Chapter 15. Calling Bluff
The phone calls kept coming at various times in the days and evenings. It happened more when Bianca answered the phone and much less when Anna answered it. I was in my office drinking my first cup of office coffee one morning while reading e-mail when I heard what sounded like a referee’s whistle. Meg was already out of the office door and I followed her into the kitchen, where we found Anna washing the skillet that she had made my eggs in that morning.
“Anna, did you hear a whistle?” Megan asked as I entered the kitchen.
“Yes, dear,” she replied, setting the pan on the drying rack. The phone rang again. Anna dried her hands on the towel and picked up the receiver. After she said hello, the caller hung on and said nothing, then she blew the whistle from around her neck into the receiver, and the caller quickly hung up.
Meg and I guffawed at the brilliance of my housekeeper, who had a referee whistle about her neck.
“Just where did you get one of those?” I asked.
“Oh, I had this for a long time, Mr. Corwynn. You see I used to ref my boys playing basketball. I was the only mother on the block with a two-shot foul rule.”
“I didn’t take you for a basketball fan, Anna.”
“Oh yes, I watch the Knicks whenever I can.”
I smiled, realizing what Anna would get for Christmas this year and left her to her work.
The phone tag had ended in the morning so we could get some work done in the office while Anna went about her daily routine. In the afternoon, it began again, this time between the two office phones until Meg used Anna’s whistle. Amazing how it stopped again until evening.
“How much longer do we have to wait for that real estate agent to give us the owner’s information so we can get permission to search the woods?” She was tired of Davenport’s intrusion on her day and psyche. All she wanted was for the daily phone calls to end.
“Good question,” I replied, twirling my Rolodex and finding the agent’s card. I called her to inquire.
“Actually, Mr. Corwynn, we have a buyer for the property.”
“Imagine that. I still need the current owner’s information, if you please.”
“That’s all a matter of public record. You could obtain that information from the courthouse, but I am not obligated to disclose that information to you.”
Megan called Daniel whose paralegal located the owner, Dr. Abe Barns of New Orleans. I called him and explained the situation of my assistant and her stalker.
“The poor girl, I can’t imagine what she’s been through, but I have a buyer.”
“What’s this buyer’s name? It might be the same man stalking my assistant.”
“Would he have the funds to do so? What’s his name?”
“Davenport, Randy Davenport.”
“Let me get the fax from the realtor.” When he came back, Dr. Barns had changed his tone to that of remorse.
“I don’t know what kind of legal mess this could become, Mr. Corwynn, but your Mr. Davenport is indeed my buyer.”
“Damn, I supposed that was the case. The realtor was very tight-lipped.”
“I’m not sure what I can do, Mr. Corwynn.”
“You could refuse it.”
“I’ve been trying to sell this property for the last three years. You know that. You’ve seen the signs.”
“Right, I know. Why hasn’t it sold? It’s a great piece of real estate.”
“You’ve seen it?”
“I helped a neighbor locate her dog last April in the midst of a downpour. What are you asking for it?”
“250K for two acres.”
“What’s he offering?” Megan entered my office with the checkbook, pointed to the checks that needed signing before handing me my pen.
“That price,” he replied, as I signed each one.
“I’ll beat it and offer you 251K,” I replied. Megan left the office, not finding a reason to stick around and listen in. Truth be told, I was shocked that she was not paying much attention to what I was wheeling and dealing since her nose was permanently lodged in my business.
“What would you do with it?” he asked. I smiled upon her return, as she brought her clipboard and a fax she was collating while clenching a pencil in her mouth.
“Probably turn around and sell it or keep it for insurance purposes. Maybe build my assistant a house with an office attached so she can work whenever she wants without making everyone else crazy,” I said for her benefit. Shocking her, as Megan looked up at me she dropped the fax all over the floor and from her gaping mouth lost her pencil and I couldn’t help but chuckle.
“A workaholic, eh?”
“She’s an excellent grant writer,” I replied, almost laughing at her trying to pick up the papers only to drop her clipboard all over again.
“She must be some woman to purchase land over.”
From where I sat, I could see right down her tank top at her bobbing breasts as she picked up the fax. “Megan’s great both to look at and to employ,” I said. As she realized that she left the top fall forward and give me a perfect view of them, she quickly sat up with the fax in her hands again as she attempted to collate it for the second time. Her face blushed a deep crimson as she stood, setting the two faxes on my desk and tucking the pencil behind her ear. She stapled the two faxes and set them on my blotter before they got away from her again.
“I won’t tolerate a counter offer, Dr. Barns. I will, however, put up the cash for it. This will be a cash and deed transfer.”
“That’s fine by me. When do you want to do this?”
“As far as I’m concerned, the sooner the better. Once we get his camera out of the tree, he’ll be arrested then he can’t terrorize her until after the arraignment.”
“How’s Friday sound, Mr. Corwynn? We were coming up for the weekend of the fourth to be with my son’s family at his house in Lake George.”
“Excellent, Friday the first would be perfect, Dr. Barns.”
“Sitting in the jail for the three day weekend might cool his jets for a little while, and give your girl some peace.”
“That’s my feelings exactly.”
“Well, I’ll tell Mother that we’re leaving Friday morning. I’ll call you later with the details of our flight.”
“I’ll have my car pick you both up at the airport.”
“That would be most gracious of you. Thank you, Mr. Corwynn.”
Meg stood there in shock and dropped her clipboard on the floor for the third time. Unable to control the smirk on my face, after I hung up the phone, I reached over my desk for her hand and led her around to the back of it. I sat in the chair and tapped my lap for her to do likewise. She looked as if she would faint at any minute.
“Meg, on Friday, the property will be mine, the camera will be removed and Davenport will be charged with trespassing. Since the property is within 500 yards of my estate, he violates the restraining order and goes to jail and will spend the entire weekend there. Rex will make sure he’s picked up late on Friday so he’ll have to spend the three-day weekend in jail.”
“It’s almost over?”
“Soon,” I replied, as Bianca appeared in the doorway, finding Megan on my lap. Bianca perched her fists on her hips while her beauty queen face distorted to that of a vile woman with her brows drawn together and her face turning to a beet red hue. A look of deadly ire—not surprise—came over her when she saw Meg on my lap and heard the tail end of our conversation. Before she stormed into the office and exploded, her face matched the red rose in the flowered blouse she wore. Trapping us at the side of my desk, she was going to make this more than what it was and someone would get slapped in the face before it was finished, knowing Bianca.
“You’re buying what?” she screeched. For once, Bianca made Megan cower instead of standing up to her. With us cornered behind my desk I watched Bianca extend her hand to slap Megan, but in an instant, I grabbed her and pulled her down on me while Megan made a break for it.
“That was out of line,” I replied, releasing her. Bianca stood and straightened her blouse and she dared not raise her hand to me unless she wanted it behind her back and being tossed out of the front door. If she hadn’t realized it by now, I had about enough of her temper tantrums and Megan’s dramatics.
“You were out of line. How dare you? It’s bad enough when I’m gone, the games and the affair the two of you carry on with, but in front of me? How dare you, Alex Corwynn?”
“Bianca, I’m sorry. Meg is fragile right now. Let her be. For your information, we’re not having an affair.”
“If she’s so fragile, why don’t you admit her to a psych ward?”
“She can’t very well do her work in a psych ward.”
“But you bought her a piece of land! What will it be next? A new house?”
“I bought the land. It’s not for Megan, and I doubt if she’d take it if I offered it to her.”
“You ought to build her a house and an office over there so I wouldn’t have to put up with her.”
The phone rang, and Meg picked it up at her desk. A moment later, she was at my door. “Alex, Dr. Barns is on line two.”
“Tell him the deal’s off,” ordered Bianca.
“It’s not off. You haven’t tolerated for a moment what we have for almost a month now.”
“Why don’t you just let Davenport have her?”
“We’re finished with this conversation,” I said, rising from my desk and showing her out of both office doors, shutting Megan’s as I did so.
The extension beeped at me as I approached my desk. While I talked to Dr. Barns, Bianca returned to Megan’s office and made snide remarks to her, making me wish I had locked that door when I forced her out of the office. As I listened to Dr. Barns’ Southern drawl as he spoke about their trip to New York, I stretched the phone cord across the office and had just reached the door when Meg ran out of it in truly dramatic fashion. Moments later, I could hear her shoes resonate from the foyer and on the staircase. As I wrote down his flight information, Bianca stood in the threshold pleased with herself, leaning on the door jamb with her arms crossed in front of her small chest.
“Thanks, Dr. Barns, I’ll see you on Friday.”
When I hung up the phone, I said nothing at first. I just sat there. Tired of battling Megan to get something done in this office, tired of Bianca’s browbeating and accusations, I decided this was it. She’s out of here; I’m finished. No fucking woman is worth this much aggravation, and I was beginning to wonder the same of Megan.
“I can’t believe this,” Bianca said in the middle of my doorway.
“I need you to act your age for a change.”
Bianca stood her ground at the doorway. It was going to be a battle of wills, and I wasn’t in the mood.
“Why are you defending her?”
“Davenport abused her. He raped her. He assaulted her. Whether you like her or not, Megan is too good of a person to have all of that happen to her. This man is in the process of destroying her mentally and professionally now. If you can’t keep your nastiness to yourself, please leave. We were getting work done for the first time in a week. Now, I have to go upstairs and settle her again so we can focus on the projects at hand.”
“Fine, I’m going to Ramone’s. He’s having a weekend get-together for the company at his estate in New Hope.”
“New Hope, outside of Philly?” I asked, always homesick for a good cheesesteak. Bianca knew how I always longed to travel back to Philly, how I would love a steak at Pat’s and a trip to the Italian Market. Even a trip to Philly wasn’t worth dealing with Bianca any longer than necessary.
“Yes, well, enjoy your drama here. I’m sure you’ll finally get what you want out of her.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“You’ve been fucking with her head from the moment you interviewed her. She’s scared and depends on you for support. Eventually, you’ll screw your secretary. I hope you enjoy it because I doubt that you’ll want to fuck that twice.”
“It’s not like that. You’re the only woman I love.”
“If you love me so much, you’d go away with me this weekend instead of watching Megan fall to pieces,” Bianca said, finally sitting in a chair across from my desk, crossing those long sexy legs and staring me down, waiting for me to cow-tow to her demands. This time, Bee wouldn’t get her way, regardless of what she stung me with; for once, she didn’t matter like she used to in my life.
“I need to stay here so she doesn’t fall to pieces.”
“Whatever. Collect her in a paper bag and put her in a psych ward for the holiday. They won’t let anything happen to her there.”
That did it. With my jaw squared, I shook my head, unable to believe that I had just heard that come from her lips. I was about to call on the hand played, and she’d think it was a bluff. Never before did I consider the words that were brimming between my teeth and my lips, just dying to get out, but with a single exhale, I finally let them loose to do the damage necessary.
“What?” she asked, completely shocked by my words that she almost stood from the chair, but opted just to lean forward and stammer at me.
“You heard me, go pack. I don’t want you here with that attitude. You might be able to dismiss others, Bianca, but that’s not my way.”
“If I walk out of that door, I won’t come back.”
She called, and all the cards were on the table, proving to her that I wasn’t bluffing. My heart fell to the pit of my stomach whenever she threatened to leave me in the past, and right now, it was no different, but I had to remind myself that I could do better. Although I hated the way she treated others, I loved her. From the first time I saw her glide across the stage in that beautiful white tutu in Swan Lake, to the drunken battles, the infidelity, and the lies amid the great sex, gorgeous body and renowned reputation. Within seconds, she asked me to weigh our eight years against my assistant who was so downtrodden that I was afraid to leave her alone for an hour, let alone a weekend.
“Well? Which will it be?” she asked, thinking by my silence that I would totally fold to her whim. I was about to play my Ace, a secret of hers that she had no idea that I knew, that once played would be the be all and end all of this relationship. Like a bee getting smashed by a flyswatter on a white wall, this smearing accusation would smash what was left of this relationship to bits.
“You’re so certain that I’m screwing Megan or that I will. I can’t believe you would think so little of me after all of these years. I’m not the one fucking other men in every tour city.”
Bianca sat there in shock. She never realized that I knew the truth. After all these years, I finally confronted her.
“They treat me better than you do,” she said, standing to her defense.
“You’ve proposed how many times now?” she asked, about to make a mockery out of my love for her, the same way she did every time I proposed to her, and every time, I let her get away with it, hoping that eventually, she’d marry me when she retired.
“And each time I said no. You’re the daft one, Alex. How did you know about my benefactors?”
“Some friends told me, but I didn’t believe them until I did my own investigation. I should have left you then.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“You were worth the fuck. That’s about all you’re worth anymore,” I said, swiveling my chair away from her and towards the atrium windows behind my desk. If she was going to walk out of my life, I didn’t want to see her back exit that doorway. She was going to leave, but I wasn’t going to watch.
“Good-bye, Alex. I hope you enjoy your life with your little secretary--if she doesn’t end up in a rubber room somewhere.” With that, she walked out of my office and went upstairs to pack her things. After it grew silent again, I left my chair to shut the door and returned to my chair facing the window, unable to believe it myself. It was over. Bianca had walked out of my life and I couldn’t say anything to change her mind, and truth be told, I wasn’t certain if I wanted to take a word of it back.
I sat there staring at a picture of Bianca and me when we had vacationed in Cyprus a few years ago. I didn’t hear Megan come in.
“I’m sorry,” she said, touching my hand that rested on the armrest of the chair.
“You don’t have to be sorry.”
“I shouldn’t have...with her here...I knew better,” she stammered and then cried, shamefully turning her face away from me until I reached for her hand.
“Don’t blame yourself, Meg. Bianca’s wanted out for a while, and I guess I did too. I’m sorry she said such vile things to you.”
“It’s okay. You’re, like, the greatest guy in the world. No one should ever treat you that way.” Meg squeezed my hand and for a second, we shared a moment that we finally agreed on something.
“Come sit, please?” I asked, tapping my lap. Meg smiled and nodded at me, relieved that I asked, and sat on my lap, resuming her place with her head on my shoulder.
With her there on my lap, I wrapped my arms around her and we sat there in silence. I reclined the executive chair and the two of us drifted to sleep until a frantic Anna burst into my office.
“Mr. Corwynn, I can’t find Meggy anywhere!”
“She’s here, Anna,” I said, lowering the chair before rotating it so she could see a sleeping Megan in my arms.
“You look terrible. What happened?”
“Did Ms. Barteau leave?”
“Yes, she asked me to call the car about an hour ago.”
“She’s not coming back.”
“We’ve heard that before.”
“It’s over, Anna. I can’t fix it anymore.”
“Ah, dear one,” she said, coming over and brushing my cheek with the back of her wrinkled hand. “You deserve better. So does Meggy. Do you need to call Ruby?” I shook my head.
“I will call Mike to put her upstairs to rest, then you can call Ruby.”
The following day, Meg came into my office around two-thirty and handed me the files she was working on with instructions scrawled on pink sticky notes. She had changed out of tight little Daisy Dukes and marathon T-shirt knotted at the stomach so her navel showed and into a pair of pumpkin linen Capri’s and a cream-colored spaghetti strap top.
“Where are you going?” I asked, disappointed in the change of her clothes.
“Ruby’s group,” she said, bending over my desk to get another file that she needed and her braid fell from her shoulder onto my blotter until she flipped it behind her head.
“Oh, that’s right, it’s Tuesday,” I said, balancing her as she almost lost hers and ended up in my lap. That wouldn’t have been so bad really. My hand lingered on her back, lifting the hairy boa braid and teasing her bare skin with its curled tip between her shirt and Capri’s waistline.
“I’m too busy with these groups to worry about a social life,” she said, trying to avoid it by adjusting her stance as I continued messing with her, just seeing how far she’d let me go before she took the tail out of my hand and flipped it to her other side. I wished we could have just gone out to the pool instead of her heading to Jamaica Plains that afternoon.
“I know, Meg, but you seem a little better.”
“Not really. There are checks to be signed on my desk when you get a chance,” she said, pulling the braid out of my hand and back to her front, hiding it between her breast and arm so I couldn’t get at it again.
“Will you be home after group?”
“I might go with a couple others for a cup of coffee. I’ll call if I do.”
“That’s fine. Now shoo, before you’re late,” I said, tapping her on the ass with my cupped hand.
Meg bent down and kissed my cheek then left, leaving her lipstick behind on my cheek. She must have thought I deserved a kiss, even if it was a peck. After she left, Anna brought me the mail, spying the lipstick. With a handkerchief from her pocket, she waddled around the desk behind me.
“You got a kiss?” she asked me, forcing me to look up from the envelopes and give her a puzzled stare. “Your face has a pair of lips on it other than your own.”
“Oh,” I replied with a laugh as she wiped it away with her soft handkerchief then left me to finish my work.
As I sorted through the mail, I found one from White Plains College addressed to Megan. Could this be the MBA program acceptance letter? Let’s hope so. I held it up to the light to see if it was a real letter or a mimeographed rejection letter. It had a seal on it, so it must be real. Amid the bills was a postcard from Angie.
We’re having fun with your RV. Aunt Lilly is taking us to Yosemite next week. We’re having a ball here in Minnesota. It’s nice here. Casey doesn’t want to leave because she has a boyfriend that she met at the lake. He’s cute! We love and miss you, Daddy. Kisses to Megan for me (and make them from you!) Love, Angie.
I laughed at her card. Silly girl. I was glad to hear that she was having such a good time. The phone rang.
“Alex, I got a postcard from Angie,” said Brandon before I could even say hello. This was probably the first time in the last fifteen years that I’ve known Brandon that he ever got excited over a woman, and a teenager at that.
“Yeah, I did too. What’s yours say?”
Dear Uncle Brandon,
Don’t be angry, but I haven’t drawn with a pencil all week. I know I need to work on my depth, but I had to get a box of chalk and start sketching these sunsets. I’ll mail you some this week. I met a guy while I was sketching. His name is Buzz. He’s a musician. I told him about Daddy and he thought that was cool. I miss you so much! Kisses and Hugs, Angie.
I laughed. “She didn’t say a word about boys to me! She said that Casey had a boyfriend.”
“Those two will have boyfriends wherever they stop! Read me yours.”
I read it to Brandon who laughed at the last line.
“So, are you going to do it?”
“That’s doubtful. I’ll just show it to Megan instead.”
“I ended it with Bianca.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, we’re through. I was tired of her giving Meg such a hard time. Personally, I was tired of sharing her.”
“I know. Have you told Sean?”
“He’s in France this week.”
“Didn’t he tell you they are coming to New York for the fourth?”
“No, he didn’t.”
“I bet that was a surprise. Shit, I blew it big time.”
“No, it’s good that I know. This weekend will be filled with enough fireworks.”
I explained to Brandon about the property and the charges that we’ll bring against Randy that will land him in jail for the weekend.
“Where are they staying?”
“The Waldorf. Ryan’s hoping you’ll invite them to stay out there. He hates the city.”
“I know, I’ll tell him about Bianca and ask if they’re coming to New York for the fourth like they always do. Then I’ll ask Sean if they’d like to stay with us since we could use the company.”
“Perfect! Alex, you’re brilliant!” Brandon exclaimed.
After playing phone tag with Sean that afternoon, he finally returned my call and caught me in the office finishing the work that Megan had given me almost two hours before, instead of finding other distractions more interesting. Sean accepted the invitation, and we planned a barbecue for this weekend to help raise spirits around here.
“We cut a deal, Meg and me.”
“Really?” asked Sean.
“She doesn’t date for a year, and I pay off her student loans.”
“Interesting. But will she do it?”
“I supposed it would last a few months to get her head together. But, you haven’t heard my other stroke of brilliance. Meg said to me after I offered it, If I don’t date for two years will you pay for my MBA?"
“And what did you say?”
“I told her with a five-year contract for the foundation, I’d pay for the MBA.”
“Did she bite?”
“She applied to a local college’s MBA program. We couldn’t reach you, so I told her that we had to table it until we discussed it further.”
“So you’d pay for it?”
“Yeah. I can write it off as educational money or a gift.”
“You already talked to Bill about it?”
“Yeah, I got his blessing. Hank says he’ll draw up the five-year binding contract.”
“An MBA, will that really profit us?”
“I think so. After all, she’s the brain of this organization.”
“She’s up for yearly review, when?”
“Good, then we’ll deal with this formally then. Let her begin the program, I’ll come to New York in September, we’ll do the review, offer her the contract and the tuition in exchange for the five-year contract.”
I had just finished the conversation with Sean when Meg rushed into the office out of breath.
“Alex, he followed me again!”
“Calm down, what happened?”
“Nothing, he kept following me in his black SUV.”
“Did he do anything aggressive?”
“He just tailgated me and kept ringing my cell phone.”
“What did you do?”
“I know better than talking on a cell phone while driving in New York.”
“So you didn’t pick it up?”
“No, but it made me crazy just listening to it.”
“Where did he separate from you?”
“About a mile from here.”
“Next time, hang up the phone and call 911. Tell them where you are, that you have a protection order, and they’ll send a squad car out for you.” She dropped her keys on my desk and sighed, sitting in the seat across from my desk dropping the sandals from her feet before tucking them up in front of her so she could hug the legs as she sat.
“Why won’t he just leave me alone?”
“I’d like to know the answer to that myself. We got a postcard from Angie,” I said, handing it to her. Meg read it and giggled until she saw the last line, then she turned red, stuffed her feet back into the sandals and picked up her keys from my desk.
“Everyone thinks we’re having an affair!”
“Now hush, you know we have friends who only want the best for us, and to them, we’re the best for each other.”
“Don’t remind me. Brandon, Sean, Ryan, and now Angie!”
“You forgot Anna.”
“No, I didn’t, I just didn’t list her. She can let it be, you know?” she asked, making the keys in her hand jingle as she shifted them.
“I know. You’re going to hate me when I tell you this.”
“Sean and Ryan are coming in for the weekend. Brandon will be out here too.”
Meg rolled her eyes at me and walked towards the door of my office leaving me to sit there by myself.
“Now don’t get miffed, Megan. We’re going to sit around the pool and have a barbecue,” I said as she stopped in her tracks and turned back to me, still standing her ground at the office door.
“Alex, the last time you lit that grill—”
“Okay, you light it.”
“Don’t forget your charred remnants of ribs and steak.”
“Okay, you or Anna can cook. I’ll just watch. C’mon Meg, it will be fun.”
“You guys ganging up on me. I don’t know if I call that fun.”