No Time To Read? LISTEN In English On-The-Go!
PART 32 * AUGUST 2022 * DANGEROUSLY CLOSE
Slowly Deborah wandered over to the beautiful sky view window. She silently stared out at Atlanta’s night lights, Mark’s phone still in her hand. She registered Tessa’s insistent voice for the third time demanding, “Who. Is. This?”
For Deb, it had taken a moment or two to compose herself. A battle between her dueling natures was transpiring inside her. ‘How do I want to play this? Shall I tell her? Have my say right here and now? Or just hang up? Or?’ —
Tessa’s voice, loud, high-pitched, and piercing, interrupted. “LISTEN, I’VE” —
Deb became aware of her words, not just the tone. Cutting in, firm and confident, she mirrored Tessa, “NO! YOU LISTEN.” Leaving the window she returned to the kitchenette. Mark’s cigarettes were laying on the table there. She could hear and noted Tessa’s rapid breathing. It told her that Tessa had lost command of her emotions. She must be really hung up on Mark. A lawyer is trained to control such behavior.
‘I don’t want to make that mistake’, she coached herself. So as she sat down at the table she lit one of the cigarettes and exhaled a puff before she spoke again. It seemed to always calm her in the past, and she had to stay in command of her own emotions now. She picked up the conversation again.
“You rang this number. So by all rights, and according to Miss Manners, I’m the one that gets to ask, ‘Who. Is. This?’. . . . not you.” She took another drag and blew the smoke out slowly.
“WHAT DID YOU SAY? MISS MANNERS?! WHO THE—” Tessa’s temper – and fear – was at a fever pitch.
Deborah couldn’t contain the smile that was playing across her lips. She could almost hear the sportscaster’s voiceover in her head shouting, ‘AND SHE SCORES!’
But her “thrill of victory” only lasted a second.
Suddenly Mark’s left hand was clasped over her own left hand where it was holding the phone to her ear. He was behind her. Shocked, she jumped up dropping the cigarette from her right hand. With a quick swoop, Mark plucked it up off the floor. He stubbed it out in the ashtray. Then, staring into Deb’s eyes ….
He hung up on Tessa. He laid the phone down on the table his eyes never leaving Deb’s. Finally, he spoke gruffly, full of masculine dominance. “Sit down. What do you think you’re doing?”
Deborah didn’t flinch. Meeting his glare eye to eye she answered boldly, “Taking care of business. Darling.” She tossed her hair back over her shoulders as all women know how to do. It’s that feel-good thrill that says ‘I’m a woman, deal with it, Buster.’ When a woman flips her hair, it’s typically a lure-you-in signal. She wants you to know that she’s as good as Oueen Beyonce or any other woman for that matter. Then Deb delivered the coup de grâce. “When I’m ready to have my cigarette extinguished? I’ll do it. I don’t need your help Daddy!”
Mark’s gorgeous blue eyes changed expression as he looked her up and down slowly. He licked his lips and a smile captured his sensuous mouth. He hadn’t felt this kind of turn-on in some time. He admired this confident woman who was up for a fight if need be. Even if she was far out-matched.
His phone rang. Deb pulled her chair out and sat back down easing her body gracefully back momentarily. She crossed her legs. He should see how fit she was now. She used her well-manicured nails to begin tapping the table. Anticipation had kicked in. Mark picked up his phone to confirm whether it was Tessa trying to reach him again this soon or perhaps someone else. He jerked his head back up to glance quickly at Deb. He had sensed her body movement.
She had indeed leaned up and across the table wanting to know for herself if it was Tessa. She was finding it difficult now in this real-world moment to remain the cool ‘leading lady’ that she admired in movies. He turned the phone so she could see the screen. It read Tessa Johnson, Incoming call, with a Florida telephone number.
She glanced up into Mark’s eyes. His face was expressionless. Oh, but he was good. What was he expecting from her? A faint smile again formed across her demure rose colored lips. She eased back down in her seat. Her inner coach reminded her to be calm. Don’t tap, her mind directed. So she purposefully and for appearances’ sake in her fem fatale role, now lit up another of his cigarettes. In her own sultry voice she purred, “You might want to get that. She was pretty upset.”
“Ooh– you can be catty. Catty and wicked”, he replied. But there was no denying the flirtatious glint in his eyes now. His smile turned into a mischievous snicker. The tension gave way and she laughed along with him. The phone was still ringing.
He laid the phone down on the table. It was a demonstrable refusal to answer her call. Then rubbing his forehead he blurted, “Bull!” Glancing back at Deb he mumbled, “She’s givin’ me a headache.” He gave the phone an angry scowl — as if Tessa could see his displeasure. Deb noted his flushed face and thought to herself that the phone confrontation must be running his blood pressure up. She replied flatly, “I’ll get you a BC powder.” It was his go-to for decreasing pain.
“Mark?” She reached for his hand when setting the medication before him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause a confrontation. Nor any trouble for you. Really”. She extinguished the cigarette she had just used as a prop in the ashtray. ” I —, well, I—. Look, it just seemed like such a shrill ring to me earlier. I’d answered it before I thought. Trying to hush it, you know? I didn’t want it to wake you up.”
He nodded. “No, it’s okay. Not that important.” He tossed back the analgesic. “What time is it?” Instinctively he looked over to the wall above the sink. That’s where she’d hung the new clock he had bought. It was ticking merrily along just as the one at home had done for so many years. The time was five minutes past two. “Had you come to bed after your bath?”
“No”, she yawned as she answered. He caught it. They were really two exhausted people. A man and woman shouldering what seemed to be all-that-could-go-wrong-problems dumped on them.
The phone was ringing again. She sighed. “Let me fix you something to eat right quick before you deal with that. You took a BC. You don’t need an upset stomach on top of everything else.”
He stretched and yawned again. “I’m not hungry. Let’s just get some sleep”
“No, nope, nope”, she replied firmly. “Just a quick sandwich.” She moved swiftly. In moments she had poured a glass of milk, setting it and a ham and cheese on rye in front of him.
He raised a brow and gave her a quirky look. “Milk? Really?”
She ignored that and asked, “Do you think she’ll try coming here?”
He took a big bite of the sandwich but talked around it. “No. She doesn’t know where I am.”
She repeated, “She doesn’t know where you are?” Well, yes, that made sense. How could he tell Tessa that? “What’d you say when you left her? I’m going to the store for cigarettes?”
He laid his head over on his hand as he’d propped his arm up on the table and
laughing said, “No. She’s privy now. She knows that I do some kind of security work. She thinks it’s for a government company in Florida, not that I’m an undercover agent spying on her and some other VIP’s in our government, among other things.”
They stared deep into each other’s eyes. Both knew they were getting on dangerous ground. Deb thought, ‘I hadn’t known that either.’
“Am I supposed to know this? What you’re telling me now?”
He cleared his throat. His voice was husky and guilt was like a halo around him. “No. Oh, Deb… no. But you’re going to have to know. I can’t keep carrying this load by myself.” His eyes were pleading. “Debbie, I need you.”
She’d thought she would never hear those words again. Not out of his mouth. At times she had wondered over the last couple of years if she could ever believe words like those out of any man’s mouth for her. Even Dave’s.
She pushed the chair back from the table. Dave’s voice shot back into her mind. ‘He wants you back.’
She was now standing at the sink running water over the glasses they had used. They’d both gone silent at his words about needing her. She made a diversionary move to the sink needing to absorb everything and sort it out.
In a microsecond and just like a bright flash — she saw it. That vision or whatever it was … Tessa standing by an exit sign. The words “help Tessa” were whispered as clearly as if her ears actually heard them … but she couldn’t have. Could she?
She picked up the dish towel. Drying her hands she turned back to face Mark.
“Mark, please call Tessa back. That poor girl. She’s hurting really bad right now. I know what that’s like. It could make her make foolish moves, you know?”
He hung his head like a whipped puppy. “Yeah. I know. I know I should.” He buried his strained face momentarily in his hands. Then rallying, he thought out loud. “Let’s see. What can I say? We’re dangerously close, ya know. I can’t afford to blow my cover. I mean, it could get her and us and no telling who else killed.”
Deb twisted the dish towel in her hands. Mark hesitated briefly. He hated this but he was in too deep now. And this was bigger than just he and Deb. At least, he’d convinced himself of that. He plunged forward. “Did you tell her you’re my real wife?”
“No. I mean —. No. We didn’t get that far. She was demanding to know who I was. And I told her that question was mine to ask her. I wasn’t exactly thinking straight. I was just reacting.”
“Okay.” He was pensive, biting at his bottom lip. Hesitantly he picked up his phone.
It was Deb who felt guilty now as she watched him. His words about getting them all killed weren’t overly dramatic. We are dangerously close to such a reality, she thought.
Was it just her or did Mark’s voice really sound uncharacteristically unsure?
She suddenly blurted out in a loud whisper, “You’re a player, Mark! Play her.”
He rolled his eyes and shook his head with an exasperated huff. “Get out of here.”
He waved her off as Tessa answered. Her greeting was tearful. “I don’t want to talk to you, Mark!” A very brief pause was followed by vehemence. “WHO WAS THAT WOMAN?”
Deb could hear her as Mark moved the phone away from his ear.
“Tessa, baby, calm down. This isn’t what you think”.
She screamed it out again, “WHO IS SHE MARK?”
Deb, listening from right around the corner, was thinking, ‘I don’t want what happened with you and Alex to happen now. I’ve got to hear everything this time.’ She was dying to know all she could of this conversation. How would he handle this?
Remembering her things from earlier in the night and where she had ended up with her food, she glanced over. They were there on the side table where she’d left them. Using that as her excuse she re-entered the kitchenette and picked up her paper plate, can of Diet Pepsi, and cup. She then began cleaning up again, emptying this little piece and that into the trash bag. He watched her easily strolling back and forth in there and around him as if he weren’t on the phone nor had asked her to leave just a minute or two ago. Tessa was crying and had murmured something unintelligible.
But Deb’s chutzpa had inadvertently helped him. “Tessa, baby”, his voice was firm and confident now. “Listen to me, sweetheart. This isn’t what you’re thinking. I don’t even know that woman. She was just some cockamamie maid that works in this hotel I’m at, that apparently wanted my attention. She won’t be working here anymore. I told her off for being in here and answering my phone. Then I had it out with the hotel management and demanded she is let go.”
Deb whirled around from the trash can putting her hands up on her hips in total dismay. “Your maid?! I—”
He rushed over and placed a strong hand over her mouth. Then he looked at the phone in his other hand. Call Ended. Deb knew she had messed up, but to her surprise, Mark started laughing.
“Alright, I know my ‘alibi’ was weak. But I had to think quickly.”
Deb laughed, too. “Well, if that’s not one heckuva casting, Mr. Director. Me? Your maid? And what happened? Did you end the call to rush over here? I’m really sorry.”
“No, I didn’t. I didn’t! She ended the call.”
Deb couldn’t help but feel satisfied. ‘So sue me’, she thought, ‘he’s still my husband!’ She asked Mark. “And you don’t think she bought that malarky? Do you?”
He shrugged. “Does it matter?”
His phone began ringing again. He gave Deb a “See?” expression.
Deb responded, “You’re kidding! Is it?”
He checked the screen nodding yes. Deb put her hand over her open mouth to stifle an amused yelp from escaping.
“Baby. Please. Will you—,” he pulled the phone back again from his ear.
“I WON’T TOLERATE THIS, DO YOU HEAR ME? YOU GET YOUR —”
“WHOA!” he interrupted Tessa. Then in a calm but very firm voice, he said, “Don’t you cop an attitude like that with me. Or I won’t ever and I mean ever come back. Do I make myself clear? You calm your rear end down. And I advise you to let me calm mine. Because I’m angry with you now, Tessa.” He waited. Tessa had gone silent. Deb had frozen where she was. Mark could be unbelievably authoritative. Had he really just lost control Deb wondered?
“Look”, he continued. “I’ve had a long day. A fight with these idiots here. And now with you. Are you really doubting and threatening me? I’m the one who won’t tolerate it! Get off my back!” And with that, he ended the call.
With a mischievous smile and a wink, he sauntered over to Deb. Then he leaned down brushing his lips lightly across hers. “Once a player, you never forget how. She’s played. Now you tell me: Will she believe me? And why?”
Deb placed her hands over his own which were resting on her hips. Raising up on her tiptoes she brushed her lips back across his lightly. “Yes. Yes, she will because — she wants to.”
He slid his hands on around her waist and pulled her against him kissing her passionately. “Darlin’ you’ve got game. When did you become a player?”
To be continued.