Chapter Twenty One

    I’d rather have root canal, Lynn thought, gritting her teeth, as she shifted her position uncomfortably in the floral printed Martha Stewartesque patio chair by her mother’s pool. Ellen Stevens.. what a piece of work. Each visit to her mother was preluded by a mental perfection check list – Kelly dressed in one of her grandmother’s latest fru fru proper girl dresses, which usually included lace or frills or both. Where the hell did she think they lived? Tara? Luckily Kelly was in her feminine stage and ate it up, down to her pristinely polished shoes. Lynn’s adjustments started with a drink, a stiff one, to calm her down, artificial courage for the nit picking she knew was to come. Margie’s daughter was married.. Rita’s daughter was on the Arts League. I’m on the rag, she wanted to say, sitting primly amidst her mother’s society friends, as they chatted about their usual inane topics – fashion, the latest ‘it’ hair dresser and the latest faaabulous recipe they had debuted at last night’s cocktail party at the club.

    "So tell us darling," schmoozed Margie, as she primped Kelly and smoothed her beautifully curled and beribboned hair, "when will we see you at the club?"

    Feeling surrounded, Lynn stammered, her usual quick wit eluding her. Her mother, not wanting to lose face, picked up the ball and ran with it.

    "Lynn’s social calendar is quite full I’m afraid. Just this morning she got a call from her cousin Allison in Connecticut inviting her to visit. And just in time for the start of the equestrian season.."

    Her mom didn’t miss a beat. Only hours before Lynn had mentioned Kelly’s new pony. Smile, she thought, it could be worse. Ever predictable, Mother would do and say just about anything to save face. All mighty appearances.. Luckily her mother’s own schedule was filled, and moments like these were limited to once a month, just in time for the next installment of her "allowance."

    "Kelly just started to ride herself.." Lynn piped up. "She’s a natural. Has quite a seat.."

    "I got a pony from.."

    "Tell Grandmother what your pony’s name is," Lynn said quickly. God forbid the subject of "daddy" came up.

    "Penny.." Kelly beamed, "she’s pretty."

    "Not as pretty as you darling," Rita cooed.

    "A friend owns a horse ranch out west," Lynn smiled, "so we got her a pony." So what, Lynn thought, smoothing her coifed hairdo, hoping that Kelly didn’t divulge the truth. But Lady Luck seemed to be smiling on her because Kelly skipped off onto the lawn, prancing, pretending to be Penny.

    "Don’t dirty up your pretty dress angel," Ellen Stevens said, giving her daughter a knowing ‘that was close’ look.

    Smile and nod, Lynn thought. It would all be over soon, as the older women regrouped for tea or bridge or whatever was on the schedule of the wealthy, older Boca Raton set. Boca.. it’s where rich women over 60 went to die.. in style of course, just far enough from Fort Lauderdale for Lynn to breath.

    Truly old school. Lynn’s mother was happy to pay to keep her daughter in "the style that she was meant to live," paying for the Bahia Mar and the occasional credit card bills without as much as a flinch. Her divorce settlement had been more than generous, and as long as her daughter was discreet, Ellen Stevens would gladly keep her daughter and granddaughter living comfortably.

      "You look tired dear," Ellen said, eyeing Lynn suspiciously. "Schedule a massage. It will fix you right up," she said, as the last of her friends departed, heading home to freshen up before regathering for dinner at the club.

    You don’t know the half of it. If her mother had the slightest inkling of what she was tangled up in, she’d soil her linen Armani slacks. Both women knew that certain topics were not open to discussion, Mitch, or "that man" topping the list. She had to hand it to her. There was nothing like a perfectly mixed drink and gourmet hors doevres served in a beautiful setting to whisk any thoughts of problems from Lynn’s mind, even if it was just for a few hours. Their current trip to Grandma’s house couldn’t have come at a better time, since Lynn had successfully eluded Nick the last few days.

    "I couldn’t agree more," Lynn smiled, watching her mother write out her check.

    "I don’t mean to rush you off Lynn darling, but it’s getting dark and I don’t feel comfortable thinking of you and the baby driving back in that..that car all the way to Fort Lauderdale."

    "Yes Mother, you’re right. I could use a new car. But until I get a new one I will be careful. Let me go get Kelly.."

    Ellen looked at the run down excuse for a vehicle marring the beauty of her landscaping. Reaching for her agenda book, she jotted down a note reminding herself to call her ex husband about replacing the broken down car that was currently transporting his granddaughter about. That should get him. He had the money. He should pay.

   The dread started to build the closer they got to home, for Lynn was sure she’d have half a dozen messages from Nick waiting for her at the front desk. Ugh and your father, Lynn thought, glancing back at her dozing daughter in the back seat. She had totally forgot about their scheduled date to go riding at what’s her name’s ranch that afternoon., and was sure Mitch wouldn’t let her forget her faux pas. I’ll call him tomorrow, she reassured herself, that is if this clunker got them home in one piece. Hopefully her mother had taken the bait and a new car, like the stars is the darkening sky, would be on the horizon.

    Climbing the stairs with a brew in his hand, Mitch was glad they had finally put the bar to bed for the night. The loft was quiet. Poor Angel must already be asleep, he thought, and turned around, heading back downstairs, not wanting to disturb his friend. It hardly seemed like it was the same bar that had been bustling with activities a couple of hours before. It was eerily quiet, the only light coming from the bar’s neon sign. Mitch sipped his beer, taking in the quiet, as he took down one of the up-turned chairs and sat down, just about where Krystal had been seated when he had walked in. Obviously upset, she had glared at him, her eye brows meeting in a deep v accentuating the coldness in her eyes. Not good with confrontations, Mitch had walked up, a big smile pasted on his face, hoping that the right words would come.

    "See Krystal? I told you," Sid chuckled, loving the to watch his friend squirm.

    "Told her what?" Mitch asked, uneasily.

beermug2.gif (1848 bytes)Her pleasant chat with Sid over a couple of ice cold beers had lightened Krystal’s mood significantly, but Mitch wouldn’t be in on that little tid bit of information until she had put him through the ringer a bit. "Oh we got the chance to discuss quite a few things," Krystal answered, flatly, glancing over at an amused Sid. "You’d be surprised what can come up in oh, two hours.."

    "I’m really sorry about that Krys," Mitch said, sitting down between Krystal and Sid. "Time just got away from me somehow.." From the expression on Sid’s face, Mitch knew better than to elaborate.

    "It must be going around because Lynn never showed with Kelly."

    "She didn’t? I was sure I’d get here to get chewed out by Lynn.." Mitch could see that Krystal was biting back a comment – he really couldn’t blame her if she herself chewed him out for being so late without a call. But his apology would have to wait. Right now he needed to call Lynn and make sure Kelly was okay. It wasn’t like Lynn to miss a chance to drop Kelly off and take advantage of the break to go shopping or out with her friends. "Will you excuse me for a second? I wanna call Lynn and make sure Kelly’s okay."

    "He can call Lynn but he couldn’t manage to get to a phone and call me," Krystal complained, shooting laser beam looks at Mitch as he headed towards the back.

    "Oooh, girlfriend, if looks could kill," Sid teased, "you’da pinned Mitch up against a wall by now. I’m diggin’ this whole edgy undercurrent thing, but I need to go.."

    "You’re leaving? You’re the only redeeming factor of this whole afternoon.."

    "Don’t get your frillies in a bunch baby," he teased, "I just go need to unload some of the beers I’ve chugged. Don’t go away. I’ll be back before you can say Melrose Place."

    Mitch had just hung up the phone as Sid emerged from the bathroom. "So where’s the she devil at?" Sid asked.

    "You’re guess is as good as mine. I left a message for her at the front desk of the hotel. Bet she just forgot."

    "Stranger things have been known to happen," quipped Sid. "You really blew it this afternoon. But never fear. You can pay me back by treating me to a few brewskies.."

    "Things got interesting back at the hospital before Jess got released.."

    "Hey, you know me, I love to dish as much as the next guy, but if we don’t get out there soon, Krystal’ll skin us both alive. There were no phones around? You couldn’t have called and made up something about car trouble or something?"

    "Why do I have to lie?" Mitch bit back. "Jess is my friend and she needed me. I’m not the first person to lose track of time and I’m sure I won’t be the last.."

    "Woah buddy, no need to have a spaz. But I am gonna say this. Krystal’s a cool chick and you really gotta let her know where you guy’s stand." Even Sid was stunned when thoughts of asking Krystal out himself came over him just then. Better keep this little tidbit to myself, Sid thought, looking at his best friend in bemusement. Mitch would have to make up his mind, or he might just make it for him.

    "We’ve talked about this all before. I even told her that I liked her, and she pretty much turned me down."

    "Mitch. This is a woman we’re talkin’ about, remember? She may have said that, but her behavior this afternoon says otherwise. She was so pissed – kept looking at the door waiting for you to come in. She’s all jealous about all the time you’re spending with Jessie.."

    "That’s crazy. She knows Jess and I are just good friends.."

    "Really? I’m not gonna blow sunshine up your ass Mitch. I think she might be onto something. You’re just as hooked on Jess now as you were before she was engaged," Sid said, getting up and walking out of Mitch’s office and letting the weight of his words sink in.

    Even now he could still envision Krystal, arms crossed defiantly, leg swinging under her chair. Mitch had wanted to walk over and hug her and let her know he was genuinely sorry, but she was being icy to him, a stark contrast to the easy banter and laughs she was exchanging with Sid. SID! Mr. Moody himself. Sid had been in rare form, actually coming off as a normal, non abrasive charming type.

    "Hey," Sid smiled, smacking the table to emphasize his excitement, "I almost forgot. Miss Krystal has been such wonderful company that I almost forgot about my good news.."

    Mitch fought hard to suppress the groan rising in his throat. "Oh? Good news is good.." God, Mitch thought, I sound like such a bonehead.

    "I got a new job!"

    "You did?!" Krystal mused, reaching out to cover his hand in hers.

    Okay, okay.. I deserve it, Mitch thought, but he didn’t win the Pulitzer for god’s sake. "That’s great. Where are you working now?"

    "I got a job at a radio station. Great hours too, the late shift. Just up my alley."

    "That’s great Sid. I’m happy for you. It’s nice to have a job you enjoy."

    Looking back, Mitch marveled at how his interaction with his friends sometimes mirrored the dramatic interplay that had existed back in high school, with the who liked who and the girl friend versus girlfriend quandary. What was it.. almost ten years later and he was still getting himself into these messes? Yet there was one thing he could be proud of. After all these years Mitch had been able to hold onto most of his good friends. Sid, Krystal, Jessie.. He must be doing something right. He would find a way to make things right again between he and Krystal, maybe take her to see Rocky Horror again for old time’s sake. They had been friends too long to let a misunderstanding ruin things between them.

    The one he was truly worried about was Angel. Having known him for what felt like forever, Mitch could sense that something was wrong. He had hardly said two words all day. When Angel had excused himself and retreated upstairs well before the last customer had cleared out, Mitch knew something was terribly wrong. Great. First he had let Krystal down, and now his best friend of all – Angel.

   Her hair looked fake, but it didn't matter at all to him. He was just happy to see that smile of hers again, even if it was just a picture. He gazed at the bob-cut, red haired wig she was wearing and smiled warmly. It would have looked garish on just about anyone else, but on Suzanne it looked wonderful. Angel liked all the wigs that she wore – they were her trademark – no matter how tacky other might have thought they were. A free spirit in the avant garde Eighties, Suzanne made whatever she wore work. For beneath her colorful wardrobe dwelled a heart of pure gold than shone more brightly than any punk hair color ever could. No where could see that inner light more than in her smile. It was that smile that he missed the most, that wonderful smile that went right to his heart.

    The day’s stress had boiled over and the ensuing tears began to fall, unabated. What was he doing torturing himself by looking at Suzanne’s picture? She was gone, and no matter how hard he willed it to be so, she would never return. Maybe he would get to meet her again in the after life that had held such allure for her while she was alive. Not if I keep fucking up this way, Angel thought. Running his fingers over her picture longingly, he traced the outlines of her face, his thumb sweeping across her sweet, broad smile. Angel bit his lower lip in pain, fighting back a sob that was ascending from deep inside him, like a diver’s air bubbles from the dark depths of the ocean. Overcome with grief, he lay the picture face down on his lap, dropped his face into his now empty hands and sobbed.

    Angel missed his wife, missed her dearly, and for the longest time he had tried to be strong. But it wasn’t long before he realized how much of his strength Suzanne had taken with her when she died. She had been the heart of the business, her business savvy and ability to deal with customers a potent mix that had helped their business run smoothly. After she passed away, the business fell quickly on hard times, and before Angel knew it trouble came knocking on his door on a regular basis. It started with little things, like forgetting to pay the electricity bill, and having the power switch off in the middle of the day, in front of a store full of customers. Another day it was the phone, and no phone meant he was cut off from his catalog customers across the country.

    Feeling weaker than he had ever felt before, Angel had contemplated the thought of going to some of his friends or family for help. But the pride and strong work ethic instilled in him by his parents prevented him from doing so. He had gotten himself into it, he would get himself out. Besides, everybody had their own lives to lead, with their own set of problems, most of which they didn’t ask for. The guilt of blowing what was once a thriving business had sickened him, sickened him even now, for this was the second business venture he had ruined, the other was the Dusk To Dawn, which he had dumped into his friend Mitch’s lap, to run away to New York. It had been so easy for Martini to lure him in, feeding on his weakness, tantalizing Angel into the fast paced world of liquor, gambling, anything that would silence the voice of his conscience in his head.

    Angel’s head pounded, his crying and the sobering thought of past mistakes draining him to the core. Sensing another bout of self pity at his own weakness coming on, he reached under Mitch’s sofa for the bottle of Jack Daniels he had stashed there. He held the bottle with an iron grip, remembering what the consequences of drinking had brought on in the past. Just one good swig, he thought, to settle my nerves. The metal cap scraped against the glass grooves of the twist top bottle, and Angel gritted his teeth, brought the bottle to his lips and swallowed loudly. Angel leaned back, the bourbon’s warmth spreading down his throat and into his chest. See? That wasn’t so bad.

    Think Angel. You’ve got to think. The lingerie store had been their baby, but due to his stupidity it was gone, in the past with his memories of Suzanne. Okay, so you tried to run and it didn’t work. The phone call from Martini’s goon earlier that day a sobering reminder of just what deep trouble he was in. The money he had been sending to Martini wasn’t enough. He knew that now. No more running. He had to find a way to get the mob off his back.. but how? It wasn’t just him anymore. In choosing to reimmerse himself into the Dusk To Dawn, he had inadvertently endangered his friends in the process.

    The TV’s glare glinted against the silver frame holding Suzanne’s picture, causing him to take it in his hands once again. Never had it been so hard for him to look upon the face of his wife. "I’m sorry," Angel whispered, his glasses fogging up with the hot tears that threatened to brim over once again. He felt truly ashamed, and could only hope that Suzanne wasn’t looking down at him now, and witnessing just how low he had sunk. And yet he smiled, for in his heart he knew that the loving woman who had been his wife was more than likely looking down at him right now, wanting to smack him upside the head. I know you’re watching out for me angel, keeping my crazy ass out of trouble. How else could he have stayed out of harm’s way this long?

    The stillness of the room and the calm of his newfound perspective was broken by the sound of Mitch’s steel tipped cowboy boots clicking against the stairs. Oh shit! Angel thought with a start. The last thing he wanted was for his friend to see he’d been crying, let alone drinking. Shoving the bottle back into its hiding place, Angel quickly slipped Suzanne’s picture back into his bag, and flung himself onto the sofa, shutting his eyes.

tv1.gif (2411 bytes) The room seemed abuzz with sound and Mitch was a little stunned to find it still, the noise in his head coming from the mix of thoughts on his mind. Looking towards his right, he saw that the TV was on. "Dude, you awake?" No response. Poor guy musta fallen asleep watching the tube. Some things never changed, Mitch grinned.

    Angel fought to slow down his breathing, the adrenaline at almost getting caught by Mitch causing his pulse to race. God how he hated to deceive his friend, but in this case it was better that he thought he was asleep. Shutting his eyes tight, Angel felt Mitch drape a blanket over him and then reach for the remote to switch off the TV.

    "Goodnight buddy," Mitch said. Guess we’ll have to talk tomorrow.

   Across town, Lynn fought the insomnia brought on by worry. She had purposely avoided checking for messages at the front desk, opting to kill some time by taking Kelly to dinner at the hotel’s informal restaurant by the pool. The low key meal had helped calm her down, but as she munched on one of Kelly’s fries Lynn realized she had stalled as long as she could. She’d have to meet with Nick tomorrow, since pushing his patience any longer might set him off.

    Kelly was too tired for a bath so Lynn put her daughter right to bed. Kissing her goodnight, she shut the door of the suite’s second bedroom, and started to peel away the layers of pretense, washing her face, brushing her hair into a ponytail and replacing her suit with a worn cotton nightgown. Bed. At last. Sleep would do her good, she thought, reaching to switch off the lamp, when she saw the blinking message light on the phone. Shit. Shit..SHIT! Gritting her teeth, she hit the retrieve messages button and braced herself for what she knew was to come..

    Message one. One thirty p.m.: "Hey babe.. you’re not avoiding me are you? <laughing> You there? Gimme a call when you get this.." Click.

    Wow, he sounded pretty coolheaded. That’s good. Okay next message.

    Message two. Five ten p.m.: "Yeah it’s Nick. You’re starting to piss me off Lynnie. I want that roll of film. Call me damn it." Click.

    Shit. She was in deep trouble. She should have called and picked up her messages from her mother’s house.

    Message three. Six forty five p.m. "Lynn, it’s Mitch. Where are you? We were supposed to take Kelly riding again at Krystal’s. Guess you forgot. I would really appreciate a call to let me know Kelly’s ok. Call me." Click. Yeah whatever Mitch, Lynn thought. I’ll deal with you tomorrow.

    Message four. Nine p.m.: "You’re messin’ with the wrong guy," Nick said, clearly agitated. Lynn could tell he had called from the Dusk To Dawn because of all the noise in the background. "You’re lucky I’m at work or I’d be over there right now takin’ what’s mine. You’d better fuckin’ call me bitch or you’ll be sorry." Click.

    What do I do now? Lynn thought, hands shaking as she dialed Nick’s motel. She’d better call him and calm him down. The last thing she needed was a surprise late night visit from an enraged Nick, especially with Kelly in the other room.


    "Nick? It’s Lynn.."

    "Where the HELL have you been?! You better not be avoiding me or I swear.."

    ", baby, I was at my mother’s house, that’s all, just got back now.."

    "Don’t fuck with me bitch.."

    "I’m not, don’t be silly. I have the roll of film right here, safe and sound."

    "That does me no good. I want it. And I want it first thing tomorrow."

    "Great.." Lynn stammered. "When and where..?"

    "Here at the motel.."

    Oh shit. The last thing she wanted was to go back to that motel. "The motel?"

    "Yeah," Nick said, chugging some beer, "is that a problem? Cuz if it is, I can always go over there now.."

    "No, no.. the motel’s fine," Lynn lied. "What time?"

    "Noon. Sharp. Or I’ll come looking for ya and you won’t be happy to see me.."

    "Okay, see you tomorrow.." Lynn slammed down the receiver. What was she going to do now?

* * * * *

Copyright 1998 Susana Audrain and Richard Tingle All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this novel or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law.

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