Author: Eva Roy PM
Alejandro Alvarez and Gloria Menendez are unhappily married but not to each other when they meet by chance.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Drama - Words: 43,327 - Reviews: 2 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 1 - Published: 06-20-11 - Status: Complete - id: 2925259
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Alejandro Alvarez and Gloria Menendez are unhappily married but not to each other when they meet by chance.
CH – 1 -
Alejandro Alvarez was a very shrewd businessman, retired Army captain and attorney turned PI. The handsome Mexican was known by the local ladies as the Latino Sex God, known for his ability to make a lady happy. He lived well and comfortably as a confirmed bachelor until he met Gretchen Anderson two years prior. She changed his life forever and not for the better.
"Gretchen? What did you call me for?" Alejandro hollered out to his estranged wife. They had separated over six months prior when he moved his personal things to one of his empty apartments on a lower floor, leaving her in his top floor penthouse. He still had his hand on the door latch hoping she hadn't heard him but this was not to be his lucky day.
"Tell your so-called housekeeper, to scrub the damned tub surround again. Maria apparently doesn't seem to think that's important. It still smells like that awful shower gel you use. You know I can't stand it. You haven't been using my bathroom again while I was away, have you?" Gretchen hollered out to him from the bedroom.
"No, I haven't. Can't I take care of that later? I'm already late for my meeting." Alejandro was hoping to make his escape. He rubbed his tired eyes with his hands.
Gretchen emerged from the bedroom dressed in a floor length powder blue silk dressing gown. Her long blonde hair tied neatly in a twist at the back of her head.
"Great. Now I have to take my bubble bath in that goddamned smelly bathroom. If you won't talk to her, then you'll have to do it yourself, Alejandro, because I'm not doing it. Why you keep that woman on the payroll is beyond me. She's useless." She ranted as she headed for the breakfast bar lighting her cigarette.
'I keep her because she's my aunt and a saint.' Alejandro mumbled to himself. "Gretchen, I asked you to not smoke in the apartment. Would you please…?"
She spun and turned to face him as she blew smoke in his direction and smiled knowing how it infuriated him. Alejandro huffed then headed for the bathroom to clean it himself to spare his aunt the humiliation of having to deal with Gretchen, her temper and her sharp tongue. "Would I please what, Alejandro?" she said as he passed by her. She plucked the piece of tobacco from her tongue then dropped it on the rug seeing it aggravate him to watch her do it.
"Christ." He muttered under his breath.
On the other side of town lived Gloria Menendez. An attractive, intelligent young woman with absolutely no self-confidence. She lived a stagnant existence in a loveless arranged marriage. Her family didn't think she was capable of finding a husband on her own or taking care of herself. They married her off to the first suitor that showed any interest. Unfortunately for Gloria, his interest was short lived.
"Jason, what time will you be home tonight? I want to know so that dinner doesn't get cold or dry out." She tried to straighten his necktie but he pushed her away brusquely. He hadn't touched her in a very long time.
"Why would tonight's dinner be any different than any other night, Gloria?" Jason Waters snapped at his wife. He thought about the woman who would be waiting for him in the quaint little French restaurant called 'Henri Hebert' on the first floor of the Cranmore Hotel. She said she'd be there by six. Jason figured he'd be home by eleven or maybe midnight, if at all. He might have to 'work' all night. He smiled a little at his thoughts but Gloria didn't or wouldn't see it.
"You're always complaining about everything I do. Why can't you say something nice to me once in a while?" She was hurt but there were no tears. Not anymore.
"Stop nagging me Gloria. Christ you're worse than my mother." He said as he straightened his neck tie for the third time while checking his mustache in the mirror on the wall behind the bureau. Jason Waters had been a good looking young man and had aged well.
"Yeah well, thank God I'm not your mother." Gloria grumbled as she headed out of the bedroom.
"Get… off… my ... friggin'... back Gloria. I'll be home when I get home and not a second sooner." He mumbled under his breath. 'Damn bitch.'
Alejandro rinsed the bleach from his hands and headed for the door. Gretchen was talking on the phone with her friend Mavis in Italy, so he thought, while she polished her nails. He managed to sneak out before she found something else for him to do. He took the elevator and headed for the peace and solitude of his office on the second floor of the office building he used to call home.
Gloria climbed into her BMW, bored as always and headed for the Mall yet again. Jason never gave her cash to speak of or a checkbook, but she had a charge card, in his name of course. She was free to buy anything she wanted, so she took full advantage. Her large walk-in closet was full of shoes and bags and clothing. But as they say, she was 'all dressed up and nowhere to go'.
Taking a different route this time, just for fun, she found herself near her cousin Sergio's Private Investigator office. She'd applied for a job there once, years ago before she married Jason. Someone named Bonnie, a former classmate, had gotten there before her and gotten the job. She wondered what her life would have been like if she'd become a PI. 'Gloria Menendez, Private Investigator Extraordinaire.' She had to laugh. As she passed by, she saw her old friend Jackie Napolitano, the office manager, sitting at her desk, filing her nails. There was a 'help wanted' sign in the front window. Fate perhaps? Maybe she'd stop by to see her old friend. Spend an hour or so, shoot the shit and catch up on some burg gossip. Jackie was always good for a few juicy tidbits. She continued on then stopped at the bakery for a dozen powdered jelly donuts first, as a bribe. After she got back onto Spring Street, she took the next right, and the next, pulled into the backstreet then parked in the back parking lot.
CH - 2
"Hey boss. You're an hour late. The guys went back to their offices a while ago. Do you want me to call everyone back to the conference room? Is that bleach I smell?" He asked from his leather seat behind his large mahogany desk as he lifted the phone receiver from its cradle. Jeff was Alejandro's business partner. The man was built like a small apartment building.
Alejandro dropped into the navy blue leather sofa under the large lithograph of a Colt .45. "No. Don't bother. I'm already exhausted and the day hasn't even begun yet." He sniffed at the smell of bleach on his hands and made a face. "I'll e-mail everyone." Alejandro wasn't smiling. He looked tired and defeated. He leaned forward rubbing his forehead with the heels of his dish panned hands before he sat back leaning his head on the wall behind him. Hands laced over his head.
"Alejandro, why did you marry that woman?"
"I was drunk remember. She looked good at the time. I didn't realize we had nothing in common and that she'd be such a bitch." He raked his hand through his thinning hair.
"How's it going now that you aren't living together?" Jeff knew that his friend was unhappy. Alejandro had never really been what you'd call jolly, but Jeff knew his friend was suffering. He hadn't seen him smile in the two years since he'd married the blonde witch from hell.
"Same. Jeff. I'm so fucking miserable. I'm seriously considering re-upping with the military in October. Maybe even re-enlisting for full time duty. I can't take it anymore. I'm her housekeeper, cook, checkbook. I can't remember the last time we had sex."
"It would cost me a fucking fortune, man."
"Maybe you need a 'diversion'." One dark eyebrow rose.
"Don't think I haven't thought about it." He said with more conviction than Jeff had expected.
"Do you want me to call Candy?" Candy was Jeff's girlfriend and a former lady of the night.
"I don't want a hooker. Well, maybe." He choked back a laugh. "Why couldn't I have found a woman I could talk to, share a meal with, and go for a run with? You know, a friend. My life was so much simpler with a different woman every night. Maybe I just need to get laid."
Jeff thought it best to change the subject.
"Have you hired anyone to replace Estelle yet?"
"No. I really need to do that soon though. Why did Estelle have to retire? Hell, she was only, what, seventy five?" They looked at each other and laughed. "Seriously, my office is a mess and I can't get anything done. I need more than a secretary now that the business is growing so fast. I need an administrator or manager or something."
"Hey Jackie. What's up?" Gloria said as she walked into the old office as the old cow bell dinged above the door. She dropped the big bag of jelly donuts on the desk.
Nothing had changed. The walls hadn't been painted or washed since long before the last time she'd been by. The rug on the floor was worn bare in spots and covered with more mismatched scatter rugs in different colors and designs. The furniture looked like something Goodwill would refuse.
"Glo? Oh my God. I haven't seen you in ages. What are you doing here? How's the old man?" She stood to hug her friend then grabbed a donut from the bag offering one to Gloria, which she refused.
Jackie was Italian to the core. She had olive skin and coal black hair teased up high light a Country music star. She wore bright red lipstick and matching long red fingernails. The good Lord had seen fit to endow Jackie with a generous set of headlights which she flaunted shamelessly.
"Same. He knows everything and I know nothing. Things are just great." Gloria looked sad but resolved.
"Glo, I'm sorry." She reached out to her friend and hugged her again.
"Not your fault. Listen. I see Sergio is looking for a file clerk. I need a hobby besides shopping. Is the job still available?"
"Sorry, we just hired Candy over there." Jackie aimed her chin at the file cabinets as she grabbed another donut from the bag.
Just as she said her name, Candy came bouncing up from behind the file cabinets.
"Candy, this is Gloria Menendez, an old school friend. Glo, this is Candy Williams." Gloria walked over to the file cabinet to meet Candy.
Candy was a big woman of color with hair that resembled cotton candy in color and texture. She wore a brightly colored fluorescent pink spandex top and matching black and pink horizontally striped skirt. The ensemble was at least two to three sizes too small. Gloria was certain that if she sneezed, well, she didn't want to see the results.
The ladies shook hands. She had a good strong grip. Gloria liked Candy right off.
"Are you from around here, Candy?"
"Nah. Alabama. Moved to Washington State when my Ma passed on and my aunt, my Ma's sister, move to Phoenix leaving me alone." She dropped another manila file in the dark green hanging folder then slammed the beige metal drawer shut. "You?"
"Yes, I've lived here in Seattle all of my life. I've never been anywhere although I did go to Disney world in Orlando once several years ago." She looked over at Jackie. "I guess I've led a pretty boring life, huh?" She smiled but looked forlorn. Gloria offered the bag of donuts to Candy. She took one for each hand.
"Married?" Candy asked as she bit into it one donut, wiped powdered sugar from her abundant chest then licked the jelly from her fingers.
"Unfortunately, yes. Jason Waters."
"Ain't he the big shot being questioned by the ethics committee? I saw something in the newspa…" she looked at Jackie.
Jackie cut her off by making a slicing motion across her throat. Gloria caught her so she smiled as she fluffed the hair at her neck.
Gloria was a little taken aback but continued. "Yes. That's the one, but he's not really involved with that. There has to be a scapegoat and since Jason is the CEO, he's being questioned. It'll all blow over. There's no truth to any of it." She wasn't certain if she really believed any part of what she said but he was her husband and it was her job to protect him.
"Oh well. At least he ain't blood." She reached across Jackie's desk and grabbed another donut from the white paper bag.
"Are you married Candy?"
"Not yet. I'm seeing a guy named Jeff. He works for Alvarez Inc over on Elm Street. He's one fine man. Mmmm Mmmm." She said as she licked her lips while Gloria and Jackie chuckled. The ladies continued to chat.
Candy's phone rang. She checked the display. "'Scuse me. It's my Jeffie." she giggled as she headed out the front door into the street.
"Hey Jeffie. What's up? You never call me during the day. You need some daytime lovin' suga'?" She smiled a big sexy smile.
"Sure baby, with you? Anytime. But that's not why I'm calling. You remember Alejandro? My Boss?"
"That hunka milk chocolate?" Candy loved her Jeffie but that hunka chocolate made her melt.
"Yeah, him. Know anybody looking for a job? He hasn't been able to find anyone to replace Estelle yet." He said.
Candy had known Alejandro as long as she'd known Jeff. Candy also knew about Alejandro's wife and what a bitch she was. She and Jeff had gone out to dinner with Alejandro and Gretchen a few months after they married and she complained all night about the food, the service, and the atmosphere. She had even made cruel remarks about Candy's size and other distinguishing facts. Alejandro scolded her in front of them so she pouted the rest of the evening and wouldn't talk to anyone. Jeff had mentioned on several occasions how unhappy Alejandro was and that they'd recently separated. The guys at Alvarez Inc all joked about where her body should be hidden.
She looked over at Gloria through the glass store front windows. 'Paybacks a bitch.' She thought.
"Maybe. I'll call you right back." She shut her phone and went back into the office.
"Glo, you have to leave him. You can't live like that anymore. He's an asshole. He treats you like dirt." Jackie said as she and Gloria continued their conversation.
"I know Jackie, but I have nowhere to go. He controls all the money. I have nothing. If I left him, I'd have to move back in with my folks."
"Cheat. Get yourself a sugar daddy." Jackie threw in. "You're Italian, I've got cousins and uncles."
"Yeah right. Look, I might consider it but who'd want me?" She laughed at the thought. Who'd want her? Even her old boyfriend Max Farinella had moved on.
Candy butted in.
"Glo, is it?"
"You said you're looking for a job right."
"Yes, I am.
"Well I got just the man for you, I mean job. I got the perfect job for you. Jeff's boss, Alejandro Alvarez." Candy fanned herself. "Jeff just called. He's looking for a secretary." Candy, the matchmaker, was at it again.
"Candy, she's married and so is he. Cut it out. You're the matchmaker from hell, do you know that?" she whispered.
"Glo, he's hotter than hell, if you're interested."
"I'm not looking for a man. I'm looking for a job." Gloria said.
"Why don't you just meet him, like for coffee? Get to know him a little then decide if you're interested in working for him. You said you want a job. He needs a secretary."
"Hell. Sure, why not. What could possibly go wrong?" Gloria was ready to go for it. She really needed a change.
They all laughed as Candy flipped her phone and headed back out to the sidewalk.
"Jeffie, you get Alejandro to Annie's diner by 10 tomorrow morning. I got him a new lady friend, uh, I mean a secretary." She smiled at Gloria and Jackie through the glass door and waved. "Tell him to meet with her. She's a friend of Jackie's. Ten AM." Candy said then she whispered as she turned her head. "She's cute as a button with big blue eyes and a nice ass."
"I'll call you right back." Jeff said as he disconnected.
Jeff spoke to Alejandro. He reluctantly agreed to meet with Gloria. Jeff called Candy back.
"Well Glo, you're all set. Annie's Diner on Maybrook Street at ten tomorrow." Then she added under her breath. 'You got a date with the wizard.'
CH - 3
Alejandro arrived at the diner at nine forty five and sat nervously at the table in the corner so his back was against the wall. It had been a long time since he'd entertained a woman in public, even if it was just to interview her for a job. He'd always been a real ladies man focusing mainly on one-night stands. Then he got tangled up with the blonde witch from hell named Gretchen. Gloria arrived nearly five minutes late. She spoke to the gray haired waitress with a bright yellow pencil over her ear who directed her to Alejandro's table.
He stood when he saw the beautiful curly haired brunette with the bright blue eyes. They shook hands politely. Her hands were cool and soft. His were calloused and warm.
"Yes. Alejandro? Hi. Sorry I'm late. I had trouble finding a place to park."
"No problem. Have a seat." He motioned to the empty bench across the table from his. "Would you like something to drink? Coffee, tea? Have you had breakfast?"
"Just coffee, please." Gloria thought he was the most handsome man she had ever seen and Jason Waters was no slouch albeit much, much older.
He motioned to the waitress with his hand. "Two coffees, please." He turned to look at her. "So, I hear you're looking for a job." He couldn't help but stare. Gloria was a beautiful woman.
"Yes I am." She said shyly.
"Can you tell me why?"
"I have too much time on my hands. I need a diversion." Gloria was fidgeting with her cup until the waitress filled it. "Thank you." She said to the young waitress with short blonde hair.
"You look nervous." He said as he took a sip of the dark brown brew.
"Well. I guess I am. My last job was several years ago, just after college. I haven't been to a job interview in all that time." He was feeling a little strange himself as he watched her dump three sugar packets into her cup. She then filled it with milk from the miniature white porcelain pitcher in the center of the table.
"Are you working now?" he asked.
"No. I wish I was. I could use the time away from my life. I understand that you're looking for a secretary. Just what does this job entail?" She lifted the cup to her lips and blew gently over the edge.
"I have an opening for a private secretary that I've been unable to fill. Do you have any office skills?"
"I have a business degree and I worked in the office at the button factory until I got married. I also worked part-time at Victoria's Secret while I was in college. So I have a little sales experience too."
"Very good. There might be some traveling involved with this job. Are you OK with that?" He was looking at her deep blue eyes as they darted back and forth from his to her coffee cup.
"What do you mean 'travel'?" Alejandro watched as Gloria continued to fuss with her cup.
"I have several branches. One in San Francisco, Las Vegas, San Diego and I'm thinking of opening a new branch in Portland"
"What kind of business is it that you run?" Gloria said as she sipped more brown liquid.
"I'm an attorney by trade but I run a very lucrative PI business as well. We provide of corporate legal services to businesses."
"So you hold their hands and slap them when they're naughty?"
"You could say that." He smiled causing his cheeks to hurt reminding him that he hadn't smiled in a very long time.
"Why would you need your secretary to travel with you?" Gloria wondered out loud.
"My former secretary, Estelle, the woman who just retired, ran a really tight ship. She didn't travel with me but took care of things here while I travelled. I'm thinking of expanding my business like I said and the job description as well. I want someone younger who can grow with me and the firm. I need someone to help keep me focused. There will be staff meetings, paperwork, phone calls, meeting with clients, creating contracts, viewing and assessing future clients in my stead. I can't do it all alone anymore. I don't have time. I need someone who can organize the work flow, who would be more than a 'girl Friday' or someone who just files and takes dictation. I don't like paperwork so my office is a mess. I call the position a secretarial position but it's really more of a general manager or paralegal. This isn't going to be a nine to five position so whoever takes this job has to be flexible. Nights and weekends are expected. How do you feel about that?"
"Sounds exciting, actually. It's much more than I expected or hoped for." Gloria saw this as more than just a job. It might be a way out of her horribly boring and lonely life. Working for Alejandro Alvarez would give her a reason to get up every morning. In time she'd be able to divorce Jason and support herself.
He smiled again. He knew he wasn't supposed to ask personal questions during a job interview but he went for it anyway. He had already decided to hire her so he could use the excuse that he was having a conversation with an employee or friend.
"Tell me about yourself, Gloria."
"Well, I'm married to Jason Waters and we have no children. I'm the youngest of two. I have an older brother named Walter who's married and has two adorable little girls with another one on the way." Glo stopped.
"Is that it?"
"Yeah, kind of boring huh?" She looked away from his gaze to stare at her cup.
"No. Not really." He'd looked at her beautiful blue eyes and crazy brown curls. Definitely not boring. Alejandro sipped more coffee then raised one eyebrow. "Jason Waters?"
"Yes, he's the one in the newspapers. It's all lies. He'll be vindicated." She added quite matter of factly with a flip of her hand.
Alejandro knew Jason Waters or he knew of him anyway. He knew him to be a much older man and as far as he knew, he was a slime ball. He cheated on his wife and his business partners. And there were shady dealings with some politician. He wondered how this beautiful, interesting woman could be married to such an ass.
"How about you? She asked as she hugged her cup with both hands.
"Married. Two years. I have a daughter who's eighteen. Lives with her mother in DC. There were six of us growing up. Three boys, three girls. I'm the baby. My parents live here in Seattle now. I'm retired military but still serve on special assignments occasionally. My contract ends shortly but I'm thinking of extending my contract."
"What about your business while you're away?"
"That's one reason why I'm looking for someone to be more than a simple secretary. My partner is my good friend Jeff. We've been friends since we were kids. He just about lived at my house growing up. Even went into the service together. He does a lot for me. More than the normal person should but even he's overwhelmed at the moment."
"Yes." He chuckled. "You could say that."
"Jeff. Short for Jeffrey?"
"His real name is Marion. But don't ever tell him I told you. He'd kill me." Alejandro found himself smiling again.
"No problem." She continued as she stared into the empty cup in her hands. "So you trust him to handle things for you while you're away?"
"With my life. I can't say that about many people." He was thinking about his wife, specifically. "He takes care of things while I'm incommunicado." He looked at the empty cup. "Another one?"
"Oh no. Thanks you." She looked at him as she covered her cup with her hand. "But why would you do that? Voluntarily go away on a mission and leave your wife?"
"I uh, this is embarrassing. I'm thinking of extending for the same reason you're here today."
"What do you mean?" She asked with a confused look on her face.
"I need a new life too." He dropped his head. "My marriage is a sham. I was drunk when I met and married Gretchen and I've paid dearly for my stupidity every day since. I don't love her, never have and she cares nothing for me but my money. We have nothing in common. We never speak other than her directing me to household chores and demanding more money. We never go out. We have different friends. I hate my life and I want out but as they say, I have no place to go." He stopped. "I can't believe I just told you that."
Alejandro had always been a very private person. Why had he just spilled his guts to this woman he'd known for ten minutes? He felt he could trust her for some strange reason.
"Wow! Sounds like my life"
"What about your life?" He had just opened up and hoped she'd do the same. He motioned with his hand that she should continue. "Your turn to come clean." He smiled again.
Gloria didn't hesitate before she continued. "I married the man of my mother's choosing. She wanted me taken care of and didn't trust me to find anyone on my own. He's several years older than I am. He travels a great deal. I'm not really sure what he does, to tell you the truth. Although he ran for state representative last year. I think that has something to do with the investigation by the ethics committee. He says it's not really any of my concern and that I wouldn't understand what he does even if he explained it to me with crayons. We never socialize because he doesn't like my friends or my family. We only go out together when he needs me on his arm as his wife then I'm instructed to keep my mouth shut. I guess we're in the same boat. I like to go out to dinner. I like to go for walks on the beach. I like go dancing. I haven't been dancing since my wedding. Do you like to dance Alejandro?"
Gloria had always been an open and friendly person but had become sullen since she married Jason Waters. She was spilling her guts to a complete stranger but she felt she could trust this man for some strange reason.
"I love to dance, but I haven't been dancing since the night I met Gretchen." He smiled a sad smile.
It was nearly noon before they realized it.
"I'd better get back to the office. I have a meeting at one that I need to prepare for."
"Me too. More shopping." She said with a smile.
They got up to leave.
"Thank you for the conversation, Gloria. I enjoyed meeting you."
"Me too. Thank you for the coffee."
He handed her his business card as he threw a handful of green bills on the table.
"Stop by my office building at 9AM tomorrow. Ask for Jeff. He'll explain everything about the job, the benefits and salary. You can meet some of the guys you'll be working with while you're there."
"Does that mean I got the job?" she asked hopefully.
"I guess it does. If you want it, that is." He was smiling again.
"Sounds great. Thank you." She smiled back at him.
As they parted, Alejandro turned back to Gloria.
"Glo. How about lunch tomorrow? After you meet with Jeff."
"I'd like that."
"It's a date. Goodbye, Gloria." He said as he shook her hand.
Once back in her car, she turned the business card in her card and found that he had included his personal cell phone number on the back. She brought it to her nose. It smelled like him. She giggled then covered her mouth with her hand. She hadn't giggled in years.
CH - 4
It was eight thirty. Alejandro had already checked his watch twenty times. He skipped his run that morning in order to complete the contract he would ask Gloria to sign. He managed to get out of his apartment and up to his office before Gretchen got up, enabling him to ignore two of her calls. He knew she'd never lower herself to come down to his apartment or his office and mingle with his men so he felt safe behind his closed office door.
He used the internet to search out Jason Waters. He found a photo of him on the front page of the local newspaper standing next to a tall, slender and attractive dark haired woman, his wife, named Gloria Menendez. She had a forced smile but appeared gracious. The journalist listed him as the CEO but she was not named in the article. He was working on a trade deal with China, blah, blah, blah. Congressman Fuller's name was mentioned. It sounded familiar. He also found that Jason Waters was being investigated by the ethics committee in another article on a different page. Fuller's name reappeared in that article as well. Alejandro kept staring at the grainy photo and made it bigger and bigger until her face covered the entire screen. He touched the tiny beauty mark just below her left eye as Jeff pounded on the door. The picture disappeared.
Jeff threw himself on the leather sofa across from the desk.
"How did it go with Gloria yesterday?" he asked as he unscrewed the cap to his water bottle.
"She's very nice." Alejandro busied himself with a manila folder.
"Very nice? Is that all you can say?" Water splashed from his bottle as he took it from his lips quickly.
"OK. She's gorgeous, articulate, interesting and just as miserable as I am. Happy?" The manila folder hit the desk.
"Are you going to see her again?"
"Actually, we're meeting again for lunch today after she talks to you about the administrative position. Are you going to be around for a bit? She's supposed to be here around nine. You could talk to her about benefits then I'd like to show her around before I take her to lunch. I don't think she needs the money but I want to be sure that she's well compensated if she takes the position." Alejandro pushed the manila folder across Jeff's desk. "I wrote up a contract for Gloria to sign this morning. I'd like you to take a look at it before she gets here."
"Yeah, I bet you do."
"Jeff, I don't think she's like that. She's really nice." He checked his watch again. "Gotta go." He grabbed his jacket and headed for the door to the apartment he'd taken on the when he separated from his wife.
"If Gretchen is looking for me, tell her... Hell, I don't give a damn what you tell her."
Jeff opened the file folder and read a few lines of the contract as he settled himself in Alejandro's big leather chair on wheels.
"Alejandro. Get your ass back in here." He hollered. Jeff got up from the chair so quickly that it hit the wall behind him. "Are you crazy man? Are these numbers right?" He pointed to the numbers that Alejandro has typed on the contract. "You aren't serious. You know nothing about this woman."
Alejandro looked at his friend. "The contract stands. If you have a problem with that, tough shit! Live with it." He walked toward the stairs and headed for the parking garage.
Gloria stood in front of the full length mirror. She had already changed her outfit five times. She finally chose a black pantsuit with a teal blue silk blouse and matching pumps and bag. She headed for the garage and took her blue BMW out into the street and headed for the Alvarez office. She parked on the side street so that no one would see her car, unsure why she would do that. She opened the dark brown metal side door leading to the garage and headed for the reception area. Feeling a tingle in the back of her neck, she watched a tall handsome Latin man dressed in black dress pants, black silk shirt and tie approach her. He was also wearing a black windbreaker jacket with the Alvarez Inc. logo embroidered on the breast. He smiled at her when their eyes met.
"Gloria. Glad you could make it." He extended his hand to her.
"Hello Alejandro. I hope I'm not late." She reached for his.
"Not at all." He placed his hand on the secure door leading to the elevator bank, pushing it open. He then escorted her to the elevator that led to the floor where the main offices were.
As they approached the elevator, Andrew passed by.
"Andrew, this is Gloria Menendez. She's going to be my new secretary. Gloria, this is Andrew one of my employees."
Gloria extended her hand while she gazed at the weaponry the man wore.
"Andrew. It's a pleasure to meet you."
Andrew shook her hand.
"The pleasure is mine Miss Menendez. Welcome to Alvarez Inc."
"Glo or Gloria, please."
"The pleasure is mine, Gloria. Welcome." he looked at Alejandro. "Excuse me. Boss, there's a breach at the Alonzi's. They're in Italy right now. I'm on my way."
"Keep me posted, Andrew. Has the rest of the team left yet?"
"Yeah, I'm second wave." The tall black man headed for the door.
Gloria tugged on Alejandro's sleeve and whispered.
"Were those real guns?"
"Of course. We're all armed, always. Are you afraid of guns?"
"In addition to the PI work, we do some security work too."
"Oh." She looked at him. "I don't see you wearing a gun."
"That's a good thing. But yes I'm fully armed at the moment." He reached behind his back and pulled out the handgun he kept in the small of his back. He opened his jacket to reveal the holstered gun on his chest under his arm. He patted his pant leg showing another handgun then slid a large knife from the jacket strapped to his calf.
"Oh Wow!" She must have looked terrified because the smile disappeared from his face.
"I'm sorry. I guess I just assumed that you'd be OK with the gun thing. We're all ex-military and we…"
"Oh no. Really. It's ok. I don't have a problem with it. My husband owns a gun. I guess I was just a little surprised, that's all." He smiled a smile of relief.
"Come on." He said as he placed his hand under her elbow. "I'll take you to Jeff's office."
They headed toward the elevator. She noticed he was looking at her from the corner of his eye causing her to feel a little self conscious.
"You look very nice. Very professional." She thought the same thing about his attire but forced herself to look away.
"Thank you. I wasn't sure what I should wear. I changed five times. It's been so long that I…I'm babbling, aren't I?" He smiled.
They entered the elevator and stood side by side. Alejandro pressed the number five. "The main offices are on the fifth floor." The elevator jerked slightly and Gloria grabbed onto Alejandro's arm. It was a simple meaningless gesture but they both noticed the slight spark.
"Sorry. Lost my footing." She said as she straightened herself adjusting her jacket, and brushed back her hair then turned her gaze to the numbers on the key pad on the wall.
He patted her hand. "It shouldn't do that. I'll call Otis and have them take a look at it."
He flipped his phone. "Hal? Call Otis. The elevator is jerking when it starts up. Get them out here." He flipped it shut just as the door opened on five.
With his hand at the small of her back, Alejandro guided Gloria to Jeff's office just to the right of the elevator.
Alejandro tapped on the door.
"Come in." Jeff called from behind his desk.
"Jeff, this is Gloria Menendez. Gloria, this is Jeff Thibodeau."
Gloria gasped at the man standing before here. At six foot four, and nearly three hundred pounds, he was a sight to behold. She extended her hand to take his…'What was that? A catcher's mitt?'
"It's a pleasure Miss Menendez. Please have a seat." He motioned to the sofa across from his desk.
"Gloria it is." He conceded.
"If you'll excuse me, I have a meeting. Jeff let me know when you're through here. I'm taking Gloria to lunch." Alejandro said as he started to walk away.
"Where are you going?" Jeff asked.
"We haven't discussed it yet." Alejandro added as he smiled at Gloria then disappeared around the corner.
CH - 5
Gloria sat up straight and dignified as she folded her hands on her lap and looked at Jeff. He pulled a manila folder from the side of his desk and opened it. It contained the contract that Alejandro had created that morning and a small pink phone message from him that read: 'Jeff. Gloria Menendez. 9am.' The words HIRE HER, were large and underlined. He took a yellow legal pad from the shelf beside his desk and a pen from the brown leather cup just above his desk blotter. He looked at her and the note then pulled open a side drawer with green hanging files. He pulled out a packet of stapled forms in a folder marked 'new executive employee' and placed it on this desk. Opening it, he began his questions.
"Gloria, I normally have a barrage of questions, but you come very highly recommended." He was glancing at the pink note from Alejandro. She blushed.
"I guess he's desperate." She said trying to lighten the mood.
"Yes, he is but he's also very particular. He has a way of cutting to the chase with people. Eliminating the bullshit, if you'll pardon my expression. If he feels that you're qualified, then who am I to disagree? He must see something in you that I don't"
She felt a little uncomfortable at that comment. "I'm sorry that you disapprove of me." Having been demeaned by everyone for her entire life, she considered walking out. She didn't need this shit. As she began to stand, he continued.
"Oh no. Please, you misunderstand me Gloria. What I mean is that Alejandro has this innate ability to see through people that I don't have. I've known him a lot of years." He chuckled. "More years than I want to count, and he's never been wrong before." He smiled a warmer smile this time. Gloria felt more at ease so she sat back down. They continued to fill out paperwork. As Jeff looked at the completed forms he asked her a very personal question.
"Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"
"Sure. What do you want to know? If it's too personal, I just won't answer you." She laughed.
"OK. You've listed yourself as married. Am I correct?"
"Yes." Gloria looked at him and cocked her head. How could he not know?
"To Jason Waters? Is he the one who ran for state representative a while ago?"
"Yes. Why? Does that matter?"
"No. Not at all. I was just curious why you don't go by the name of Gloria Waters."
Gloria took a deep breath. She really didn't want to get into this part of her personal life with Jeff because it was embarrassing but she decided to tell him anyway.
"Before Jason and I married, I signed a pre-nuptial agreement. You know the usual, his money is his and my money is his." She rolled her eyes. "Among other things, he insisted that I maintain my maiden name, Menendez, so I continue to go by Miss Menendez and not Mrs. Waters."
"Oh. I see." He cleared his throat. Now he was the embarrassed one.
He called Maria and made an appointment for a fitting for her uniforms. Jackets, etc. with the company logo. He called Vince who would take care of fingerprinting and her photo ID. Vince would also take care of her user ID and passwords so she could access the computer programs required to do her job and access certain floors and offices. She would have minimal security clearance at first but he knew that Alejandro would change that quickly.
Jeff came to the contract. He was a little hesitant to show it to her but he had to trust Alejandro. He'd never misjudged an employee in the past. Women: yes. Employees: no. He took a breath then slid the multi-paged stapled form in front of Gloria.
"Gloria, Alvarez Inc. asks that all employees sign a contract when they begin. The contract might be a little bit different than you're used to seeing with other employers."
"You mean like a non-compete contract?' She asked knowing what that meant.
"Somewhat. Not only will you, as an employee, be required to perform your duties in a required manner, but Alvarez Inc. is also required to do the same. The contract is reviewed and renewed mutually annually or when promotions are in order." He handed Gloria a pen. "Be sure that you read it carefully and understand it. If you have any questions, ask." He stood. "I'm going to get a cup of coffee to give you a chance to read it without me standing over your shoulder. Would you like one?" She nodded 'no' so he pointed to a few sections. "These are the benefits that Alvarez Inc. is offering you and this." He turned the page. "Is a listing of your responsibilities to Alvarez Inc., and ours to you." He flipped another page. "And this is you salary with bonuses. I'll be right back." He was two steps toward the door when he heard her gasp. "Are you ok?"
She placed her hand over her mouth. "Jeff, are these numbers correct? Alejandro said he needed a secretary. This is NOT a secretary's salary. There are way too many zeros."
"Gloria. Alejandro wrote up that contract himself and we discussed it this morning. The salary is correct. See here?" He pointed to the title section. "Your title is not 'Secretary', it's 'Executive Vice President of Sales'."
"Argue with the man, not me." He shut the heavy oak door behind him.
When he returned about twenty minutes later with his coffee, Gloria was just dotting the eye over her name. She slid the contract over to Jeff.
"Are the terms acceptable?"
"Yes." She said weakly then smiled and even weaker smile.
He buzzed Alejandro. "Alejandro? We're done here." Jeff said.
"I'm on my way." She heard him say. He was walking through the doorway as Gloria stood and extended her hand to Jeff.
"Gloria. Welcome to Alvarez Inc. I'm sure you'll be very happy here. Alejandro is a very generous man to his trusted employees who serve him well."
"Thank you Jeff. I'm looking forward to Monday morning." She said with a warmer smile.
Alejandro had a huge grin on his face.
"Ready for your guided tour of Alvarez Inc.?" Alejandro asked as he walked toward her.
"Alejandro the salary is much too…"
He raised his hand to silence her. "Believe me. The job is worth every cent. I'll expect you to hold up your end." He said with a gentle smile. She agreed with a silent nod of her head.
Alejandro placed his hand at the small of her back again and walked her down the long well lit hallway. The action normally annoyed her but she said nothing. Burg manners in place, her mother would be proud. Plus she enjoyed his touch. He pointed out each office and cubicle and introduced her to each occupant explaining their jobs along the way. The central room was large and surprisingly well decorated. Although there was lots of gray furniture, there were colorful paintings and art on the walls. Many cubicles were decorated with family pictures and crayon drawings which Alejandro apparently encouraged. It gave the work areas a homey feel. He showed her the lunch room with vending machines. Maria was filling the sandwich machines for lunch.
Alejandro was about to make the introduction.
"Hello. You must be Gloria." Maria began. "I'm Maria. It's going to be nice to have another woman around again." The middle aged woman dressed all in black, said.
"Hello Maria. It's nice to meet you." She extended her hand but Maria caught her in a quick hug instead.
"Alejandro, what would you like for dinner tonight?" She said as she turned to face him.
"Has Gretchen called you yet?"
"Yes." She said dryly.
He rubbed his forehead in frustration.
"It doesn't matter. Whatever you make for everyone else is fine with me, Tia."
"In your apartment, or will you be eating with your wife tonight." She said with a slight touch of sarcasm.
"My apartment, please, if it isn't too much to ask."
"My pleasure. Goodbye Gloria. I'll see you Monday at ten for your fitting."
Gloria whispered. "I thought her name was Maria."
Alejandro whispered back. "It is. She's my aunt. My mother's sister. Tia is Spanish for 'aunt'."
As they walked back down the hallway, Gloria was tempted to ask about the apartment comment but thought it would be tacky. Alejandro anticipated her questions.
"Gretchen and I don't live together anymore. She lives in the penthouse on the seventh floor and I live in an empty apartment in the building."
"I'm sorry." Her burg manner always came out when least expected.
"Don't be. We get along better this way. I don't have to talk to her and she doesn't get to criticize and nag me to death."
"I'm sorry." She repeated. "Why don't you get a divorce?"
He rubbed his thumb and fore fingers together. "It would cost me a fortune. It's cheaper for me to let her have whatever she wants than it would be to divorce her. She travels, she shops, drives me nuts, empties my wallet." He laughed.
"I guess I'm in her shoes."
"What do you mean?" Alejandro said as they entered the elevator. He pressed three on the illuminated key pad on the wall.
"Jason is away a lot. I started sleeping in the guest room while he was away. Now when he's home, it just…it just seems to work out better when we sleep in separate rooms. I have a suspicion that he's seeing someone."
Alejandro watched her eyes fill with tears.
"I guess I could ask you the same question. Why don't you leave him?"
She looked down at her feet. "It's not that he cheats that hurts. I know he doesn't love me. It's that I can't leave. Everything is in his name. The condo, the cars. I don't even have a savings or checking account. It frightens me. I know you've read about the problems he's having with his company in the newspaper. If something happens to him, I'll lose everything." Her chin was quivering as the tears fell. "I'm really sorry. I don't know why I'm crying. I haven't cried in years." She reached into her purse and pulled out a tissue to wipe her nose and eyes. Alejandro needed to change her focus.
CH – 6
The elevator door opened on the third floor. Alejandro walked her to the shooting range and munitions supply room. She was amazed at the number of weapons the secure room held.
"You have so much here. Aren't you afraid that someone will break in and steal from you?" Her head pivoted from side to side then up and down.
"Not a chance. It's quite secure." He said confidently.
"But you never even used a key to unlock any of the doors or cabinets."
He lifted the fob from his pocket and aimed it at the locked cabinet in front of her. "Open that door." He said. She lifted her hand, turned the latch and the door opened.
"So?" She said unimpressed.
"Shut the door again." He said.
As she shut the door he aimed the fob at the lock. "Try it again but be careful."
She reached up and touched the latch. It gave her a good jolt.
"Ouch!" She said as she rubbed her hand on her leg. "That hurt. You should've warned me."
"I did. I told you to be careful." He chuckled.
"That wasn't funny." She hit his arm. "Jerk." Then she looked up at him "Sorry, I guess I shouldn't call my new boss a jerk, should I?"
"I'll forgive you this time." He leaned down to her level and smiled. "I was a jerk to do that to you."
They both laughed then headed for the gun range at the other end of the long hallway. Alejandro donned a pair of sound proofing head phones and placed a similar pair on Gloria's head. He handed her a pair of protective eyeglasses then slipped a pair over his big brown eyes. He directed Gloria to stand at a safe distance as he removed the gun from the small of his back. Checking the chamber, he found it full. He took his stance, raised his arms, aimed it at the moving paper target of a stick man in front of him. He fired until the clip emptied into the stick man's heart. Spent copper shells covered the counter and floor in front of him. Gloria jumped after the first few shots but eased after a short while. Alejandro placed a new clip in his gun then placed the gun on the counter in front of him.
"You ok?" He mouthed as he removed his eyewear at what appeared to be shock on her face.
She shook her head up and down. Excited, she asked as she reached out for the gun. "Can I try it?"
"Are you sure?"
"Yes." She was as giddy as a little girl. This was going to be so much fun.
He gave her a few simple safety tips then stood her in front of him, her back to his front, placing the gun in her hands. He instructed her to stretch out her arms and aim as he had. He explained about the scope and how to read it for accuracy.
"Squeeze gently, don't jerk it." He said as he held her in his arms. He closed his eyes for just a second as he took in the scent of her shampoo.
She pulled the trigger and several shots hit the ceiling and the walls. She giggled. "Sorry."
"Try it again. Gently this time, very gently." He said as more shots hit the walls.
"Relax. Take a deep breath. Look through the scope. Eye your subject. Focus. That person out there on that target just hurt someone you care for." He shouted. "Gently Gloria. Squeeze the trigger gently this time."
Gloria looked at the target and pictured Jason's face. Adjusting her stance slightly, she raised the gun and placed the scope even with the forehead on the target of a stick man. She took a slow cleansing breath and squeezed the trigger gently. Shots rang out.
Alejandro removed his eyewear and lowered his ear protection wrapping it around his neck. "Well, I'll be damned."
"What?" Gloria said as she placed the gun on the counter and removed her protective wear.
Alejandro pressed a white button to his right and the target approached slowly as though it was travelling on a clothes line pulley. He had a big smile on his face.
"I hope I never do anything to piss you off."
"Why do you say that?" She asked still confused.
"Look at that." Alejandro said as the paper target stopped. He pointed to the target. In addition to the small hole over the heart, the stick man now had a hole in his forehead the size of a small fist. "You done good, girl. I don't know who you were aiming for but I'm glad it wasn't me."
Gloria wanted to smile but the thought that she had placed Jason's likeness on the stick man, then emptied a round in his face, frightened her.
Reading her discomfort, Alejandro asked. "Are you ready for lunch Gloria?" He returned both pairs of protective eyewear and ear protectors to the young man named Warren, behind the bullet proof glass.
"Yes. I'm starving." She said with a fresh grin as Alejandro escorted her out into the hallway and into the elevator. She prepared herself for the jolt but felt none.
Alejandro had anticipated her question again. "I had it fixed."
"Already? You just called them."
"I'm a patient man for most things but not this. I call. They fix. They get paid. If not, they don't come back. Their contract is terminated." Gloria was getting a sense that when Alejandro spoke, things got done.
As they exited the elevator and walked through the garage, Gloria noted that there was a lot of money spent on cars as she surveyed the sea of shiny black SUVs, trucks and other high priced vehicles.
"Take your pick, Gloria. Which car would you like to ride in?"
"Are these all yours?" She marveled.
"Yes. Except for the blue BMW over there. I believe that one is yours." He said with a slightly turned up smile as he pointed to the blue car parked in the corner of the garage.
"Hey. That's my car. How did you…?"
He lifted his fingers to her face and rubbed them together. "We have very slippery fingers here." He laughed. "It's all part of the job. I hope you don't mind, but the cars that park in the alley where you left your car, are normally vandalized. My employee's vehicles are not touched but others are."
"Oh. OK. Can you teach me to do that? I'm always losing my keys. The guys at AAA have me on speed dial." She laughed.
"Of course I can. Now, which car would you like to take?"
"Really? I get to pick?"
She eyed the Jaguar but was afraid to ask.
He detected the slight eye movement in that direction so he whispered in her ear. "How about the Jag?"
She giggled and shook her head up and down like a little girl being offered a sweetie.
Alejandro opened the door and held her hand as she slid in. She inhaled the new car and leather scent as Alejandro settled himself beside her. He watched as she passed her delicate fingers on the gear shift lever and the knobs on the dash. It was almost erotic. He had to look away.
"Do you like it?" He asked.
"Oh God, yes. It's amazing."
"It gives a nice ride. Would you like to drive it?"
Neither made mention of the double entendre of the previous comments.
Alejandro was a generous man but he NEVER let anyone drive his Jaguar. Any other vehicle was always available to his employees, but never the Jag. That included Jeff and Gretchen, although Gretchen preferred the Mercedes.
"Oh, I don't know."
"How about you drive it on the way back from lunch?" He said as he pulled from his parking space then into traffic. "It's a little touchy sometimes."
"OK." She giggled again just before she covered her mouth. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I'm giggling. I don't giggle." Alejandro patted her hand just before he shifted the car into fifth gear and headed south.
"I was thinking about Copabianco's for lunch. Is that all right?" Alejandro asked as he pulled toward the parking lot heading for the big leaning tower of Pisa with a flashing red neon sign.
"Um." She hesitated. Copabianco's was a fine Italian Restaurant but located only a block from her husband's office building. A lot of his co-workers ate there. She knew she wasn't doing anything wrong by having lunch with her new boss, but why start the Burg gossip wheels turning for nothing?
"Is there a problem with Copabianco's ?" He knew it was a nice place, even Gretchen had agreed to eat there on occasion when she felt like slumming, as she would say.
"Not really. It's just that it's near my husband's office and I haven't told him about the job yet."
"Do you like seafood?"
"I love it." Her eyes got as big as saucers.
"Well, then. Let's go somewhere else. I know a really nice seafood place near the beach if you can wait a little while longer."
"Really? Near Point Pleasant? I haven't been to the beach in ages."
"Then let's go." He smiled a big smile as they pulled from the curb back into traffic.
CH - 7
Alejandro pointed out some of Alvarez Inc.'s accounts as they drove. He sometimes added a short story about some event such as a break-in or marital dilemma. It was all very intriguing, very 'James Bond', she contributed as a side comment. She wasn't certain if it was the sound of his voice, it was deep yet soft, or the words that interested her more. She found him easy to listen to and easier to look at.
Gloria told a few stories of her own about her childhood and college. He especially liked the story about her jumping off the school yard swings and breaking her arm while trying to fly. He could see her flying. He enjoyed Gloria's company more and more as the afternoon progressed and she his.
"Here we are." He said as he pulled into the parking lot of the 'Captain Nemo Inn.' The restaurant was on the first floor of the nineteenth century converted Victorian bed and breakfast. The building had dark, almost black siding, with its weathered cedar shakes, white trim and dark green shutters. The Atlantic Ocean lay only yards away. A wide covered farmer's porch encircled the building on all sides holding several wicker chairs, chaise lounge and love seats with small round eating tables in the rear overlooking the ocean. An elderly couple was sitting in one of the love seats enjoying cool beverages in tall frosted glasses. They were laughing. They looked happy.
Alejandro opened his car door, rounded the front and offered Gloria his hand as she slid out.
"Thank you." She said before she bent over the seat to grab her purse.
'Nice.' He thought to himself then shook his head.
She didn't notice anything as he held his hand out again to guide her to the staircase to the left. Lacing her arm through his, they walked up the stairs onto the porch. The elderly couple smiled at them and they smiled back entering the dining room through the screened door.
"Mr. Alvarez! How nice to see you again. I didn't see your name on the reservation roster. Are you just here for lunch or overnight too?"
"Just lunch please, Maxwell." He looked at Gloria. "For two."
"Certainly, sir. Your usual table?" He asked as he glanced over at Gloria carefully.
"That would be perfect. Oh, and Maxwell, this is Gloria Menendez. She's my new executive vice president of sales. She's to be afforded the same courtesies as myself and my other Alvarez Inc. executives." He said as he looked at Gloria with a satisfied smile on his face. She returned an uncomfortable smile. She was still having trouble adjusting to the title and position and being treated so well.
"Of course, Mr. Alvarez." He turned his attention to Gloria and nodded. "Nice to meet you, Miss Menendez."
She extended her hand. "Hello Maxwell. Gloria, please. Nice to meet you, too."
Maxwell took her hand and kissed it. Gloria blushed.
The dining room was filled with nautical paraphernalia, weathered lobster traps with attached netting, colorful lobster buoys, a large brass ship's wheel and assorted sea shells of all colors and sizes. Gloria spotted a pinkish colored starfish skeleton on the mantel over the stone fireplace beside a pair of brass lanterns with mottled glass. She turned the skeleton in her hand remembering her old childhood sea shell collection. The tables were small and quaint with navy blue table cloths covered diagonally with a crisp one of white linen. Padded wicker captain and mate chairs were placed neatly at each place setting.
They were escorted to the table in the very back of the room,
"Oh Alejandro, this is lovely." She said as Alejandro pulled out her chair for her, then pushed it in. Maxwell presented the wine list to Alejandro as he pulled in his chair.
"Glo, would you like a glass of wine with lunch?" Alejandro asked.
"I'd like a glass of Zinfandel blush please." She said directly to Maxwell.
"The same. Actually bring us a bottle, if you would. Is that OK, "Glo?"
"I'm a cheap drunk, Alejandro. Don't let me have more than two glasses or you'll have to carry me home."
"Hmm. Food for thought." He turned to Maxwell. "Make that just a carafe." He returned his gaze to Gloria. "Remember you're feeding information to the enemy."
"You're my enemy? I thought you were my boss." She laughed as she snapped her napkin placing it on her lap as Alejandro did the same.
Maxwell returned and poured a sip into the fluted glass and presented it to Alejandro. He took in the bouquet, lifted a tiny bit to his lips then nodded his approval. Gloria handed her glass to Max allowing her the same privilege. "Delicious." She said as Maxwell proceeded to fill her glass then Alejandro's placing the balance of the carafe on the table.
Maxwell handed each of them a menu then recited the day's specials.
"It all sounds so good. I don't know what I want."
"Would you trust me to order for you?"
"Sure. If you don't mind. I'd probably order one of everything."
"Is there anything you don't like or anything you would prefer?" He said as he examined the menu then glanced over in her direction.
"Nope. I'm not fussy. As long as it's food and there's plenty of it, I'm happy." She folded her menu and placed it on the edge of the table.
Maxwell returned at that moment so Alejandro ordered several of his favorites.
"I hope you like what I've chosen for us." He placed his elbows on the table then steepled his hands in front of him.
"I'm sure I will." She said as she sipped her wine while watching the waves crash and break over the manmade jetty just beyond the end of the porch. "What an amazing view. It's absolutely breathtaking. Can you smell the salt air? Mmm." She said as she closed her eyes, inhaling deeply.
Alejandro thought of Gretchen for a second. She'd think it stunk and would insist they leave. 'Enough' he thought to himself. Gretchen is home, Gloria is here.
Maxwell returned with fresh oysters on the half shell. Alejandro speared one and was about to cover it with horseradish and hot sauce but decided that might not be appropriate until he watched Gloria do it. He couldn't help but smile. Gretchen put on airs. Gloria had class. Fun class.
"Try this." Gloria said as she placed her fingers under Alejandro's chin. He opened his mouth so she placed the oyster on his tongue just before she smiled. "Isn't that amazing?" He closed his eyes. It was amazing but he wasn't thinking about the oyster.
"Your turn." Alejandro took one of his oysters, covered it with a spicy mango salsa then placed it on her tongue.
"Mmm." She closed her eyes and moaned sensually as she licked her lips. "This is sooooo good."
Alejandro had to focus on something else, anything else for a moment before he had an embarrassing accident.
With the oysters gone, Maxwell returned with a small lunch size basket of steamed clams. They continued to feed each other with the steamed clams. Gloria had melted butter dripping down her chin. Alejandro was tempted to lick it off but cleared his throat just before he took a napkin from his lap and wiped it off for her.
"Thank you. You're so sweet." She hadn't been treated so tenderly since… well. She couldn't remember ever being treated so lovingly. She thought of Jason for a second. He had, in the beginning, been caring and attentive to win over her mother but when they were together alone, she was just the woman he'd married. She shook her head and brought her thoughts back to the present and the handsome man paying attention to her. She glanced over at him and caught him looking at her. He had no good excuse for staring so he pretended to wipe more butter from her chin.
Maxwell approached with a large platter holding two small two-pound red lobsters. He placed a large garbage bowl in the center of the table, and replaced the melted butter bowls. The silver lobster claw cracking tools and forks were in a separate bowl. Gloria rolled up her sleeves after tying the white plastic bib around her neck, the one with a picture of a red lobster on it. Alejandro passed on the bib, but added a second napkin to his lap. Water spilled from the crustacean then onto the table as one large claw flew across the table. Alejandro laughed heartily as he caught it midair just before it landed on the table cloth.
"Would you like help with that?" He offered.
"Nope. I've… got… it." She said just as the tail fell onto her lap.
Without as much as a chuckle, Alejandro took the tail and cracked it with his hand, then pushed the tender meat out with his thumb.
"Thanks." She said as she blushed. "I'm such a klutz."
"There's a trick to it." Without asking, he cracked both claws then placed them in her plate as he did the same to his own. Gloria tugged and yanked then placed each morsel in the bowl of melted butter. Alejandro ate as he went along sliding his unused bowl of melted butter over to Gloria. She smiled at him with a shiny face. He never thought the sight of a woman with melted butter on her face would turn him on the way this woman was. He wondered if Max had any vacant rooms left. No. He couldn't do that to her…not unless she'd let him.
Gloria watched him crack her lobster claws with his 'bear' hands and marveled at the strength they hid. She wondered if he worked out. She wondered if all of his muscles were as strong. He glanced at her then wiped her chin with a warm smile. She wanted to close her eyes and let him cover her body in melted butter then wipe it off, preferably with this tongue. God, where were those thoughts coming from?
The oyster shells were empty, the steamed clam shells were piled high on top and the red lobster shells topped the pile like ornaments on a Christmas tree.
"I think I'm full." Alejandro said as he wiped his mouth with his napkin. "You?"
"Does dessert come with our meal?" She asked with anticipation in her voice.
"You're still hungry?"
"I'm sorry. I just don't seem to be able to end a meal without something sweet." Alejandro thought of something sweet to share for dessert but immediately erased the thought from his mind. They were both married to other people. It wouldn't be right.
Max was about to hand the bill to Alejandro but stopped when Alejandro asked what he had for dessert. Most guests never ordered dessert so they only carried a little ice cream. Gloria chose a dish of strawberry ice cream with whipped cream.
"Are you full now?" Alejandro asked with a sinister smile.
"I think so." Gloria said as she licked her lips then wiped them with her napkin.
Alejandro got up first then pulled Gloria's chair out for her and a clam shell fell to the floor. She stooped to pick it up, placed it on the table and Alejandro turned his head to hide a smirk.
As they headed for the car, Gloria stopped and closed her eyes inhaling the smell of the salty air.
"Are you OK, Gloria?"
"Yes. I just love the smell of the ocean." She opened her eyes. "I should come here more often instead of spending my days wearing a path to the mall." She smiled as she waited beside the Jaguar for Alejandro to open her door.
Alejandro had his hand on the car door about to fob it unlocked. "Would you like to take a walk on the boardwalk? There are a lot of nice shops here."
"Could we? But don't you have to get back to the office?"
"I'll call Jeff later and check on things. If there aren't any problems, we could stay for dinner too, if you'd like."
"I can't let you do that. That's too much."
He took her hands. "I don't take much time off Gloria, and to tell you the truth, I'm really enjoying your company." Gloria blushed.
"Well then, let's go shopping." She said as he presented his arm to her. She took it lacing hers through it.
They walked casually stopping occasionally to window shop. There was a vintage hat display at 'O'Hara's'. Gloria tried on several hats as Alejandro laughed. She made him try on a few too. He placed a hat similar to Justin Timberlake's style on his head, which he pulled down over his eyes, causing Gloria's heart to pound. Alejandro especially liked the big cream colored Victorian hat with the long pink feathers. He imagined Gloria wearing it and nothing else.
They moved on to the 'Kelly's Salt Water Taffy'. Alejandro ordered several boxes of assorted taffy and asked that they be shipped to the office for his employees to enjoy. They continued walking and eventually began holding hands until Gloria eyed the cotton candy. Alejandro chuckled as she continued to fill her mouth with the bright blue fluffy confection. She fed him a few pieces then sucked the sticky sugar from her fingers. She had a small piece stuck in the corner of her mouth that he desperately wanted to lick off. He controlled himself and flicked it off with his finger instead. He did take that finger to his mouth though and satisfied himself with sucking his own finger.
As evening fell they headed for the beach for their walk, continuing to hold each other's hand, or with Gloria hugging Alejandro's arm. With rolled up pant legs, she removed her shoes and carried them as he did the same. The setting sun shone brightly and lit their path as the cool sand oozed between their toes while they strolled.
As they continued their walk they realized they had come full circle and were headed for the car parked at the inn parking lot.
'This is probably a silly question, but I would guess that you're probably hungry and ready for dinner."
"I'm always hungry. Aren't you?"
"I could go for a nice steak. How about you?"
"Mmm. Sounds yummy."
"Max makes a mean t-bone. How does that sound?"
"Delicious." Gloria said as she licked her lips. Alejandro cleared his throat.
They slowly ascended the same stairs they had climbed earlier and entered the same dining room.
CH – 8 – Forbidden Fruit
"Ah! You're back." Max said as the tired couple entered the dining room.
"Yes, we are. We couldn't resist your beaches and now we'd like one of your famous steaks." Alejandro said as he looked at Gloria then at Max.
"Of course. Same table?" He asked over his shoulder.
"If you please." Alejandro said as Maxwell directed them to the same table they'd had lunch. The table was now covered with a dark red linen lining and a delicately embroidered round lace table cloth on top. There were candles on the tables and a warm gentle fire glowed as flames danced in the old stone fireplace. The bone colored china was trimmed with tiny pink roses that matched the hand painted roses on the water goblets.
Maxwell returned with a bottle of Chablis and placed it in the silver ice bucket he carried and stradied it on a stand beside their table.
"I didn't bother to ask but I know you've enjoyed this with your steak in the past."
"It's perfect. Thank you Maxwell." He bowed and left for the kitchen.
"He didn't take our orders or even give us a menu. How does he know how I like my steak?" Gloria whispered.
"He knows what I like. Besides, he's going to cook it his way anyway. I hope you don't mind. If you do, I'll call him back." Alejandro made to stand but stopped when she touched his arm.
"No. That's ok." She was silent for a bit then spoke again. "You must come here often then. Does your wife like it here?" Gloria said as she fussed with the cutlery and stemware.
He hesitated for a second. He really didn't want to talk about Gretchen. "She came once. She hated it. She doesn't like the smell of the ocean. I always stop when I pass through on business. It's peaceful here." He patted then smoothed the napkin on his lap before he looked up at her.
Max appeared with two large slabs of beef.
"Oh wow! Look at the size of that steak." Gloria said as she looked at her plate.
Alejandro had to chuckle at the sight of those large blue eyes taking in the view before her. This was a woman who appreciated good food. Sharing meals with Gloria was definitely an adventure. One he enjoyed. He secretly wondered if she exhibited as much enthusiasm with everything she did. He mentally rubbed his forehead.
Gloria wiped the meat juices from bottom of her plate with the last piece of her dinner roll. She covered her mouth with her napkin as she stifled a delicate belch. "Sorry." She said as she blushed.
"Did you enjoy that?" Alejandro said as he leaned his chin on his hands supported by his elbows on the table. He had long since pushed his plate to the center of the table so he could watch Gloria devour her meal.
"It was wonderful." She said then looked at his plate. "You didn't finish your dinner."
"I enjoy a good steak, but I don't eat that much red meat anymore. Besides, I enjoyed watching you eat much more. It's satisfying to watch someone enjoy something that much."
She blushed again wondering if there was a double meaning behind his words. Fireworks went off. Shaking her head she realized that it wasn't her imagination.
"Fireworks! I'd forgotten about that." Alejandro rose quickly. "Come on. Let's catch them before they're done." He grabbed Gloria's hand and headed for the porch. Several other guests had already gathered. There was one chaise lounge left so he commandeered it pulling Gloria down onto it with him. He sat all the way back and pulled her back to his chest wrapping his arms around her. She was still chilled by the cool damp coastal night air so he removed his jacket and wrapped it around her.
Glo 'oohed' and 'aahed' like a small child. "Look at that one Alejandro." She said as she pointed up to the sky where red, white and blue sparkles filled the dark night sky. There was a loud bang and she jumped. Then she giggled at herself.
Alejandro's eyes were closed as he sat behind her taking in her scent allowing her crazy curls to rub against his face. He was falling in love with a woman he'd known for a little over twenty four hours. Why couldn't he have met her before he'd married Gretchen? Gloria was local. Why hadn't he ever seen her before? Because he never left his office, preferring to meet with his type of women out of town. That's why, he decided.
Once the fireworks were over, Gloria applauded and finger whistled before she stood up. Alejandro was right behind her.
"Oh what a beautiful display." She turned to look at him. "Thank you so much for a wonderful day, Alejandro. Lunch, shopping, the walk on the beach, and now this. I haven't had this much fun in a very long time. It's the perfect ending to a perfect day. Thank you." She reached up and touched his face to kiss his cheek as a friend might. He closed his eyes again and held the hand that was caressing his face. When he opened his eyes he found Gloria fixed on him.
"It doesn't have to end." He whispered with desire.
"Oh, Alejandro. No. I can't. We shouldn't." she pulled away and turned her back to him. "I think it's time to head home. Please take me home." She nervously tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
"I'm sorry Gloria. I didn't …" He began to say as she started to walk away. She removed his jacket from her shoulders and handed it to him without looking at his face then bolted down the porch steps then raced toward the car.
It had started to rain. One of those freak rain showers after fireworks. There was thunder clapping and lightning lighting the night sky over the ocean as the clouds burst open. Gloria stood in the pouring rain impatiently waiting for Alejandro to come unlock her door. As the heavy droplets fell, she retreated and ran back up the steps, where she slammed into Alejandro's hard frame. He wasn't certain if it was the rain or tears but Gloria's face was wet. He held her as they walked closer to the building away from the spray. He couldn't help but bury his face in her wet curls as he gently rubbed her back. She began to shiver from the cold.
"We'll wait until the storm passes before we head out. Coastal storms are nasty but pass quickly. Let's head back inside and wait it out. Besides, you're soaked. You'll catch cold out here." With his arm around her shoulders, he led her inside as they heard another clap of thunder very nearby. Max led them to the dining room and pulled two soft cushy chairs in front of the crackling fireplace for them. He returned with two snifters of brandy. He handed one to each of them then disappeared. Gloria held her glass protectively with both hands then took a sip.
"Mmm. This is nice." She chattered as she closed her eyes.
"You should take you jacket off if it's wet." Alejandro suggested.
Alejandro helped Gloria remove her damp jacket then placed it on the back of the upright chair pulling it toward the blazing fire to dry. She rubbed her cool damp arms now covered only in her silky turquoise blouse. Alejandro warmed his jacket from the open flames in the fireplace for a moment then placed the warm dry jacket over her shoulders.
"Thank you." She said looking at her wet shoes.
Alejandro gently guided her to the overstuffed chair encouraging her to sit, then knelt in front of her. He removed her wet shoes, placing them in front of the fire. He took her foot and began to massage it with his thumbs. She closed her eyes again holding the snifter to her lips. After a minute or two she let out a moan that caught them both by surprise. When she opened her eyes, Alejandro was looking at her with a smile on his face. "I'm glad you liked the massage."
She pulled her foot from his grasp. "I'm so embarrassed." Her face was flushed but not from the glow of flames.
He got up and sat in the chair beside her, pulling it as close as he could. "Do you still want to go home?" He whispered. "I could do that all night, if you'd like."
Her breathing was heavy as she continued to sip her brandy draining the glass. She pulled her legs to her chest in a fetal position. Alejandro rose from his chair and sat on the edge of hers. He took the snifter from her hands placing it on the floor beside the chair.
"You didn't answer me." He touched her cheek with his warm hand. "Do you still want to go home?" She shook her head side to side. "Do you believe in love at first sight, Gloria?" He asked. Before she could reply he continued. "I never had until I met you." He leaned his head on her forehead then kissed it lining the side of her face with warm moist kisses. He watched her bright pink painted toenails curl when he placed his hand on her knee giving it a tiny squeeze. He kissed her lips. She returned his kiss as she slid her hand in his hair lazily scraping his scalp with her fingernails.
He pulled away before he spoke. "Do you need to make a phone call?"
"No. He's out of town. I don't expect him back tonight."
"What if he calls you at home?" He ran his finger down her arm. He couldn't see the goose bumps but he knew they were there and that he'd caused them.
"Trust me. He won't. He never has. What about you?"
"She won't notice I'm not there unless she wants something."
"Maybe you should call her." She suggested.
He nipped at her earlobe as he said. "The only woman I want to talk to right now is sitting here in front of me." He took a breath as he closed his eyes then bit his lower lip. He stood and straightened his clothes. "I'll be right back."
He walked over to Max, booked a single room for the night, then returned with a key.
"Are you sure about this Gloria?"
"Yes. Are you?"
He looked at her and shook his head up and down. "Yes. I'm very sure."
He helped her from her chair as she grabbed her shoes. He took the jackets then her hand, leading her slowly up the wooden spiral staircase to the second floor. Their eyes never left each other's gaze as they walked. Opening the door to room 209, he motioned for Gloria to pass in front of him then locked the door.
As they walked over to the bed, he took her face in his hands. He gently placed his lips on hers. His touch was warm and inviting as he took her by the shoulders pulling her closer to him. She dropped her shoes to the floor then raised her arms sliding them around his waist. He wrapped his arms around her and whispered. "It's been a long time. I hope I don't disappoint you."
"I don't think you will." She replied softly.
He looked at her lovingly with years of pent up desire as she gazed at him in anticipation of what was to come.
"I don't want to rush this, Gloria." He reached over to the night stand and turned the small red clock radio on, then tuned it to his favorite station. Hot Latin music played filling the air with a pounding beat that mirrored the beating of their aching hearts.
Alejandro took her in his arms, then sliding his hands down her back, he placed them on her hips. He began to sway his hips gently to the beat. "Dance with me, Querida." He whispered hoarsely barely able to utter the words. She placed her palms on his chest walking her fingers up to his shoulders then joining her hands behind his neck. He pulled her closer as she swayed along with him in perfect synchronization to the music. He stepped back as her leg grazed his. He grazed her leg next as he stepped forward. They continued their sensual moves with eyes glued to each other as their lips met. They remained in each other's arms long after the song ended, sharing one another's breath.
They released their hold unwillingly but remained within inches as he slowly began to unbutton her blouse. He looked into her eyes asking for permission so she smiled then reached up to loosen his necktie. The necktie hit the floor, then her blouse and his shirt. He kissed her neck taking little nips as she slid her hands under his t-shirt. He quickly pulled it over his head with one hand and threw it across the room. Their passion intensified as he lifted her then threw her roughly onto the bed. He crawled over to her as she reached out to him craving his touch. With a quick flick of two fingers, her white lace bra met the same fate as her blouse. He nestled himself them feasted on her chest enjoying the softness and the warmth of her flesh. He ached to leave his mark but she refused. She reached for his belt buckle but fumbled unable to get to him fast enough.
"Be patient mi amor. We have all night." He whispered as he caressed her aching body.
She moaned loudly as he ran his hand down the inner seam of her slacks that were now hot and moist to the touch. She quickly unbuttoned then unzipped her own pants then raised her hips to slide them off. He obliged by giving them a much needed tug. The pink lace panties followed the path of least resistance as he touched her causing her to whimper. "Please. Take me." She cried out in a soft and sensual whisper.
His self control was now completely lost as he undid his own pants allowing himself to show her how much he wanted her. She reached for him and held him as he cried out softly. "Dios, ayúdeme."
They continued to touch, fondle and explore and pleasure each other until all hope for patience was lost. Erupting together holding onto each other for dear life. Their combined years of loneliness and want had culminated in a display of fireworks to rival all others. They had now shared the forbidden fruit.
CH – 9
The sun was shining brightly on their glistening naked bodies as they woke, their legs and arms tangled together like an unraveled sweater.
"Good morning." She whispered.
"Yes. It is." He smiled then kissed her forehead. "How are you feeling this morning, my love?"
He asked as he fondled one of her crazy curls.
"Sore but happy. You?"
"Happier than I've been in a very long while." That made her smile this time. "Are you hungry?"
Gloria smiled a seductive smile causing him to laugh full out. She shook her head yes. He didn't wait for her to change her mind. He took her away one more time.
After their extended shower, they dressed and headed for the dining room for breakfast. Elena, Maxwell's wife served them a big breakfast of waffles and fresh strawberries. Hers were with whipped cream, his without. She accidently stuck her finger in the cream and sucked it off while smiling at Alejandro causing him only slight discomfort.
"You're playing with fire, Querida." He whispered as he leaned into her. He took a dot of whipped cream from her plate and placed it on the tip of her nose then licked it off. She moaned. "I'll have to remember whipped cream for next time." He said without thinking.
She looked at him then asked. "Next time?"
"Yes. I'd like for there to be many next times. Wouldn't you?" He took her hand and held it to his heart.
"I don't know, Alejandro. We're both married to other people." She pulled away, suddenly confused and guilt ridden.
"Are you happy with Jason?" Alejandro asked.
"No." Came a shy reply.
"Are you happy with me?" He asked hopefully.
"I was last night." She blushed as she remembered the previous night.
"And this morning?" He asked as he reached to take her hand back greedily.
She pulled her hand from his grasp quickly then took her napkin from her lap and wiped her lips. She placed it beside her plate, sighed, then took a deep breath before she replied. "Yes. But I know in my heart that this can't last. You have your life and I have mine." A small tear formed in her eyes which she caught with a simple touch of her finger.
"Why can't we continue? You'll be working for me. I travel a great deal. You can come with me. No one has to know."
"Alejandro. I can't do that. It's wrong." She shook her head. "We should never have stayed here last night. We should have…"
"Gloria, I thought last night meant something to you."
"Oh Alejandro, it did. It was wonderful. But I know that's all we'll ever have together. Stolen kisses and secret rendezvous. I don't think I can live like that. It isn't fair to either of us."
"Divorce Jason and I'll divorce Gretchen. Then we can be together. Gloria please. I want you. Not just in my bed but in my life."
"Alejandro, look, last night was amazing but we shouldn't be throwing away our lives because of one night of lust." Her chin quivered slightly.
"Is that what you think last night was? A night of lust? Am I just a one-night stand to you? Is that really what you think of me?" After all of his years of sleeping around, he was suddenly 'wearing the shoe on the other foot' and he didn't like it.
"Alejandro, please don't be angry. You're not thinking." She touched his hand. "Let's talk about this on the way home. OK?" She said as she tilted her head and peeked up at him as his head hung low.
Angry, he wiped his mouth setting his napkin on the table. "Are you ready to go?"
"No. Not until you stop pouting."
"Pouting? I'm not pouting."
"You're pouting. You don't think you're getting what you want so you're pouting." She said as he folded his arms across his chest and glared at her. "See. You're pouting. Little boys stamp their feet and big boys cross their arms across their chests." She said confidently.
He looked at his arms folded tightly across his chest then began to laugh. "OK you win.' He smiled this time. "Can we go now? I have a meeting to get to and you need to get home."
"Sure." She grabbed her purse then stood and followed Alejandro out to the door. She smiled as he took her hand again and walked toward his car. He opened the door and assisted her into the Jag.
"Thank you for trying to understand." She whispered as she sat delicately on the tan leather seat. He released her hand slowly and unwillingly. She found he had a gentle grasp despite his size and obvious strength.
He rounded the front of the vehicle with more air in his step than he had had in a very long time. Gloria tried to keep the conversation light as they drove asking questions about her responsibilities for her new job. It kept them both from discussing what neither was ready to discuss. They pulled into the garage parking lot on Elm Street just as Alejandro scrambled the signal.
"Gloria." He began but Gloria cut him off.
"Alejandro I want to thank you again for a wonderful day and an amazing night but we need to keep this on a professional level if we're going to work together."
"I understand. I want you to know, it isn't going to be easy."
She reached out to take his hand.
"It's for the best and we both know it."
"I know you're right. But I don't have to like it." He decided to change the subject. "Your car is in the corner behind the Expedition. Will you be back on Monday morning?"
"Yes. If you still want me."
Of course he wanted her.
He leaned in for a kiss but she turned her head, opened her door and headed across the parking lot to her car. This was much more difficult for her than she was willing to let on. He was standing at the elevator door as she drove passed giving him a gentle finger wave good bye. He sighed as he entered the metal tomb then headed for his apartment to change. When the elevator door opened he was face to face with the blonde witch from hell.
CH - 10
"Gretchen, What are you doing down here? Slumming? Aren't you afraid that one my big bad men will scare you?" He raised his arms pretending to be a ghost. "Whoooo! What would your snobby friends say? Tsk, tsk, tsk." He said as the elevator door slid shut behind him.
"Where were you last night?" She asked with her hands on her hips.
"What do you care where I was?" He answered as he tried to walk past her.
"Not so fast Alejandro." She put out her hands to stop him.
"I met with some clients out of town." He felt no need to explain his actions. He only wanted to shut her up.
"Really? I called you several times last night and my calls all went to your voice mail. That means you turned your phone off. You never turn your phone off when you're working. I want to know where you were and what you were doing."
He looked at his wife with the disdain she'd earned. "What I do on my personal time is no longer any of your damned business, Gretchen. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get ready for a meeting."
"It's Saturday noon. You never meet with clients on Saturday."
"How do you know what I do and don't do? Why do you suddenly care, Gretchen?" He said with a lot of cold sarcasm as he headed down the long well lit hallway.
"I'm still your wife." She yelled for anyone in the neighboring apartments to hear.
"Oh, lucky me." He raised his arms in the air in praise then opened his apartment door. He tried to shut the door behind him quickly so that Gretchen wouldn't come in but she was too fast.
"I want to know where you were last night." She slammed the door behind her.
He stopped then turned to face his wife. "Do you really care where I was Gretchen, or who I was might have been with. Or do you simply feel inconvenienced somehow?"
"You were out whoring again, weren't you? Lois is here from California. We were supposed to meet her and her new husband at Copabianco's for dinner at seven. You never showed up. Do you have any idea how embarrassing that was for me?" He had forgotten about the dinner plans not really relishing the idea but found it amusing why he actually missed the dinner. He smiled at the memory of the previous night.
"Ah! Inconvenienced. Poor, poor Gretchen was inconvenienced. I'm sure you took care of your embarrassment with my credit card. I hope you kept the bill under four figures."
"Good because you're the only person I know that can max out a black AMEX." He put his hand on his bedroom door knob. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment and I don't want to be late. I trust you know where the door is, Gretchen. Now take it." He slammed his bedroom door. She heard the click when it locked. Storming out, she slammed the apartment door behind her as she muttered under her breath, unhearing of the hysterical laughter emitting from the other side of the locked bedroom door. As he changed into his black Armani suit, he noticed the small dark circle on his hip. He touched it remembering exactly when and where it came from and especially the woman who made the mark. He had to clear his mind before he could zip his trousers.
Gloria pulled into her driveway and pressed the small button on the gizmo attached to the visor. The garage door rose as she slid into her space. She wondered if Jason had noticed or even cared that she hadn't come home the previous night. The tan Mercedes was parked. She felt the hood. It was still warm. She grabbed her purse and the grocery bag and headed for the breezeway door. Unlocking it, she saw Jason sitting at the dining room table drinking a cup of coffee from Starbuck's and reading the newspaper.
"Where have you been Gloria?" He asked as he raised his cup to his lips without making eye contact.
Luckily she had remembered that they were out of milk and stopped at the corner market before she came home.
"I went to get milk." She raised the bag.
"Kind of dressed up to get milk, aren't you?" He never looked at her as he spoke.
She had to think fast, still dressed in her black suit from her 'job' interview. "I just grabbed what I wore yesterday." She walked past him then placed the milk in the fridge.
He raised his nose in the air. "What's that smell?"
She wasn't sure but it might have been Alejandro's after shave. "Someone spilled something on the floor in the store. I must have stepped in it." Although she knew he might not care, he was still her husband after all so she decided to tell him about the job. She chose to tell him as little as possible. "Jason, I've been thinking about getting a job. You know, maybe part time, to keep me busy." So far, so good. He hadn't starting screaming at her yet. "Would you mind if I worked some weekends or nights?"
He was thinking that if Gloria took a job and worked nights and weekends, that he could spend more time with his lady friend.
"If it keeps you out of my hair, I don't give a damn."
"I'm going to change then I'm going to my sister's. Do you want anything before I leave?"
"Don't flatter yourself. There's nothing you could possibly do for me that I would find the least bit appealing, Gloria. Go to your brother's and amuse yourself with his little brats."
Gloria tolerated his verbal abuse when it was aimed at her, but not at her family, especially her nieces. "They aren't brats. They're adorable little girls. You'd know that if you took the time to get to know them. You …"
"Shut up, Gloria. I'm tired of hearing the same old story." He folded his newspaper just as neatly as he'd found it, then he placed his paper coffee cup in the recycle bin. "I have a meeting this afternoon. I don't know what time I'll be back." He said as he headed for his bedroom.
"Jason, if you hate me so much, why do you keep me around?" She said in a loud tone.
"Why do I keep you around?" He said as he stopped and looked at her for the first time. "Because for some strange reason my clients trust a married investor more than a single one, that's why. You're simply a business tool to me and nothing more. Now, why don't you go back to whatever it is you do to amuse yourself and leave me the hell alone?"
"Is that all I am to you? A business tool." She said with a lump in her throat.
"You got it." Then he mumbled under his breath. "A job? Who in their right mind would hire a dumbass like you?"
"Why, in God's name, did I ever agree to marry you? I want a divorce so I can find someone who'll care about me."
"A divorce? Don't make me laugh. Who the hell would want you Gloria? You're crazy, loco just like your grandmother." He made looping motions with his finger by his temple. "And there will be no divorce until I'm damned good and ready. You're not putting your money grubbing paws on my money. I work hard for my money and I've given you enough already."
She headed for her bedroom in tears, then locked the door. It hurt her deeply that he cared so little for her and that he really didn't even notice that she hadn't come home last night. That probably meant that neither had he. Thinking of Alejandro, she wiped the tears from her eyes and raised her chin. Remembering the previous night, she suddenly felt sexy for the first time in years. She stripped then took out a pair of tight jeans and a bright red angora sweater with a large boat neck. She didn't want to take a shower wanting to keep the smell of the man she'd spent the night making love to on her skin. Gloria looked at her naked form in the full length mirror of the closet door imagining the dark calloused hands covering her and savoring her as she felt her hunger build. She now wished she'd have allowed him to mark her as she'd done to him. Maybe next time. Would there be a next time? She wondered. Despite her statements to Alejandro earlier, she was quickly succumbing to her desires. Gloria was feeling a connection that she couldn't explain. Was she falling in love for the first time in her life to a man she'd only known for a short time? A man with whom she'd just shared her body and possibly her heart. She shook the idea from her head, at least for the moment.
Gloria dressed and headed for her brother's house to spend the afternoon with her nieces. That would allow her brother and his wife, a few hours alone without their very active little girls. She'd take them shopping, then for ice cream. Maybe lunch too. Now that she had a job, she could pay Jason back when he complained about the credit card bill.
When she arrived home after spending the afternoon with her nieces and family, she found that the garage was empty and the condo was dark. She let herself in, then headed for her bedroom and her private bath. She filled her large tub with an earthy bubble bath that she found at the mall thinking it smelled like Alejandro. Returning to the kitchen, she poured herself a glass of white wine and made a light snack of brie and wheat crackers. Still full from the ice cream and pretzels she'd shared with the girls, she headed for the tub. She locked her bedroom door in case Jason came home. The small clock radio beside her bed was re-tuned to a local station that played soft but spicy Latin music. Alejandro had turned on that same station in their room when they… The more she smelled the bubble bath, the more certain she became that she had chosen the right scent.
She slid into the hot sudsy water letting it cover her up to her chin. Lifting her bubble covered arm, she took her wine then leaned her head back against the tile. Gloria sipped from her crystal glass with her eyes closed as she hummed to the music she was determined to learn. After blowing the bubbles from her left hand, she placed a small chunk of brie on her cracker popping it onto her tongue. Imagining that Alejandro was at the other end of the tub, naked, facing her then feeding her, a smile appeared as she moaned at the thought. She saw her cell phone and felt the urge to call him just to hear sound of his voice.
Although no agreement had been made to call each other or not, Gloria thought that Alejandro might not want to take the chance of calling her and having her husband hear her cell phone ring, then ask who it was. Gloria however, knew that Alejandro was more diligent about his privacy. She'd call him after her bath. Maybe.
She took another sip of wine as her cell phone suddenly began dancing on the bathroom vanity. She managed to get to the phone once she had made a large bubbled puddle on the floor. The display read 'work'. She hadn't dared to list his name in case Jason saw it. Explaining having your work number on your phone was one thing, but your boss's private cell phone number was another.
"Hi." She said.
"Hi yourself. Can you talk?"
"Yes, I'm … alone. Jason is out." She thought that telling him she was naked and covered in bubbles in the tub was too forward.
"How was your day?"
"Great. I spent the afternoon with my nieces. How was your day?"
"I worked. Met with a client about installing a security system in the new home he's building. You sound funny. Like you're in a tunnel." Apparently bathroom acoustics were not good.
She giggled. "I'm in the bathroom."
"Oh. I'm sorry. I can call back later."
"No, no. It's OK. I'm…" she laughed a nervous laugh then whispered. "I'm taking a bubble bath."
"Oh. Well…" He wasn't certain how to answer that although his body had already begun to respond.
"I'm sorry. Did that embarrass you?"
"No. Well, yes, a little." He admitted.
"Let me get out then I'll call you back."
"No please don't. I like the idea of talking to you while you're in the tub." If she could only have seen the wolfish grin on his handsome face.
She giggled again.
"Did you want something specific or did you just call to embarrass yourself."
He laughed this time.
"No. I just wanted to hear your voice before I went to bed."
"Oh, that's so sweet. Actually I was thinking of calling you."
"Why didn't you?"
"I'm not sure."
There was a moment of silence.
"Would you like me to come over and wash your back?"
"As much as I would like that, I don't think it would be a good idea. Do you?"
"I guess not." More uncomfortable silence. "Are there still bubbles?"
"Yes some. But they're almost all gone."
"Swish your hand around in the water. It'll make more bubbles." Alejandro was making swishing motions with his hand as though he was in the tub with her. He got an idea. As he spoke to Gloria he walked into his bathroom dropped his clothes on the floor and slid into his Jacuzzi.
"Now you sound funny. Where are you?"
"I just got into my Jacuzzi."
"You have a Jacuzzi? I'm jealous."
"Yes. Do you want to come over and try it out?"
"I don't think your wife would like that."
"She isn't here. I'm in my apartment and she's in hers."
Gloria took a sip of her wine.
"Are you drowning?" He asked when he heard what sounded like gurgling.
"No. I'm drinking a glass of wine."
"Shit. I don't have any."
"You didn't plan very well, did you?" She teased.
"I guess I didn't. Next time we take a bath together, I'll remember the wine."
"Will there be a next time, Alejandro?"
"I would very much like there to be a next time."
"I wish you were here."
"Me too." They sighed. "I can't be there in the flesh, but I can be there in your mind."
"Really? You mean…?" She wondered if he'd ever had phone sex. Of course he had. But she hadn't. She giggled at the thought.
"Close your eyes." Gloria closed her eyes as he did the same. "Remember last night when I kissed your cheek?"
"Then I kissed your neck."
"Then your earlobe. I took a tiny nip of your neck."
"Mmm yes." She tilted her head to the side and touched the spot as she remembered the nip."
"I unbuttoned your shirt and slid my finger between your breasts." She placed her finger on her chest and slid it down between her breasts as he had. He traced a line on an imaginary person in front of him.
After a time, once her bath water was ice cold and there was no longer any hint of a bubble, Gloria called out his name. Shortly after, he called out hers.
"Good night Gloria. Sleep well."
"Good night Alejandro. You too."
CH – 11
Sunday morning, Alejandro got up at his usual five am, did some stretching and cardio then headed out for his regular run. He met his friend and colleague coming out of the donut shop as he passed by some time later.
"Hey Alejandro. Out for your run, I see? You've got more determination than I do.
"Max . Good morning." He patted Max's beer gut. "You gotta work out man. You're starting to look like a cop." Alejandro was noticing the shiny spot growing on the back of Max's head and his receding hairline as he mindlessly passed his hand over his own thick silky hair.
"Yeah well." He held up the white bag filled assorted jelly donuts. "You don't have three kids to drive you nuts, and a wife that…" he stopped. "Sorry man."
"Hey. Don't worry about it. She's my problem not yours. How've you been? Busy?" Alejandro wiped his sweaty brow with the back of his hand.
"Yeah. Real busy." He looked around. "I know I can trust you to keep this under wraps." He whispered. "I've been undercover with the FBI trying to nail that Jason Waters for ethics violations. Something about campaign money. Him and that damned Fuller. Do you know them?"
"I've heard of them." Alejandro really wanted to hear more about Gloria's husband.
"That Waters is a real sonovabitch. He's about to get arrested for embezzlement too, I understand. I've been working with his partner, Alfred Catalfo. He suspected something a while ago and contacted the department. Apparently that ass has been sleeping with his 'niece'." He said with air quotes. "The dumbass doesn't know she's a Fed. The shit is about to hit the fan big time."
"He's married isn't he?" Did Max know Gloria, he wondered?
"He married Gloria Menendez. I dated her for a while some years ago. Nice, nice girl, but not Burg material. You now what I mean? Can't cook for shit. Can't clean either. But man can she eat." Max laughed a hearty laugh at the memory it brought back of how she'd devoured her meals like a hungry animal. "Any other woman that ate like that would be as big as a house but not Glo. She's got the metabolism of a shrew." Alejandro had seen that enthusiasm first hand.
"Isn't he nearly sixty years old?" He said getting back to Jason Waters.
"Yeah. It's a real shame. She's a terrific person. Full of life. She's funny, smart. A real gem. She deserves better than Jason Waters. He's controlling, demeaning and manipulative. She can't breathe without him." He leaned into Alejandro and whispered. "I hear he controls all the money too. When he's arrested, she's gonna be out on the street. Poor thing. She'll have to move back with her parents. They're gonna drive her nuts. Her grandma is a psycho and her mom is a real bitch. I had lunch with Glo the other day. We still keep in touch. She's changed though. Never laughs anymore. Who knows, maybe this whole thing will be good for her. She can divorce him and move on. Hopefully she'll meet someone who'll treat her right."
That's just what Alejandro had in mind. "Why did she marry him?" Alejandro already knew why but he wanted to hear it from Max .
"Her parents. Glo is, well, different, like I said. Not Burg at all and a little flighty I guess you could say. She thinks differently than other women. Her family was certain that she'd never find a decent husband so they made a deal with Waters. Honestly, I think they paid him to marry her. Too bad. I'd have considered marrying her myself but she wasn't ready back then. I'm a cop. I had to have stability in my life, plus I wanted kids and she didn't. Not then anyway, so I moved on. I think she was just too young." Max was on his third donut when his cell phone rang. He looked at the display. "Shit. Gotta go. My old lady's looking for her donuts. I think she's pregnant again. I hope it's a boy this time. I've got three girls all just like their mother. Hey maybe Glo had the right idea after all. You know? No kids."
"Maybe. See you Max. Hope you get your son." Alejandro called out as Max headed for his blue Chevy pick-up truck.
"Yeah me too. See ya Alejandro." He had his hand on the door handle but came back. "Hey! I may have to call you guys for back up with Waters. I hear he keeps a gun in his condo. Do you mind?"
"No problem. Just give Jeff a call. I'll tell him you'll be in touch."
"Thanks." He said as he headed back to his truck.
Alejandro continued with his run until he got back to his apartment. He called Maria for breakfast then showered. Maria was on her way out the apartment when he opened his bedroom door. He was tucking in his light blue oxford shirt into his navy blue dress pants when he heard Maria clear her throat.
"Oh. Good Morning Tia."
"Good Morning Alejandro."
He walked over to the dining room table where Maria had placed a tray with his breakfast. A covered dish sat on a maroon linen place mat. He positioned himself in the mahogany chair and scootched forward placing his nicely ironed white linen napkin on his lap. Uncovering his dish, he closed his eyes, then waved his hand to take in the aroma of the freshly scrambled egg whites with broccoli and dry wheat toast.
"Alejandro. I need to talk to you." She said as she approached him.
"Mmm. Smells delicious. Thank you, Tia. Now what did you want to talk to me about?" He forked a broccoli spear then placed it into his mouth as he looked up at her.
"Your wife. The woman's an absolute bitch. I'm sorry Alejandro, but I can't work for you anymore. Not if I'm going to have to wait on her. I can't take it anymore." She started to cry as she dropped into the chair beside him with her hands covering her face.
"Oh Christ! What the hell has she done now?" He said as he got up from his chair throwing his napkin angrily on the table beside his plate. He pulled his aunt to him to try to comfort her. "Tell me what she did this time."
Between the sobs and the sniffling he managed to ascertain that Gretchen had criticized her cooking abilities comparing them to a two bit diner cook and her cleaning abilities to a cheap motel chambermaid. She also accused Maria of stealing her jewelry and mooching off of her nephew telling her that she wasn't worth half of what he paid her, whatever that number might be.
Alejandro assured his aunt that if she stayed that she would never have to go up to that apartment again to clean or bring meals. He'd hire someone on the outside to take care of his wife's needs if he had to. That woman was costing him a bundle. Maybe a divorce would be cheaper after all.
Maria agreed to stay but tried to convince him to just shoot Gretchen in her sleep and have one of his men hide the body. They were good at that. That's what they did on their government jobs. They both had a good laugh. Maria knew it was true. Alejandro knew it was true but they pretended that it wasn't. Alejandro gave his aunt the rest of the day off with pay. She decided to visit with her sister, Alejandro's mom, in Bellevue and try to get her to talk to her son and 'ditch the bitch' as she put it.
After his breakfast, he hand delivered his tray of dirty dishes to the kitchen on the fifth floor and placed them in one of the many state-of-the-art dishwashers. He hadn't been in that kitchen since he hired his aunt shortly after his business was up and running. The place was immaculate and looked like it had never been used. Maria was part-time at first but the position quickly grew into a full time position. Not only did she cook and clean for Alejandro, but she also cleaned the apartments and fed all of his employees by keeping the vending machines filled with fresh, tasty and nutritious food. She was busy enough for a helper but she refused to let her nephew pay a second person to do the job. She'd learn to manage her time better. Tia Maria was a saint. He'd never fire her, never.
Another boring Sunday morning, he headed up to his office. Sitting at his desk, he looked up Gloria Menendez on the internet. He found Gloria's school records. She graduated in the top ten percent of her class from the local community college majoring in business management. He noticed that she had exceptional grades in critical thinking, the ability to solve problems. That would come in handy, he thought, for the role he intended her to play in his business. She had tried out for cheerleading but seemed to have played softball and volleyball instead. Her softball abilities had earned her a small college scholarship. He found she still had a balance on her college loans. He'd take care of that in time. He found she had no checking account, savings, investments or even a 401K. Her credit score was extremely bad since she had no credit cards and the only loan she had, the college loan, was past due.
That's when he started looking up Jason Waters on the internet again. Alvarez Inc. had lots of computer programs to find information on just about anyone for any reason. Unfortunately, he discovered more information than he cared for. Checking the city tax records, he found that the condo Jason Waters owned was in his name and his business. Her name was not listed. Even her BMW belonged to Jason. Considering what was about to happen, that fact may actually be to her advantage.
He had a thought so he mistyped, then stumbled on evidence of a possible pyramid scheme regarding some phony investments made by one 'G M Waters'. Gloria was in trouble. If he named his wife as a co-conspirator, she'd spend years in prison. How sad that a woman her age had nothing to show for her life but a cheating, stealing husband. He'd take care of that too.
His phone rang. The display read 'witch'. He flipped his phone.
"What do you want?" He asked his wife.
"Where is Maria with my lunch? It's five after twelve."
"I fired her. Like you wanted. Get your own damned lunch."
"What? I'm not making my own meals. You can go to …"
"Gretchen. Pick up the phone. Call somewhere and have something delivered. Use your credit card to pay for it. Now leave me alone." He flipped his phone shut then stuck out his tongue at it.
He thought of calling Gloria but didn't think it prudent. He didn't know if Gloria had told her husband about her job yet. Jason might be home and he didn't want to cause Gloria any problems. She'd have plenty of trouble soon enough. Thinking about her upcoming dilemma based on Max's comments, Alejandro called Jeff.
"Hello." Candy said.
"Hi Candy. Can I talk to Jeff? This is Alejandro."
"Alejandro? Is this business? 'Cause if it is, it's Sunday and he ain't on duty today."
"Candy, please? I'll only be a minute. I promise."
"OK but I'm timing you."
"Jeff." He heard Candy holler. "It's Alejandro. Tell him he's got one minute then I'm pulling the plug on him."
"Alejandro? What's up?" Jeff said as he took the phone.
"Quick question. Any units empty?"
"Only the studio. The one we use for overnight guests. Why?"
"Might need it for Gloria. I talked to Max Finarelli this morning. The PD is about to arrest Jason Waters. Max is going to call you when it all goes down for back up. Glo will need a place to stay."
"Sure. No problem." Jeff whispered. "How's it going with her?"
"She's amazing, Jeff. I only wish I'd met her years ago."
"Jeff." Alejandro heard Candy in the background. "Get off the phone."
"We'll talk tomorrow." Jeff said as he hung up.
"Sure." Alejandro said to a dead line.
CH – 12
Alejandro continued looking up other family members on his computer to get to know Gloria better. He found a few articles about a Elena Menendez. She was involved in the local women's club and the local food pantry. Alberto Menendez was a retired postal worker who now drove a taxi part-time for 'Lamont Taxi'. He knew that to be true because Gloria had talked about it.
He accidentally discovered an article about an Deena Major, Gloria's grandmother of the same address. The name wasn't familiar but the address was the same and Gloria had mentioned that her grandmother lived with her parents in their one-family home. Apparently grandma had a fascination for guns and had pulled one on an Officer Maxwell Finarelli some years back. It was all a misunderstanding but she had gone missing after posting bond and one of Alejandro's men had captured her and taken her back to the police station. Vincent told him that if he ever had to arrest that crazy woman again, he'd quit first. She had apparently decided that his 'package' as she called it, was available for public groping, meaning her. Alejandro remembered the occasion very well. They still teased Vincent about it from time to time. A timid young woman had come to pick her up from the station. It must have been Gloria. Why didn't he remember her and those beautiful blue eyes?
As he was touching the screen from that old newspaper article he'd found the other day, his cell phone rang. The display read 'Miss Menendez'.
"Hi Gloria." He said enthusiastically.
"Hi." Was all she said.
"Is something wrong?" Alejandro asked.
"No. I just wanted to hear your voice. Jason just left for a supposed emergency meeting at this office. He should be gone for several hours so I thought I'd be safe in calling you."
"I'm glad you called." He smiled as he leaned back in his chair.
"Yes." Remembering their last conversation, he asked a leading question. "What are you wearing?"
"What would you do if I told you I wasn't wearing anything?" He couldn't see her playful smile.
He sat up abruptly. "What?"
"Just teasing. I'm wearing shorts and a t-shirt. I just got off my stationary bike. But I'm all sweat - ty." She said seductively.
He rubbed his forehead with his fingers. "Please don't do that."
"Don't do what?" she said ever so innocently.
"Don't drive me crazy like that when I can't do anything about it."
"Do you have plans this afternoon?" He said hoping to possibly meet with her.
"Yes. Jackie and I are going shopping, then dinner. Want to come?"
"Jackie? Jackie Napolitano?"
"Yes. We went to school together. She works for my cousin Sergio. He owns Menendez Bonding. Ever hear of him?"
"Yeah. I do business with him. I'm a PI, remember?"
"Oh that's right. I forgot about that. I applied to be a PI or secretary there once. Someone else got the job. Sergio said I wasn't qualified."
"I don't see why you wouldn't qualify. You were great at the gun range the other day. You're a natural. I could train you. I'm a good teacher."
"I bet you are, Mr. Alvarez."
"You're funny, Miss Menendez."
"You think I'm funny?" she said playfully.
"Yes. And I think you're beautiful and smart and warm too. And I can't wait until tomorrow because I miss you."
"You miss me? You've only known me a few days. How can you possibly miss me?" She asked.
"Glo, I feel like I've known you all my life. I don't know how I ever got along without you."
"That's very sweet."
"I mean it." He sighed. "Is there any way I can see you today? Even for just a few minutes?"
"I was about to go for a run in the park off Cornish Road. Maybe we could accidentally bump into each other."
"Fifteen minutes. That's near me."
"Make that ten."
Gloria ran into the bathroom and brushed then fluffed her hair running gel covered fingers through it to tame her curls. She brushed several strokes of mascara and some lip gloss on her lips then pinched her cheeks for color before looking at herself in the mirror.
"What are you doing Gloria? You're a married woman and you're running to meet a married man like a school girl. You shouldn't do this. It's wrong and you know it is. Call him back and tell him you aren't going to meet him. Tell him you won't work for him either." The good Gloria said as she perched herself on her right shoulder her hands folded, lady like, on her lap.
"Oh hell, go for it, Glo. Jason is a selfish jerk. He's cheating on you and he's stealing from his partner. Alejandro's wife is a bitch and he loves you. You could have a future with him. Go for it, Glo. Go to him." Bad Gloria was sitting on her left shoulder with her legs crossed and her arms folded across her chest, a paisley bandana wrapped around her head.
Gloria looked at good Gloria then bad Gloria. She looked at herself in the mirror and sighed. She knew what she had to do. Knowing what was right and what was wrong, she mentally flicked good Gloria to the floor. Grabbed her purse and headed out the door. She called Jackie on the way to re-schedule.
Alejandro changed into in running shorts and a sleeveless sweatshirt. Tying his runners he smiled at the thought of seeing Gloria if only for a few minutes. His cell phone rang.
"What do you want?" He asked his wife.
"Do you have to be so abrupt with me?" She said in a condescending tone.
"What do you want, DEAR?"
"Fine. Have it your way. What am I supposed to do for dinner tonight if you fired Maria?"
"The same thing you did for lunch. Make a phone call. Is that it? Can I go now, mommy?"
"As you wish." He snapped his phone shut. It rang again. Same caller. He ignored it this time. When it dinged, he listened to the message.
"I've had just about all I'm going to take Alejandro. If you don't start treating me with some respect, I'm leaving you. Patrick would take me back in a second. Especially when I tell him how much alimony you'll be paying me. Think about it, asshole."
"Bitch." He said out loud thinking that Maria might really be onto something. He glanced at his gun sitting on the edge of his bureau. "Shit." He sighed.
CH – 13
Alejandro arrived at the park entrance and scanned the picnic and playground area for the brown curls. He found them dragging on the ground as the swing, hugging the woman of his desires, flew skyward and back. He approached her then leaned on the tall iron support pole with arms folded over his chest as he watched her climb higher and higher. She was singing a childhood song along with the little boy in the swing beside her as he tried to reach her height. Alejandro found himself joining in the merriment as he sat in the empty swing beside the little boy. Alejandro knew the tune but his words were in Spanish, not English. His mother had sung them to him as a child.
It took a minute before Gloria realized that Alejandro had joined them. She opened her eyes and smiled at him as he watched her. His smile was bright and warmed her heart. She slowly came to a stop as the song ended. The little boy named Kenny, was whisked away by his nanny. Apparently the sight of the big man had frightened her.
"Hi." She said softly.
"Hi yourself." He said as he continued to smile. He moved over to the now vacant swing. "You look beautiful today."
"Thank you." She said as she blushed looking at the man's bulging muscles that she remembered caressing two nights prior.
Several children arrived to take their turns on the swings. Gloria and Alejandro gave up their seats and began walking idly toward the fountain in the center of the park. Their hands stretched several times toward each other but they never touched. Gloria sat on the short stone wall that edged the fountain dragging her hand in the cool water. Alejandro joined her at a safe and respectable distance away.
"I love it here." She said as she gazed up into the sun shining through the tree tops. She squinted. Alejandro thought the sight of her squished up nose was priceless. He wished he'd brought his camera. "I come here often when Jason has been particularly thoughtless or inconsiderate. It calms me." Alejandro watched as her eyes glistened from an unspent tear.
"I wouldn't do that to you, Gloria." He whispered as he placed his hand on her thigh for just a second before he removed it.
"I know that." She looked at him as the tear spilled. He reached up and wiped it from her cheek as she closed her eyes and leaned into his touch. He leaned to kiss her but thought better of it in case prying eyes were watching. He stood and reached for her hand.
"Let's walk." He said.
She took his hand but only long enough to stand then shoved her hands inside the pockets of her pants. He placed his hands together behind his back to keep them busy as they strolled the narrow paths. They talked about the birds flying overhead in a V formation and those two frisky squirrels running up and down the dying elm tree. A large dog of no particular breed ran past them with his owner in tow, a tall older man with graying hair. When a young couple dressed in running clothes, sped by, pushing a baby carriage Gloria spoke.
"Do you like kids?" She didn't look at him. She had something to say but wasn't sure how to begin.
"I have a daughter." He wasn't certain where she was going. But if she was interested in having kids in the future he'd have to tell her that he'd had a vasectomy several years ago. It only made sense with his previous lifestyle.
"I love kids. I spend a lot of time with my nieces." She swallowed then continued. "There was a time, just before I married Jason that I wanted a big family. You know, three maybe four kids. One of my best friends Mary Ellen and her husband have four boys. They're a lot of work but they're wonderful."
"Glo." He thought he should tell her the truth right then.
"Wait, please. Let me finish." She took a breath before she continued. "I wanted kids but Jason didn't. He's so much older than me. He'd already had his family. His children are around my age. He didn't want another family, he said, so as part of our 'arrangement'." She used her fingers to show air quotes. "Was that I have my tubes tied. I did. I've regretted it ever since. So if you're hoping to have a future with me and a family it isn't going to happen, Alejandro. I'm sorry." She was crying again.
"Glo. I was going to say that I had a vasectomy many years ago. Long before I married Gretchen. I can't have children either. I'm sorry too."
She laughed a nervous laugh. "Aren't we a pair?"
"Aren't we a pair." He repeated. "That shouldn't stop us from pretending." He smiled his wolf smile again which made her laugh as she wiped more tears from her eyes. As they reached a thicket, he turned her to face him. Glancing over her shoulder and around, seeing no one, he kissed her. She reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck as she returned the kiss. He pulled away and sighed. "What are we going to do Gloria? I don't want to let you go."
"We have to be patient, I guess." She pulled from his grasp and they began walking again.
Alejandro knew that the shit was about to hit the fan with Jason and his crooked dealings but he couldn't tell her because Max had told him in confidence, colleague to colleague. Alejandro would have to be patient. He'd already spoken to Jeff about an apartment for her when the time came. He hoped that she would take it then perhaps visit him during the night so he wouldn't have to sleep alone any longer. Next, he had to find a way to get rid of Gretchen. Although Maria's suggestion was tempting, he had to be realistic.
He'd talk to his lawyer in the morning to draw up divorce papers and hopefully reach a financial settlement with Gretchen that wouldn't wipe him out completely. Luckily he wasn't the sole owner, so the business could continue even if he lost his share to the blonde witch from hell. Most of his personal finances were locked up as well under assumed names in multiple bank accounts around the world. Maybe he could do it after all.
"I should get back. Jason will be home soon and I have to begin burning dinner."
"Burning dinner?" Alejandro laughed at the thought. He was no chef, but he'd lived alone long enough to be able to cook and feed himself. That was until he hired Maria. Now the only meals he made for himself were re-heating prepared meals in the microwave when he worked late or placed a chunk of cheese between two wheat crackers.
"I'm a terrible cook. I can't seem to get my timing right, besides, it allows me my little digs." She chuckled. "We eat a lot of take-out or Jason eats out without me. I make a mean peanut butter and honey sandwich though. That and donuts. I love donuts." She chuckled at herself.
"I'd be glad to cook for you. Tell me what you like and I'll make it. If I can't, I'll ask Maria to make it. She's amazing. Cooks just like my mom." He smiled up at Gloria. "I can't wait for you to meet my family. They're going to love you. I just know it."
Gloria was taken aback. "You want me to meet your family? What about your wife? Don't you think it would be awkward?"
"Gretchen doesn't like my family. Trust me when I tell you the feeling is quite mutual. My mother has been nagging me ever since I married her to divorce her and marry someone else. She's gonna love you Glo. Just like I do."
She blushed again then spoke softly. "You love me? We've only know each other a short time. How can you love me?"
"I told you before. Love at first sight."
Glo blushed again for the umpteenth time.
Alejandro and Gloria had now walked then entire perimeter thus reaching the park's wrought iron gate. The sun had set as the evening dew touched the blades of grass giving them a shiny coat.
"I'll see you in the morning, Alejandro. Good night." She said as she headed toward home.
"Glo. Be at the office early tomorrow. I have a surprise for you."
"Surprise? What kind of surprise?"
"I want my people to meet their new executive vice president of sales so I'm taking you on a little plane ride. Pack an overnight bag."
"Alejandro. I don't think…"
"Glo. It's a legitimate business trip. If I'd hired a man, I'd take him too. I told you there'd be travel involved."
"Yes, but I didn't think it would be so soon." She let out a breath. "OK. What time?"
"Will do boss. Good night Alejandro."
"Good night, Glo." He said as he watched her walk away hoping that these days of letting her go home alone would be numbered. He was looking forward to their little excursion. Heading in the direction he'd come from, he took a slow and leisurely jog home. Thoughts of the next time he'd see Gloria caused his pace to increase as the telephone poles disappeared behind him.
CH – 14
Gloria arrived home to a dark and empty house. She hadn't intended to stay away that long so she hadn't bothered to leave a night light burning. Grabbing two leftover pieces of pizza from the fridge for dinner and a soda, she headed to her bedroom and locked her door. She packed an overnight bag and set it on the chair beside the door. Gloria flipped a few TV stations looking for a good movie to watch and found 'Sleepless in Seattle' on HBO. Her most favorite chick flick of all times. It felt appropriate. As she settled herself on three propped up pillows behind her, she feasted on her cold pizza.
She was wiping the sad tears from her eyes as the credits rolled across the screen when she heard the garage door open then close and the tan Mercedes engine was turned off. There was some amount of commotion in the garage, doors slammed then the trunk lid thumped, and there was squeaking long before a line of yellow light appeared under her bedroom door.
She had fallen asleep long before Jason entered his bedroom then showered. He then headed for the kitchen and began searching in the fridge for something to eat. She woke when she heard him curse then slam the refrigerator door. The cupboards were slammed as well. Hearing his heavy angry footsteps heading her way, she pushed the 'off' button of her TV, turned her radio on for the white noise and shut her eyes willing herself back to sleep.
He knocked on her door. "Gloria. Gloria!" He called out louder the second time. "Are you sleeping?" He sounded out of breath.
'Of course I'm sleeping, you jerk. Otherwise I would have answered you.' She mumbled under her breath with a slightly sinister snicker. She covered her head with her pillow.
"God Dammit Gloria. Can't I ever come home to a decent meal?" His volume lowered as he walked back toward the kitchen. "You have got to be the worse wife on this planet. Why the hell did I ever…" His voice trailed off as she chuckled under her breath. Sleep came quickly after that.
Alejandro's phone rang just as he opened his apartment door.
"What do you want?"
"I want to remind you about our monthly financial meeting this week. You had better be there this time. Oh, and bring your checkbook. I need more money."
"What? How much money does a woman who sits on her lazy ass all day watching movies need?"
"I do not sit on my ass all day." He envisioned her placing her hand on her hips.
"No that's true, Gretchen. I apologize. You get up to fill your face, change the movie in the DVD player, press the 'buy now' button on the QVC website and sort your nail polish then you make long distance phone calls, which by the way, are costing me a fucking fortune. Why can't you use the damned cell phone I got you? The calls are free. "
"The reception is bad when I make overseas calls."
"Christ Gretchen." He rubbed his weary eyes. "What the hell did I ever see in you?"
"I was good in bed. That's what you said."
"Really? Well it's been so long how the hell would you expect me to remember that?"
"You're the one who moved out, remember?"
"Gretchen, we hadn't slept together in months before I moved out. I'd been sleeping on the fucking couch for nearly a year."
"It's not my fault."
"Like hell it isn't. I tried Gretchen. I really tried to make it work with you but calling me Patrick while we were having sex did nothing for my ego."
"It was an accident."
"Accident? You call that an accident? You did it every time, Gretchen."
"You're an ass, Alejandro."
"And you're a self centered, demanding bitch."
"I hate you."
"The feeling it mutual I assure you."
"I want a divorce."
"Consider it granted." He flipped his phone and tossed it across the room then held his head with both hands. He heard it ring again. He was going to ignore it but thought it might be Gloria so he ran to pick it up. The display read 'witch' so he dropped it onto the coffee table before he headed to the bathroom to shower.
He laid in his large king sized bed touching the pillow beside him. Closing his eyes, he tried to remember the face with the big blue eyes and the crazy curls. The woman who now filled his heart with love and pain. A lump formed in this throat as he spoke her name. 'Gloria'. He tossed and turned taking short cat naps anticipating his next meeting with his new love.
By four AM he couldn't take it anymore so he headed up to the gym. An outside run would be out that morning because of the pouring rain although that had never stopped him before. He was glad it hadn't rained yesterday because he might not have been able to see Gloria. She'd be there soon though, he thought, as he increased the speed on the treadmill. Once he'd reached his fifteen miles he slowed his pace to cool down, took to the showers then returned to his apartment to dress for the day. He packed a small overnight bag to take on their 'business' trip then dressed in his charcoal grey suit pants with a navy blue dress shirt and matching necktie. Throwing his suit jacket over his shoulder, hooking it on his finger, he walked the flight of stairs to his office.
He picked up his office phone and called Jack Knapper, his attorney, on his private line.
"Alejandro? What's got your shorts in a bunch today? This is early even for you." He scratched his head, yawned then reached for his cup of coffee.
"Good morning Jack. I need to see you. Do you have time in the next few days? It's important. I'm kind of in a hurry." He began to pace.
"Aren't you always? Sure. What's up?" He took a long sip, draining his cup.
"It's time." He continued pacing.
"Really? What happened?" He placed his cup on his kitchen table.
"I met someone." He stopped then leaned his backside on the edge of his desk.
"Ooh! Careful Alejandro. That's going to add zeros to your alimony checks." He got up from his chair to refill his cup.
"I don't care. I want out as soon as possible. That's why I want to meet with you, to find out just how much that check is going to be so I can hopefully bribe her to leave sooner than later." He had one arm across his chest.
"Alejandro? How long have you known this new woman?" He dipped his wet spoon in the sugar bowl.
Alejandro hesitated before he replied. "Three days." Alejandro made a face. He didn't want to hear it.
"Three days! Are you crazy? Alejandro, you're willing to give up possibly millions of dollars in alimony based on a one-night stand. Man, you're thinking with your dick. Alejandro, stop, think about this. You're doing it again." He'd stopped for a second when he heard the words then reached for the refrigerator door for the milk.
"No Jack. She's different." He started pacing again.
"Really? What's this one's name? Bambi, Holly, how about Ivy?" He tipped off his cup with milk then grabbed the sponge to clean up his spill.
"Gloria. Gloria Menendez."
"Jason Waters' wife? Are you crazy? He's dangerous Alejandro. Stay away from her." He was returning to the kitchen table but stopped mid stride.
"No. I want her and she wants me. I'm going to want you to handle her divorce too. I'll pay for it." Alejandro was still pacing but began to flail his arms.
"If you have any money left." He joked as he took his seat at the table.
"OK, OK. I don't know what's on my calendar so you'll have to talk to my secretary but I'll leave her a message to fit you in. We'll talk more later when I see you." He reached for the newspaper he'd been reading before he'd answered the phone.
Gloria woke early when the alarm went off, then headed for the shower. She normally slept until eleven or noon but she had a job now. Alejandro told her to be at Alvarez Inc. for seven so she took a short hot shower as the coffee perked. Jason had long since headed out for his day or whatever the hell he did at five am so she was alone in the condo yet again.
She had thought of a dog to keep her company, at one point, but she knew nothing about taking care of an animal. Owning a gerbil once, she nearly killed it so she gave it to her nieces. They loved Pete. The current Pete was number three and they hadn't figured it out yet although the oldest little girl thought it odd that his fur had changed color overnight after an emergency visit to the vet.
Gloria dressed in a black skirt and jacket with a deep peach camisole and matching pumps. Maria would fit her later in the week for her uniform and jackets. Alejandro told her that she'd need that for 'stake outs' which intrigued and excited her. Her fitting appointment with Maria had been set for that day but since she and Alejandro were heading out, she assumed that he would have taken care of cancelling the appointment for her. She also knew that once fitted, the new clothing wouldn't be ready for a few days so she checked her closet and found several black articles of clothing that would suffice until then. Her hair was a complete rat's nest and no amount of gel would tame it so she pulled it back into a neat ponytail allowing a few curls to fall on either side of her face and neck. She looked at herself in the mirror. On the outside, no one would know that on the inside she was a mass of knots and confusion. Her heart was beating rapidly in anticipation of the man she wanted, the man she needed. She sat at the breakfast bar and drained two cups of coffee before she took a few swipes of mascara and lip gloss then headed out the door. She'd thought of leaving Jason a note, but hell, he'd figure out she wasn't there eventually. Even if he didn't, would he care? Probably not. Did she care? Not anymore.
As she walked into the garage something seemed different. She threw her overnight bag in the back seat. Unable to put her finger on the problem until she noticed that the rope hanging from the ceiling that lead to the hidden ladder to the storage unit above the garage was dangling and unsecured. That was something that always annoyed Jason. She easily found the step stool leaning up against the wall where it didn't belong. Pulling the stool under the opening in the ceiling, she climbed the three steps then gave the rope a good tug. The stairs lowered easily. She could see two sets of messy foot prints in the dust on the steps, one going up and one coming down. Not wanting to disturb anything, she placed her foot exactly where one of the footprints had been created. She climbed carefully in her tight skirt. After a few steps she found what she hoped was a mistake.
CH - 15
Shaking like a leaf, she climbed back down carefully afraid to disturb any further evidence. Alejandro. She needed to talk to Alejandro. He'd tell her what to do. Searching for her phone she suddenly decided to wait to call him. She wanted to get as far away from this house as possible and searching for her phone would take time. Gloria dug into her bag frantically looking for her car keys. She wondered if she had the skills to hot wire it if she couldn't find them before Jason returned as she looked over her shoulder several times. Finding them in the exact spot where she had placed them the last time she used her car, she turned the key. As she began to back out and was about to hit the garage door, she remembered to press the little green button. She pressed it three times before the door slid open. Then she pressed the white one as soon as the front tires cleared the laser beam. The metal door creaked down slowly hiding her discovery.
She hadn't smoked in years but thought that a cigarette might help calm her nerves at the moment. She hit every red light as all of the tan Mercedes in Seattle passed by or got behind her. There always seemed to be a mustached man behind the wheel. Once she arrived at Alvarez Inc., she pulled up to the bay door and was surprised to find that it opened automatically. She wasn't aware that Alejandro had already placed a security device in her car so that the door would open for her. She looked for a parking space and found one next to Alejandro's Jaguar with a sign that read: 'S Menendez'. She pulled into her space. As she exited her car, Jeff was waiting for her.
"Good Morning Gloria. Welcome to Alvarez Inc."
"Oh. I didn't see you there. Good Morning Jeff. Is it ok if I call you Jeff?" She asked politely. He noticed something was wrong. She wasn't smiling.
"Sure. Everyone else does. Come on let's get some paperwork out of the way then I'll show you to your office." He motioned for her to follow him to the elevator.
"Where's Alejandro?" she looked around in case she had missed him hiding behind something. His Jaguar was parked in his personal parking space so he had to be there somewhere.
"He had a meeting this morning that he couldn't reschedule. He said to tell you he'd be back as soon as he could."
"But his car is…" she pointed to his car.
"Company business. Company car." He smiled as he nodded toward one of the many shiny black Ford F trucks and Expeditions and one empty space. He noticed again how nervous Gloria was, but chose to keep it to himself for the moment. He'd be sure to talk to Alejandro about it though.
They headed up the elevator to the offices in silence. Jeff watched her from the corner of his eye while she continued to chew on her lip and wring her hands. Jeff unlocked his office door and flicked on the light as he escorted Gloria to the big leather chair she'd been in the other day. They completed the usual forms. Alejandro insisted that there be no waiting period for any benefits for Gloria so she was enrolled in the health, disability and life insurance programs as well as the 401K immediately. Alvarez Inc. only offered direct deposit for salary payments. Gloria hesitated because her name wasn't on any of Jason's accounts. Besides she didn't want him to have access to her money. This was going to be her money and her ticket out. Since Alvarez Inc. was associated with the local credit union, Jeff signed her up for that too. Alejandro had already instructed Jeff to make a generous deposit to her savings and checking account for her to 'get her started' as he'd put it. Gloria also completed an application for a credit card. Her very first credit card.
Jeff then handed her a small manila envelope. Still distracted, he had to repeat himself. "Gloria, these are your passwords. Keep them under lock and key at all times and change them often. Some should be changed daily, others weekly. It's all written down for you."
"What? Oh yes. Lock and key. Change them often. I thought this was a secure building."
"It is. But there's always the possibility of a breach. We take no chances with security here at Alvarez Inc. It's our first priority, always. It's what we do. You'll learn that quickly enough as time passes." The big man stood and placed his large hands on the edge of his desk. "Now. Let's get you settled into your office, shall we?" He was about to open his door when he turned to Gloria as she remained seated. "You seem very upset this morning. Can I help you with something, Gloria?"
"No. I'm ok. Just nervous, you know? New job and all. Is Alejandro back yet?" She said trying to see through the wooden door.
With his hand still on the door latch, he said. "Gloria, let me assure you that anything you say to me will NEVER leave my lips unless you direct me otherwise. Do you understand? You can trust me."
Gloria was biting her lips again as the tears pooled in her eyes. She couldn't wait for Alejandro any longer. "You know my husband is Jason Waters." She opened her purse and removed a tissue.
"Yes." Jeff pushed his door closed again and returned to Gloria's side.
"Then you also know that he's being investigated for embezzlement and possible ethics violations." She blotted the corner of each eye then the tip of her nose.
"I read something about that." He was looking at her as she stared at her hands.
"Well, when I left my house this morning, I thought something was wrong. You know? Out of place. That's when I noticed that the rope to the storage space above the garage was hanging down." She was wringing her hands destroying the tissue they held.
"That's unusual?" Jeff wasn't sure exactly what that all meant be he sensed it may be serious.
"Yes. Jason is very meticulous about such things. That's why I found it odd." She looked up at Jeff for a second.
"What did you do?" He said tilting his head slightly.
"I dragged the step stool over. Oh, and it wasn't where it was supposed to be and then I… I um, climbed up to reach the rope and pulled the ladder down and climbed up into the attic." Her voice hitched before she continued. "That's when I found…"
"Hi. Sorry, I'm late. Thanks for handling this for me. I'll take over now. Good morning Gloria." Alejandro said as he pushed Jeff's door open and entered. "Are you ready to head to the airport, Glo?"
"Alejandro, have a seat. Gloria was just telling me something. You need to hear this."
Jeff went back to his seat behind his desk and Alejandro sat in the leather chair beside Gloria. She began again for Alejandro's sake. Both Jeff and Alejandro asked questions as Jeff made notes. When she was finished, Alejandro spoke.
"Call Finarelli . Tell him to get a crew over there now. Take Les, Vincent and Junior with you. I want you in charge of this. I'm too close." He said as he took Gloria's hand and held it for support.
"Will do boss. Glo, don't worry. We'll take care of everything." Jeff said as he picked up his phone.
"Alejandro, what's going on? Why is Jeff involved?" She knew why Jeff was calling Max. He was a cop. But why were Jeff and Alvarez Inc. involved.
Alejandro looked at Gloria. "You, come with me. We'll talk in my office." He stood then led Gloria to his office. When they arrived he shut the door and locked it. Alejandro was in Alvarez Inc. mode despite the Armani suit on his back.
"Alejandro, talk to me, please?" She grabbed at his arm trying to turn him to face her.
Alejandro sat on the edge of his desk as he faced Gloria.
"Gloria, it appears that Jason is about to be charged. I just found out myself this morning. And based on what you just told us, I'm assuming that Jason will, at the very least, be questioned about that too."
"Who told you this?" She asked.
"I can't tell you that. Not right now. Let's just say it's a colleague." He was trying to be evasive not wanting to upset her but he didn't want to lie to her either.
"You mean Max Finarelli ? You met with Max this morning?"
"OK. Yes. It was Max."
"How do you know Max?"
"He's a cop. We sometimes work together on cases. The police budget is limited and we can sometimes provide certain 'services' that the police cannot. Understand?"
"You mean like 'illegal' services?'
He chuckled. "No. Not illegal exactly. Let's just say not quite above board. Not black, but maybe a little gray."
"Have you been working with Max to arrest my husband?" She questioned. He could see she was no longer upset as her demeanor had suddenly changed.
"No Gloria. I haven't."
She became angry then started to cry. "You tried to get close to me to get to Jason, didn't you? How could you?" She reached for the door to leave.
He grabbed her by the arm. "No I didn't. Meeting you was an accident, or fate. I swear. I never contrived any sort of meeting with you to get to your husband. I was not involved in any way."
"I don't believe you." She said folding her arms and turning her back to him as tears streamed down her cheeks unchecked.
"What can I do to prove to you that I'm not lying to you?" He took her shoulders and held her close as he spoke softly.
She shrugged, too distraught to fight back. Jason had managed to take most of the fight out of her.
"I love you Gloria." He said as he wrapped his arms around her waist. "I would never hurt you like that." He whispered softly in her hair pushing it aside to kiss her neck.
"Yeah? Show me." She said as she turned in his arms. For a moment he had managed to get her to forget completely about her discovery.
Smiling a warm and comforting smile, he placed his lips on hers for a bone melting kiss as he splayed his hands on her back. He pulled away slightly. "Does that help?"
She giggled. "I want more proof."
"I'd take you here and now if I could."
She glanced at the door, the locked door.
"Now is not the time. I can guarantee that we wouldn't get half of our clothes off before my phone would ring or someone would knock on my door."
"OK you win." She relented as she tapped on his chest with her hands, wondering why she trusted this man she'd only known a few days.
Alejandro's phone rang. "See?" He released her then rounded his desk to answer his phone.
The sudden ringing of Alejandro's phone jolted her thoughts back to the conversation they were having before she got lost in Alejandro's force field.
"Alvarez." He replied into his phone. "Ah shit! Are you kidding? He didn't. Really? Wow! Yes, I'll tell her. Jeff? Thank you."
"Was that about Jason? She asked as he placed the receiver in the cradle.
"Sit down Gloria." He took her hand and led her to the big leather couch along the windowless wall. "You aren't going to believe this."
"What? Tell me." He had to yank her down because she was beginning to panic.
"Glo, the body you thought you saw was indeed Alfred Catalfo's, his business partner." She covered her mouth with both hands. That must have been what the commotion and car doors slamming was all about the night before. "What you failed to see was the other body behind it. Melissa Crossan's. She's the one he's been sleeping with. The Federal agent. They each had a bullet hole in the back of their heads. He taped their mouths and bound their feet and hands behind them with duct tape. Your husband isn't as smart as he thinks he is though because Melissa and Alfred had made copies of everything they found then left copies all over the place. Melissa to her supervisor, Agent Freeman, and Alfred had been sending copies to a couple of local news reporters to publish in the event of his death. The 'presses are running 'as they say."
"Where is Jason?" She wondered, not that she really cared although she hoped he wasn't coming after her.
"We don't know that. He hasn't shown up at his office yet nor did anyone see him at the gym this morning. But Glo, there's a bigger problem."
CH – 16
"What's that?" she wiped the tears from her cheek.
"His assets have been seized and his accounts have been frozen. The Feds are locking up the house and posting guards as we speak. Everything is being packed up and inventoried. Glo, it's just as you feared. They're taking everything. Jeff managed to get Max to convince the Feds to give you a few minutes in case you have any personal items in the house. We don't have much time. Let's go."
Thinking about what Alejandro had planned for the day, "I don't think I can go to your other offices with you today, Alejandro. I'm sorry." She said as she grabbed her purse.
"Don't worry. I'll reschedule. We'll go another time. I'm not leaving you alone." His words comforted her.
Alejandro took her hand as her head spun. He unlocked his office door. They headed to the elevator then the garage where they took the Jaguar hoping it would lighten her mood. Gloria sat quietly for a time trying to understand what was happening. Her cell phone rang. She pulled her phone from her bag and read the display. 'Mom'.
"OH God! It's my mother. What do I say to her?" She was about to snap her phone open to answer it when Alejandro took it from her hand.
"You have enough to deal with at the moment. You can talk to her later."
She leaned her pounding head on the back of the seat and let the tears fall. Alejandro held her hand and placed occasional soft kisses on her palm. As they sat waiting for the red light a block from her house, she sat bolt upright and turned in her seat to face him.
"Alejandro. What am I going to do? I have no home, no clothes, no money. I have nothing. How am I going to live?" She turned to look aimlessly at the people standing on the corner to her right as the tears fell. "I'll have to go back to my parents." She turned to face him again. "Alejandro. I don't want to go back to my parents."
"Don't worry about it. I've taken care of everything." He patted her thigh.
"What do you mean?" She wiped her cheek.
"As a full time Alvarez Inc. employee, you're entitled to an apartment in my building. Didn't you read your contract? I've already made arrangements with Jeff to let you have the studio apartment at the end of the hall beside my apartment. "
"Wait. You already have a studio apartment for me?" She asked as she sniffled.
"Yes. Is that okay?" He glanced at her quickly as the traffic light turned green and he crossed the busy intersection.
"How did you know…?"
"Max , right?"
He sighed. "Yes. Max ."
Gloria lived in the small residential neighborhood on the outskirts of Seattle proper. Alejandro pulled into Gloria's yard behind one of several unmarked windowless navy blue vans parked in the driveway and on the lawn. An ambulance, hearse and the coroner's car were parked in the driveway. The garage bay door was still closed and the small windows were covered from the inside with pages from a newspaper stuck in place with masking tape. There was yellow caution tape stretching from the property boundary marker on the right, stretching across the driveway and the front of the house all the way to the marker on the left. The local radio and TV stations had their vans parked up and down the narrow lane of beige twin townhouse styled condo units. Their antenna's pointed skyward. Neighbors and nosy Seattle residents filled the yards with gossip and slander. Armed guards stood at each entrance. Alejandro knew most of them.
"Alejandro." The armed man nodded.
"Sonny. This is Gloria Menendez. This is her home. Jason Waters is her husband."
Sonny reminded Gloria of a white skinned Jeff. He looked like a small building on legs.
"Miss Menendez." He said by way of greeting as he nodded. "Sorry, man. I got orders from the Feds. Nobody goes in."
"Finarelli still here? He called Jeff." Alejandro asked getting impatient.
Sonny spoke into the small black dot on his collar.
"Enter." He said as he moved to the side slightly.
Gloria gasped at the sight. Twenty or more men and women were packing everything in boxes that were then taped and piled high in the corner of the garage. The only outside marking was 'Case 44596337 – Waters'. She felt violated as she rubbed her arms as thought she was cold.
"Gloria?" Max appeared. "Are you ok, Sweetie?" He gave her a quick hug.
"Max. What's going on here?"
"Everything has to go. I'm sorry. It's all evidence. I managed to keep them out of your bathroom and bedroom for the most part. You'll need an escort to go in but you should be able to take a few things. I asked them to give you a few boxes too."
"Thank you Max." She leaned up and kissed his cheek.
"You're welcome. I wish I could do more for you." She smiled weakly as the tears streamed down her face. "Officer Peters. Would you accompany Miss Menendez so she can get a few personal items?" He said to the short stout blonde female officer.
"Officer Finarelli . What are you doing? Who is this?" Officer Lawrence asked then nodded to Alejandro. "Alejandro. What brings you here?"
"This is Gloria Menendez. She's Jason Waters wife. I'm a friend of Gloria's." Alejandro said.
"Officer Lawrence, I've already spoken to agent DiPalma. He ok'd this. Gloria here is to be allowed to take a few of her personal items. She's Waters' wife." Max said.
"Not under my watch, she isn't." He turned to Gloria. "Sorry ma'an. I cannot allow you to take anything."
"But…" She began.
"What's going on here Officer Lawrence?" Agent DiPalma asked seeing the confrontation.
"Officer Finarelli here says you OK'd it for Waters' wife to take her personal things. I have my orders, sir."
"Lawrence, allow the woman to get her damned underwear and toothbrush. You know the rules. Officer Peters will oversee everything." He turned to Gloria. "Miss Menendez, you are allowed certain items only. Officer Peters here will help you. If she says 'no', it's 'no', understand?"
"Yes sir. Thank you."
Officer Peters stood in the room as Gloria and Alejandro picked though her things in the bathroom first then her bedroom. She would occasionally shake her head side to side so Gloria would release the item in her hands. Some of the things she wasn't allowed to take were her paintings on the walls except for the framed crayon drawing from her nieces. The drawings - yes, the frames – no. She was allowed to take her toothbrush and toothpaste and tampons and hair gel but not her blow dryer or shower massager. About to pick through her jewelry case, she wasn't allowed to take anything including her grandmother Menendez's locket. Once she had filled two boxes with underwear, worn sneakers, jeans and a few tops, she headed out the door. Max stopped her.
Max reached out to Gloria. "I'm sorry Glo. May I have your rings please? "
That was the straw that broke the camel's back. Gloria began to shake as she fell into Alejandro's arms. He gently removed the rings from her fingers and handed then to Max with a silent promise to himself that he would replace them as soon as he could. He led her out toward the Jaguar as Max and another cop named Eddie carried her boxes then placed them in the back seat.
"Take care of her Alejandro. She's broken right now." Max said as he released her from a friendly hug. Eddie reached for her and pecked her on the cheek. "Alejandro, would you bring her by the station later on? I'm not going to question her here."
Gloria nodded her thanks, unable to form the words just as the media descended upon her.
"Mrs. Waters, can you tell us what happened here?" A young man with a backwards baseball cap said as he placed a microphone in her face. An older man holding a heavy camera on his shoulder was focusing his lens in her direction.
"Mrs. Waters. Why did you do it?" Another young man in a Harvard sweatshirt asked.
A slender snobby looking well dressed blonde woman approached with her microphone. She eyed Alejandro then spoke. "What do you have to say to your investors, Mrs. Waters?"
Gloria looked up at Alejandro at that point. "Get me out of here." He nodded as he opened the door then pushed her into the Jaguar. He rounded the front pushing more reporters and cameramen out of his path. He shoved a neighbor as he opened his own door and squeezed in. He turned the key and the Jaguar roared. He shifted it into gear still unable to move due to the throng of people leaning on the vehicle.
A parade of shiny black vehicles pulled up and parked. A small army of men dressed in black swarmed the vehicle. The crowds instantly scattered and Alejandro pulled into the street and sped away with his precious cargo at his side.
"As you can see, the woman at the center of this mystery has apparently been whisked off by the military leaving one to wonder what is actually behind this story. More at eleven. I'm Marcia Capton. News Nine." Her cameraman caught a great shot of Gloria covering her face with her purse as Alejandro slid her into the Jaguar. The reporter knew the shot would bring her praise from her supervisor once it showed up on the eleven o'clock new that night. Maybe she'd win an award of some kind. Maybe a SOPA.
Gloria was still silent as Alejandro pulled into the Alvarez Inc. garage and parked. Someone had already come for the blue BMW. Alejandro made a mental note to order her a new one, but in black this time. His favorite color. He guided her quietly toward the elevator and up to her new apartment. Opening the door, he found that Maria has placed a vase with fresh flowers on the dining room table. The fridge had been filled with milk, juice, bottled water, fresh fruit and vegetables with individually prepared frozen meat packages in the freezer. The cupboards held cereal and other boxed and canned goods. Alejandro looked around. The unit was small but it would be hers for as long she needed it. He hoped someday that when Gretchen was gone that she'd join him in the penthouse. A man could only hope.
Gloria was touched by Alejandro's generosity.
"Alejandro this is beautiful." She said as she entered. "I'll pay you back, when I can."
"There is no price for what we do for each other Gloria." She smiled as a tear fell down her careworn cheek. "Are you hungry? I can make something for you or I can call Maria. What would you like?"
"I'm not fussy. Anything is fine with me. Would you mind if I took a shower? I feel …"
"Of course not. Maria left you a supply of towels. She'll bring you fresh ones every day. If there is anything you need just ask her. It's her job to take care of the apartments and meals.
Gloria headed for the bathroom and closed the door behind her. She adjusted the water then stripped off her clothes. Standing with the water beating down on her back she mixed her tears with the soapy water.
Alejandro prepared a simple dinner of eggless noodles and broccoli with grilled chicken. Before he began, he checked his phone messages. His attorney Jack had called and left a message. He was about to call him back when his phone rang.
"Alejandro? Jeff. They got him."
"Where was he?"
"He had just paid some guy fifteen thousand in cash for his boat and was about two miles out to sea when the engine died. The boat owner noticed that the bills 'looked funny' he said so he put water in the fuel before he gave him the keys. He notified the authorities so the Coast Guard was waiting and picked him up."
"Smart man. Where is he now?"
"PD's got him. They're booking him as we speak. Listen to this. He set up the house and crime scene to look like Glo was in on it all. PD didn't buy it. Judge won't either. He tried to tell them that Glo put the bodies in the attic over the garage. The guys all laughed so hard Eddie wet himself. Max had an asthma attack and Tookey hit his head rolling around on the floor laughing. He had to get it stitched up. Andrew took care of it."
"Thanks Jeff. I'll tell Glo."
"How she doing?"
"Not real good. She's taking a shower. I'm going to make dinner then let her rest."
"Careful with her. She's real fragile right now man."
"I know. Thanks for the info."
Alejandro disconnected then dialed his attorney.
"Knapper, Farnsworth and Mulligan. May I help you?"
"Alejandro Alvarez. I'm returning Jack's call."
"He's on the other line, Mr. Alvarez. He asked that I notify him when you called. Hold on please. I'll buzz him."
"Thank you. I'll wait." Alejandro tapped his foot on the tan Berber rug. After a few bars of some familiar tune, Jack picked up.
"Alejandro. Had a busy day I see." He sat back in his worn brown leather chair as he tapped his pen on his desk blotter.
"Yeah. I've been busy. What's up?' He said as he rubbed the back of his neck then headed for the kitchen sink.
"You're slipping old man." He swiveled from side to side in his big chair.
Alejandro held his phone between his cheek and his shoulder as he filled two pots with water then placed them on separate burners just before he turned them on.
"What do you mean?"
"I've been doing some checking on the little missus in the penthouse." He leaned forward as he replaced the solitaire game on his computer screen with the information he'd found.
"And?" He opened the fridge door and pulled out the two pieces of fresh boneless chicken breasts and a bunch of fresh broccoli.
"How much spending money do you give her?" He placed his finger on the screen on the number he already knew.
"It's up to about ten thousand dollars a month now, plus I pay her credit card bills every month. Why?"
"Let me read you some of what I found." He began as his finger touched each line. "Patrick O'Toole and Gretchen Andersen, balance $256,559, Bank of America. Patrick O'Toole and Gretchen Andersen, balance $10,788, Bank of London. Patrick O'Toole and Gretchen Andersen, balance $273,504, Shall I go on? Oh and her name is spelled differently. She used an 'E' not an 'O'. That's how I found it. By accident. I misspelled it."
"What are you talking about?" Alejandro dropped the raw broccoli in one of the pots of water.
"Apparently your dear wife Gretchen has been hoarding from the beginning. All of the above mentioned monies were deposited to these accounts monthly within the past two years. Alejandro. She's sucking you dry. You're right that she's costing you a fortune. A huge fortune. "
"I can't believe this. How could I not pick-up on that? That's a lot of money." Alejandro lit the oven turning the dial all the way up to broil.
Alejandro seasoned then placed the chicken breasts on the broiler pan in the over then shut the door. He pushed the overhead fan on and moved back from the noise.
"Do you ever look at what she buys with her credit card?" he sat back in his chair again stretching his free arm over his head behind him.
"No. I told my accountant to just write a check and pay it."
"Well, you're supporting her and her boyfriend. Since she hasn't spent a cent of the money you give her every month, according to Ben, your accountant, she pays Patrick's bills online with the charge card you provide her. He hasn't worked a day in two years. And those trips to Milwaukee to see her mother…"
"I can't believe I've been that stupid." He pinched the bridge of his nose then rubbed his forehead with his fingers.
"Don't worry my friend. I just spent a good part of the day with Ben. We've been making some changes. If you're ok with this, I'm going to write up the divorce papers and use the money she's already received as her alimony with the agreement that if she accepts it, Patrick won't go to jail."
"You can't do that." The water was now boiling in the empty pot so Alejandro dropped half of a bag of eggless noodles into the pot then stirred them gently so they wouldn't stick together
"Yeah but she doesn't know that. She isn't going to go to the police or a lawyer for that matter. You know that. She knows she's in the wrong."
"You done good for me again, Jack."
"Yeah? Wait until you get my bill."
"You're a real smart ass Jack."
"Hey Alvarez. You should be more aware of your surroundings." Jack laughed loud enough that Alejandro's ears continued to ring long after he flipped his phone shut.
His phone rang again just before he set it down on the counter. The display read 'witch'. He let it go to voice mail. He heard no ding. He knew he'd catch hell later. He looked at this watch. It was just about time for her nightly nag about their monthly meeting.
Gloria had been in the shower for a while. When dinner was ready, after draining the noodles and broccoli, Alejandro knocked on the bathroom door. "Glo? Are you ok? You've been in there a long time. Dinner is ready."
She looked at her pruny hands. "I'm fine. Just getting out now." She rinsed a quick rinse then turned the water off. A fluffy white bathrobe hung behind the door covering the full length mirror. Maria had already embroidered the initials GM on the upper pocket. As she exited the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her head, she found Alejandro waiting for her with a glass of wine.
"Thank you." She said softly as she took a sip. "Mmm. This is good."
"Come sit with me. I want to talk to you about something." He took her hand and guided her to the white leather sofa. Their filled dinner plates sat on the coffee table. "Do you like your apartment? "
"It's beautiful, but Alejandro it's too much, really. How am I ever going to re-pay you for this? For everything?"
Shh!" He touched his finger to her lips. "I told you. You owe me nothing."
"Thank you." She said then took another sip of wine. "What did you want to talk to me about?"
"First. How are you doing? I'm guessing you spent most of the time in the shower crying."
She laughed lightly. "Yes. But I'm better now. Thank you. I hope I didn't empty your water tank."
"It's a big tank. He placed his glass on the coffee table. "Listen. I talked to my lawyer today. He's getting the paperwork started for my divorce. He also found out some things about Gretchen so it may not cost me as much as I thought it would. She's been stealing from me to support her boyfriend."
"Wow! That's good for you, right?"
"Yes, it is. I hope you don't mind but I also talked to him about representing you when you divorce Jason."
Gloria removed the glass from her lips that she had up until that point kept like a pacifier. She placed the glass on the coffee table then stood and turned her back to him as he stood to join her. He reached for her and took her shoulder in his hands as he nuzzled her neck just below the fluffy white towel still wrapped around her head.
"Are you angry? I'm sorry. I should have asked you first." He felt her body shake. "Glo?" He turned her to face him. She was crying again. "What's wrong?"
She spoke between sobs. "Don't you see? I can't divorce him now. I'm his wife. How would it look?"
"Gloria. He cheated on you. He stole from his business partner and clients then killed his partner and a federal agent to hide what he'd done. Jeff just called. They caught him after he stole a boat trying to sail out to sea. Glo he told the police that you were in on it all. He forged your name on documents. He's trying to pin this all on you and you want to stand by him? Gloria, you aren't thinking."
"He's blaming me for all of this?" She asked as she sniffled into the tissue she'd just taken from the pocket of her robe.
"Yes he is."
"Why would he do that?" She blew her nose.
"Because he's a coward. You need to be strong Gloria. I'll help you. I'll be right beside you all the way." He rubbed her arms.
She finally smiled for the first time in hours just as her stomach grumbled. "I think I'm hungry."
CH – 18
"Well then, let's eat. Dinner is served." He took her hand and led her back to the couch then handed her glass of wine back to her. "To us, Glo." Alejandro said as they touched glasses then sipped the sparkling white wine.
Gloria devoured her meal and finished what Alejandro left behind. She downed her third glass of wine as he brought two small dishes of vanilla ice cream to the couch. Hers was drizzled with chocolate syrup whipped cream, and a cherry on top. After she popped the cherry in her mouth, Alejandro took the long stem and placed it on his tongue. "Watch this" He said as he made faces then presented Gloria with the cherry stem that he had tied with his tongue in a knot shaped like a heart.
"I knew you had a talented tongue but I had no idea." They looked at each other as she covered her mouth with her free hand. "I can't believe I just said that out loud. I'm so embarrassed. It's the wine talking. I told you to shut me off at two." Alejandro just smiled.
"I'll be right back." He headed to her bathroom and returned with a large toothed comb. He pushed the coffee table forward away from the couch. "Sit." He said pointing to the floor. Gloria sat on the floor still wrapped in her plush new robe and covered her legs as she pulled her knees to her chest. Alejandro sat behind her on the couch and removed the towel from her head.
"Hey, what are you doing? My hair is a rat's nest." She tried to re-cover her head with the towel.
"Let me comb out the knots for you. It'll help you relax. I promise." He ran his fingers through her hair first to bring it all back away from her face. He then began to comb every knotted tress one by one starting at the bottom. As the knots disappeared she began to relax feeling his hand run through her hair massaging her head and neck with the occasional kiss.
When she moaned out loud, he stopped. "Why did you stop? It feels amazing." He shifted in his seat. She had somehow managed to finish a fourth glass of wine. She turned slightly in his direction. His discomfort was evident. She pointed and giggled. "Did I do that?"
"I'm afraid so." He admitted unable to hide his desire.
She turned fully around to face him. With a big drunken smile on her face she asked. "What should we do about that?" She pointed again.
"Nothing. You're drunk and I won't take advantage of you when you're drunk."
She leaned her face on his lap, made some crude undistinguishable comment then passed out.
"Why me?" He said with a sigh. Sliding her head from his lap, he let it fall between his legs. He swung one leg over her head then stood. He lifted her from under her arms and carried her to her bed. Opening the covers, he slid her in as her robe opened. Her soft snow white skin called out to him. He looked upward. "You hate me don't you? You really hate me." He covered her up then pulled the blankets up to her chin as he kissed her softly. He left the bedroom door ajar and walked back into the living room. He picked up the dirty dishes and glasses, placing them in the dishwasher. Once the apartment was all picked up, he opened her door then locked it behind him as he headed to his apartment next door. There was no way in hell he'd be able to stay in that apartment with her and not want to touch her. Being next door would be bad enough.
The following morning, Alejandro rose at his usual five am, stretched then headed out for his run. When he returned he showered then ate the breakfast that Maria had prepared for him. He began to read the newspaper she had also left for him.
The reporter was brutal in his article about Jason Waters. The AP photos of a wet handcuffed Jason Waters wrapped in a coast guard blanket with his hands covering his eyes, were not at all flattering. The reporter chose to include a paragraph referring to Gloria as a 'money hungry' wife having driven her husband to steal for her benefit. He talked about the furs and jewelry and expensive artwork that had been taken from the home they shared. Items Alejandro knew for a fact did not exist. Looking at the photo of Sonny standing at the front door with several FBI agents milling about carrying boxes from the home, it was not conducive to inspiring confidence of her innocence. There was an interview from a neighbor, a Mrs. Beale, who said that Gloria was always dressed to the nines, flashing her new cars and expensive jewelry while that poor husband of hers worked late into the night trying to provide for her. A Mr. Fenton said he never saw the Waters together because he worked so many hours. He suspected that she had boyfriends since she was so much younger than him. 'Married him for his money' he had added. The AP photo of Alejandro assisting Gloria into his Jaguar covering her face with her purse, didn't help matters either. From the type of biased coverage the local press provided, you'd have thought that Jason Waters was a saint and his wife Gloria Menendez was a mass murderer.
Alejandro wanted to check on Gloria but he felt it was still too early knowing that she'd have a massive hangover. He headed to his office instead taking his copy of the newspaper so that he could be with her when she read the articles.
Gloria woke with a terrible pounding in her head. It was relentless until she realized that someone was pounding on her door. She got up as the room spun then sat back down quickly. "Coming" She hollered. "Ouch." She got up a second time and headed for the door again. Unlocking it, she found Maria standing on the other side.
"Good morning dear. I have your breakfast. Are you hungry? Alejandro said you probably would be so he asked me to bring you something."
"Thank you. You're so sweet. Come in please." Gloria moved out of the way allowing Maria to enter with her cart.
"Alejandro said you have a good appetite, so I brought you a big breakfast. Once I know what you like, I'll be sure to include that. Enjoy." Maria was heading back out through the door.
"Maria wait." She said as she ran the water from the faucet into a glass before she downed two ibuprofen.
"What is it dear? Is something wrong? If you don't like what I made, I'd be happy to make you something else."
"No. I just wondered if you'd like to join me. Maybe have a cup of coffee with me?"
"Oh dear. Yes. That would be nice. I'd like that very much. Thank you." Maria said wondering why Alejandro stayed married to the witch when this delightful young woman was living right next door to him.
They chatted idly as Maria answered questions about the guys and Alejandro of course. After her second cup of coffee, Maria said her goodbyes. "Thank you for the coffee and the company, Gloria."
"It was my pleasure Maria. Breakfast was the best ever. You're an amazing cook." As an afterthought she added. "Oh, I'm sorry about cancelling my fitting appointment. Maybe another day?"
"You just let me know when you're up to it."
"Will you come again? Maybe we could go out for lunch sometime or shopping."
Maria liked Gloria more and more with every word that came out of her mouth.
"That would be nice. Thank you." Gretchen had never bothered to spend any time with Maria despite the fact that she was Alejandro's aunt. She had never once bothered to say thank you for all of her efforts.
As Maria placed her hand on the door to leave, Gloria reached out to her and hugged her then kissed her cheek. "Alejandro is very lucky to have you. Thank you again." Gloria said.
Maria waved goodbye and took her cart back to the kitchen. Before she reached the fifth floor, she had already dialed her sister to tell her about the new woman in her son's life.
Gloria showered, after taking another ibuprofen, just to shake the cobwebs from her pounding head, dressed then headed for her office.
Alejandro was sitting in his office when he heard a light tapping. He looked up and saw a smiling face.
"Good Morning." She sang out.
"Good Morning, Gloria. Come in." He said as he stood and rushed to the door to greet her. He yanked her in and shut the door behind her as he covered her face with kisses. "How are you feeling this morning?" He whispered.
"I think I'm going to go back to my apartment."
"Why? What's wrong? Don't you feel well?" he asked confused.
"Well, if that's the way you're going to greet me, then I'm coming back for more."
"Wait until you see how I greet you for lunch." He wriggled his eyebrows at her.
"Seriously. You hired me to do a job for you. I'd like to get started."
"You never disappoint me Gloria." He said with a smile. "But first you need to see this." He held the newspaper in his hand and waved it at her.
"I've seen it. Stole it from outside the door of the apartment next to yours. And for the record, Mr. Fenton cheats on Mrs. Fenton and Mrs. Beale fishes in everyone's trash." She added. "It was a nice picture of Jason though, don't you think?"
"You're taking this well." He was a little surprised.
She shrugged her shoulders. "What can I do? Burg gossip is the best. I'm used to it. I've lived with it all my life, Alejandro." She smiled at him as he smiled back.
He opened the newspaper and folded it back, then over and in quarters. Pointing to the business section, he said. "Did you see this?"
Gloria took the paper and read the notice Alejandro had pointed to.
Alvarez Inc. Inc., a growing PI and security firm on Elm Street St, with it's main office located here in Seattle , is pleased to announce the addition of Gloria Menendez to their staff as their Executive Vice President of Sales. She will be in charge of all sales and installation of security systems in their Seattle, San Diego, San Francisco and Portland offices. Miss Menendez earned a degree in Business Management at the Collier Community College. She has several years experience in both sales and management.
Alejandro was smiling when she looked up at him.
"Did you do this?"
"I can't tell a lie. Yes, I did." He puffed up his chest like a peacock.
"Oh Alejandro. I don't know what to say." She covered her mouth with her hand.
"You don't have to say anything."
She leaned over to him and kissed his cheek. "Thank you."
"De Nada, mi amor." He continued. "Now how about that trip to San Diego today? Your overnight bag is still in my car. Vince put it there when the Feds picked up your car. It might be a good idea for you to get out of town for a bit. Let this thing with Jason blow over a little."
"You're probably right."
Alejandro made a quick phone call. They took the elevator to the garage then the Expedition to the airport. Once they arrived at the Seattle airport, they parked near a large white Quonset hut. Alejandro rounded the vehicle and opened her door.
"Come on. We need to get going." He grabbed her hand and gave her a little tug to get her out of the vehicle.
"I'm coming. Don't get your piss hot." She said with a smile as she slid down the short distance from the seat to the ground. Alejandro caught her in his arms and kissed her gently.
"Something else is hot right now." He said with a wolf grin as she slapped his arm.
"Shh. We're in public." She tugged at her rising skirt and adjusted her suit jacket. "Behave yourself."
"Ok, for now." He agreed as they headed for the airplane hangar. "But I can't guarantee anything about later on."
She slapped him lightly again then laced her arm through the arm she had just slapped.
"What airline are we taking?" She said innocently completely unaware of her surroundings as they waked toward a small white airplane.
"This one." Alejandro said as he pointed to the ten passenger Cessna Citation 525 jet with the words "Alvarez Inc. Inc." painted in small black block print on the side.
Gloria stopped. "Is this yours?" Her mouth was open and her eyes were wide.
"Yes. Come on. You can gawk later." He tugged at her again.
CH - 19
As they approached the airplane, they were greeted by a middle aged man black man with graying hair, dressed in a navy military type uniform with gold braided epaulets. Gloria didn't need an instruction booklet to tell her that the man in front of her was the pilot but he looked familiar.
"Good Morning Alejandro." the handsome older man said in greeting as Alejandro tipped his hat that sported a pair of eagle wings above the rim. "Miss Menendez, welcome." He said to Gloria.
"Good Morning. Gloria please." She said in return extending her hand as the sun rose behind the control tower in the distance at her back.
"Alejandro. Fifteen minutes until we take off. Please take your seats." He said as he motioned for them to climb up the short staircase that led to the interior of the plane. Alejandro grabbed Gloria's hand and again yanked her gently up the steps and into the plane, telling her to duck as they entered the body.
The original interior had been gutted and remodeled. There were four beige overstuffed leather living room recliners and a three person beige leather sofa that apparently folded out into a bed. An oak wet bar was to the rear by the bathroom. The flooring was indoor/outdoor carpeting of a brown and tan checkered sort of pattern. The walls were cream colored with twenty small shuttered windows, ten on each side.
The pilot entered the cockpit and joined the co-pilot, an Asian woman of maybe forty years of age. She waved to Alejandro with a smile as she spoke to the control tower into her headpiece. When he shut the cockpit door, Gloria saw the name plate on the door. 'Pilot - Sebastian Brown.' Alejandro explained that the pilot was Andrew Brown's dad, a retired Air Force pilot who was always on stand-by.
Alejandro helped Gloria buckle her seatbelt before he sat in the seat beside her then secured himself.
"You aren't frightened in a small plane are you?" Alejandro asked his curly haired passenger.
"No. I don't mind small planes. Actually, I thought of becoming a pilot when I was little but my mother said it was a boy's job. Girls were stewardesses. I didn't want to be a stewardess. I wanted to fly the plane."
"Well maybe once you get settled into your new position, we'll get you some flying lessons, if only for fun."
"Really? Oh, Alejandro. I'd love that."
"When is your birthday?"
"Perfect. We'll get you up in a plane during the fall foliage season. You'll get a bird's eye view."
Once airborne, Gloria and Alejandro discussed the strategies they would use in the Seattle office to help Gloria establish a program to increase sales, manage and reduce costs. Alejandro had files on all his employees and their backgrounds on his laptop. Gloria made notes on hers and worked on a plan as Alejandro made a few phone calls. After one and a half hours in the air, they arrived at the airport in San Francisco.
It was just before nine o'clock, when they landed. Alejandro hailed one of the small white cabs just outside the exit door by the sidewalk for the twenty-five minute ride to a section of San Francisco called Chinatown. Alvarez Inc. Portland was located on Beach Street in the heart of Chinatown in a tall five story brick building well hidden between the Xue Tsien Chinese Restaurant and the Huang and Lau Real Estate Office. It was just a few blocks from the Bart train station. They arrived at the Alvarez Inc. building and entered through the side door off the street level parking garage. The control room reception area was on the ground floor so they stopped just so that Gloria could meet Kengtchu who was manning the desk. Then they took the stairs to the offices on the second floor. Alejandro walked boldly down the long hallway with Gloria at his side. She stopped at the ladies room as he continued on to his office. Gloria joined him after she'd taken care of business and washed her face and hands.
His San Francisco office was very dissimilar to his private office in Seattle. The desk had a black lacquered finish with gold or brass knobs and pulls. His leather desk chair and sofa were an off white color. The walls were about the same color. Across from his desk, hung a large Asian scene silk screened on a shiny soft fabric attached to the wall with lots of bright colors, mostly reds and gold. It was hanging with piano wire from three hooks attached to the ceiling molding. There was a small black table in the corner. It held a large hand painted china vase with bright colors depicting a geisha house complete with heavy set nude men bathing, while kimono robed women poured water into their bath. The room felt 'Chinese' as Gloria said in a soft whisper. Since Alejandro seldom used this office and the furniture appeared new, the room smelled of leather and plastic and dust. Alejandro would have a talk to the maintenance crew about that.
Gloria admired the magnificent silk tapestry covering the wall as Alejandro made a few more phone calls before they headed to Man Ching's office. He was the manager of the San Francisco office. The three Alvarez Inc. employees toured the building and Gloria met with each employee. They held a short business meeting, in the conference room, as was the norm when Alejandro made an appearance. Alejandro then called a cab to take them back to the airport. They were in the air and headed for San Diego by one. Maria had packed a sort of picnic lunch of sandwiches, fresh fruit and vegetables which they ate as they talked due to the lack of time on their busy schedule. Water bottles were always plentiful. Once in the air, they discussed what they had seen and Gloria asked questions about the meeting they'd had with Man Ching. Gloria had a few ideas regarding increasing sales which Alejandro appreciated and took careful note of.
Next on the agenda was the San Diego office where they did pretty much the same thing. They met with Fred first as he had an appointment then they toured the building where Gloria met more employees. He and Gloria discussed something she had seen in that office and Alejandro agreed that the matter needed watching so he called Fred at his appointment from the airplane. Fred assured him that the matter would be taken care of as soon as he returned from his meeting. A later e-mail confirmed it.
On to Portland, where they toured and greeted everyone in that office. Miguel, one of Alejandro's many relatives and part owner, was the manager of the Portland office so they decided to have a late dinner with Miguel and his wife at their home. Gloria and Alejandro maintained their distance in the presence of all Alvarez Inc. employees trying to keep up the appearance that their relationship was strictly business. Miguel's wife picked up on the chemistry and asked her husband when she pulled him into the kitchen under the guise of needing his help with 'something.'
Alejandro would have normally stayed in his private suite in the Portland office but decided that with Gloria along, too many tongues would wag. He was about to make reservations at a nearby hotel for the night when Gloria protested. She wanted to go home. They left Portland before eleven o'clock and headed home. They discussed Portland for a bit, but Miguel, like Alejandro, ran a tight ship. They both agreed there was little that needed changing. By they time they landed in Seattle around two am, Gloria had fallen asleep with her pen in her hair and her laptop open on her lap. Alejandro had napped with his head on the arm of the sofa. He closed the laptop and woke Gloria carefully. They grabbed their unused overnight bags and headed back to the black vehicle waiting in the lot. It took another hour or so to get home. Alejandro drove. When they arrived at the Alvarez Inc. garage, everything was quiet so they headed to their respective apartment. Alejandro stood at his apartment door as Gloria unlocked hers and was about to walk in.
"Alejandro. Would you stay with me? I don't want to be alone."
Without a word, he replaced his key in his pocket and headed for Gloria's apartment. They locked the door behind them, effectively locking out the world and prying eyes. They changed into comfortable sleepwear and instantly fell asleep in each other's arms. They woke after a few hours, in the same position.
"Good morning." Alejandro said as he kissed the forehead he found under a mass of brown curls.
She smiled at him with squinted eyes. "Morning. What's on the agenda for today, boss?"
Alejandro was playing with a curl. "Are you up for an outing today? I have to meet a prospective new client in Renton. I'd like you to come with me." He kissed her cheek. "She's an elderly lady and I'm afraid I might frighten her. If you're there, she won't feel as intimidated." He placed a delicate kiss on her lips. "We can stop for lunch on the way back."
"That would be nice." She brushed her lips against his. "Could we have dinner together tonight? I'll ask Maria to make something. If that's ok with you." She snuggled closer.
"Yes, but remember I have to meet with Gretchen tonight for our monthly whine session." He placed his hand on her hip and began to gently rub her side and back as he nuzzled her neck. "She usually whines for more money. We argue. I give her what she wants to get her off my back.' He took a tiny bite as she moaned. "It doesn't normally take more than an hour. I should be free by seven. Is that too late?" He lowered his head and kissed the space between her breasts.
"Nope." She said as Alejandro slid his hand under her t-shirt pulling it up over her head as she raised her arms. "Should I wear something special for this client? I don't have much clothes left expect for the black suit I've been wearing."
"No. Your suit is fine." He reached down and removed the black silk shorts he'd worn overnight and dropped them on the floor. "We can stop at the mall on the way back and pick up some new clothes for you though."
"You don't have to do that, Alejandro. Once I start getting a paycheck, I'll be able to fill my own closet." She placed her hands on his shoulders as he placed his on her hips and slid her panties to her knees.
"I know that." He nipped at her neck. "I know that." He whispered softly as he kissed her.
Once showered and dressed, they headed for their offices. Gloria followed Alejandro into his. She handed him some of the notes she'd made the day before. Before she left for her office, Alejandro held then kissed Gloria behind his office door that was slightly ajar.
There was a knock at the door on the penthouse floor.
"What is it?" Gretchen said as she approached the door before she opened it, keeping her eyes on the movie playing on the wide screen TV hanging above the fireplace.
"It's Hal ma'am. I have a special delivery envelope for you. Should I just…"
Gretchen opened the heavy steel door.
"Give me that." She said as she grabbed it from the big man's hands. "Do I need to sign anything?"
"Yes ma'am." He waited as she signed the green card on the clipboard, then waited for a comment or a thank you or a 'fuck off' but got nothing. "Have a nice day, ma'am."
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever." She said as she shut the door in his face.
"You're welcome, bitch." He muttered silently under his breath before he took the elevator back down to the control room.
Gretchen dropped the large yellow envelope on the breakfast bar as she re-filled her coffee cup. She lit a cigarette then pulled out the stool setting her widening ass on the padded seat. She took note of the return address on the envelope. 'Attorney Jack Knapper' as smoke escaped from her nostrils.
"What the fuck is this?" she said out loud as she dropped her cigarette in the overflowing ashtray. She tore at the envelope. "No. NO, NO, NO!" She screamed. It was too soon. They hadn't been married long enough yet. She knew that their marriage was a sham but she had hoped it would last a little longer until she was ready to make her move. Her bank account wasn't as large as she'd planned. Then she read the letter Jack Knapper had attached to the back of the divorce papers.
'Mrs. Alvarez. It appears that the monthly allowances that your husband has been providing to you for your support have remained untouched to date. It also appears that a Mr. Patrick O'Toole has benefited by Mr. Alvarez's generosity in the form of credit card payments for his apparent frivolous lifestyle. I believe this may be against …'
"NO!" she screamed again as she covered her mouth with her hand shaking her head side to side in a panic.
The letter continued. 'Your signature below indicates your willingness to accept the terms stated above. All past monies will be considered payment in full for your inconvenience. Mr. Alvarez has agreed to continue with your monthly stipend of ten thousand dollars until this matter is complete and your marriage is dissolved. Failure to sign this form will…"
"You are NOT going to get away with this, Alejandro." She screamed again as she stuffed the paperwork back into the envelope and slammed it on the bar. Jumping off the stool she headed for the bedroom then dressed in a tight pair of bright pink sweatpants and a sweatshirt with a pair of flip-flops with large daisies on her feet. She grabbed the envelope and her apartment key from the credenza as she headed out the door to the office floor. Alejandro was about to get a piece of her mind.
She tapped her foot impatiently as the elevator crept down from the penthouse floor to the offices. She bumped into Junior as she exited nearly knocking the big man over.
"What are you looking at?" She said as he tried to steady himself. Storming off toward the end of the long hallway towards Alejandro's office, she muttered under her breath all the way. His door was ajar so that meant he was there. She heard voices. HER voice.
"Stop it. We're never going to get out of here in time to make that appointment if you don't keep those hands to yourself. Tehe." Gretchen heard Gloria giggle.
"I'll re-schedule." Alejandro said in a muffled voice.
Gretchen watched through the small crack in the door from the hallway. She had the manila envelope in her hand. She was not happy at what she saw in front of her but it just might work to her advantage. She decided that she had to act quickly before it was too late so she headed back into the elevator and up to the apartment to plan her attack.
CH – 20 - Gretchen's Revenge.
Gretchen picked up the house phone and made a long distance call to a small trailer park outside of Milwaukee.
"Hello." Came a gravely voice before a cough and a hack was heard.
"Mother?" The old woman sensed immediately that something wasn't right.
"Gretchen? What's wrong, baby?" She said as she lit another cigarette dropping her blue sweatpants covered lard ass onto the red vinyl covered kitchen chair. She picked a piece of tobacco from her tongue and flicked it on the floor.
"Mother. Alejandro's filing for divorce. He discovered the money I've been taking from him. His lawyer says it's only a matter of time before Patrick and I are arrested if I don't accept his terms." She said as she paced.
"Why that no-good sonovabitch. What brought about the change in him? He's been kissing your ass for two years. Things were going as planned." She popped the beer tab and took a swig.
"He started seeing someone." Tapping her cigarette pack on the back of her hand, she then placed the phone receiver in the crook of her neck.
"What? He's cheating on you? That scumbag lowlife.' She said in a very loud tone. "When did this happen?" A yellow scruff fell from her foot as she massaged her bunion.
"He just met her. He needed a new assistant of some sort so he hired this woman. Now he's sleeping with her. Mother. What am I going to do?" Twirling an unlit cigarette on the counter as she listened.
"Hmph." She hesitated for a moment as she took a puff, dropping her hot ash on the poodle, flicked the hot cinder from the dogs back then onto the torn vinyl floor. The dog jumped onto her lap. "OK. You listen to me. Here's what you're going to do." Tapping her nicotine yellowed fingernails on the formica and chrome table, she let her cigarette hang from the corner of her mouth. Smoke billowed in her eyes, as she spoke. She then gave her daughter instructions on what to do and how to handle the situation to steer control back in her direction. When Alejandro got there for his meeting, he'd have no ideas that he was under siege.
"I have to go meet with the witch. I'll be back in about an hour or so. We'll have dinner then, ok?" Alejandro asked as he placed the shopping bags on the dining room table some hours later in the day.
"Sure, but no wine tonight, please? I still have a headache from last night. " she rubbed her forehead.
"No wine. I promise." He gave Gloria a smile and a quick peck then shut her apartment door as he headed for the elevator. He found himself whistling in the elevator as it rose. He'd have to wipe the grin off his face before he could face Gretchen. God forbid he'd be happy for a second. He placed his hand over this mouth and found it difficult to prevent himself from smiling.
As the elevator door opened he stepped out. The hallway reeked of cigarette smoke. He shook his head wanting to hold his nose as he knocked on the door.
"Gretchen." He hollered.
"Come in Alejandro. The door's open." Alejandro turned the latch then pushed the heavy metal door. "Hi." Gretchen said as she lit the last candle then blew out the match. "You're late. I thought you'd be here earlier."
"My appointment lasted longer than I planned." He didn't feel it was necessary to tell Gretchen that he and Gloria had spent the afternoon shopping in Bellevue after lunch. Alejandro removed his suit jacket. Gretchen had cranked up the thermostat and the apartment was hotter than hell. He spied the covered dishes, lace table cloth and candles on the dining room table and around the dimly lit room. Gretchen was wearing a sexy pale pink floor length flowing peignoir. "What's going on Gretchen?" He asked.
She lowered her head sheepishly then walked over to him seductively. "I've been thinking. I know I haven't been much of a wife to you lately and I've been feeling guilty about the way I've been treating you so I thought I'd do something to, you know, bring the spark back." She smiled as she took his necktie in her hands and fondled it, rubbing it up and down, before loosening it. "I made all your favorites." She sang out as she glanced at the spread on the table. Gretchen was actually a fairly good cook and the size of her ass showed it if only she was wasn't so lazy about taking care of her own meals.
He pulled his tie from her hands and backed away. "I've already eaten Gretchen."
She grabbed his shoulders as he turned to walk away.
"Alejandro, please. Give me a chance to make this up to you. I still love you."
He grabbed her arms roughly.
"Gretchen stop! What do you really want? More money?"
She leaned into him again trying to graze her lips on his. "Make love to me. Make love to me the way you used to." she pleaded. Her goal was actually to get him to sleep with her just to cause a riff between him and Gloria. This would effectively end his need and desire for a divorce delaying the inevitable to give her more time. Her mother had promised this would work because it had worked for her.
"Stop it Gretchen." He said as he pushed her away. "Just stop it."
"Why not? Is there someone else? There is isn't there? That's why you won't touch me anymore." She pretended to cry to try to make him feel guilty.
"I don't touch you anymore because you won't let me. We've haven't even slept in the same bed for over a year and half. We've been though this before, Gretchen."
Things were not going as planned so the claws emerged as the hackles came up. "You're sleeping with HER, aren't you?"
This statement caught him off guard but there was no noticeable flinch.
"What are you talking about?"
"Gloria. You're sleeping with Gloria, your new secretary. Jason Waters' wife. I know you are and don't lie to me. I've seen you two together. I've seen the way you look at each other."
Admitting he was sleeping with Gloria would be like marital suicide. Divorcing Gretchen would cost him a bundle but admitting to an adulterous affair would cost him even more.
"I am not." The words burned his lips. He silently begged Gloria for her forgiveness.
"No? Then prove it to me. Sleep with me tonight. Prove to me that you aren't sleeping with her." Plan B in action. She thought she had him over a barrel. That he'd admit to sleeping with Gloria so she could divorce him and go back home to Patrick with all of Alejandro's money. Her mother's plan was now back on track and working perfectly.
Alejandro knew his goose was cooked no matter what he decided to do. He didn't want to sleep with Gretchen because he knew it would be cheating on Gloria. He loved Gloria. That would hurt her terribly. He'd lose her. He swallowed then snapped his neck. He opened his mouth to answer her but his mouth was dry.
Gretchen walked over to the breakfast bar. On to plan C, she thought, so she took the open champagne bottle from the ice filled marbled bucket and tipped it into two waiting tall fluted glasses. She took one then handed the other to Alejandro. He took the glass and downed it quickly as she continued. He needed to brace himself for this fight.
"What do I get out of this?" He needed to hear his options.
"A divorce. Free and clear." She waved the manila envelope with divorce papers inside thinking he'd cave to her threat.
"I don't trust you." He spat out knowing he'd already made his decision.
"You have no choice. I know you're sleeping with her. You have no valid reason to divorce me other than you're bored with me. I can file for adultery. I win and you lose, Alejandro. You lose everything!" She mouthed animatedly as she clinked her glass against his. "Oh, and you will NOT simply fuck me Alejandro Alvarez, then move on. You aren't getting your freedom that easily. You're going to make love to me. Slow and gentle and loving, just like you do with her. You're going to pretend I'm her and do the same things to me that you do to her. Is that clear?" She placed her untouched glass on the counter. "I know what you can do. You can even call me Gloria if you want as you come inside of me, not her. It's time we started a family anyway. Don't you think?" Knowing that was impossible she leaned into him trying to brush her lips against his as she whispered the words. Alejandro pulled back as his jaw clenched while she smiled. "Come on, Sweetheart." She said in a syrupy tone as she tugged at him. "I'd like to take a nice shower first. Wouldn't you like to join me like you used to? You're sooo good in the shower." She grabbed at his belt and tugged him harder.
Suddenly the room started to spin. Gretchen's laughter became menacingly cartoon like as her face became smaller and smaller until it completely disappeared with a pop.
The purple cell phone danced on a coffee table, covered in magazines, cigarette butts, and empty beer cans, many miles away. A groggy old woman placed the device to her ear.
"Mother? It's Gretchen." She was crying.
"Gretchen? What's wrong now baby?" Sitting up quickly, she swung her legs over the edge of the worn flowered sofa slipcover.
"Your plan backfired." She held her phone to her ear as she paced then pulled out a stool and sat at the breakfast bar.
"What do you mean?" She rubbed her eyes then reached for her eyeglasses.
"I tried to seduce him like you said but it didn't work. I had candles and music and wine and a nice dinner all set when he came up. It didn't work. Mother. It didn't work." She patted the magazines for her pack of cigarettes and her Bic lighter.
"Really? Why not?" The eyeglasses were adjusted.
"He wouldn't admit to sleeping with her. He pushed me away." She stood again and walked to the fridge, opened the door and peered inside.
"Then what happened?" She lit her cigarette then took a puff.
"I drugged him." She admitted.
"You drugged him? Oh Gretchen. That's precious. Then what happened?" A smile appeared on the weathered face as she dusted the ashes from her dingy white sweatshirt. The one with the embroidered poodles on the front.
"I thought if I drugged him that he'd be confused. Mother, Alejandro fought me anyway." She pulled the ice cream from the freezer then set it on the counter as she reached for a dish.
"Alejandro. What the hell kind of name is Alejandro, anyway? Was his mother drunk when she named him?" she stood up and began to pace rubbing her forehead trying to think up a new plan of attack for her daughter as more ashes fell onto the balding green shag carpet. "He has to learn who's the boss, Gretchen. You can't let this go. You have to punish him somehow."
"I already did. I marked him." She chuckled lightly at what she had done as she scooped the ice cream into the dish.
"I marked him. I want her to think that we slept together even if we didn't so I gouged his back to look like I scratched him with my fingernails and placed a really amazing hickey on his neck where everyone can see it. You'd be proud of me. I used the vacuum cleaner hose like you used on Frederick. It did a great job." She licked the large spoon.
Mother laughed hysterically.
"My daughter, you are something else. Yes, I'm proud of you. But what are you going to do now?" she took another puff flicking more ashes onto her embroidered poodles.
CH – 21
The following morning Alejandro sat at his desk with his head in his hands unable to sit comfortably from the scratches on his back. He was trying to hide the mark deliberately placed on his neck just above his collar. The hooded sweatshirt wasn't going to cut it. He'd need a turtle neck, which he didn't own. If a man ever felt he had a reason to cry that would be one of them. He heard Gloria's glorious voice in the hallway then stood quickly to shut and lock his door unable to face her. In his confusion, he unlocked instead of locking the door. Gloria walked into Alejandro's office with a smile on her face and a stack of files in her arms.
"Good Morning. Gretchen must have had a lot to talk about last night. You never came back for dinner. Maria made this amazing stew. You would have …" She began as she placed the files on his desk. She raised her eyes to meet his. At first she only saw the embarrassed look on his face then she saw the mark on his neck. He leaned his head a little to the side tugging at the collar of his hoodie to hide it. The smile left her face leaving a look of shock and disappointment then hurt. She covered her mouth with her hand then backed out of his office and ran to the ladies room.
"Gloria wait." He called to her.
Jeff walked in at that moment, with his head turned watching Gloria run so he asked.
"What's up with her? Is she sick?" He turned his head back again and walked into his boss's office then sat before he looked up at him. Alejandro lowered his collar revealing the mark to his friend.
"Nice." Jeff said. "Very professional. Candy normally keeps my marks out of site." He chuckled a little then saw that Alejandro wasn't laughing.
"Gretchen did it."
"WHAT? I thought..."
"Yeah, well..." He leaned back absentmindedly, then leaned forward again.
Jeff turned his head toward the restrooms as though he could see through walls.
"Glo know?" He whispered.
"Yeah. She just came in. You witnessed what happened after she saw it." He rubbed his neck hoping to erase the evidence.
"What did you tell her?"
"Nothing. She didn't give me a chance to explain."
"Go after her, man."
"What the fuck would I say to her?" Again he attempted to lean back against his chair but failed.
Jeff shut the door quietly.
"What happened? You didn't... did you?" He asked.
"Honestly? I don't know what happened last night." He leaned forward with his face in his hands, elbows on this desk. "Gretchen and I had our monthly meeting last night when I got home from my appointment in Renton with Gloria. When I got upstairs, she had prepared a candlelit dinner, soft music was playing in the background then she handed me a glass of wine."
"And.., she tried to seduce me. She told me that if I agreed to sleep with her, she'd give me a divorce."
"So you agreed?"
"Actually her words were: 'make love to me the way you used to, the way you make love to Gloria now.'" He repeated the awful words in a whiney tone.
"She knows about Gloria?"
"So you slept with her?"
"No. She put something in the wine. After one sip, I hit the floor. I woke up in the same spot with my clothes askew, and this on my neck." He pointed to the large purple ring. "And these." He lifted his sweatshirt as he turned slightly in his chair and showed Jeff several very red, raw and angry fingernail gouges on his back."
"Youch! Doesn't that hurt? You should have Andrew look at that."
"I did. He gave me an anti-biotic and some salve to put on it. But it's still really uncomfortable."
"Man was she always crazy like that?"
"No, never. Actually she was never really 'into it' at all."
"So? What's her point?"
"Don't know. Revenge maybe? She was asleep when I woke up. I high-tailed it to my apartment, stripped, then showered not knowing what I'd done. I needed to get the Gretchen cooties off of me. You know?"
"Yeah. I hear ya."
"That's when I discovered the scratches so I went straight to bed. I was supposed to have dinner with Glo then hopefully spend the night, after I met with the witch. Clearly I missed that. Oh man, Jeff. I am so screwed. She's never going to believe that I didn't sleep with Gretchen."
Gretchen sat on the edge of her bed staring at her bright red toe nails now ashamed of what she'd done. Why had she listened to her mother? She didn't love Alejandro. Never did and she knew he never loved her. She was in love with Patrick. Their wedding was a drunken Elvis Impersonator affair and should have been annulled the following day, but NO. Gretchen knew he had money and she wanted it. Patrick begged her to come home. She stupidly refused and now this. Alejandro had tried to be a good husband, in the beginning, but he soon gave up when Gretchen made it clear she wanted nothing to do with him. That's when he began sleeping on the couch or in the spare room then eventually took an apartment. He seldom returned to the penthouse apartment unless invited or when she was away. So why had she insisted that he sleep with her last night? To prove a point? She knew he deserved better and that he was in love with Gloria. They had made a deal. She had promised him a divorce and a divorce he would have.
Gretchen, now showered and dressed, was sitting at the dining room table, pen in hand. Her luggage stacked neatly by the door. Signed divorce papers sat in a sealed manila envelope on the breakfast bar. Time was running out. She had to get out before it was too late.
'Dear Alejandro:' she began.
'First I want to thank you for everything you've done for me and given me. You're an amazing and generous man. Despite everything I've done to sabotage this marriage, you've done everything to try to save it. It was doomed from the beginning and we both knew it. Secondly I want you to know that I hold no ill will regarding Gloria. I have to admit that I was jealous but for the wrong reasons. I know you love her and you belong together. I hope I haven't destroyed that for you because if I did, I'm truly sorry. I'll speak to her if you'd like to try to fix things between you. Lastly, I'm leaving for good this time. I signed the divorce papers. It would be faster than waiting for me to re-establish residency and file back home. Oh, and I don't want any more money. No alimony. You've given me enough already. More than I deserve. I'll be long gone by the time you get this note. I wish you the best. Gretchen.'
PS. I apologize for the scratches. I was angry. Nothing happened last night. You were faithful to Gloria. You fought me even in your drugged stupor. Oh, and you might want to get a new vacuum cleaner nozzle.'
Gretchen picked up her phone and called a cab. She carefully snuck all of her bags down to the garage placing them on the sidewalk outside passing through the side door. She knew she was being monitored and Alejandro would soon find out but she'd hoped the taxi would arrive so she could get going before he showed up.
Alejandro was still sitting in his office sulking when his phone rang.
"Boss. You better come down here."
"Gretchen is in the garage with a lot of bags. Is she going somewhere?"
Alejandro hung up the phone and took the stairs to the garage.
"Gretchen." He called out as she lifted the last bag into the truck of the taxi. "Where are you going? You didn't tell me you were going anywhere."
She handed Alejandro the letter she had written. She had intended to leave it for him at the control desk.
"I'm leaving you. Everything is in this letter. I promised you that after last night, I would grant you your freedom. You're free. Now go." The cold hearted woman's voiced hitched.
"Do you need anything?"
"No. It's best for both of us, Alejandro." She placed her hands on Alejandro's chest and pushed gently. "Go. Go get her before you mess that up too." She smiled a weak smile, then kissed his cheek. "Go." She slid into the cab as he shut the door.
"How can I reach you?" He called out as she depressed the 'window down' button on the arm rest.
"I'll be staying with my mother. You can reach me there. Goodbye Alejandro." She pushed the 'up button' as she instructed the driver to take her to the airport. Opening her cell phone, she punched in the number she'd taken from Alejandro's phone while he was out cold, then placed it to her ear.
Gloria returned to her office and composed herself as she folded the white piece of paper and stapled it shut. She then turned off her computer placing her company phone, office and apartment keys in the desk drawer along with everything else that was company property. Peeking out her office door, she watched Jeff enter Alejandro's office then hers. She heard him call out to her possibly thinking she was there. She managed to reach the stairwell door then took to the stairs with her purse under her arm.
Alejandro stood in amazement as he read Gretchen's letter then he whispered, "Thank you, Gretchen." He headed for his office to talk to Gloria.
Jeff appeared as the elevator door opened on the fifth floor.
"Alejandro, where's Gloria?"
"Probably in her office. Why?"
"That's what I thought too but we had a meeting this morning. When she didn't show, after her outburst this morning, I called first and got no answer so I went to her office. When I opened the door I found it empty with this note on her blotter." Jeff handed him a folded and stapled piece of copy paper with the word 'Alejandro' neatly written on top. Alejandro pulled out the staple then sucked the blood from the tiny pin hole before he unfolded the tear stained note.
'Alejandro: I don't know what to say exactly, but I know that I can't talk to you right now. I saw the mark on your neck and I know where it came from. You slept with Gretchen last night that's why you never came back to the apartment. I forgive you. She's your wife and that's what husbands and wives do. I don't think I can continue to work for you any longer considering what has happened between us. It isn't fair to Gretchen or you. I hope you'll be happy together now that you've reconciled. Know that I love you and always will but only from afar. I won't try to interfere or contact you and I would appreciate it if you would offer me the same courtesy. Jason will need me now that he's in prison. It's my duty as his wife to help him. I'll send someone to get my things out of the apartment by the end of the day. Love always, Gloria.'
Gloria reached the bottom of the stairs and headed for the garage as tears continued to pour non-stop from her eyes. By the time she reached the garage, she was sobbing. She watched Alejandro enter into the elevator then the door closed before she sprinted across the underground parking garage. Remembering her company tracker, it hit the storm drain just as she hesitated then headed east. She wasn't sure where she should go, so she headed for the park. She walked down along the worn paths throughout the park avoiding any glances as she blotted her eyes. Her phone rang just after she got there. Thinking it was Alejandro, she ignored it. Sitting on the swings, she tried to calm herself. She'd been betrayed yet again by another man. How could she have trusted him? She'd only known him for a few days. Jason needed her now. If he'd take her back, she'd go back to Jason. Her phone dinged indicating that she had a message. She huffed a little at the thought of listening to Alejandro whine and lie but pushed the number one anyway. He wouldn't be able to say she hadn't heard him out. She was shocked by what she heard.
CH – 22 –
Alejandro's office phone rang. Hal was calling again from the control room.
"Boss. Glo just ran out of the building. Is she ok?"
"Fuck! Did she say where she was going?"
"No but she looked like she was crying."
"Which way did she go?"
"East. Up Elm Street ."
"Does she have her tracker?"
Hal checked the screen.
"It looks like she's headed for the canal. My guess would be that she flushed it."
Alejandro knew where he'd find Gloria. There were only two choices. One: she'd go to Point Pleasant. Since she had no car and she was on foot that only left the other choice. The park. Gloria loved the park. Alejandro headed out the door.
"I'm going after her. I'm not going to let her go without a fight." He said out loud to himself.
Alejandro took to the stairs and headed out the door on foot jogging the four blocks at a quick pace. He could see Gloria was sitting on the edge of the stone wall around the poi pond under the large weeping willow. He didn't slow his pace until he got within a few feet from her. A little winded he spoke.
"Hi yourself." she replied.
"Do you mind if I sit here with you?" He asked afraid of what she'd say as she splashed the water gently with her hand causing rippled arcs across the manmade pool.
"Suit yourself. It's a free country. You can sit anywhere you'd like."
"If I sit here will you leave?"
"No." She answered so he sat.
They sat quietly as the pigeons gathered at their feet. Alejandro began.
"Gloria, I don't know what to say."
"Then don't say anything." She said as she lifted her hand from the water, shook off the excess, then dried it on her pants. She reached into her purse.
"Gloria. I can't explain what happened last night because I don't know exactly what happened."
"I know that."
They sat quietly for a while longer. She gazed off in the distance as he stared at her form.
"Stop staring. You're making me uncomfortable." she fondled the phone in her hands.
"I'm sorry." He turned his head away. "Glo..." He began as he turned back to her.
She put up her hand to silence him.
She turned to look at him this time and her eyes were soft and warm whereas he expected fire and hatred. With her phone in her hand, she flashed it front of his face. "I just got a message from Gretchen."
"Gretchen called you? Why? What did she want?" Knowing Gretchen, she could have told Gloria anything.
"She called to tell me what really happened last night." She was still looking at him then reached up and touched the mark on his neck. He flinched and tried to pull away, ashamed of what it meant. "Let me see your back."
"Was that difficult for you to understand? Let me see your back."
He sighed then turned his back to her as he lifted his sweatshirt.
"Ouch!" She said as she touched the deep scratches with a cool gentle hand, lining the gouges with the tip of her finger. Although painful, it was erotic in a strange way. His mind wandered quickly wishing it was Gloria that had marked him. "Has Andrew seen this?"
"Yes." He said as he lowered his sweatshirt and turned to face her again.
"I thought you'd be angry with me and hurt. Glo, I don't understand."
She reached for the mark on his neck again. He let her touch it this time. Her cool fingers and gentle touch were soothing so he closed his eyes.
"She's good." Glo said with a light tone as she outlined the angry purple and red circle. "Does it hurt?"
To his surprise, she leaned into him slightly seductively as she brushed her lips on his then whispered in a husky voice. "I could do better. I could make them hurt. I could make you want more. And they wouldn't show to the world, only you." She placed her hand on his chest over the racing freight train housed under his shirt. She then took his hand and placed it over her chest on the soft fleshy pliable part. "and me." She added.
She sat back in her position and showed him her phone again. "Listen to what Gretchen had to say."
Gloria fiddled with her phone then replayed the message that Gretchen had left.
"Gloria? This is Gretchen, Alejandro's wife. Well, not for much longer. I um, I want to apologize to you. I did something last night that I'm not proud of. Alejandro came to the penthouse for our monthly financial meeting and I tried to seduce him. I had candles and soft Latin music playing. I even cooked some of his favorite dishes. I spent all day preparing the apartment and myself. I tried every trick I knew but when nothing worked I drugged him as a last resort. I know that was wrong but I saw you two together and wanted that for myself. I don't want Alejandro, not that he isn't a good man, but I'm not in love with him. I'm still in love with Patrick from back home. I only married Alejandro for his money. I tried to bribe Alejandro into sleeping with me with the promise of a divorce. He never caved, Gloria, never. He loves you. I have to admit that I was angry at first, hence the scratches on this back. I used a nail file. I can't believe I did that to him. He didn't deserve that. Oh, and the love bite, tell Alejandro to get a new vacuum cleaner nozzle. I'm really sorry Gloria. I know you're probably angry with him right now, but he did nothing wrong. Even drugged, he refused my advances. I signed the divorce papers so he'll be free as soon as the paperwork is filed and the waiting period is over. I'm on my way to the airport to head home to Patrick. He'll be waiting for me when I land. Have a good life together. Goodbye."
"So I didn't do anything wrong?" He said relieved.
"Nope. I'd get a new vacuum cleaner though, like she said. Just the thought is 'eweee'." They both chuckled as he slung his arm around her shoulder and kissed her forehead.
"Glo, I know I'm not free yet and neither are you but once the penthouse is cleaned of cigarette smoke and redecorated to your taste. I'd like you to move in with me."
"We'll talk about that later. Right now I want to go home. I have a job to do and you promised to have dinner with me last night. You owe me."
"Let me take you somewhere special tonight. Anywhere you want to go."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. I love their stuffed manicotti."
"Come on." He said as he stood offering her his hand. "Let's go home, we can 'talk' some then change for dinner."
After several months had passed, their love for each other continued to grow. Jason was in the state prison awaiting trial having been refused bail. Gloria stopped to see him, if only out of duty. He began his demeaning rant so she handed him his divorce papers and never looked back. Gretchen was with Patrick and already pregnant. Alejandro and Gloria spent all of their working and spare time together especially their nights. The apartment on seven had long since been cleaned and redecorated to their tastes with all signs of the previous occupant gone and forgotten. Gloria quickly caught on to the company's inner workings and became a real asset to Alvarez Inc. Sales soared and the P&L showed black numbers consistently for the first time since Alejandro had married Gretchen. He'd spent so much time trying to make the marriage work, in the beginning, that he'd neglected his duties. Once he was certain that his efforts fell on deaf ears, he lost interest in his business and life in general. Gloria changed all that. Jeff had recently told him that it was good to have his old friend back from the dead.
Gloria had grown as a person feeling more confident in herself and her abilities. The results were obvious. She had an amazing sense of humor, always joking and laughing and playing tricks and practical jokes on the employees. Giving Les a real run for his money. Even her own mother had to agree that Gloria had finally grown up and blossomed. She told her she was proud of her accomplishments. Alejandro's mom referred to her as another daughter. She scolded her son for not finding her sooner.
Gloria was sitting at her desk just about to hang up her phone when Alejandro knocked.
"Thank you for your business Mr. Cutler. We look forward to a long relationship with you. Give my best to your wife Nancy, would you? Bye, Bye." She looked up and found Alejandro standing in her office doorway, arms folded, with a smile on his face holding two large manila envelopes against his chest. "Hey handsome. Eavesdropping?"
"No, just admiring the view." He entered the room now covered in her and Alejandro's nephew's and niece's pictures and drawings then stood in front of her. "This came for you today." He handed her one of the large envelopes.
"What is this?" She looked at the return address. "Is this what I think it is?" She said with excitement.
"I don't know, but I've got one just like it." He flashed a similar envelope before her.
"Oh Alejandro, It can't be. So soon?" She tore at the sealed lip like a child at Christmas.
"Money talks, Gloria." He smiled a guilty smile.
"You didn't. Did you?" He shrugged his shoulders. "Alejandro, you bribed the judge to rush the divorce papers?"
"No I did not. Now that's not quite the way it went.' He dropped onto the light gray leather sofa across from her desk. "I asked him how his wife liked the new condo at the beach. You know, the one we just installed a new security system in."
"Alejandro, how did that …?"
"He didn't buy it for his wife. He bought it for a 'friend'."
"Alejandro. Shame on you. You blackmailed a judge."
"No I didn't. I simply asked a legitimate business question. In return for my discretion, he asked if I needed any help with anything. I just happened to mention our divorces and he offered to… let's just say he wanted to help us."
She pointed her scolding finger at him.
"Shame on you. But thank you." She stood and leaned over her desk for a kiss but he was already sitting on the couch and didn't get up.
"Glo, can we talk for a minute?"
'Sure." What's up?"
He patted the empty cushion. "Come sit with me." She walked over to him and sat in the space beside him. He pulled her closer in his arms. "I have a business proposition for you. You've been a real asset to this company from the minute you walked through the door. You thought I was overpaying you in the beginning. Trust me when I tell you that you have earned your keep and then some. You deserve every cent I pay you and more. The business is growing by leaps and bounds. Sales have skyrocketed thanks to you. You've saved every account we might have lost and then you managed to bring back some we'd already lost. You're amazing. Absolutely amazing Gloria." He brushed her hair from her face. "I've talked to Jeff and Miguel and we all agree that it's time to take on a fourth partner. We'd like to offer you that opportunity. If you agree, you'd own twenty four percent of Alvarez Inc."
Gloria couldn't believe what she was hearing.
"Are you serious?"
"You've earned it, Glo. You brought something to this company that was badly lacking. "
She let out a huge sigh. "Wow! I never expected this, never."
"There is a small catch, however."
She looked at him sideways.
"I was thinking that since you're free now and so am I that you'd agree to another kind of partnership. It would be a lifetime commitment though. Would you also consider becoming my partner in life? Would you marry me Gloria?"
Glo decided she wanted to play a little. Always the jokester.
"So, let me see if I got this right. If I agree to the business partnership AND the marriage partnership, does that mean I get to sleep with Jeff and Miguel too?"
"NO." Alejandro blasted as she broke into hysterical laughter.
"I'm kidding. I'm sorry. Couldn't resist. Alejandro, I just couldn't resist." She laughed so hard she had to wipe the tears from her eyes.
"So?" He said after she'd settled down. His hand on his hip with his head cocked to the side.
"Yes. I would be honored to be your business and your lifetime partner." She said taking his face in her hands and placing a light kiss on his lips.
He reached into his jacket pocket and removed the ring. He took her hand and placed in on her finger keeping his silent promise to her.