Louis sat at the cloth-covered table in the ballroom enjoying his lunch. He hadn’t tasted steak this juicy in a long time, and savored every bite. He was sure the kitchen staff kept the marinade recipe tightly under wraps. Emily chose that moment to join him.
“So, I’ve been thinking,” she started. “We only have a few more nights here. What do you say we go out tonight? Maybe make a new friend?” she asked, her eyebrows dancing. Her evening spent with that couple had lit a fire and she wanted to fuel it while she had the chance.
Louis thought for a minute. “Sure,” he said, taking another bite of his steak. “Want a bite?” he asked.
Turning her head, Emily refused. “No, thank you.” Boldly, she let her hand slide up his thigh. “There’s only one piece of meat I’m interested in right now,” she said, her voice husky.
Looking at his watch, Louis stood up. “Let’s go. We have time before the next round of workshops.”
Emily smiled and stood up, allowing him to escort her from the ballroom.
The gentleman watched Louis and Emily’s interaction from a nearby table. Thankfully, the listening device planted in Louis’ jacket was working properly. Daniel would be pleased with the evidence he had accumulated so far. Once they left the ballroom he was free to enjoy conversation with his table companions, as the device automatically recorded to the laptop in his own room. When Daniel called about the case, he was rather sketchy about the details, but after a couple hours here he knew what it was about. Louis was having an affair, or at least dalliances, and wanted proof. Something about protecting a friend. Either way, he was getting paid big money to cover someone’s ass.
Daniel walked through the garage yelling for Vince, and gained no response. As he got closer to the office door he could hear Vince on the phone, and he paused to listen. Whoever Vince was talking to, the call wasn’t going very well. After a moment, he knocked on the door and waited for Vince to bid him entry.
“Yeah!” Vince bellowed from behind the door.
Daniel walked in and left the door open. “Hey. Mom’s in town.” Sitting in the chair he said, “I have a proposition for you.” He watched Vince closely. “I want to buy you out.”
Vince spat his coffee all over the paperwork in front of him. “What?! Why would you want to do that,” he asked.
Rubbing his hands together, Daniel spoke slowly. “I want to be able to run this shop my way and turn it into something better.” Vince opened his mouth, but Daniel held up his hand and continued. “This place has developed a bit of a bad reputation in the last couple years, and I want to change that.”
“What do you mean, a ‘bad reputation’?” Vince stared hard at Daniel. “This place has roots, a solid customer base and we get referrals all the time from other shops.” He leaned back in his chair and looked around the office. “I built this place myself, you know.”
Daniel nodded. “I know. All the scouting I’ve been doing, going to shows and recruiting trips and whatnot?” He paused. “I don’t want it to be for nothing, man. I want this place to be something my family can be proud of.”
Vince closed his eyes and sighed loudly. “Fine. You set it all up and I’ll sign the papers.” He returned his attention to the invoices and billing forms in front of him. “Tell your mother I said hello.”
Daniel got up slowly and walked toward the door. “Mom’s a grown woman. You can call and tell her hello,” he said with a smile and left.
After leaving the garage, Daniel went by Sadie’s school and picked up her work for the week. The teachers had already collected the necessary books, making it easier on Daniel. Everyone was very sympathetic and understanding, wishing her a quick recovery so she could come back to school. On his way to the car, he ran into Jared.
“Hi, Daniel,” Jared said and extended his hand in a friendly greeting. Daniel hesitated. “How is Sadie doing? Has she gone home, yet?” he asked with seemingly genuine concern.
“Young man, if I wasn’t in a hurry and you weren’t underage…well, let’s just say this meeting would not go well for you,” Daniel replied. He walked towards the car and yelled loudly, “She’s not pregnant, by the way!”
Jared stood in the parking lot, mouth hung open. He didn’t dare look around, but knew people heard Daniel. He blushed with embarrassment and ran into the school to get away from prying eyes. It really wouldn’t matter, though. The entire school would know about it before last bell.
Eva and Sadie cleaned out Sadie’s closet while Dee took a brief nap. The weather was turning and Sadie decided she wanted to donate a lot of her clothes to the local homeless shelter. Eva hugged her when they were finished and said, “I am so proud of you, babe.”
Sadie shrugged and said, “Well, I look at it this way. There are people who need clothes and I have too many, really.” They heard the car pull in and looked out the window. “Hey, Dad’s home already.”
Eva was stunned for a moment. “Oh. Yeah, he is.”
They carried the bags of clothes downstairs and put them by the garage door. Eva picked up her phone to have Ryan come get them and deliver to the shelter. When Daniel came in, Eva could tell something was wrong. She put down her phone in mid-dial. “Daniel, what’s wrong?”
He shook his head and said, “I’m going for a ride, but will be back in time to start dinner.” He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, whispering “We need to talk tonight.” He grabbed his helmet off the counter and left.
Sadie frowned. “I wonder what all that was about,” she said and watched him back out of the garage.
“I have no idea. But, I know Daniel well enough to know that it isn’t good,” Eva stated firmly. She felt a hand on her shoulder and found it belonged to Dee.
“You know how he is, sweetheart. That bike is his cooling off mechanism,” Dee said. “He’ll be in a better mood when he gets back.” She patted Eva’s shoulder and sat at the table.
Sadie watched Eva with curiosity. “What did he mean when he said by y’all need to talk,” she asked.
“How did you even hear that?” Eva asked, surprised she heard him. “He barely said it loud enough for me to hear him.”
Tapping the side of her head she said, “I can gauge people’s reactions, and yours wasn’t good, Mom.” She went to the fridge and grabbed a coke. “Besides, I’m not a kid anymore. I know there’s more going on than either of you are letting on, so there,” she chided and went into the living room.
Eva watched Sadie leave the room and asked “Did you see that?” her hand held out in front of her.
Dee chuckled and said, “Oh, sweetheart, she is my granddaughter.”
Shaking her head, Eva asked, “Did you hear what he said, too?” and sat down. “I don’t understand.” She put her hands on the table and looked at her wedding ring.
Dee reached across and put her hand on Eva’s. “Sweetheart, what’s there to understand?” she asked. “Sadie is a bright girl. She sees more than most children her age, and she isn’t going to be a child for much longer.” Dee stood up and walked over to the pantry. Opening the doors she scanned the shelves until she found what she was looking for. “Ah ha!” she exclaimed and pulled out a bottle of Scotch. “Here we go.”
“Bit early isn’t it, Dee,” Eva asked, and stood to get shot glasses from the cabinet.
Dee walked across the room and poured them each a shot. “Bottoms up, sweetheart,” she said and downed her Scotch. Eva followed suit and gasped after she swallowed. Dee rubbed her back and said, “You’ll get used to it,” and poured another shot. They drank them, and Dee had been right. Eva did get used to it.
Dee was about to pour a fourth shot when they heard Daniel’s motorcycle come up the driveway. “Oh, shit!” Dee yelled, put the cover on the bottle and put it back in the pantry. Eva panicked and tossed the glasses in the dishwasher haphazardly. Dee grabbed a couple cokes out of the fridge, popped the can tops and they chugged it, attempting to get the smell and taste out of their mouths.
Daniel came in, visibly more relaxed than when he had left. “I needed that,” he said and put his helmet on the counter. Taking a step into the room, he started sniffing the air. “What the hell were you two doing while I was gone?”
Eva shook her head and wavered. “Nothing. Why do you ask?”
“Probably because y’all look guilty as hell and you can barely stand up?” he countered.
He shook his head and helped Eva into a chair, then leveled a glare at his mother. “And you, you know better.”
Dee feigned innocence. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she lied and fingered the strand of pearls at her neck.
“Uh huh,” he muttered. “She’s a lightweight. How much did she drink?”
“I can speak for myself, thank you very much,” Eva insisted. “I think I had three…no, four? Maybe five shots. Nothing major,” she said and tilted in the chair.
Daniel caught her and said, “Okay, you’re gonna have a nap before dinner.” He scooped her up and carried her to the couch. She was already asleep before the blanket was drawn up over her. He stood and shook his head as he walked back to the kitchen. When he rounded the corner, his cell phone beeped. “What now?” he asked and went to the garage to answer the call.
“Hello?” he answered with impatience.
“It’s me,” said the caller.
“What do you have?” Daniel asked and leaned against the back of Eva’s Subaru.
“Plenty. More than enough to make the kind of case you need.”
Daniel said, “Good. Send me what you have to that email I gave you. Thanks for checking in.” He snapped his phone closed and went inside. The kitchen was empty. “Well maybe she needed to sleep it off, too,” he said to the room and started getting ingredients from the pantry to start dinner. “This might not set too well on a Scotch stomach, but oh well,” he said with a shrug.
Sadie looked at the piles of outlines on her bed trying to decide which genre to focus on the most. She had written extensively in mainstream fiction – knights, castle, dragons and magical things – but it was overdone. It seemed like everyone and their five year old nephew was writing about that stuff. She shrugged and chose the best in the pile. She decided it couldn’t hurt to include just one piece. A knock on her door broke her focus. She glanced up and yelled, “Come in!”
Daniel opened the door and walked in with a huge salad. “I thought you might be hungry, so I brought you this.” The bowl was rounded with a variety of vegetables, croutons, bacon bits and dressing. He set it on the desk and said, “Wow, your mom has really good taste in furniture.” Running his hand over it he whistled. “This is really nice.”
Sadie smiled and said, “Yeah. Too bad I haven’t had a real chance to use it yet. Mom got it for me on Friday.”
“And I’m sure she has all the paperwork to support its authenticity?” he asked.
Sadie pulled her head back. “Oh, yeah. It’s in that disaster she calls an office.”
He nodded. “Good. That will be important if you decide to sell it down the road.” He paused, not sure how to ask where the other desk was.
Sadie read his expression and said, “It’s in the guest room,” with a smile. “No way can I get rid of it.”
Daniel sat in the chair at the desk and put his elbows on his knees, and leaned forward. “It’s your desk, babe,” he said thoughtfully. “You do with it what you wish.” Surveying the piles of outlines, he asked what she was working on.
“Sorting outlines and trying to pick the best ones for the portfolio. That organizer and iPad are amazing, Dad, really. I can’t thank you enough.” Sadie got off the bed and gave him a tight hug.
He hugged her back and said, “You’re welcome.” Scooting her off his lap, he said “I need to check on your mom and finish dinner. Good luck with that,” and gestured to her piles and left the room.
She rolled her eyes and said, “Thanks, Dad.”
After dinner, Sadie excused herself to call and check on Dani. Eva, Daniel and Dee went to the living room to watch the news and a movie. The trio sat in relative silence, mostly commenting on the featured stories. After the news, Dee announced she was going up to read, and said goodnight to Eva and Daniel. The gesture not lost on either of them. As she went up the stairs, Daniel rolled his eyes in Sadie fashion and asked, “Could she have been any more obvious?”
Eva snorted, and said, “Not unless she had a brick to follow it up with.”
Daniel laughed. “Gotta love my mom.” He stopped laughing and felt a bit awkward. Turning to her on the couch, he said, “Listen, there’s something I need to talk to you about. And you won’t like it.”
Eva said, “Okay…”
He cleared his throat and said, “What I have to tell you will probably piss you off, but I need you to remember I did it for you, okay?”
Eva just stared at him. “What did you do?”
He took a hold of her hand, and began slowly. “You’re really not going to like this…I hired a buddy of mine, former military, to tail Louis.” When she didn’t respond, he continued, the words coming out in a rush. “I was worried about you, and Sadie. I know what he’s capable of and…I want my girls safe.”
“Safe?” she asked cautiously. “What do you mean ‘safe’?”
“Louis is sleeping around,” he said simply.
Eva stared at Daniel like he had three heads. “I know,” she said, pulling her hand away. “I caught the bitch on his phone.”
“No, you don’t.” He pulled her hand back. “Since he’s been there, since Friday night at least, every night, he’s been sharing a room with the same woman.” He paused. “I have evidence. I did this to protect you.”
“I don’t understand,” she said. “Show me.”
Daniel sighed and ran his other hand through his hair. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, babe.”
Eva stood up and said, “I do. Now, show me,” she demanded.
He hung his head and relented. “Alright,” he said. “Take me to your computer.”
They went into the office and Sadie fired up the desktop. Daniel sat in the chair and pulled up his email account. “I haven’t looked at this, yet. So, I’m gonna be just as shocked as you.” There were several emails with encrypted files attached, requiring a special access code to unlock them. Once Daniel had run through the process, sounds began to fill the silence.
Eva had to sit down for fear of falling over. She watched and listened as Daniel moved from file to file, between audio and pictures. It was all laid out there in front of her. Black and white photos of Louis with various women in bed, engaging in mild bondage. The audio files were attached to video of Louis flogging some of the same women in the photos. One woman in particular was in every clip and photo, in some capacity.
She wanted to scream and cry and break his stuff. “How…?” she stammered. “Where did he…?” There were so many questions she wanted to ask. So many things she wanted to say. She looked at Daniel, and he couldn’t look her in the eyes. He was just as shocked as she was. The only difference was Louis cheated on her, not him.
She glanced at his computer and wondered what he had hidden on it. “Can you get on that?” she asked, pointing across the room. “There must be something on that, too.”
Daniel shook his head. “I think that’s an even worse idea than this was.”
“Please, Daniel. I need to know,” she pleaded.
Sighing deeply, Daniel stood up and walked around Eva to Louis’ desk. He eyed the setup and went through the drawers for clues to a password.