JunoMagic's Birthday Stories Playlist 2006
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Not Fade Away: 5. Trust I Seek
Monday morning, there was a note on her desk telling her to report to Aaron Rivers' office at 11:00. "Oh, crap!" she thought.
She took the elevator three floors up with a sense of apprehension. Glenn was behind a desk in the reception area, and he immediately smiled and put her at her ease. "There's absolutely nothing to worry about. You've been here three months and he wants to meet you, that's all."
He opened the door to Rivers' office and sent her in. The executive suite was nothing like Leif's informal corner office one floor below. Her eyes flicked over dark wood paneling, oriental rugs, and oil paintings. She recognized an Edward Hopper, a Cézanne, and a portrait of a beautiful dark-haired woman on a garden bench, which had to be a John Singer Sargent. This last painting hung above the mantel of a working fireplace.
Rivers himself stood with his back to her, silhouetted against an eastward facing window, holding a glass of red wine that glowed like a ruby in the light off the lake. He was tall, elegantly slender and wearing a suit that she first mistook for Armani but then realised must be custom tailored. He was staring out at the water, where a fleet of sailboats skimmed the waves and white birds rode the currents of the summer breeze.
"Gulls," he said. "It was a long time before I could watch their flight or hear their cries without feeling bitter. Now, at last, I can appreciate their beauty."
She gasped. The voice, the mane of golden hair; they reminded her of . . . "Randy!" she said, as he turned to her with a slow smile.
"You must forgive me, Ms. Walker. It's an old trick of mine. You'd be surprised to know how much you can learn about a person's character from the way they treat the janitor. If you had, how shall I put this . . . 'gone all yuppie on my ass,' the interview wouldn't have turned out so well, no matter how much my son liked that drawing of yours."
"Your son . . ." she began, rendered incoherent by the masculine beauty of Aaron Rivers in his normal state. Now that he was not hiding his light under a bushel, so to speak, she could see the resemblance to Leif, but this man looked no more than a few years older. Certainly not old enough to have a son in his twenties. "But how . . .?"
"I try to keep myself in good shape," he said gently. He was enjoying this, she realised. And he seemed to be quite aware of the effect he was having on her.
"You were in the bar a few days ago."
"Ah, that. They're all used to my foibles, and they play along. Sometimes it's good to set aside the trappings of authority and just be . . . Randy. It's one of the benefits of being as rich as I am, Ms. Walker. People indulge you."
He went over to a credenza and poured a second glass of wine. "Please indulge me now, and join me in a glass. It's Chateau Margaux, '75. Not my favorite vintage, but it's quite drinkable."
She wasn't sure she should take it. She'd be no use to Leif or Gary for the rest of the day. Rivers seemed to sense this and chuckled. "I'm their boss, Ms. Walker. If I say an employee can have a glass of wine with me, she can have a glass of wine. I insist."
She smiled and took the glass.
Rivers raised his own in a toast. "To borrow a term from a friend of mine -- Le Chaim!"
"One of your diamond traders?"
"No," he laughed, "my tailor."
She took a sip. The wine was delicious -- quite heady for someone used to the cheap stuff.
"So, how do you like working for us so far?"
"It's wonderful," she said. How could it be other than wonderful in a place where a lowly graphic artist got to drink wine with the incredibly handsome owner of the company?
"Is that what you told Agent Duncan and his partner when they approached you?"
She snapped out of her dreamy state. "Not exactly. I told them I liked working here and that I'd seen nothing to make me change my mind about that. I also told them to . . ." piss up a rope was the term that went through her mind, and she saw Rivers' lips twitch in a smile. " . . . leave me alone," she finished.
She found herself looking into his eyes and she remembered Randy telling her that they needed no polygraphs here.
"I believe you," he said. "Unfortunately, this will be only the first of many times you have to deal with people who are unfriendly to me. What did they accuse me of this time? Money laundering? Gun running? Or worse?"
"My detractors have not bothered to read their own holy books. I have cast my bread upon the waters, and it has, indeed, been returned to me tenfold. The irony is that the more I try to give it away, the richer I become. I have more than I need; I have more than any one person needs. Why shouldn't I share it?"
She thought back to the executives of Titanic insurance, who had deprived an entire office of workers of their livelihood in order to squeeze a few more dollars profit for themselves. She sincerely doubted that the savings had been passed on to the customers. And she thought about the mugger of a few nights before, so willing to take from those weaker than himself. "It's a dog eat dog world, Mr. Rivers. Most people can't see it any other way. So of course they assume you're up to no good."
"Even dogs behave better, Ms. Walker. It may sound trite, but my pleasure now is to make the world a better place however I can. Otherwise, all this," he held up his wineglass and gestured around at the room and its luxurious appointments, "would be hollow. I would become no more than an illusion myself."
He paused and held his hand up to the light in the same gesture he had used in the elevator, and she wondered what this man's strange obsession with his forearm was all about.
He turned and fixed her in his gaze. "I think they tried to frighten you, too. Tell me, Ms. Walker, are you frightened of me?"
She took a sip of her wine and stared into his eyes. He was handsome, friendly, outwardly kind, and he had an undeniable charm. Just like her ex-husband. It was hard to find trust after that. It would be all too easy to be bowled over by all that manly beauty, but she sensed that there was something wild and dangerous just beneath the surface. Even his son, the soft-spoken Leif, had turned into something quite different in the blink of an eye.
He winked at her. "It's probably just as well. Trust needs to be earned."
An intercom buzzed. "Aaron? Felice is here." The voice was that of Glenn, from the outer office.
"Well, Ms. Walker, I won't take up any more of your time. If Duncan or any of his ilk trouble you again, just let me know. And don't let my son keep you out too late."
"You know about that?"
He cocked a teasing eyebrow at her. "I know everything. Especially where it concerns my son. Very little he does surprises me anymore." He took her arm and guided her from the office.
Out in the reception area, a woman was sitting on Glenn's desk with her long legs swinging. Her face brightened when she spied Aaron. "There you are, Darling. Time to do your husbandly duty. You owe me an afternoon at the Art Institute."
"The Prairie Style exhibit?" Glenn asked.
"Yes," Aaron said. "I wouldn't miss it, even if I weren't on the board of directors. Frank was one of ours."
Posey stayed back, feeling intimidated by the stunning beauty of this young trophy wife. Once in her presence, Rivers' entire demeanor had changed. He had eyes only for Felice. He kissed her gently on the cheek and made some introductions.
"Sweetheart, this is Mariposa Walker from the art department. Ms. Walker, my wife, Felice."
Felice smiled, hopped off the desk and held out her hand. "So you're the one who drew that leaf that my son was so enchanted with. Do you know, he has it framed on his wall at home?"
No, she hadn't known that, but the information was lost in the rush of surprise. This was Leif's mother? Praise the Lord and plastic surgery! Posey was seriously considering getting some of her own if it worked this well. Felice Rivers, in addition to looking absolutely lovely and unbelievably young, also looked strangely familiar. She was dark-haired, delicate (Posey could see where that half of Leif's looks had originated) and she was wearing the sort of simple summer tunic and loose trousers that had to have cost a small fortune. Around her neck was a necklace of silver and moonstones that matched her pale grey eyes. Now, where . . .?
Aaron and Felice got on the elevator, and the door closed behind them
"He gave you some of the Margaux, didn't he?" Glenn said with a sigh.
She nodded, just as it hit her. She whirled to look at the Sargent portrait, which she could see through the open doorway. The woman in the portrait was Felice Rivers. She was even wearing the moonstone necklace above the bodice of her Edwardian gown.
Glenn rolled his eyes. "It's too strong for this early in the day. Poor dear, I had better get some food into you," he said, as he shut the door into Rivers' office. "Otherwise, you'll be seeing things."
* * *
Summer had turned into fall. Posey sat in The Harp at the end of a workday, waiting for the rest of the gang to arrive. There had been no more visits from Tweedledum and Tweedledee, as she had begun to think of Duncan and Fitzhugh. There had been no more muggers after closing, although she had been spending many an evening with Linda and the group here at O'Dell's. Despite that, Glenn seemed to have adopted her and insisted on seeing her home safely each night. He was such a nice man; she didn't mind the company on the train home and on the walk to her door. One of these nights, she was going to have to invite him in for coffee.
The job was going well. The current gamescape was a dark, brooding forest, and it had become clear to her why Leif had mentioned the ability to draw a giant spider. The webs alone had given her the shivers.
A shadow passed in front of the green shamrock neon sign, and the door opened. She looked up, expecting to see Linda or Leif, and her face fell.
"Hello, Sue. I looked for you at work and they told me I could find you here."
"Hello, Michael." She wished she could say it was good to see him, but it wasn't. "Does your new girlfriend know you're here, talking to the ex? You don't want to risk making her frown. You know how expensive those Botox injections are."
"Bitter, Sue? It doesn't become you."
He was right, for once. Bitterness didn't become her. She sighed. "So what brings you here?"
"Nothing much. Just tying up a few loose ends." He paused to light a cigarette. When had he taken up that nasty habit? Probably he had done it to impress his sophisticated friends, but already Posey could tell his fingernails were stained yellow.
Immediately, O'Dell showed up and pointed at the no smoking sign. "Out with it." Michael glared, but stubbed his cigarette out.
"I thought we were through with all the loose ends last April," Posey said.
"Something came up."
"What? You had a better lawyer than I did." Better lawyer -- hell, she had barely had a lawyer at all on what she'd been able to afford.
"Something I didn't expect. The thing is, I invested some of the money from the student loans, and now that it's time to sell, there's a . . . formality."
"I took the money from the student loans and bought stocks. You were making enough to pay most of my tuition, and I could get a higher rate of return on the stocks than the interest on the loans. It was a smart move."
It was a smart move all right, except that he had never told her he was doing it. "You didn't tell your lawyer about this, did you?"
"Ah, no. It was all in my name, and since I was taking on the debt, I thought there would be no problem."
"Please tell me you didn't lose it!"
"No, I'm selling at a profit. But you just need to sign off on a few things so I can liquidate and pay off the loans. It's a technicality; just because we were married when I bought them." He shoved a stack of papers over to her.
She looked at them, first dubiously, and then with a growing anger. "You let me work my butt off to pay your tuition while you bought stocks with the loan money?"
"Honey, I took the risk, so I should take the profit. I was going to take the loss if things had turned out different."
'Were you indeed, Michael?' she thought? 'If we had stayed together this debt would have been mine as much as yours.'
"Honey, please," he said with a smile. "I could be in some trouble if you don't help me out here."
She was angry, and as bitter as Michael had said. But she couldn't help thinking of her early morning talks with Linda and the words Leif had used with the mugger. Mercy. She didn't want his money, and for all the things he had meant to her once upon a time she didn't want to see him hurt. "All right. Where do I sign?"
"Here. And here, and on the next page. I've highlighted everything in yellow marker."
All the better not to distract me from the fine print, she thought. But what the hell? Let's just have it over with.
She took the pen and set it to the first line. "Not so fast." A long-fingered hand grasped her wrist.
"Who the fuck are you?"
"A friend of Mariposa's," said Glenn, who had slipped in quietly and sat down beside her.
"What the fuck business of it is yours what she signs?" Michael sounded angry.
Posey was a bit annoyed herself. Glenn had no business treating her like a child, and she shot him a glare.
"No harm in running this past our lawyers before signing," Glenn said evenly. "Especially since legal representation is an employee benefit. I'll just take these."
She saw the look in her ex-husband's eyes as he sized up Glenn. "Hanging out with that sort of crowd, Sue? Already? Isn't that kind of pitiful?"
"Gay is fine, as long as it gets the job done," Glenn replied pointedly. "Bye-bye, now." Michael shot a glare and stalked out.
"Since when is legal representation an employee benefit?" Posey asked.
"Since I decided that son of an urk couldn't be trusted. Aaron will back me up."
"I don't want to be greedy," she said, responding to the kindness in Glenn's eyes and calming down. "I just want to be shed of him."
"Maybe I've been hanging around Aaron for too long and I'm just being paranoid. I don't know much about taxes and legal liabilities. Let's let Sid and Morrie look it over before you sign anything, okay?" He smiled, and she smiled back.
"Glenn, what's an urk?"
He laughed. "It's my polite term for what your ex-husband is. They're better looking nowadays, but they're still with us."
"Polite is right. I've got my own name for him, but you'd stop thinking I'm a lady if I used it." She smiled. "I'm sorry about what he said about you. It was out of bounds."
Glenn shrugged. "I just let that kind of thing roll off. Old and gay, oh so old; thousands of years if all be told."
"W. B. Yeats! I did a paper on him in college." she said, with a smile of recognition. But that explained why Glenn was always such a gentleman when he walked her home. At least that meant fewer complications if she asked him up for coffee one of these nights. She wasn't sure if she was disappointed or not.
* * * * * * *
To be continued . . .
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