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PART 26 FEBRUARY 2022 THE LOVE CONNECTION
Mark sat with his penetrating blue eyes fixed on the drink that Alex had slid towards him earlier in the evening. As the tune ‘Sound Of Silence’ was booming out of Deborah’s phone, he didn’t bother to adjust the volume on her end. He sat still. With a look that conveyed to any onlooker, I’m not seeing this drink. I’m looking at it. But I’m so deep in thought that nothing nor no one can interrupt me. He was holding the phone out a little bit from his ear with his right hand. Deb noted the cufflinks and watch he had on. They looked expensive. Maybe something Tessa had given him, she thought?
Patrons at the surrounding tables were looking over their shoulders and across at Deb’s table. She thought to herself, who wouldn’t want to know what was going on here? She passed a furtive glance at their waiter who had a watchful eye cast her way. It was as if a spotlight had been placed upon them. Overhearing the music, others were musing about it among themselves. Some were saying, “yeah, I recognize the song. But not that version. Sounds angry, doesn’t it?”
When it got to the part of the song where it says “and the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made“ Mark clinched his left hand that had been resting on the table into a fist. A disgusted look formed on his face. And he took in his breath and then let it out very slowly. He cut quite a good-looking figure especially when his chest expanded out like that. All those years of lifting that firehose had paid off in more ways than one, Deb thought. Another deep breath. In and slowly out. It appeared to both Alex and Deb that he was perhaps coaching himself inwardly to remain calm. As the song finished a hush seemed to envelop the place. Deb glanced around again. All eyes and ears seemed to be centered towards them. The air was electric with an eerie quiet. You could have heard a pin drop.
Mark laid the phone down easily and picked up the drink off the table. He downed it in one swallow. Deb widened her eyes in response but remained silent and motionless otherwise. Because to her knowledge, Mark hadn’t drank in years. Or had he? Alex, who was still seated beside him at the table hadn’t wanted to in any way interrupt him. Just in case they could get some kind of a break in this horrid case. So he had sat very still also just observing Mark, and listening for what would happen next. After an agonizing and what seemed like the longest sixty seconds one could experience of quiet, Mark picked the phone back up and spoke in an icy but distinctly matter-of-fact tone, “You there?” No reply. He looked at his watch and then gave it about ten more seconds. Still just silence. Then he spoke again, “I’m. With. Her. I’ll make love to her tonight.” He pushed the button to end the call. A relieved smirk now formed on his face. He didn’t wait to see if there would be any kind of response.
Alex glanced quickly back at Deb who had her eyes still fixed upon Mark. Hushed whispers and the sounds of dishes began to pick back up around them. People realized something very serious was going on over there but did not understand it. It was turning out to be an extraordinary night at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. Handsome men, stunning women, that kind of a song booming out. Where’s the camera? Now the place was abuzz with juicy conversations like that surrounding them. But at the inner core? In the real game of life, destiny has a way of surprising you. Alex, couldn’t believe his eyes. Deborah’s reaction? Instead of a rejection outburst like he would have supposed from her at Mark’s words suggesting a sexual rendezvous with her ~ there wasn’t one! She showed no sign of what he would have expected. After all they’d been going through as a couple. A wrecked marriage. Abuse. His mind was reeling. ‘What is it about you?’, he thought looking at her now. ‘What a poker player you’d make ange’!
The movement of Mark’s laying the phone back down towards Deborah on the table interrupted his thoughts. He watched now as Deb’s eyes followed Mark’s hand. She noticed his hand had a slight tremor. Quickly she extended her hand across and placed it over his to conceal his tremble from Alex. And then she moved her head with a slight tilt to the right. The light glistened off her hair. A shimmer of light danced off her necklace also catching Alex’s attention back to her decolletage area. He wondered gazing at her, how could any man cheat on you? She, like Tessa, permeated such a sensual but innocent as a kitten aura all around her. Mark had her full attention, her eyes were centered back into his. A beautiful smile formed with her rose-petaled colored lips. She spoke softly to him now with her southern lilt “ooh, nice touch, darling!” She followed that with a wink. The tension broke. Mark unleashed a smile and chuckle that had been absent from him with her for the last few years. Except for that one day at the beach in Florida. It had surfaced then. That glimpse of the smooth operator surfacing that she had fallen for so long ago. She squeezed his hand now and said thank you, for handling the call for me. She glanced him up and down. It was the first time she’d felt comforted and proud concerning him in such a long time. Having the knowledge now of some of the battles he had been going through with the pills and his Father, helped her to be a little more understanding. And as she looked at him she thought ~ maybe he has got his faults. What man doesn’t? But he’s just come to my defense against a sadistic killer. Then she spoke while looking him in the eye “when you think you’ve had enough of this life ~ hold on!”
Hearing that, Mark moved his hands up and across the table. He cupped her face in his hands. And tears brimmed his eyes, and he repeated in a raspy whisper back to her, “hold on. Debbi, I, I love you.”
She felt a rush of emotions. I can’t handle this now, she thought. She tried to swallow. Be strong she thought to herself. Don’t cry. I mustn’t. And she didn’t. She managed now with a lump in her throat, one that hurt as she held back the floodgate of emotions that wanted to spew forth. Now she took in a slow breath and then calmly let it out and said, “I know. I know you do.”
Alex had no knowledge of the meaning those words had for the couple he was watching. That phrase had comforted them both at really difficult moments in the years gone by. At a miscarriage, at the death of her mother, etc. But now she felt an intense ache in her heart. She looked down because while she felt proud and pondered whether to respond any further, she couldn’t. It wasn’t like the other times before. Not now. Loving someone for what and who they are was a very different thing from being in love with them. She had learned that the hard way these past few years. She pulled back her face from his hands and leaned back into her seat. The waiter stepped up and refreshed their coffee’s. She took a sip of hers. The heat helped her throat. And again she glanced back over at Alex.
Alex said, “I’m sorry, I should have excused myself and let you two have some privacy. But I thought that insane idiot might phone back. Do you think he heard you, he asked Mark? Mark nodded his head in the affirmative. And answered, “He heard me. I ended the call. Not him.” Deb’s attention now was being diverted back to the aisle.
Dave was passing by to exit with the mystery beauty at his side. But Deb knew he wasn’t mesmerized by this woman, no matter her beauty, whoever she was. Dave was staring straight at Mark. Zeroed in on Mark as a matter of fact. Uh-oh, Deb thought, now what?
Thinking quickly and determined to be in the know, Dave calculated the situation in a New York minute. He thought to himself, “Disarm him. Make sure I protect her. I’ve got to know what’s up.” He spoke softly to his attractive companion, “Go on ahead dear, I’ll be there in a minute.’ Pausing at the table he extended his hand out to Mark. “Mr. Johnson, it’s been a while. How are you?” He followed quickly with a hello to Deborah as if the earlier incident between them had never occurred. Mark stood up and reciprocated with the same gentlemanly manner. A generous but sincere smile was on Mark’s face now. He was very pleased to see the Doctor with such a beauty by his side. Mark’s head turned back as he took another glance at the beautiful brunette walking away. Yes, he was very pleased Dave was there with her. “Wow”, he said. “I can see you’re doing good. That’s a scrumptious dish. She some kind of a model?“ Dave smiled like the cat that had just swallowed the canary and said, “Yes, she is. She’s done some things for Vogue and a few others in the UK.” Dave then looked at Deb, and said, “I saw you two and just wanted to say hello, and to make sure everything is going alright with you?”
Deb knew she had to seize this moment. “Well, I do have a question for you doctor”, she said. “I received a notice from your office~”, she shifted her eyes from Dave’s to Mark and then over to Alex. Standing up simultaneously, saying, “excuse me please, this will just take a moment.” She took Dave’s cue. He’s playing Doctor. I’m the patient. She stepped over by Dave, who protectively placed his hand behind her back. He said, “Oh sure, perhaps I can help. What seems to be the problem?”, as they walked away from her table’s hearing range. Then he said, “What is it, baby? What’s happening?” Deb said, “Come this way.” She led him toward the hallway where the restrooms were located away from the view of his date and others.
“Oh Dave”, she began hurriedly speaking, “I can’t explain everything right now. But something bad has happened! We’ve had a break-in at my home and, um, there’s damage. Mark says it’s been ransacked. And he’s afraid.” She knew within her she couldn’t tell Dave all the details yet. It could jeopardize the case and get him involved in it and into deeper trouble along with them. “I can’t go home. He’s saying he’s going to sell the house. Everything’s just a big mess. I’ll have to call you when I can. When I know more.” Dave looked like someone had thrown a glass of ice water in his face. He wiped his hand up beside his temple and then with an exasperated huff asked, “Mark’s going to be with you?” She could feel the tension coming from him. Little sparks of an angry fire were shooting out from his dark eyes now. He didn’t wait for her answer. He blurted out a barrage just as fast as hers. “He wants you back! What about his temper? Who’s that other man at the table? Why were people looking back at your table a little bit ago?” She placed her fingers upon his lips. “Sssh. He’s a friend of ours. Please, don’t be angry. Yeah, Mark is going to be with me for a little while. Because, because of, uh”, her eyes teared up and the lump was trying to make a return in her throat.
~ Dave pulled her up into his arms and kissed her. It felt like every muscle in her relaxed. As she melted into his kiss with him. A man’s voice interrupted them. “Excuse me, I’m sorry, I just, I need to get by.” Dave said, “Uh, yeah”, and shielded Deb’s face with his body in front of hers from the guy. Deb then said, “I’ve got to hurry and get back.” He nodded his head yes, but said, “We’ve got something Deb. I’m not going to let him take you away from me now that I’ve found you. Do what you’ve got to do, I can understand that but you call me, quick as you can. And be careful baby.” Then he said, “Deborah, baby, the one I’m with tonight, it’s nothing.” She smiled and nodded her head knowingly. His kiss and his stopping at the table had already let her know that. No time now to worry over nonsense. The danger she was in and that they were all facing was real. A killer is after me she wanted to tell Dave but couldn’t! Mark’s trying to take a stand. Their home is a crime scene. All a swirl of thoughts and then one she hadn’t expected. One she had forgotten all about. But now out of nowhere, it seemed to rivet her. Help Tessa! Her hand flew up to her mouth. And in a flash, she could see Tessa by that exit door. She felt a shiver as the words “hello darkness”, began to sound in her head. She felt the full jolt of it. Dave saw her face pale and felt her shiver. He said, “What? What is it?” She shook her head. “No. I can’t. I can’t say now. I’ve got to get back to the table.” Some ladies had come out of the lady’s room and needed to get by. “Okay”, he said, his head nodding in the affirmative and she pulled away hearing his voice again calling after her, “Be careful and call me.”
To be continued.