was in Chicago. She didn't waste any time. She was so closed-mouthed that I started checking around. You obviously knew about it.

"His name is Richard Kelly. Forty five years old. Assistant Superintendent for Purchasing of Textbooks and Academic Supplies. Makes $110,000 a year because he has an uncle on the Chicago City Council and his family has been deep into politics for a hundred years.

"He was married but six months ago he split from his wife, moved into a townhouse and has been seen frequently with a lady that very closely resembles your Mary.

"Mary has been staying in his townhouse since she arrived there Tuesday night. She took a two-week leave from McDaniels."

She reached out and put her hand on mine.

"I got pictures, video and audio. It wasn't hard. If you need anything -- anything -- for whatever legal action you want to take, just ask and it's yours."

I reached up to wipe the moisture away from my eyes.


"Because you're a very valued member of the Hunt organization. You're a good man and you're the closest thing to a real Uncle I've got in this world. I loved Mary like an aunt, and I still can't believe what I saw and heard."

I stared at the streams of sunlight refracting through the window.

"Thank you, Gail but, I won't need any ammunition."

"You're not going to divorce her?"

"No, she'll divorce me, I guess. I don't plan on remarrying and, in any case, I've got more than enough money to be comfortable. We don't have anything we need to fight over. I imagine she will file. It looks like she's going to try to - make a new life - with this guy. I won't stand in her way."

She stared at me.

"You were married for 36 years and you're not going to do anything? Just let her walk away?"

"She's been seeing him for six months and hiding it from me. She's been talking to me and pretending to be my loving wife while he was naked in a bed with her, and probably inside her at the same time. She was thinking about him when she was with him, and thinking about him when she was with me. It's probably longer than six months, maybe back to that first time she met him nine months ago. She hasn't been my wife in almost a year.

"She told me she's missed meetings because she couldn't bear to tear herself away from his fucking. He's 12 years younger than me, which translates to a more vigorous lover. She told me, in a round about way, that he can go three and four times a night. It's been decades since I could go four times in a 24 hour period.

"Really, she wants to be with him. The minute I walk out she flies to him, and he left his wife, almost certainly to be with her. Who am I to stand in the path of true love?"

She grabbed my hand and squeezed.

"Hugh, I am so sorry. If there was any couple in the world that I thought would make it forever, it would have been you two."

I squeezed her hand back. If there was ever a time I wished I were twenty years younger, it was right now.

"I'm showing my age, Gail, but there was an old show called Gunsmoke on television. It was a great show. They had one episode where the hero, a marshal called Matt Dillon, met a gunslinger who was faster on the draw than he was. That never happened. Everybody was stunned. But Dillon wasn't surprised. 'Never a horse that couldn't be rode, never a rider that couldn't be throwed.' That's a short way of saying, 'never say never.' Nobody is guaranteed anything in this life, except dying."

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