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The chatter of patrons swirled around Deborah as she made her way back to her table. She was expecting Mark to question her about the length of her time away with Dave. It couldn’t have been too much time though, she thought. I was supposed to have been discussing a problem wth him. Her conscience then countered with yes, but he hasn’t been your doctor for months. That problem you used to get away from the table was solved way back when. Her mind was brainstorming trying to come up with what to say, not wanting to lie. Her thoughts now though had led to a knotted feeling in her stomach to go along with the lump in her throat.
But as she was sitting back down at their table Mark simply said, “Good, you’re back… Susan called. Maybe you’d better check it out to make sure she’s alright. And I think it’s time we go and get settled for the night. I’ve about had it with this day.” He waved the waiter off, not wanting more to drink.
Alex agreed verbally with Mark, “Yes, haven’t we all.”
Deborah bit her lip. She was wanting and trying to seem more composed than she felt. Then it registered what Mark had said to her. ‘Susan! Did she leave a message?’, she asked herself. She picked up her phone and saw that she had. It was a brief one. Only “Deb, I need you. Call me, okay?”
Mark asked, “Was she alright the last time you talked to her?”
Deb was already returning the call, but answered him, “Yes, she–. Everything was fine.”
Susan, recognizing her number, answered quickly, “Oh, Deb! I’m so glad you got right back to me! Are you alone where we can talk? Just say, ‘What recipe?’, if Mark is with you.”
Deb’s facial expression of confusion matched perfectly with her reply. “What recipe?”
“Okay”, said Susan, “when you can
get to yourself call me back. For now, just say ‘Lime Cheesecake Parfaits. And that you’ll phone me with the recipe later.“
Deb wondered, ‘Dear Lord, what’s this about?’ But she began repeating Susan’s words as Mark and Alex were all eyes and listening ears.
Susan continued, “If he asks you? Say I was asking you about a recipe for my cousin. I love you. Bye.” She’d hung up.
Deb, however, continued as if she hadn’t. “Oh, I see … for her woman’s club? Yeah, that’ll work. Wait? Oh, someone–?” She paused a second then asked, “Is that her there with you now? Yes”, laughing, “alright. I love you too. We’ll talk later. Bye-bye.” She discontinued the call on her end. Looking at Mark she stated, with a sigh of relief for effect. “She’s alright. just girly things.”
Mark reached his hand across to squeeze and then pat her hand. “That’s good. Then his mood shifted. He said, “Now, I’ve had enough”, while pushing his plate away. He slid his chair back to get up and pulled out his American Express card. “Shall we all get out of here?” Deb noted he was picking up the tab for the whole kit-‘n-kaboodle, along with leaving a very generous cash tip.
As they walked out in front of the place a limo pulled up. Deb’s mouth fell slightly open as Mark placed his hand on her lower back edging her forward.
“This is for us,” he whispered intimately. He glanced down at the stiletto heels she was wearing and grinned. “I like those. N-I-C-E.”
She was pleased, knowing he had always been a leg man. She played along teasing, “Well you know what they say~ ‘Give A Girl The Right Shoes and–,”
Alex’s phone rang. Pulling it out while simultaneously starting to walk away from them he called back over his shoulder, “I’ll catch you two later.”
Deborah slid in on the plush car seat. As Mark settled in beside her she could no longer restrain her curiosity. “Mark, how are you affording all of this? And what about my car? Are we just going to leave it here?”
Mark smiled at her and then began taking his tie off. He laid his head back on the seat for a minute closing those baby blues. And then with a big yawn, he answered, “Don’t worry about it, it’s taken care of.”
She gave him one of those looks that we women have to resort to from time to time that says, ‘Don’t play me!’. She pressed him further. “I asked you how is it taken care of?”
With an irritated smack of his lips, he slanted his eyes back over at her and said, “This new job I have? It has some great perks, alright? Leave it there! Don’t get on my back!”
Deb snapped back. “Oh, I wouldn’t dream of getting on your back. There’s no room what with you carrying Tessa!” She hadn’t meant it to but ‘Tessa’ came out like a hiss. Nobody could get under her skin like Mark. He now shot her a very stern look that had no power to back her down. She continued, although she softened her tone. “Look, it’s like you said, I’ve about had it with this day too! I mean, here we are tied up in a dangerous real-life murder mystery.
We have no choice but to rely on each other. You said you love me earlier tonight. But~”
When she paused he interjected, “You can’t forgive me.”
She ran her fingers through her hair. It suddenly felt too warm to her. She remained silent for a moment more then said, “No, it’s not that. It’s~”, she hesitated again. In her mind’s eye, she could see herself and Dave kissing. Instinctively her fingers now moved to trace her lips. Mark’s phone ringing broke the silence that had fallen between them.
Answering with a terse “Yeah, what’s up?”, he listened as whoever it was talked. Then abruptly he snapped, “I don’t know man! You think of something.” He ended the call blurting out, “I hate this stupid thing. If it rings again I’m going to throw it out the window!” Tension radiated from him.
Deb looked him over again. He looked exhausted. His face had flushed and she noted a tiny vein beginning to bulge there at his eyebrow. She reached over and rubbed up and then down his arm then gripped it lightly as she murmured, “Easy, honey, easy. Don’t let whatever it is drive your blood pressure up.”
He responded, “Oh. baby, it’s too late.”
hey both looked up as the limo came to a complete stop. Not a red light this time. They were in front of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. She looked at him and asked, “Here?”
The driver opened her door as Mark said, “That’s right. Here. From now on nothing but the very best for you.”
He took her hand as he asked the driver, “Where’re our suitcases?”
The gentleman answered. “They were sent earlier this evening, Sir.”
‘Maybe I’m dreaming’, Deb thought. ‘All of this? I must be’. As they entered the Ritz Deb looked with awe around at the lobby area. ‘Now I know how a real-life Cinderella feels. This place is gorgeous!’
Then her phone rang again. She stopped to take it out of her purse but Mark said, “Uh–, that’s a negative! Don’t! Let it ring.” She looked at the number and her brows flew up. She showed him her screen. It was showing an unknown caller again. This time he gave her a nod and a wink, flashing his dashing smile. “I told him we’d be ‘busy’ tonight … remember?”
She laughed softly. “How could I forget? But just so we understand one another before we get upstairs? Um, that’s a negative too!”
He faintly smiled but didn’t say a word.
Once inside their beautiful suite, Mark picked up the pretty rose gold expensive suitcase sitting at the foot of the bed. There was a man’s black suitcase beside it. Deb smiled as she accepted the pretty rose gold one from him and placed it up by the pillows at the headboard. She remembered seeing one like this among fashion designer Kenneth Cole’s merchandise page at Amazon when she was planning her Hawaiian getaway that time. That now seemed like a lifetime ago. A brief flashback of being whirled around the dance floor in Dave’s arms momentarily distracted her. Suddenly. though, she was brought back to the present. Mark had put on some music.
Opening her suitcase, expecting some of her own things that she thought Mark would perhaps have somehow managed to bring from home; she was shocked. It was all newly purchased …things. Intimate apparel. Sexy lingerie. Along with slacks, tops, slippers. She picked up a bra and panties set out of it and looked over at Mark. He wasn’t watching her though he was busy unpacking his own things.
His white dress shirt was now unbuttoned and hanging open. He had some of his shaving lotion and electric razor along with a black robe laid out on the bed. She looked back down at the bra set she was holding and suddenly she could hear Dave’s words: “He wants you back!” She swallowed, licked her lips, and then asked, “Wow, who went shopping for us?” She felt a crazy kind of mixed-up emotion. Pleased at what she was to have and yet frightened too. What if he answered ‘Tessa’? This definitely looked like Tessa’s style. Tessa was a woman of panache, she thought, accustomed to such luxuries and the kind of things Deb had only dreamed about throughout their marriage.
She saw Mark looking her up and down appreciatively. “I did. There’s a box in the corner in there that has a pearl necklace and earrings for you. I know you always liked that Grace Kelly polished look. I did too. And um, here– I don’t know if you’ll want them now or not.” He seemed to have gone dry-mouthed and a bit nervous. She asked herself, ‘Is this the same man I’ve been married to all these years, that can handle a murderous monster but he’s getting nervous with me?’ He was reaching into his suitcase. He pulled out a ring box! It contained her wedding and engagement rings. She had left them laying on a shelf in her Grandmother’s cabinet. Her heart sunk and her knees went weak at that thought.
“Oh, Mark. And my memories book? Did you get it? My grandmother’s things?”
Seeing her face go pale, he rushed over. Fearing she would faint he wrapped his arms around her. She began to cry. He comforted her, his voice tender and soft, but with determination, he was assuring her, “It’s alright. baby. I got it.”
She moaned with a sigh of relief. “Oh, Mark, all our things. I haven’t had time to think. I’ll have to go back home to –”
He interrupted her with a desperate plea. “DEBORAH! I SAID NO! YOU CAN’T!
A soft knock interrupted them. Mark gestured for her to stay quiet while he drew a gun from inside his suitcase. In a couple of strides, he crossed to the suite’s main door. Deb admired his athleticism and courage. Even though he checked the security peephole he also asked, “Who’s there?”
An answer was immediately forthcoming in a rich French accent. “Alex.” even as Mark was already swinging the door open. Exclaiming, “Ohhh man! Do you know what time it is? What do you want?” Alex said something low to him that Deb couldn’t make out to which Mark responded, “Oh no. Okay. I’ll be with you in a minute.” He turned back to her and told her he’d be back as quickly as he could. Buttoning his shirt and sliding back into his shoes, he grabbed his phone and instructed her, “Don’t answer your phone unless you see it’s me.”
After he left Deb picked up her phone to check the time. One a.m. ‘Wonder what’s happened?’, she thought. ‘Oh, dear Lord, if one more thing…‘ She stopped herself. ‘One more thing. Susan? What was that about? Now’s my chance. I’m alone. She’s probably asleep‘ she murmured to herself as it was ringing.
“DEBORAH? Oh, THANK GOD!”
Deborah’s heart began to pound. “SUSAN WHAT’S WRONG? WHAT’S HAPPENING?”
Susan lowered her own trembling voice. “Deborah! I was wrong! I had thought it was Mark!”
“You thought it was Mark WHAT?” Deb yelled.
“I thought it was Mark that was going to try and kill you. And tried to kill me. And Tessa.”
“Mark? What are you talking–” Wait. TESSA? “How did you find out about Tessa?”
Susan replied. “I did some nitty-gritty undercover work. I’ve known Mark had another woman for some time. But I didn’t know that she was my sister.”
Deborah plopped down on the bed. “Tessa? Mark’s Tessa Is your sister?
“Yes! We were separated at birth. Okay, look, I won’t go into all of that right now. But that’s why she and I look so much alike. And the man that attacked me, he had called me Tessa a couple of times that day. During, well. when he was trying to, to–” She didn’t finish.
Suddenly Deb felt everything in her calming down. A resolve to end this nightmare was taking over. “Susan? This man has killed. And he’s raped others. He’s on the loose. Mark believes that he wants me. And in order to protect me, Mark has said he will kill this man. I tell you what? I’ve reached the point to where I’m tempted to kill him myself. I mean it. I don’t intend to live scared and run like a hunted rabbit the rest of my days. Now, what else is it that you’ve never told me? I need to know everything now.
Susan said, “He has a pattern. He stalks you. He’ll play Sound of Silence on the phone before he strikes. Or tries to strike. He’s played one other one to Tessa.”
Deb pulled a pen and paper out of her purse and started making notes. “What was it?”
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“It was an older song called, oh I don’t know the name, but they say in the song… ” ~ You Were Temptation.” Oh, and he wears a plastic mask. Not like a toy one. It’s a very professional makeup job.
Deb asked, “Are you sure about that?
“Absolutely”, Susan was emphatic. “One of Tessa’s security cameras at her Florida office got him. It was on one of those hundred-degree Florida afternoons. He’d been waiting outside, got frustrated and took it off while in his truck. Then he wet himself down with a bottle of water.”
Deb repeated, “She has him on camera? Why didn’t she report it to the police?”
Susan said, “Cause she wasn’t there. She’d left earlier in the day for a doctor’s appointment. Mark had picked her up. They retrieved her car later. She didn’t know about this till it was all over with — and then Mark wouldn’t let her see the man and asked her not to report it, to let him handle it.”
Deb interrupted again. “Alright, but apparently you’ve seen it. What’s this guy look like?”
“Mark, Deb! He looks almost just like Mark. When she sent me a copy of the film and I played it back? I thought it was Mark!” Susan now went quiet giving Deborah a minute to digest all she was hearing.
It took her only a minute then Deb asked, “Susan, I know what you think of Mark, but surely you cannot believe—- why did you sound and act like that about Mark tonight? You asked me to not let him know you were contacting me.
Well, I did at first. I’ve been so confused about everthing. I was afraid for you. But I’ve been thinking it all through, facing the unbelievable. Tessa thinks the killer may work for Mark’s father. She had a friend that works for another Senator do some investigating of Mark’s dad. And he told her to back off this. He kind of threatened her, hinting that it’s a big international ring. And that she’d better back off or else!”
“Susan? Did she tell Mark about it? Tell him she’d been threatened by this so-called friend?”
“No”, said Susan. “She says that Mark’s been a little bit irritable with her lately. She’s terribly worried about him. That he’s carrying too much pressure from his job. And that it’s possibly his Dad on his back. She doesn’t want him getting entangled in his dad’s activities. But she know’s that something’s wrong.”
“Does she know about me?” asked Deb quietly?
To Be Continued.