She was beautiful, Scanlon informed me, a stunning brunette in her late twenties. She wore a flattering pricy red cocktail dress and lipstick that perfectly matched. Silver-chain sandal stilettos flaunted what her dress flattered most as she walked into the club at the Ritz Carlton in downtown Charlotte.
She took a seat alone at the bar and ordered a grapefruit martini, brushing the bartender’s hand flirtatiously when he brought it. She sipped at it impatiently before setting it down on the counter. Perfectly manicured French tips delicately tapped the rim of the glass while she waited, immersed in thoughts hidden behind a demure expression, bait in a trap set for one kind of prey.
He was waiting for her alone when she arrived. His suit said business casual, open collar and no tie. A single-malt scotch, neat, sat half-finished at his table. He ducked quickly out of the club when she arrived and returned a few minutes later carrying a single long-stemmed white carnation.
I shuddered at those last words. I hate carnations, especially white ones. It’s a long story that dates back to high-school. The short version is that white carnations started the first big fight we ever had. It seems like we’ve been fighting ever since.
She seemed surprised when he offered her the flower, then delighted. But she didn’t take it. She turned his way, crossed her legs, leaned coquettishly against the bar, and slid her drink slightly in his direction. Her conversation and manner suggested it wasn’t paid for.
He sat down next to her. The carnation was laid carefully next to her drink. He ordered another, a grapefruit martini, the same as hers. They laughed as they sipped their cocktails, her foot touching his leg with the tops of her toes from time to time. They seemed to really hit it off, a natural sexual tension between them that evolved almost desperately. As she neared the bottom of her glass, she picked up the flower, nipped the stem shorter and tucked it into his suit lapel, careful to brush her fingers inside his open collar. He leaned to whisper in her ear and she stood without an answer.
Slipping the tab for both drinks under the stem of his half-empty glass along with a handsome tip, he stood too. His hand quickly found the small of her back and they left the club together. They did not leave the hotel. He led her to the elevator. She pressed the button. Before the doors closed, they were in each others’ arms.
I stopped the detective I’d hired with a hand on his arm. I couldn’t listen to any more.
“Are you sure it was him?” I asked, my voice trembling noticeably.
“It was him alright, Doll – under a different name though. I slipped the desk clerk enough for a couple of Starbuck’s ventis and he spilled the beans. Registered under Smith; paid in cash. And it wasn’t the first time.”
It was the news I’d paid to hear, but that didn’t make it easier to hear. I was a mess. “How long has he been seeing her?”
“I talked to the bartender. He said the dame’s been coming in a couple of years now, always in that same red dress like it’s the only one she owns. Left with a different guy every time until your husband showed up a week ago.”
I was shaking so hard my teeth chattered. I started crying. “You’re absolutely sure it was him?”
“Dead sure,” he said. “I managed to get a pretty good photo.”
He pulled it out and slid it on the table in front of me, but it was more than I could bear. “No please, I can’t look,” I cried, pushing it away.
“Sweetheart, this is one photo you’re gonna wanna see.”
I struggled to gain my composure. It was just a picture of my husband with another woman. I’d envisioned it already so many times, how could the real thing be any worse than my own imagination? Wiping the tears from blurry eyes, I took the picture back and looked at it.
Oh, how wrong I was! My head spun around wildly in nauseous confusion struggling with what it all meant. It was impossible, but pictures don’t lie… The girl in the picture was me!
© 2014 Anne Schilde