Eva had finished packing one suitcase and had already begun the second when the knock on her door interrupted her.
“Who is it?” she asked, folding a blouse and placing it carefully into the case.
“It’s me, Eva, Albert. May I come in?”
She walked to the door, opened it, and returned to the suitcases.
“Denny says you’re leaving?”
“She’s right. I can’t stay here any longer. It’s too close to them.”
“Don’t be silly,” he said, approaching her. “They can’t touch you here. They wouldn’t dare.”
“You don’t know these people like I do, Albert. They’re vicious, insane. They’re like mad dogs. They’ll do anything to get their revenge.”
“I can protect you here,” he protested.
Eva looked at him and smiled thankfully. “I know you think you can, Albert. That’s sweet of you. But, even if you could protect me here, I don’t want put you or Denny in danger. If the Blanco’s want to hurt me, they will. Once Carmella makes up her mind about something, nothing stops her.”
“But you can’t be positive they’ll risk it.”
“Not positive.” Eva folded another blouse, “I’m just being careful. The world’s a big place; there’s no reason I have to just stay here.”
“No reason! What about Denny?”
“She’ll be okay,” she said. “She’ll figure it out.”
“What about me?” he answered, taking a step toward her.
“You?” Eva turned. His face was a portrait of desperate yearning.
“Yes, me. These past months I’ve been watching you. Watching how smart you are, how caring you are with Denny, how much joy you bring into our house, how … how lovely you are. I don’t want you to leave, Eva.” Placing his arms on her shoulders, he said, “I have real feelings for you Eva. Deep feelings. Feelings I haven’t had in many years, not since my wife died.”
Eva stared at him. She was moved by his sincerity, but utterly shocked. “I had no idea you felt like this, Albert,” she said, impulsively touching his face.
“I love you, Eva.” He briefly kissed the hand she’d placed on his cheek. “I want you to marry me.”
“Marry you!” she said, flabbergasted.
“Yes. I know I’m older than you, but I know how to be a good husband. I’ll take good care of you, I’ll protect you, you’ll never want for anything. I promise you that. You’ll never want for anything as long as I live.”
“I … I … don’t know what to say.” Eva stared at him dumbfounded.
“Say yes,” he said, “just say yes.” Pulling Eva toward him, he kissed her on her mouth.
Over the next several months Albert Bennett wooed Eva as he wished he’d been able to afford to court his first wife. Three times a week, flowers were sent anonymously.
“You have a secret admirer?” Denise would say, wide-eyed.
“Looks like it,” Eva would answer bashfully.
“How romantic,” giggled Denise.
A diamond bracelet with an unsigned note appeared on her dressing table:
You are as lovely and as sweet as an angel. The beauty of these diamonds pales next to your own, but accept them anyway along with my heart, which loves you completely. Please be my wife.
The following week a similar note and a matching diamond necklace with a stunning teardrop arrived.
Whenever they were alone in the house, Albert would invite Eva to sit and talk with him about her college classes. He would share with her details of some of his more interesting past cases. He invited her to visit his law office where he proudly introduced her to everyone as his protégé. He took her to expensive restaurants for lunch where he would regale her with stories of his early marriage and his struggle to become a successful attorney.
“My wife was a saint,” he told her. “When I first started out we ate beans and day-old donuts seven nights a week and we lived in a one-bedroom apartment above my uncle’s bakery. When Junior was born, we still didn’t have much, but Ellen never once complained. She knew how much I wanted my own law practice. She supported me; she stood by me. Finally, I hit it big with the Lancaster case, and we were on our way. You remind me so much of her, Eva. You’re beautiful like Ellen was; you’re sweet and kind like Ellen was; you’re smart like Ellen was. Eva, you’re everything a man could possibly ever want in a woman—and even more.” Gently, he took her hand.
“The Lancaster Case, what was that about?” Eva asked, wanting to change the topic. Gradually, she removed her hand from his.
Albert laughed. “Milo Lancaster and his twin brother Owen Lancaster were a couple of high-school dropouts with a combined IQ of about 89. Anyway, they managed to get themselves jobs cleaning the pools at the Fairmont Hotel. One morning, the two of them are horsing around when Milo slips on the wet pool deck and falls backward into a large potted plant that was inside one of those huge cement encasements. You know the kind I mean, right?”
“Anyway, freak accident and Milo ends up breaking his back and he’s paraplegic for the rest of his life. Lucky for me, a bartender friend of mine, who worked at that hotel, calls and tells me what happened, and I zero in on the Lancaster brothers faster than a cheetah on a gazelle. Freemont knows that a newspaper shot of poor, dumbshit Milo, strapped to a wheelchair for life with his tongue hanging out of his mouth, is not an image likely to boost business, so they quickly settled out of court for a cool seven million dollars, of which, 90 percent went to yours truly.” Albert smiled broadly.
“90 percent!” said Eva.
“I told you the Lancaster’s weren’t too bright.” He reached for his water glass. “On the other hand,” he said, taking a sip, “now that you know how brilliant I am, will you please just say ‘yes’ to this marriage proposal so we can end this charade and get on with it. The suspense is killing me, Eva. You know I adore you. You don’t even have to say you love me back yet; I’ll understand. Just marry me, and I promise to make you the happiest woman who ever walked on this planet.”
“Albert,” Eva sighed. “What if your children object?”
“They wouldn’t dare,” he said confidently. “Besides, this is my life not theirs. Isn’t that what you said about Denise? It was her life; her decision. Well, I’m entitled to a life too, aren’t I?”
The waiter approached, admired Eva, and flashed Albert his approval. “Would you like to hear our specials this afternoon?” he asked, folding his hands together.
As he rattled on about the fare, Eva glanced over the menu and sipped some of her water.
“I’ll leave you and come back in just a few minutes,” the waiter said, smiling.
“Hello, Albert,” a voice bellowed from across the bar.
Albert looked up, smiled, and waved. “Oh shit,” he whispered to Eva.
“What is it?” asked Eva, amused by his deception.
“That’s Stanley Meade,” he said, lowering his arm. “He’s a political fund-raiser. He works for Governor Gardner. Every time he bumps into me he wants a contribution.”
“You know the governor?” Eva asked, intrigued.
“I’ve met him,” said Albert. “He’s a first-class dope, if you ask me.”
“Then why do you give him money?” Eva said, lowering her menu.
“It’s just the price of doing business,” he said.
“But he’s corrupt, isn’t he?” Eva leaned forward intently.
Albert laughed heartily. Eva enjoyed his rich, robust laugh. “Of course he’s corrupt; he’s a politician.”
Eva shook her head, annoyed. “A person like that shouldn’t be a governor,” she said emphatically.
“He won’t be much longer,” Albert explained. “Next year his second term ends and he can’t run for reelection. I hear he may run for the United States Senate though.”
Eva glanced out the window and toyed with an idea for a few moments before saying, “Could you introduce me?”
Albert looked at her surprised. “To Stanley, sure. But prepare yourself to be pestered for the rest of your life.”
“Not Stanley,” she said, lowering her voice conspiratorially, “to the governor.”
“Eva, honey,” Albert said, leaning toward her. “If you agree to marry me I’ll introduce you to the queen of England, the president of the United States, and the pope if that’s what you want.”
The waiter stood next to their table with pad and pencil ready. “Have you decided, miss?”
“No,” Eva said, looking at Albert. “No, I haven’t decided yet.”