“Honey,” he said, his eyes wide and pleading. He put his hands out in front of him, palms down, as if urging me to take it easy, to slow down. But I felt the world suddenly spinning out of control. He tried to grasp my shoulders. “Please… you don’t…”
“How could you!” I said, fully aware that I was no longer looking at Dwight — my shoulders slumped, and I sank onto the ornamented wooden footlocker we had paid so much for a month ago.
“What were you thinking?” I said, my voice weak. “On God’s green earth, what were you thinking, Dwight?”
“Honey,” he said. “Katie, … I thought, I guess, I don’t know…I did it for us.”
“For us?” I asked, turning to look at him. “You falsified legal documents for us, Dwight? Do you have any idea what this is going to do to your career…to us?”
His eyes were bright and wet. I could tell he’d been crying for some time before he had come home and dropped this bombshell on me. Normally, my heart would be breaking for him: the big, broad-shouldered guy rarely showed me his weak side. But today, I was too angry to think.
“Katie,” he said, reaching for my hand. I instinctively pulled it away and instantly regretted it, but I did not offer it back. I didn’t know what to think. I needed time. “Katie, I did it for us. It was wrong, but I did it for us…”
“For us?” I repeated listlessly, standing up without knowing where I was going. “For us…”
With a shake of my head, I walked toward the door without a conscious thought. I was, for the moment, dead inside. Everything —this room, this house, us — it seemed so empty now. So meaningless.
“I need time,” I said, my voice steadier now, quieter, and even a little more intense. “I just need a little time to think.”
“Katie, baby…” His voice was muffled. He had slumped to the bed, his hands covering his face.
I didn’t hesitate. I let my feet take me out of the room.
Dwight had the good sense not to follow me out as I walked out of the bedroom, and down the hallway. I caught a glimpse of myself in the antique mirror I’d been so pleased to spend too much for at Bellique’s two months ago, and I was shocked to see my face so drawn. As I reeled down the hall, feeling, oddly, as if I didn’t even exist any more. I found some small surprise at the fact that my feet made any sound at all on the hardwood floors. I strode through the living room, past the leather couch and chair, past the bud vase and ottoman and assorted knick knacks I had been so proudly collecting in order to impress all who visited of our lives of quiet luxury. Without thinking much about it, I heard him call my name once, twice, three times — each time more feeble, more resigned, more defeated.
By the time I picked my keys up off the credenza and headed out the front door, I could barely hear him at all.
I drove aimlessly, pointing the Volvo along whatever path seemed to offer the least resistance and the most opportunity for reflection. Since I was barely looking ahead as I drove, I found it easy to look back …
Though we might as well have come from different planets, Dwight and I had met over five years ago at one of the most unusual bonding events known to modern culture: a Rocky Horror show. Ever the rebel, I’d come as Columbia, dressed in the sluttiest outfit that I could muster. It hadn’t been the only performance I’d attended, nor the only one I’d dressed for, but whatever possessed me to leave my seat and head up toward the stage seemed to liberate me, and I found myself transported into another heretofore forbidden world as I performed under the movie at the front of the theater. And it was there that I met an unbelievably buff bronzed god posing as Rocky Horror himself.
After the movie, we ate at a coffee shop, both of us wearing sweats that permitted us passage into normal society, but I know that I could think of little else but his tight, smooth, muscled body under those loose and formless garments. The feeling was quite apparently mutual, and it took little time to find myself breathily shedding my clothes under his greedy hands, his mouth busy on mine, consuming me with his lips, the evidence of his lust pressed hard against my thigh as he devoured me.
We lay sprawled on his four-posted bed, my hands all over him: gripping his arms, clutching at his back, seizing his ass. Whatever propriety I had pretended to live my life according to previous to this evening, I abandoned completely under his ravenous spell.
And finally, naked beneath him, I felt him impale me, his hips thrusting against me, his need to release himself through me and inside me conveying me into a world of abandon and desire unlike any experience I have ever felt before. And when he came, plunging himself inside me, I felt him empty himself into me with a hunger that I knew would not abate when sense and reason came again.
And as much as we forestalled that moment, cavorting wildly through the night, it finally did come upon the light of dawn when we fell asleep in each other’s arms at long last.
We lived together for two years, were married on the second anniversary of our Rocky Horror debut, and soon found ourselves building a life for ourselves that would have been almost impossible for me to have imagined before all this began.
I had spent my formative years outside of New York City, crowded into an urban sprawl of uniform row houses amidst capillaries of teeming traffic. The town I lived in was part of a expansive complex of businesses, restaurants, car dealerships and arcades whose only divergent identity was marked by whatever sign certified which particular village one was actually in at any given time. My parents, like so many others around us, seemed so resigned to this lifestyle that even something as simple as an acknowledgement of it seemed impossible, and I thus I and others like me lived my days in accordance to the rules, from elementary to junior to high school to state college, eventually graduating as a school librarian, whose career it was to place the accumulated knowledge of the world into neat little organized rows.
Dwight had come from a long line of aristocrats and private schools, and I found myself surprised to find in those occasional unguarded moments he granted me that such a life was to him equally packaged and programmed. He became a lawyer, like his father, and his father’s father, and he, too, was well on his way to a life of accumulation and attainment when he acquired me.
Despite our differences, we clicked, and I soon found myself blissfully transformed into his universe of wealth and status, and though I initially felt somewhat invisible to his parents and their crowd, I found myself becoming more perceptible as I happily pursued my newfound ability to possess whatever luxuries and status I could. I don’t like to admit this about myself, but all of my teenage disgust with the world of the American royalty disappeared like air from a balloon. Whether it was buying our new home in our expensive neighborhood, or filling it with lavish furnishings, or even the Volvo I was now driving, my quest for instant social status probably taxed him to the limit Even though Dwight was well on his way to his family’s life of plenty, he was still only a junior lawyer in his father’s firm. He never protested, but I know I was running him ragged.
And so, I realized, as surely as I was driving the Volvo down the road, I had done this, too. I had pushed him to the limit. Dwight might have been the one who broke the law, but it was my obsession that drove him to it. And I knew what I had to do.
Among my diminishing options, none were bigger than Kevin Chance.
A few weeks after Dwight joined Massey, Chance and Ferguson, he invited me to come in during the morning so that I might admire his new office. Wishing to impress his future partners, I dressed conservatively in a light wool skirt that reached below the knee, Since the weather was a bit cool for September, I chose a matching jacket. My one concession to female intuition was a light silk blouse that really was a bit too sheer for an office, but I thought it would be fine under the jacket. It was Dwight’s favorite.
Dwight introduced me proudly to each of his office mates, and after the amenities he took me by the arm and escorted down the hall to his office. As we walked down the hall he showed us the partners’ offices, and I could see his ambition was barely held in check as he introduced each partner in turn — I could tell he was envisioning when he might be occupying any one of those offices in due time.
When we reached his office, the three other young, enterprising men he shared the room with jumped to their feet and made brief, energetic introductions and told me one by one how proud they were to work with Dwight, how he was fitting right in, and they saw great things in his future, but I could just as easily see that each of them considered the others not compatriots, but chum — the kind sharks hunger for and consume as they hunt for larger prey. Just as quickly, each of them made excuses that they had to perform this task or that, and we soon found ourselves alone in the office.
When Dwight pointed out his desk I complimented him earnestly: I was so proud of him. As I told him this our eyes met, and he scooped me up in his strong arms and pressed me to him spontaneously, locking his mouth on mine. I enjoyed it immensely, and as I felt my own internal temperature rise I shrugged, and he got the hint immediately. Never losing his lips’ hold on me, he took off my jacket and ran his hands over my back, letting his thumbs slide forward until they touched my breasts, sliding slowly up and down…
It was then I looked over his shoulder and saw a stranger standing in the doorway, and I tried to break Dwight’s hold on me. Thinking it was at first just a sign of my increasing passion, Dwight became more demonstrative, and before I could separate from him, he had quite visibly cupped my bottom and pressed himself hard against me.
“Dwight,” I said, my voice a bit forced, “you should introduce us.”
Dwight turned and I saw his jaw drop and his skin visibly redden. “Oh,” he said, stumbling a bit. “Um… hello, Mr. Chance. I didn’t hear you…”
“No,” he said, a smile breaking out over his handsome, tanned face. He had a full head of dark brown hair, and bright brown eyes that positively twinkled as he spoke. “It didn’t seem that you did. Please accept my apology.”
I felt totally disheveled. I knew we hadn’t done much of anything, but not only could I tell that my blouse was probably not completely tucked in, but I was becoming increasingly aware of his stare, which was lowering by the second. I could feel my nipples betraying me, and knew the sheer blouse and bra were probably doing almost nothing to disguise my arousal. I blushed and moved behind Dwight who, damn him, was so oblivious he brought me back out beside him again.
I felt I was on display. There was no way that Dwight could know, but he was offering me up to Kevin on a plate. He was so caught up in impressing his boss, gabbing and making small talk, that he never saw how, each time he’d glance away, Kevin would let his gaze drop. And he also never saw the way s Kevin’s eyes would eventually rise, not to his own, but mine.
Upon subsequent visits, I had the uncanny feeling that Mr. Chance always seemed to find time to make an encounter. Often, they were brief: a “hello,” or even a nod from across the office. It wasn’t just my overactive ego at work: at his firm’s Christmas party he came upon me as I left the bathroom, and I had the distinct feeling it was anything but chance that he had stumbled upon me.
We chatted amicably, and I had the odd feeling that it was he who was a little nervous. It was remarkable — he was a one of the three heads of a powerful and influential organization — and it was equally empowering.
“If you don’t mind my asking,” I said, reaching forward to touch his hand, “you look kind of young to be a full partner, Mr. Chance.”
He smiled, looking down at my hand, briefly, which I didn’t move as quickly as I could have. “The ‘Chance’ in our firm’s title refers to my father. I moved up when he died in a car accident. I was in my thirties then.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said, genuinely. “I had no idea…”
“It’s quite all right,” he said, sipping his drink. It looked to be something like scotch.
“It’s just that one typically pictures such old fogies at the top of a firm like yours.”
He gave a small chuckle. “I guess that’s a compliment,” he said. “But I think we’re not quite as ancient as you might think. I’m forty-eight, and Carl Massey just turned fifty. His father, too, handed him the reins.”
“Oh,” I said, smiling. “That leaves Mr. Doyle…?”
“Yes,” he said, laughing. “Mr. Doyle is an old fogey.”
Noticing I had no drink, he invited me back to the bar, where we talked for some time before Dwight discovered us and came over. Rather than being jealous that we were together, Dwight seemed overjoyed, as if he had just discovered an hidden asset.
Today, I realized, that asset could be realized.
I sat in the parking lot of Massey, Doyle for about a half hour before I came up with my plan of action. There was no way I could walk into the office: too many people up there knew me. And, while Dwight’s secretary knew my voice, Mr. Chance’s didn’t. I just had to get by her.
Dwight was always telling me about cases the firm was handling, and I knew that Mr. Chance was working on a custody case that had also hit the local newspapers. Without letting myself think enough to weaken and back out, I called the firm and identified myself as Kelly Nordstrom, the daughter in the case. I hoped that while the secretary would be familiar with the husband and ex-wife’s voices, the daughter would be removed enough that it would let me by. And I was right.
I knew there was a problem inherent in my logic, and it cropped up almost immediately. Once Mr. Chance himself picked up the phone, I hurriedly identified myself and waited for the backlash.
“Ms. Hanson,” he said. “Apparently you don’t feel there have been enough problems already with you and your husband, that you need to misidentify yourself when you call in claiming to be one of my clients.”
“I realize the impropriety of calling you in this manner, Mr. Chance,” I said, my voice soft and pleading. “Please understand that I wouldn’t have taken such a step if it weren’t a last resort.”
There was a pause, and then he spoke in that firm, resolute voice good trial lawyers have. “Ms. Smith, I think we can cut to the chase here. What your husband did was illegal, and such an action can and will not be condoned by our firm. We will be discontinuing his service with our firm, and that, as they say, is that.”
I felt my voice crumbling as I tried to speak. That was it, then: an end to everything.
“Mr. Chance,” I said. “You’ve worked with Dwight. You know Dwight…”
“I thought I did,” he said, his voice steady and strong, but a little quieter.
“If you know him at all,” I said, “you have to know that he would never do a thing like this again. He’s… he’s just…”
“Ms. Smith,” he said, somewhat abruptly. I felt the complete futility of my effort then, suddenly: I might as well have been trying to call a warden and ask that my son be released. “I appreciate what you are trying to do. But our firm has zero tolerance in this matter, and there’s really nothing I can see that…”
“But there is,” I said, almost before I could believe it was my mouth saying it. Yet suddenly, at that crucial moment as I spoke the words, I fully realized the panic that Dwight’s job loss was going to create, the turmoil that would become our lives, the shame and the loss and the hysteria and the anger…
“Excuse me, Ms. Hanson?”
I realized I could stop now — I could simply excuse myself and say I had tried, and there would be nothing more to say. I would get off the phone, return to Dwight, and we could deal with this. There would have to be changes in our lives, of course: no more country club or prestigious cars or upscale living. Our neighbors would gossip of course — we’d be the butt of jokes, the catchword of the day. But if we just stayed strong, just didn’t let it get to us…
“Mr. Chance,” I said, and for the first time I felt I had a little strength in my own voice, “is there somewhere you and I can talk?”
There was a pause, and Mr. Chance took his time to reply. It seemed interminable, but he finally spoke.
“Ms. Hanson,” he said. “I cannot emphasize how serious this is. I understand that you have a serious problem, but I don’t think that compounding the error with more lapses in judgment will help you in the long run.”
“I think it will, Mr. Chance,” I said, adding, “and I can make that point more convincingly in a private meeting, at your convenience. It can’t be in your office. You name the place. And I believe I can satisfy your demands.”
There was a long silence on the other end, and then Mr. Chance spoke.
“Tomorrow. At Bistro la Claires’s. Seven o’clock.”
Dinner at Bistro la Claires’ was meant to carry an implication that went beyond its elegance; in short, the mere fact that they were sitting here on short notice signified the substance and magnitude of Massey, Chance and Ferguson’s place in society. The waiting list went beyond lengthy to almost impossible, but somehow here we sat on a Tuesday evening, the lights low, the meal before us..
I had thought about wearing a variety of revealing outfits, but chose to play it a bit more conservative than my initial instincts dictated. While I have received a lot of compliments on my legs, I chose a long, clingy, lipstick red silk dress that covered me to my ankles, yet a knee-high slit let me expose my legs upon occasion. And, while the dress covered my shoulders and arms to the wrist, I knew its low cut bodice, accented by black lace, bared and accented what I’d always been told was a pretty ample cleavage. I could tell I had assessed its effect correctly as I observed Mr. Chance’s reaction as I was led across the floor of the restaurant to his table. More than his gaze followed me to the table, but I made sure to never lose contact with his eyes.
I looked across the table at Mr. Chance, whose features bore a resemblance to a younger Roy Scheider, with short, dark hair and lean features that gave him an intensity that magnified when he locked his piercing brown eyes on you. He sat quietly, listening, his forbearance forcing me to nervously sputter on and say far more than I would have liked. I had hardly touched my shrimp crepe Florentine (which he had taken the opportunity to order for me), fully knowing that were I not successful here today, I would never have a meal like this again.
“Ms. Hanson,” he said, interrupting my babble. Rather than be hurt, I felt immensely grateful. “You’ve something you want to tell me. Something, in your own words, that would be ‘convincing.'”
I sat for a moment, realizing fully that this was the moment. I drew a breath, telling myself that if I took this course, I could not turn back. But if I didn’t, I knew, Dwight’s and my life would be forever devastated. Conversely, there was always the chance that taking this step, too, could ruin our lives. I chose my words carefully.
“Mr. Chance,” I said, my voice as firm as I could make it. “What Dwight did was extremely bad, and we both know it.” I paused, and knew it was important to look him straight in the eyes as I spoke this next sentence. “I’m prepared to do something equally bad to save him.”
Mr. Chance looked at me, unblinking. He was probably a masterful lawyer, I thought; I hadn’t seen a single break in his composure. The forefinger of his left hand slowly traced a circle in the tablecloth beside his plate.
“Ms. Hanson, are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
I paused, and met his gaze. “I am.”
“Ms. Hanson, what Dwight did was illegal. Our firm cannot sit by and ignore…”
“Punish him,” I said, interrupting. “Sanction him. Demote him. Scold him. Lower his salary. Do what seems appropriate, but don’t fire him. Please.” I said the last word gently, dipping my head slightly, in the initial gesture of a bow. “Please.”
I reached my right hand across the table and touched his left hand, leaving my hand upon his.
“Dwight is disconsolate. He is repentant, contrite, and full of regret. He knows what he did is wrong, and he would undo it if he could. His actions were wrong, and he knows that, but he did it, for better for worse, because of his ambition to win the case, to impress you.”
“I would hope that he is.”
“Mr. Chance, Dwight is not an evil man. He made a mistake, but it wasn’t because of poor motives or bad intentions. His aspirations got the better of him.”
My host sat back and regarded me, respectfully. “Perhaps I should have hired you, Ms. Hanson. You’re pretty articulate, and not a bad advocate.”
“Thank you, Mr. Chance. But I’m speaking honestly, and from the heart.”
“Unfortunately, miss, there are rules, and there are rules.”
“Please,” I said. “Every successful man has broken rules in his life. You don’t always succeed by towing the line.”
“Ms. Hanson,” he said, putting his fork down, sitting back in his chair, and locking his eyes on mine. “These aren’t just ‘rules.’ He falsified evidence. He broke one of the basic tenets of the legal system.”
“An act you’re aware of, and no one else. This is an in-house problem, and your method of discipline could be in-house as well.”
“An interesting argument, Ms. Hanson, but the mere fact that no one else knows yet is hardly…”
“Mr. Chance,” I said, and if my eyes were moistening it was not an act. “Let me be frank. I come from nothing, I am not prepared to return there. And,” I said, letting my head dip further, forcing me to look up at him from a more distinct angle, “regardless of how this seems, I do love Dwight.”
Mr. Chase looked at my hand, and then back at me. “Does he know you’ve come to see me?”
I know my eyes grew wider. “Oh, my god. No. And you can never tell him.”
He pursed his lips, than then reached for my right hand with his left, and re-placed my hand on my own side of the table. He looked back up at me shook his head.
“I won’t lie to you and tell you that I wouldn’t love to take you up on your offer. I can’t say I haven’t been smitten with you since I first saw you.”
“Smitten?” I said, doing my best to smile.
He smiled grimly. “Smitten.” He folded his hands one over the other. “But, Ms. Hanson, I think you’re over-reaching. First of all, this is a crime we’re talking about.”
“People commit crimes every day,” I said. “You’ve never run a red light, or dodged your taxes, or…”
“This is a far cry worse than running a red light, Ms. Hanson.”
“I’m aware of that. But you’re also sensitive to the fact that this is only known in-house. It doesn’t have to be made public.”
“It’s still a crime, Ms. Hanson. And it’s an issue of trust.”
“Dwight made an error in judgment. He regrets it. If you give him a chance, you’ll see. And having been caught committing such an error, he will not only never repeat the experience, but having been forgiven, he’ll owe you his loyalty forever.”
Mr. Hanson nodded, letting the smallest vestige of a smile cross his face. “Even if we were to, say, overlook this…” he said, with a small sweep of his hand, “I don’t think you have any idea of what you’re setting yourself in for.”
I tried to look worldly. “I may be young, Mr. Chance…”
“How young are you, Ms. Hanson?”
He looked up, as if the sky were a feature of Bistro la Claires’. “Twenty-four. God help me.”
I put both of my palms together and rested them on the table. “I may be a librarian from a small town, Mr. Chance, but please don’t think I don’t know a thing or two about this kind of thing.” I smiled and slid the finger of my right hand along the lace of my cleavage, doing my best to look sensual. “I think I could surprise you.”
He held up his hand. “We’re talking about absolving your husband of a major crime. What you’re talking about is equating that with a carnal experience. If one were to truly offset the offense with something that lurks in my id, the I’m not sure you’re truly prepared for what I could do with that.”
I giggled self-consciously. “I’m not walking into this blind,” I said. “I thought about it long and hard,” and then, catching myself in the unplanned pun, tried to go on. “What I mean is that I…”
He waved his hand. “Besides,” he said, “you haven’t considered two pretty important things.”
He looked at me. “Your being here tells me that you have apparently noticed that I have had a fascination with you ever since I first laid eyes upon you in the office that morning. I have tried to be subtle about it, but I do believe I have never met a woman who so captivated me. Should we have this…session,” he said, looking serious, “I will not be satisfied with an hour, an afternoon, or even a night. You will be with me an entire weekend, and I can assure you there will be little sleep.”
I put my fork down, and did my best to look demure. “I will be all yours. All weekend, as you wish. I can be remarkably…giving.”
He grinned. “You could impress the hell out of me, sure…” He said, tapping the table. “But there is another significant aspect…
“You see, Ms. Hanson, there are three of us in the partnership. It would take two of us to sway the vote..”
He was right. I hadn’t once considered that angle. I felt a giddy, almost sick kind of sensation at the pit of my stomach. For a moment, I thought of backing out.
But I thought quickly of what could happen if I gave in. It wasn’t just Dwight’s welfare. It was mine as well. One weekend, whatever they could throw my way, could never outweigh a lifetime of hardship. I tried to muster up what courage I could, smiled, and met his gaze.
“Do I at least have a choice?”
It was Mr. Chance’s turn to look surprised. “Choice?”
“I mean, between Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Massey,” I said. “I prefer my debaucherers to be ineligible for social security.”
Mr. Chance laughed, and this one seemed to come from deep within him.
“Your husband doesn’t deserve you.”
I did my best to smile. “If he were to find out, he might argue for the opposition,” I said, my hands folded on my lap as innocently as I could.