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Part 25 January 2022 Savor The Moment
As the waiter left to get the refill for Alex Deborah said, “Look, um, let’s just strike that last question, Alex. You can’t answer with anything I’d accept. And anyway, queries like that should be strictly reserved for Mark.” She sipped her tea and when she set the glass down began to rub her fingertips up and across her forehead. Then there, at her temples. A slight neck roll and she propped her elbows up on the table, her chin resting on her hands. Centering her gaze on him again, she waited.
‘Cagey, this one,’ he thought. He smiled feeling a bit relieved at the reprieve. “Headache?”
“Yeah, a little one”, she admitted. “Tension I suppose.” She glanced over having caught movement with her eye. She didn’t recognize the man seated at an adjacent table, he was just your average-looking Joe, but he was staring a hole through her. It made her feel a smidgeon uncomfortable. She glanced back to Alex and adjusted her position. ‘Getting accustomed again to being an attractive trendsetter after so many years still takes a little getting used to’, she thought. She made a mental note as she realized she was fingering the napkin, ‘don’t fidget!’ Finishing her thoughts out loud she chided herself, “And ‘ladies’ don’t put their elbows on tables.”
“Etiquette 101!”, she finished in answer to Alex’s raised brows.
Alex, laughed at her out-of-the-blue comment. “What? Is that really a rule here?”
Deb beamed back at him and said, “No”, as she winked. “But people that are in the know? They know. They pass the word about you and then you get barred from Buckingham Palace.” She continued smiling with an expression that flaunted, ‘do-I-care?’
Alex leaned forward placing both of his own elbows on the table and said in a stage whisper to her, “Well if you can’t get in, then I don’t want to go either. William and Kate will be disappointed, of course, but c’est la vie.” That comeback, along with his dimples, did the trick. She was charmed and beginning to feel like maybe she could relax with, if not trust him, after all.
She picked up her tea glass and clinked it against the drink he held like it was a prop for the most interesting man in the world. “A toast to you, Sir, my newfound friend. And to the New Year to come. 2022 – the year for ~ ?”, she paused looking into his eyes until he repeated . . .
“Hope”, she replied. Conspiratorially she clued him in, “Susan and I made a pact.”
“You did?”, he asked with mock surprise. Then more seriously, “And what is it you hope for most, Deb?” He reached across the table to pat her left hand gently. He had noticed that her engagement and wedding rings were absent with the skin still ringed white in their place.
Deb was uncomfortable with the gesture. It felt too intimate somehow. She still didn’t know this man well enough. She pulled her hand back, but mused, “What do I want the most?” She really turned the question over in her mind and concluded, “I’m not really sure.” Then suddenly, she knew! “I guess, to be in charge. In charge of my own affairs.”
He looked delighted as he let his eyes dance over her face and decolletage. Admiring the woman before him, he thought there was a depth to her beauty he had not expected from what he knew of her. What a lovable soul you are turning out to be, he thought. Then, in response to her statement, he teased, “Mon Cher, how many affairs are you currently having?”
When Doctors Feel
Is What They Do
They both burst out laughing. “You’re too much”, Deb shook her head playfully. But then her smiling face changed dramatically, in an instant. Something unpleasant had arrested her attention. Alex turned his head quickly to see who had disrupted this beautiful moment they had been sharing, half expecting Mark — or maybe Mark with Tessa.
But no, it was Dave, the doctor, with a very attractive young woman by his side. Alex recognized him from photos he had seen in the course of this case. It was his business to know everyone having anything to do with Deb and Mark. The young lady accompanying Dave was holding onto his arm and she appeared aglow. As for Dave, he seemed transfixed for the moment as his eyes locked with Deb’s. Then his eyes slowly shifted over to Alex. They looked at him with a cool burn and the way he took in his breath was not friendly. His cheeks had a slight flush. He had stopped abruptly in his tracks from following the waiter. The air almost crackled with tension. Alex adopted a non-confrontational demeanor but was ready for anything.
The waiter, turning back and observing the situation, moved to break the standoff. “Sir? Your table? This way, if you please?”
It worked. Dave glanced at him then back to Alex who was frankly appraising him up and down. Alex thought, ‘no wonder Deb’s attracted to this guy; much more impressive here than in his doctor’s attire.’ Dave could easily have passed for a celebrity playboy. He looked strikingly handsome in his crisp white shirt, silver tie, and black Italian suit. The light glinted off his expensive watch as he maneuvered the gorgeous brunette with him to his front, between himself and the waiter.
As he moved past them he leaned down near Deb. “Well, hello.”
Deb replied, “Hello. I thought you were still out of town?”
He glanced at Alex. “Oh? Is this who you see when I’m out of town?”
Deborah bristled, instantly angry at his snide remark, especially considering the beauty that was with him. “He’s one of them, yes.”
Alex wiped across his lips with his full palm to conceal his smile. ‘Good for you!’, he silently cheered her. ‘Right on target, Ange, hit him again!’ He was also hoping not to laugh out loud enjoying this unexpected display of feminine power.
She continued now looking at Dave eye to eye. “Hadn’t you better hurry on to your table? They don’t allow minors unaccompanied in here.”
Dave smiled broadly. He had struck pay dirt – Deborah was jealous! ‘She does care!’ he told himself. The pride glinted in his eyes but he wasn’t ready to let her win. “Uh-huh? Deb? When a woman of, uh … your age? When she sees a beautiful younger woman in a position she’d like to hold? I know it’s hard to control your temper but catty remarks only reveal your insecurities. You may want to watch that.” He blew a kiss with his lips and then smiled smugly. ‘Deal with that!’ Alex ducked his head to hide his reaction. Poor Davey-boy. His masculine ego had spread like a peacock’s feathers. It caught Dave’s eye. ‘I still have the best shot to get her, even if she is with this jerk tonight!’
As he started to exit after his parting shot, the woman who was supposed to be ‘whimpering’ was anything but. Deb quickly thrust out her foot tripping him. Dave stumbled and unable to recover fell with one knee to the floor. Alex was shocked at the bold move, but the laughter was now unleashed. He couldn’t bottle it up any longer.
It was all happening so fast. Heads were turning and others’ voices were surging with “oh’s” and “what happened’s?”, accompanied by plenty of laughter like Alex’s.
Alex jumped up quickly to aid the idiot. But Deb raised up even quicker and reached down to pull Dave up by his arm. “Ohhh… What a shame!”, she exclaimed. “David? When a man reaches a “certain age” it’s assumed he can walk through a restaurant without falling down. But … the ones who are fools have to be “managed” and taught manners from time to time, They just can’t handle simple things like real women and walking the walk. You may want to watch that!”
Dave bristled again. Hearing that from the floor with a full eye view of her high heels was something he’d never even imagined experiencing before. He could feel everyone staring, could hear the clattering of dishes and laughter. Glancing around, he cleared his throat and brushed himself off as he stood. He brushed her hands off his arm indignantly. He should have apologized and moved on, but he wasn’t that recovered. “No need to help me ‘mother’, I’m quite capable of taking care of myself.” Then, taking the arm he’d been brushing away a moment earlier, he pulled her up close to himself, looking down into her eyes. “I’ll call you later”, he hissed, hoping only she could hear. She giggled. He drew in a frustrated breath as her perfume filled his senses. He loved that impish grin. He had to genuinely smile back at her in spite of it all.
Deb disentangled herself from him and sat back down smiling like the Cheshire Cat.
Alex, still chuckling himself, only asked, “Ready to go now?” She surprised him again.
“No. No, I’m not. I’ll not have him thinking I’m leaving on his account.” She motioned for the waiter. “The nerve of him!”, she huffed.
NOT ONE OF THOSE DAINTY DAMSELS
Their waiter returned. Deb was in full command, “We’d like to order dessert, please.” To Alex, she recommended, “Their cheesecake is superb. But, you know what? Tonight I think I’m going to take the Apple Crumb Tart. Somehow that suits my mood.” Alex smiled at her play on words.
He ordered the cheesecake and waited for the man to walk away. “You know you’re really more in control of things than you give yourself credit for.”
Deb was still fuming inside over Dave. “Oh? I’m not sure that I get where you’re coming from? In control of childish adolescents?”
He smiled. The man got to her, after all. “Well, it’s simply that you speak of 2022 and a pact of hope. From where I’m sitting and observing you’ve got what most women can only dream of. Two men’s hearts captured and ready to do battle for you. The so-called dreaded “other woman” that was supposed to be your worst nightmare? She is now in a quandary wondering what she’s failed to do. She’s realizing that something is wrong with Mark. And you, with all that’s been happening … you look more beautiful than you did when I met you in Florida.” He lifted his glass to her. “Touche.”
Deborah picked up her cup of coffee. She had ordered it to go with the dessert, while Alex had reordered his drink. She closed her eyes for a moment wanting to savor those words. Coming from a well-traveled man, an agent of some kind, that had swag like Alex? That was quite a compliment. She envisioned herself sitting there in the new outfit she had purchased that morning. A pale sandy number that she thought complimented her blonde hair and lightly tanned skin that would impress Dave. It had been a difficult battle fighting through self-doubts, hormones, and coming to grips with what life had turned into at home. She imagined it was as hard as having been handed a diagnosis of a dreaded disease. Changing her eating habits, willing herself to not think ‘I’m past 50, betrayed by my husband … give up! Give up on everything!’ Thoughts knocked into one another in her mind. And now to receive such a compliment felt so-ooo good! When she opened her eyes again to thank Alex, her mouth fell open slightly, for there was Mark seating himself beside Alex.
The waiter catering her table appeared promptly with a menu. But Mark waved it off and just asked for coffee. Deb could tell there was a problem. Although he, like Dave, was well dressed and very good looking there was a strain about Mark. On his face, in the very way he sat. The stress of everything was showing. Alex obviously noticed it, too. He cautiously asked, “Do you need me to leave you two alone?”
Mark answered tiredly, “No. Keep your seat. You both have to know about this.” Deb felt a knot forming in her gut. Now what? “Deb, I’m selling the house. I don’t want you to go back there. Not tonight. Not ever.”
Her hand flew to her mouth and yet still she gasped. This was the last thing she could have imagined. Selling her house? Don’t go back? Mark’s eyes seemed to bore into hers. As if he read her mind, he said, “You can’t. It’s –“
he swallowed hard.
Deb was full of dread. “Mark. What’s happened?”
“It’s a crime scene now.”
Alex’s face blanched and he repeated Mark’s words. “A crime scene?”
Deb asked again. “What’s happened?”
Mark snapped, “He got in!” He ran his hand through his hair. “I- I don’t know. Everything was ransacked.” He looked at Deb, the shock still palpable inside him. “Your nightgowns were sliced up. All of them.” He shifted his gaze to Alex. “Some of our things are missing. This was the second time he’s been in there.”
Alex said, “And you didn’t tell me?”
Mark said, “I’m telling you now. Ain’t going to let him have a third time. I tried to lay a trap for him. But he’s smart. He seemed to feel me like I can feel him.”
Alex poured a finger of the drink back into the glass and pushed it to Mark. He ignored it, turning his full attention back to her. “He wants you, Deb. I know it! I’m gonna have to kill him!”
Deb looked at her man eye to eye. She knew he meant it. Every word. ‘Dear God’, she silently prayed, ‘help him. And please help me.’ And suddenly she didn’t feel the lightheadedness nor the ball of fear in her gut. That steely calm in her and her guiding instinct was rising to the occasion. Her voice steady, her tone cool as a cucumber, she probed, “You’re sure it’s the same man, Mark? You know things have gotten bad almost everywhere. Maybe ~”
Mark interrupted her. “No, baby. It’s him. The first time he got in was while we were on our way back from Florida. He pretty much just cased things out then. Except for taking my gun from the drawer.”
Deb’s mind flashed back. She saw herself there at his desk having found the drawer open and the gun missing. She said, “He took the gun out of your drawer, not you? Then you left me there by myself these past weeks?” That dawning realization hadn’t found its emotional register yet but her expression said it wasn’t going to bode well for Mark!
“No. No!”, he insisted. “I didn’t leave you vulnerable!”
Deb thought she might beg to differ with him on that one but it wasn’t an argument to have now.
Mark continued, “I hid out. I’ve watched every move you’ve made. Day and night. Waiting. We’ve had others watching you too. This morning when you went to get your hair done, I followed you. When you reached here and I saw Alex catch up to you, I backtracked to the house. I got a call that said a package had been delivered.”
Alex asked, “Who was watching the house while we were here? Was anyone hurt?”
Mark looked down and then nodded with a tired lament, “Jacobs and Peterson.” Alex sighed. Mark wiped a tear away that had escaped over his cheek. He licked dry lips and his voice was hoarse. “No survivors. Not on our side.”
Deborah picked up her cup of coffee. She raised her finger once more catching the waiter’s attention. She asked for a fresh carafe of coffee. Looking at Mark she ordered, “Bring him a steak, well done, please. Sides of baked potato and salad.”
Mark started to say no ~ but she advised in a tone he had come to know well over their years together, “You’ve got to eat something. I need your strength, now. This man we’re dealing with? His kind feeds off of fear and despair.” She shook her head in defiance. “He can think again. We’re fighters!” Mark grinned sheepishly and nodded to the waiter who left with the order.
Deb’s phone rang. Mark and Alex began to speak softly to each other giving her a modicum of privacy. She glanced down at the screen. Unknown caller. She moved her well-heeled foot to tap Mark’s leg under the table. When he looked over at her she held the phone where he could see. Mark grabbed the small device quickly from her hand and tapped Accept. “Hello?”
She and Alex (along with other patrons close by) could hear the words booming out as the song played.
To Be Continued