The Straight and Narrow

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Summary

Restaurateur Barry Masterson and attorney Janelle Giafaro live happily in an open marriage. The arrangement was made ten years ago, when Janelle's wealthy father was running for Congress. At the time, Barry confesses to his wife that having coming to terms with his homosexuality, he cannot give her all a husband should. To his surprise, Janelle counters his offer of divorce: she wants companionship and stability without sex to complicate things. Like Barry, she has been carrying on affairs with other men. Besides, why jeopardize her father’s political career? For the next ten years, Janelle bankrolls Barry's restaurants and in return he is the reliable straight prop at press conferences and political rallies. Then, Barry falls in love with Justin Chandler. A surveillance expert with an obsessive personality, Justin's love now targets Barry. And, unlike Barry, he is not one to compromise. His outrageous suggestion that Barry kill his wife soon turns into an ultimatum. Either Barry does the deed, or he will.

Genre:
Thriller / Drama
Author:
David
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
24
Rating:
5.0 2 reviews
Age Rating:
13+

Chapter 1

Standing on top of the ladder, Justin gives the screwdriver one last, dramatic turn.He shakes the base of the camera mount.

“Told you.Tighter than a––”

“Don’t say it,” Barry Masterson says as he watches Justin climb down the steps.The flimsy aluminum ladder barely rattles under his scrawny frame.Justin adjusts the seat of his designer jeans and arches his back in a move that reminds Barry of a storefront mannequin. Hoping Justin won’t notice, Barry loosens the strings of his apron.

“That apron makes you look fat,” Justin says, reveling in the fact that he can read Barry’s mind.His gaze, somewhere between sly and superior says: I can read you as easily as my cameras record people.

Barry pretends the comment doesn’t hurt.Checks his Rolex.Plays the part of the bored restaurateur, for whom the installation of security cameras is business as usual.

Ten minutes after three.Janelle is due in twenty minutes.On Mondays, the Reef is closed.With only a few lights turned way low, the restaurant emits a foreboding vibe.

Barry carries the ladder past a bussing station, avoiding looking at the ground.The unsealed wooden floor, part of the 19th century nautical theme, means red wine stains from careless wait staff.They fade with time, but never quite disappear.He stashes the ladder in the utility closet and ambles back to Justin.

“Are you sure you won’t take any money?”

“I don’t want any of her money,” Justin says, wounding him for the second time in less than two minutes. Reading Barry’s eyes, he adds, “It’s the least I can do.”

Barry looks up at the rafters and admires the sleek black bubble of the camera’s housing which makes the camera look like a malevolent fly.

“Not even for the cost of the cameras?”

“I’ve built most of them.”

“How many are there?”

“Six that you can see.Two that you can’t.All from my private stash.”

“You make them sound like drugs.”

“Trust me, they’re way more addictive,” Justin says and laughs in a way that makes Barry forget the dig at his weight.

“Where are the two hidden ones?”

“I don’t think I should tell you.You’ll tip your hand to your staff.And then all this is for nothing.”

“Why would I?I’m the one who hired you to find the thief.”

“I know you, Bear.You don’t have a sneaky bone in your body.And just because I won’t accept payment doesn’t mean I won’t let you take me somewhere nice and warm.”

Justin steps close, stroking Barry’s face in a way that makes Barry think of an overbearing nurse. The kind of touch that makes you forget everything. Your failing restaurants. Even your wife.

“I told you. Virgin Islands after Christmas.British Virgin Islands.”

After Christmas. You’ll be spending it with her, I suppose.I don’t want to wait that long.At least a long weekend in Miami. Come on, Bear, throw me a boner.”

Barry smiles. Justin has a way of reducing the complex to the trivial. That’s one of the things Barry loves about him.

“You know the drill. The election’s in a few days. Looks like Arthur’s going to the Senate, but it’s not definite until the last vote is in. Janelle has pulled out all the stops on the campaign.Plus, this place is bleeding money, along with the Bistro.It’s a bad time for me, Justin.”

“A bad time for us.”

What sounds like a throwaway line from anyone else sounds like the real deal from Justin.Another one of his idiosyncrasies.He could be selfishly demanding one minute and full of concern for Barry the next.

Your pain is my pain.

Barry kisses him on the lips, catching Justin off guard.Barry is usually the reserved one, the prey who, if not outright attacked, has to be coaxed into giving up the goods.Barry feels Justin’s tongue and tastes mint.Mouthwash and something sweet.

“Stoli Raspberry?Or do they make that flavor mouthwash now?”

“Why you judgin’?” Justin says, slipping into his effeminate act.

“It’s not even Happy Hour.I thought you were cutting down.”

“Cutting, shmutting…”

A polite cough pulls Barry back into the present. He breaks contact first, and Justin reluctantly follows suit.

Janelle Masterson stands under the archway that separates the dining room from the hostess desk.Her expression is typical of most upper class women; equal measure amused and annoyed. The late afternoon sun filtering through the venetian blinds backlights her light brown hair.Lighter brown, Barry thinks with the detached part of his mind.

Chestnut?Auburn?

“You want to give me a heart attack? You’re early.”

“They moved up the ribbon cutting.”

She moves to the window and turns down the blinds even more. The Reef’s interior turns from foreboding to sinister.

“We don’t want to take any chances six days before the election.”

“Agreed,” Barry says, trying not to look at Justin.“Honey, this is Justin.Justin, my wife, Janelle.”

Barry watches the reluctant touch of two manicured hands.

“I’ve heard so much about you, Justin. I hope you can find out who’s stealing from my husband. He’s too trusting to do it himself.”

“I’ll do my best.”

Barry admires his wife’s professionalism, which lets her ignore Justin’s evil eye.

“I’m sure you will. Is that your Mini Cooper parked outside?”

“Yes.” Justin is slow to respond, thrown off by the non sequitur.

Janelle pulls a bumper sticker from her attaché and hands it to Justin.

“Don’t forget to vote in two weeks.”

Justin holds the bumper sticker like it’s a dirty spoon.

Leave it to Arthur to put his picture on the bumper sticker.

Arthur Giafaro – R for Senate. Results with Resolve. In the half-light of the Reef, Arthur looks more like a successful real estate developer than a U.S. Senate candidate. His store-bought tan and capped-toothed smile are part of the package. “I’m a man who gets things done, even if I have to crack a few skulls,” his expression says.

Just your prejudice against Italians.You think all of them are macho homophobes.

“That all depends,” Justin says, laying the sticker next to his toolbox.“Where does Arthur stand on gay marriage?”

Janelle throws her head back and laughs as if Justin said a ‘bon mot’ at a cocktail party.

“All we need to know is that Arthur hates tardiness,” she says finally as she heads for the front door.Barry trades his apron for a tailored jacket and follows her, with Justin bringing up the rear.Janelle holds the door open and locks it once the three of them have left.Barry doesn’t remember giving her a spare key.

But you don’t have to give her a key, do you?Not to a restaurant she owns.

It is unusually warm for late October.In two hours, the streets will be congested with luxury cars of every size and stripe.Wives picking up commuting husbands from New York and vice versa.At three o’clock in the afternoon, however, Scarsdale is quieter than a racetrack at dawn.Barry climbs into the passenger seat of Janelle’s BMW and keeps an eye on Justin from the side view mirror.Justin puts his toolbox in the back of his Mini Cooper and lights a cigarette with twitchy fingers.He frowns, which means he just read the license plate.

Imsoin2u.

Barry’s idea.Janelle never objected, probably because it was the kind of cutesy detail a conservative journalist would include in an article about the Senate-hopeful’s family.The BMW was a “thank you” gift from Barry for the fact that Janelle bankrolled his passion.A few years back, when the Reef was hot, he could actually afford the car payments.

Janelle eases The Ultimate Driving Machine onto the street.Barry watches Justin shrink in the rear view mirror.

“You’ve lightened your hair. I like it.”

Janelle beams at Barry––delighted that he noticed. She fiddles with the radio.Barry takes over and finds her favorite Bach station. Usually he’s into it also, all that organ and gravitas, as if Johan Sebastian is hell-bent on single-handedly converting all heathens.

But not today. If he were alone, he would tune to the 80s station in search of a Pet Shop Boys classic.

“How long have you been with Justin?”

“Six months.”

“I get a weird vibe from him.”

“Are your surprised?”

“No, I mean really weird. I liked the last one. The investment banker. What was his name?”

“Samuel.He was boring.”

“Yes. But probably reliable.”

In Janelle’s world, reliable is the ideal. Barry fixes his gaze on the curvy lanes of the Sprain Brook Parkway.They are doing a reverse commute into New York, so their southbound side is mercifully light on traffic. The oncoming lanes are just starting to fill up with the first drones fleeing New York.

“You don’t have to worry about Justin. I promise I’ll shelve him until after the election.”

“It’s not that I don’t trust your judgment. I just can’t help being protective.”

Protective of whom?Me?You?Arthur’s career?

Janelle takes the Willis Avenue Bridge and cuts off a taxi to merge onto the FDR Drive into Manhattan.

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