Read all about it! Excerpts from chapters 10 and 19 are out. For a copy of A Slightly Tainted Hero, check out Smashwords: http://bit.ly/20HECit.
From Chapter Ten:
A woman perhaps ten or fifteen years younger than him leaned casually against the doorjamb, an odd, knowing sort of grin on her face, as if she expected him to recognize her. She wasn’t a bad looking woman, perhaps a few pounds over her best fighting weight, but then, so was Louise, and it didn’t look bad on her, either. A subtle ash tint streaked her blonde hair, which was not particularly long and very neatly coiffed. She hadn’t spared the dollars on dressing herself, either. She wore a trim business suit that flattered her figure—a hip-length jacket belted at the waist and a knee-length skirt, both tailored in grey worsted wool, and complemented by a silky, oyster-hued blouse worn with the collar up. The top buttons were open just enough to reveal an inch or two of tantalizing cleavage. There was also a modest pair of high heels, which clicked on the floor as she pushed herself away from the door jamb and walked toward the bed.
Curious, Dave set the book on his lap. He was about to ask who she was when suddenly, as if doused with a bucket of iced water, he knew. Oh, shit!
“Dave, it’s good to see you.” The woman gave a low, throaty chuckle and lowered her voice to a whisper. “And ‘oh shit’ to you, too, my dear. When you’re thinking something unsavoury, my boy, you’re not supposed to move your lips.”
“D-duh-D-duh-Dave. Of course it’s Carol. How are you?” When she reached the bed, she leaned over and kissed him firmly on the mouth, holding her lips against his until, in spite of himself, he began to respond. The tip of her tongue briefly darted forward, which made Dave jump, then she quickly pulled back and chuckled. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Neither have you.” Which was almost as big a lie as Carol’s, but she certainly wasn’t doing too badly, either. And forget that initial impression of being ten or fifteen years younger. If memory served Dave correctly, only eight years separated them. And for her early fifties, Carol had kept herself in damned good shape. “It’s good to see you,” he finished weakly.
“Then look like it, David, instead of turning as white as your bed sheets. It’s been how long now, going on twenty years?”
“I suppose.” God, was his voice quavering?
Carol pulled up one of the chairs and sat down, carefully crossing her legs. Dave’s eyes wandered sideways, taking in a few inches of silky thigh; nothing had changed there, either. And yes, it had to be going on twenty years. The mountains north of Montreal, though by western standards they were really only hills. What were they called, dammit? It didn’t matter! What did matter was that there had been an in-depth tax seminar there, two weeks as he recalled, and they’d had adjacent hotel rooms. The rooms were all paired by two connecting doors that locked with a deadbolt that turned from inside the room, thus ensuring privacy. Only the one between his and Carol’s hadn’t remained locked. Oh my God! “W-what brings you here?”
“I believe it was an Airbus 330.”
“As I said, you haven’t changed.”
“Is that a compliment, or an outright lie?” Carol stared at him with narrowed eyes. “I’ll take it as part lie, but then, I lied too. You have changed. You’re nearly twenty years older, you’ve got a bunch of wrinkles, and your hair’s turning very grey, though it’s good to see you’ve still got most of it. Still not bad looking, though—for a man your age. A firm chin, straight nose, and a belly that doesn’t look that bad under those bed sheets. And oh yeah, those blue eyes. I remember those blue eyes. I’ll give you that. They haven’t changed.” Carol’s eyes twinkled with amusement as she set her tongue in her cheek. “Are you still getting it up?”
Dave cringed, but managed to reply in the same light, bantering manner, though the best he could do was, “Yeah, every morning, about seven a.m.” Why was she here?
“And I bet it stays that way until you get out of bed and pee.”
“And how is Ron?” Dave asked, steering toward firmer ground. He’d never met her husband, of course, but talking about him might offer a clue about why she was here, sitting next to his bed—an unwanted ghost from the past.
“His name was Roy,” Carol corrected, and shrugged. “We went our own ways. Six, seven years ago now.”
“Too bad,” Dave offered, and it was too bad. It might also prove to be too bad for him, as well. Why, oh why, was the woman here? Surely not looking for a replacement?
“Actually it was too bad, and in more ways than one.” Carol’s face turned serious. “He passed away a bit more than a year ago. Heart attack.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Carol,” Dave murmured, and he truly was as he mentally added, poor bugger. Even so, the thought struck him, quite uncharitably, that maybe his death was the reason why Carol was here. Had she come to tell him she was single, and free? No, surely not. If that was going to happen, she would have done that after the divorce, not now. Wouldn’t she?
“These things happen,” Carol said, her tone perhaps a little too dismissive for comfort.
“I suppose. What happened with the divorce, though? You didn’t, er, get, you know, get into some other, uh . . . ?” Dave was more than just curious, wondering if Carol made a habit of attending tax seminars with lecherous intent and had finally been caught out. It was an unkind thought, he knew that, for it took two to tango, and they’d been damned lucky that they hadn’t been caught out nearly two decades ago.
Carol didn’t seem to mind the implied question, though she did give it a moment’s thought before replying. “Not me, this time it was him. It took a while, but I noticed Roy’s absences coincided with that of the neighbour’s wife. What really teed me off was that she was a really good friend of mine, and now we aren’t.” Carol tilted her head to one side, assuming a forlorn look of hurt. “Good friends are so hard to find, Dave, aren’t they? Anyway,” she tossed her head, as if making light of it all, “I divorced the poor man.”
“Wasn’t that being a tad hypocritical?”
“Of course it was. But hey, there’s no point keeping milk in the fridge once it’s turned sour. It was over by then anyway.”
Dave figured he was getting nowhere, and began to wonder hopefully if this was maybe nothing more than a friendly visit after all. Though even if it was, there still had to be a “why.” He tried another tack. Carol had been in Toronto with one of the major international accounting firms, known throughout the financial world as The Big Four. They used to be called The Big Five until Enron went under, taking their auditors with them—though that might very well have been the other way around. Dave shook his head, trying to clear his mind. “So what are you doing now? Still counting beans with the big guys?”
“Still with the big guys, but I’m no longer counting beans. Public relations, the legal implications of practice, and so on. Administrative-type stuff.” An impish grin spread across her features. “And no comment about the public relations bit, either. I’m running an in-house seminar in your fair city, by the way. You might recall that seminars were my forte, only back then I was attending them, not running them.”
“Yeah, I do recall. And your attendance was very good, too.” Dave responded in kind, as his heart finally throttled back to a fairly rhythmic pounding. Yes, perhaps this was just a friendly visit, after all. And why not? The two of them hadn’t parted on bad terms. They had simply gone their own way. Played it safe, went home, and called it quits while the going was good, so to speak. And it had been good, he reflected, but nothing good—and illicit—goes on forever. At the end of the day, both of them had independently decided that, all things considered, some things are best left alone. In the long run, there was no future better than the one already in hand. And if what Carol was saying today was true, then it wasn’t difficult to guess what had at least prompted the visit. “I suppose you tuned into the news, once you got here?”
“Yes. This evening, though I’ve been in town for a couple of days. You seem to have made quite a splash.”
“So that’s why . . . ?”
“Uh-huh. I thought about it for a while then decided on impulse to drop by. I rationalized that you might like an update on old times. I told the desk I was your first wife, gave them my business card, and they let me in.” Carol ran her hands down her outfit as if she were on display, plainly amused. “I think I got profiled.”
“Can’t blame them.” Dave decided it was best to ignore the ‘first wife’ subterfuge, it left him uneasy. Besides, knowing Carol, it was nothing but teasing.
“I must confess to a certain prurience about the encounter.” Carol raised her eyebrows in query. “The woman who was with you, is there, uh, any . . . ?”
“Irene?” Dave laughed. “Heavens, no—she’s our office manager. The only time that ever happened was with you, in the Laurentians. Honest.” The name of the mountain range popped magically to mind, now he wasn’t trying to remember it. “My nerves couldn’t have stood another such encounter.”
“Oddly enough, me too,” Carol said, and for the moment looked pensive. Then she suddenly shifted gears. “Your kids—you had two. How are they doing? Any accountants in the family?”
“Not at all. I imagine Mike saw too much of what his father was doing when he grew up, and took up law instead. No respect for the family’s good name,” Dave teased in turn, as he recalled Carol also had a law degree tacked to the back of her name. “As for Kathy, she’s in Toronto, working for the TD Bank. She’s the only one who came close to counting beans. Got a commerce degree, and decided that was enough. Seems to be enjoying herself.”
For a few more minutes the conversation played back and forth, Carol asking questions for the most part and Dave responding, though he did toss back a few of his own. Somewhere in the background a speaker system announced for the second time that regular visiting hours were over, and that was when Dave realized how quickly time had passed, and that most of the talk had been one-sided.
“What about your brood?” he asked. “You had one back then, didn’t you?”
“Yes, and now there are two. There was an afterthought that coincided with the timing of Roy’s vasectomy. A product of overconfidence, I guess. She’s a real delight, though. Here.” Carol fumbled in her purse, a glistening, brown leather clutch not much larger than a decent-sized wallet. A faint, yet familiar scent drifted over as she leaned across and handed him a small, two by three coloured print. It showed a very attractive young girl in the traditional graduation photograph: a dark mottled background; a black gown with red and white edging on the collar; a large bouquet of red roses; a very happy smile. There was much of her mother in her, and Dave said as much as he studied the picture.
“Yes, this mum’s quite proud of her. Her name’s Theresa, but she goes by Terri.”
“She’s very pretty. Is this a high school grad, or university?” Dave asked.
“Oh, just high school,” Carol said, and bit her lip as if in hesitation before adding, “she’s only eighteen. She’s looking at a couple of universities, but will probably settle on Queens.”
“She certainly looks a lot older than…” Dave, moving to return the photograph, suddenly stopped, his heart lurching as if a hammer had hit him square in the chest. His hand pulled back, and he stared again at the picture. “…than eighteen.”
From Chapter Nineteen:
Women! And they claim they’re still looking for equality!
Dave set his hands behind his head, his mind drifting time and again over the brief confrontation in the kitchen, mulling over what Louise had said, and trying to figure out what she would do in the long term. Had there been even a hint? He supposed it was positive he’d not been ordered to leave the house yet, and she’d instead gone to her mother’s, a move that was patently ridiculous. It was also patently not permanent. Her mother, Meg, lived in a one bedroom unit in a senior’s facility on the south side, with a kitchenette and a small living room with a sofa bed for any short-stay visitor. She took her breakfast and dinner in the common dining room, and sometimes entertained the rest of her family in the suite’s cramped living room. The complex only allowed temporary guests, though there were a couple of rooms that could be rented for short-term visits of up to a few weeks.
Dave’s mind froze. Louise could only be there for a few days, a week or two at the most. What then? Was she going to get some sort of court order that locked the doors and got him kicked out of his own house? This wasn’t California, for God’s sake. Or was it? Could she do that? He was pretty sure of the answer to that question!
What a hell of a time of life for this all to happen. Sixty years old and commiserating in the dark with his alter ego over the looming loss of his wife, along with half the assets they had accumulated over the years, nearly all of them earned by him! Another five or six years together and they would have been enjoying a comfortable retirement. And now? Well, not poverty, no, but certainly a big drop from the planned comfort of those so-called golden years, which were quickly turning to rust.
Maybe there would be some part-time work during tax time for a few years after that, just to keep himself occupied through the busy part of winter—though why would he do that, if he had to give half of it up? It was all such a waste. Parting with half of everything was going to make a hell of a difference. Half his Canada Pension, half their joint pension savings, half the house, half the bank account, half the—shit, half the value of his share of the accounting practice! That would have to be dealt with too, and in cash—though there would be some discount for the tax implications and for paying out Louise’s equity share up front. Maybe it could be matched to his own payout when he retired. Maybe there was a tax advantage to be had…
Dave shook his head. Christ, he was already worrying about the stupid tax consequences, and he didn’t even know what Louise was going to do! Groaning loudly, he stared at a ceiling now washed with the first light of morning. Maybe that should be mourning! He remembered how Louise used to joke about how they’d started their marriage all those years ago: “We each had nothing, and it was mortgaged.” It didn’t take a mathematician to figure out how much of an offset that was against what they had today. And now, in one swift chop of the axe, half of it was going down the tube.
When Dave opened the inside door to the garage shortly before seven, after finally giving up on any more sleep and crawling out of bed, he did manage to field a grim smile. The Lincoln, which had less than five thousand kilometers on it, sat gleaming in solitary splendour in the farther of the two bays. Not that there was any worth in it. The vehicle had been financed on Ford’s interest free program just a few months ago, and at this stage it was worth less than was owed. Could I count that as a negative asset and deduct it? On the other hand, Louise’s small Jeep had some value, and he supposed that helped. It was a low mileage, four-year-old vehicle that she preferred to drive as a runabout, though that probably didn’t mean a thing. From what he’d seen through the office on this kind of thing, she’d probably demand a new Caddy.