The Honey Trap


I knew he was right. Hell, after what she'd done, I didn't want to stay married to her anyway. But it still felt like she and Frank had beaten me in a game I didn't even know I was playing.

Jonathan's tone became sympathetic once again. "Listen, Michael, I know the attorney that Melanie used. If you sign, we can get this Settlement Agreement filed with the court very quickly. That will pretty well lock in what she's proposed. Then, if she begins to have 'buyer's remorse' and wants to come back -- and if you're willing to take her back -- you still have thirty days to drop the divorce."

I knew that wasn't going to happen. "Can I borrow your pen?" I asked.

When I got back to the office, I headed straight for Human Resources. I had lots of changes to make in my health insurance, my 401K plan and numerous other benefits that involved a spouse. The clerk who helped me must have done this a lot because he was able to produce all the forms I needed in short order. As I was signing them I glanced up to see him staring at me. "I guess I won't have to make an announcement in the office now," I thought wryly.

On the way home that evening, I stopped at a neighborhood restaurant and picked up some dinner to go. But when I got home, I found that Melanie had been there during the day and packed up everything she wanted. Of course all of her cosmetics had disappeared, but I was surprised to find a number of items of clothing left behind. However, when I examined them more closely I realized that they were things she didn't wear anymore. "I guess I get to haul them off to Goodwill," I thought morosely.

Further investigation revealed that the bedroom was not the only place she had raided. Our good china was gone, along with most of the serving pieces we'd received as wedding presents. From the kitchen, I noticed that a number of utensils and our set of good carving knives had also been carted off. Several pieces of furniture were missing, and when I went into the den, I saw that large chunks from our CD and DVD collections were also gone. As I prowled through our belongings I noted that she'd left our wedding album untouched. Somehow that was more depressing to me than all the things she'd taken with her. It was as though she wanted to expunge any memory of life with me.

I went back in the kitchen and stashed the food I'd bought in the refrigerator. I had no appetite left after discovering her incursion. I made myself a mental note to have the locks changed. "Damn it to hell, how do you go from being happily married to a single lonely divorced man in three days?" I asked myself. It all seemed so damned unfair.

I spent the next week in virtual isolation, starting work early and leaving late every day. Otherwise I stayed in the house. The humiliation of having Frank Calhoun steal my wife was excruciating, and the fact that there was nothing I could do about it was almost unbearable.

I'll admit that I entertained fantasies about assaults with a baseball bat or brass knuckles; other times I daydreamed about hired killers and car bombs. But then I'd come back to the real world. Did I really want to ruin my own life just to get back at a skirt-chasing sleaze ball and a wife who couldn't keep her legs together?

By Friday I decided it was time to come out of my cocoon. I'd done nothing wrong and there was no reason for me to hide. I called Penny. "Hey, partner, don't we have tennis match scheduled for this weekend?" I asked, trying to sound upbeat and positive.

"Oh, Michael, I'm so glad to hear from you," she said quickly. "I thought about calling you so many times, but I thought maybe you'd prefer to be alone for awhile."

"Thanks, Penny," I replied, softening my tone. "It's been a rough week."

I went on to tell her everything that had happened; then I asked her what was going on at Eden Pointe that I'd missed. She hemmed and hawed for a few seconds before admitting that our situation was the talk of the subdivision.

"You'd think they could find something better to discuss," I said sharply.

"They might," Penny allowed, "but Frank and Melanie don't make it easy. They've been socializing at the clubhouse every night since last Saturday. Frank is all but openly bragging about how the better man won, and Melanie hangs on him like an infatuated school girl."

I could hear the anger in her voice.

"It's just sickening, Michael. I quit her Pilates course straightaway and told her I couldn't be her friend anymore," she said. Her loyalty made me feel a little better.

"What about the others, Penny? What are they saying?" I asked.

"I guess it's what you'd expect, Michael. There are some who are pretty unhappy with Frank and Melanie, and they try to avoid the lovebirds as much as possible. Then there's the group that always hang around Frank. They're all lauding his prowess, if you know what I mean. But for the majority of people it's just a sad, awkward situation, and they try to stay out of it as much as they can."

Rationally, I'd known that that would be the situation, but a part of me had wished the community would tar and feather Frank and Melanie and ride them out of town on a rail. But I was determined not let my disappointment hold me back.

"Be that as it may, I'm not going to spend the rest of my life in hiding," I told Penny. "We're scheduled to play on Saturday, and unless you'd rather not, I intend to get out on the court with my partner," I told her.

"I'm glad, Michael," she told me fervently, "You can count on me."

I deliberately drove over to the tennis courts a little late so as to avoid conversations about topics I didn't want to discuss. It didn't help much: as I walked up to the tennis pavilion I could feel the eyes of my neighbors and teammates on me. I could understand their curiosity but I still hated the feeling.

When she saw me, the captain of our mixed doubles team came rushing up to me. "Michael, I'm so sorry. The other team made a last-second change in their line-up, and some of the matches have already started, so I can't change it. If you don't want to play, I'll understand."

"What are you talking about, Mary?" I asked. "I don't understand."

"It's Frank," she said. "You and Penny are scheduled to play Frank and his partner."

"Oh, crap," I thought. "That's the last thing I wanted."

Just then, Penny came up, and when she realized what was happening her face went pale. She pulled me aside and whispered, "We don't have to do this, Michael. It's no big deal: we'll just forfeit and play somebody else next week."

"No!" I said, loudly enough for Penny to jump. "I am not going to hide from that bastard the rest of my life. I'm going to have to face him, and it might as well start now."

Penny looked at me worriedly, but I turned back to Mary. "It's fine," I told her. "Penny and I are here to play."

It was a slaughter. I played worse than I had in years, and my obvious emotions affected Penny as well. Frank, by contrast, was really on his game, and his big, booming ground strokes were scorching over the net like rounds from an RPG. To make things worse, he was constantly taunting me throughout the match. "Come on, Michael, you can hit it harder than that," he yelled after I floated a weak shot that he smashed for a winner. Another time he yelled, "Your wife can hit it harder than that. Oh, wait, my bad: you don't have a wife." I just fumed.

To add insult to injury, our little match had drawn a crowd, and I looked up to see Melanie standing by the fence. To her credit, she did wince at some of Frank's comments, but she never looked in my direction.

At one point, I floated a weak second serve over the net, and Frank ripped it straight at Penny. It bounced off her shoulder and nearly knocked her down. I rushed to the net with my racket cocked, ready to decapitate the bastard, but Penny grabbed my arm and pleaded with me not to go over the net after him. "It was fair shot," she said. "I'm okay, I'm not hurt. It's just part of the game."

I stared at him with venom in my eyes as he pretended to tie his shoelace. Finally, I walked back to my position in angry frustration.

The final score was 6-2, 6-1, a humiliating defeat. Gritting my teeth, I went to the net to shake hands with our opponents. Frank's partner seemed embarrassed by his display and mouthed an apology to me when she shook my hand. Frank, however, simply walked up to us and, without bothering to extend his hand, said, "That was a lot of fun. Let's do it again the next time you feel like taking a beating." Then he pointedly turned, walked over to Melanie and gave her a big kiss over the waist-high fence.

I don't know what Penny saw in my face, but she grabbed my arm and pulled me off the court. "He's trying to provoke you, Michael. He'd love for you to start a fight with him. Don't let him get to you. Please, for my sake."

I sat down on the bleachers and somebody handed me a cup of ice water. I took a few sips and then dumped the remainder on my head. I couldn't have felt much worse than I did that afternoon. I apologized to Penny for playing so poorly, and although she protested, I got in my car and headed home.

Throwing my clothes in the hamper, I dragged myself into the shower and proceeded to let the water cascade off of me for half an hour. When the water finally turned cold, I got out, dried myself off and then plopped down on the bed, angry and disgusted.

I knew why I had lost: I'd let Frank get to me. That knowledge only made me feel worse. He got to me and he got to Melanie too, though obviously in a different way. Nevertheless, the outcome was the same: to turn a loser like Frank into the big winner. I swore to myself that I wasn't going to take any more of Frank's abuse, or Melanie's either. I was going to find a way to turn the tables on them both. Now all I had to do was come up with a way to accomplish that.

I lay back on the bed and thought about what my old tennis coach used to tell me: "Play to your opponent's weakness." It sounded good in theory, but how could I apply that in this situation?

I know myself. Once I start working on a problem, my brain will keep attacking it even when my conscious mind turns to other tasks. In fact I've often found that if I leave a problem alone for a while, when I come back to it the solution is easy to see. And that's what happened in this case. I chewed on the challenge for a while and then set it aside to spend most of Sunday catching up on the yard work that I'd neglected. By that night I was tired enough that falling asleep was no problem. When I got into work the next day, I realized I had a possible solution. "It's probably going to be expensive," I thought to myself, "but if it works, it'll be worth it."

About mid-morning I gave a call to one of our top sales guys. "Hey, Jerry," I said when I reached him, "any chance you could have lunch with me today? My treat."

"Sure, Michael, especially if you're buying."

We met at a bar and grill I know that's a little run-down but has great food. After we'd ordered, Jerry looked over at me. "Hey, Michael, I was real sorry to hear about you and Melanie. I thought you guys had everything going for you."

"Yeah, me too, Jerry, me too. But actually, that's sort of why I wanted to talk to you."

"Sure, Michael, I'd be glad to help any way I can."

"OK, Jerry, so here's my question: when you're entertaining your best clients, have you ever had occasion to use an escort service?"

He looked at me oddly. "No, Michael, absolutely not. That's against company policy, and I would never do that."

I leaned over the table toward him. "Jerry, this is not a company issue, and we're not on business here. This is strictly personal, if you know what I mean."

He looked at me for a few seconds, and then light dawned in his eyes. "Oh, I get it," he said. "I guess it's been a long dry spell for you, what with the wife splitting and you being out of the dating game and all."

He paused and then leaned closer to me. "Sure, I know one of the top services in the city. But listen, Michael, they cater only to the biggest hitters, understand? Their girls are unbelievable, but I think they may be way out of your price range."

I smiled at him. "You let me worry about that. Just tell me how to get in touch with them and what to expect."

And over burgers and brews, he did exactly that.

I was nervous that afternoon as I went over the notes I'd made during lunch. I hoped I was doing the right thing. Then I remembered Frank taunting me and Melanie's cold-eyed announcement that she was leaving, and I decided to go for it.

I called the number Jerry had given me, and a pleasant male voice answered. "Hello. May I help you?"

"Yes, I'd like to speak to Mr. Henry Miller," I said as I had been instructed.

"This is Mr. Miller," the voice responded. "What are you looking for?"

"Something from the Grove Press," was my response.

"Please give me your name, sir."

I thought about using a pseudonym, but Jerry had been very explicit about the need to identify myself accurately. "They're always worried about the vice squad," he told me. "They'll go to great lengths to make sure you're not a cop trying to set them up."

I gave him my real name.

"Are you calling from your office?" Mr. Miller asked.

"Yes," I replied, "but this is a personal matter. It has nothing to do with my company."

"I quite understand, sir. Now would you give me the switchboard number where you work?"

"Sure," I said, "but wouldn't you rather have my direct line instead?"

No," he replied. "I will call the main number and ask for you; then we'll be able to attend to your business."

"Pretty clever," I thought to myself. "If he calls and the operator answers, he knows he's calling a real company, not the police station. And if she transfers his call to me, he'll know I'm really an employee of the company. It's not foolproof, but it's pretty darn good."

I gave him the main switchboard number and he hung up immediately. A couple of minutes later, my phone rang and the operator transferred a call to me. It was "Mr. Miller."

Next he asked me for my cellphone number. "This will allow us to contact you outside working hours, if that is required," he explained.

After I'd given it to him, he went on. "Now that we've dispensed with the identification process," he said smoothly, "please tell me how our service may help you."

"I'm looking for a very special companion who can be available for a series of occasions that may stretch over a month or more."

"Hmm," the voice said, "that's a bit out of the ordinary. We don't usually make commitments for such an extended period of time. We may be able to help you, but it will be expensive." He quoted me a price that made my eyes water.

I gulped. "That will be fine, Mr. Miller."

"Very well, do you have any special requirements?"

"Yes," I said, "she has to look like a goddess."

He chuckled. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, sir. But I think you'll be able to find a companion suitable for your needs."

He paused. "Do you have a pen handy?"

When I assured him that I did, he proceeded to give me the address for their website. I noted that the URL began with HTTPS, indicating a secure server. When I had it down, he told me to my amusement that when I was prompted for a user name to enter "Anais Nin." Then he gave me a numerical password.

"Please understand, sir, that both the user name and password will change after your selection has been made. This is for your security as well as our own."

When I acknowledged my understanding, he went on. "Now about the matter of payment, sir, once you have made your selection and she is scheduled for a session, your credit card will be charged in the amount to which you have just agreed. In addition, our clients are expected to show their appreciation directly to our companions. If everything is satisfactory, we recommend a gratuity of 25%."

I did some quick mental mathematics. "This had better work," I thought, "or I'm going to be broke as well as humiliated."

"Very well, sir. Whenever you are ready to make your selection, please proceed to our website. You will be able to make all other arrangements there. Good day, sir." With that, the line went dead.

I waited till I got home that night to access the website "Henry" had given me. The main screen identified itself as only as "Capricorn Services" with the tagline "Catering to the needs of the most discerning clients." The user name and password "Henry" had provided got me into the site, and a window opened up that could have come straight from the pages of a Victoria's Secret catalog.

The women pictured there were all so gorgeous that I wondered why they weren't in modeling rather than the escort business. In fact, I even wondered if the pictures could have been copied from some modeling site as part of some kind of bait-and-switch con. But my buddy Jerry had insisted that Capricorn was for real, so I decided to take my chances.

I had assumed that I would choose a blonde for my purpose, but a photo of a woman with dark shoulder-length hair caught my attention, and I impulsively clicked on "Rhiannon." The confirmation that appeared on my screen assured me that Rhiannon would contact me within twenty-four hours to arrange our meeting. Next I was prompted for my credit card information. Once the card number and expiration date had been verified, the screen went dark and I was suddenly kicked out of the site.

Out of curiosity, I tried to go back to the Capricorn website, but the welcome screen wouldn't recognize the username and password this time, and after a second try I was kicked back to my home page. I was pretty impressed by the security their system used, and decided that was a hopeful sign. If they went to that much trouble, maybe their service was as good as Jerry had indicated.

I was on pins and needles the next day waiting for Rhiannon to call. At one point I even considered backing out of the deal. My little plan was going to be very expensive to implement, and there was no guarantee of success. But when I went to the break room to get myself a cup of coffee, two secretaries who had been speaking when I walked in immediately fell silent and looked away from me. It didn't take a genius to figure out who was the subject of their conversation. The pain of being the subject of office gossip strengthened my resolve. No matter what, I wasn't going to continue to be the helpless victim if I could do anything about it.

It wasn't until after dinner that my cellphone rang, and when I answered, a melodious voice said, "Hi, Michael, this is Rhiannon calling. I'm looking forward to meeting you."

I gulped and then responded, suggesting that we meet for dinner to discuss my request. When she agreed, I suggested the same grill where Jerry and I had eaten. It was small, dark and far enough away from Eden Pointe that I'd be unlikely to run into one of my neighbors. She laughed. "How interesting! I don't believe I've had the pleasure of eating there before. I'll look forward to seeing you there." With that she hung up.

"Here we go," I thought.

The grill wasn't very busy on a week night, which was one of the reasons I'd picked it, and the low lighting also suited my purposes. But when she walked in the door, it was as though a spotlight was shining on her. She saw me stand up nervously, and she walked over and shook my hand confidently. "Hello, Michael," she said in that musical voice. "It's a pleasure to meet you in person."

She sat down and I followed. I must have been staring, because she laughed and said, "Well, how do I look?"

We've all seen movie stars on the big screen or models in magazines. They're gorgeous but they're not "real." But now I was meeting one of them in person, and the impact was overwhelming. The young woman seated across from me was absolutely stunning. The dark eyes, high cheek bones, pouty lips, the way her hair framed her face, her athletic but womanly figure – I could go on and on, but the fact was that for a few moments all I could do was stare at her in silent wonder.

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