It was highly unusual for wives to appear at the quiet little fortress on Front Street. They were certainly welcome, they were told, but seldom invited. So Abby McDeere arrived through the front door, into the reception area uninvited and unannounced. It was imperative that she see her husband, she insisted. The receptionist phoned Nina on the second floor, and within seconds she appeared in a rush and warmly greeted her boss's wife. Mitch was in a meeting, she explained. He's always in a damned meeting, Abby replied. Get him out! They rushed to his office, where Abby closed the door and waited.
Mitch was observing another one of Avery's chaotic departures. Secretaries bumped into each other and packed briefcases while Avery yelled into the phone. Mitch sat on the sofa with a legal pad and watched. His partner was scheduled for two days on Grand Cayman. April 15 loomed on the calendar like a date with a firing squad, and the banks down there had certain records that had become critical. It was all work, Avery insisted. He talked about the trip for five days, dreading it, cursing it, but finding it completely unavoidable. He would take the Lear, and it was now waiting, said a secretary.
Probably waiting with a load of cash,thought Mitch.
Avery slammed the phone down and grabbed his coat.
Nina walked through the door and glared at Mitch. "Mr. McDeere, your wife is here. She says it's an emergency."
The chaos became silent. He looked blankly at Avery. The secretaries froze. "What is it?" he asked, standing.
"She's in your office," Nina said.
"Mitch, I've gotta go," Avery said. "I'll call you tomorrow. I hope things are okay."
"Sure." He followed Nina down the hall, saying nothing, to his office. Abby sat on his desk. He closed and locked the door. He watched her carefully.
"Mitch, I have to go home."
"Why? What's happened?"
"My father just called at school. They found a tumor in one of Mother's lungs. They're operating tomorrow."
He breathed deeply. "I'm so sorry." He did not touch her. She was not crying.
"I must go. I've taken a leave of absence at school."
"For how long?" It was a nervous question.
She looked past him, to the Ego Wall. "I don't know, Mitch. We need some time apart. I'm tired of a lot of things right now, and I need time. I think it will be good for both of us."
"Let's talk about it."
"You're too busy to talk, Mitch. I've been trying to talk for six months, but you can't hear me."
"How long will you be gone, Abby?"
"I don't know. I guess it depends on Mother. No, it depends on a lot of things."
"You're scaring me, Abby."
"I'll be back, I promise. I don't know when. Maybe a week. Maybe a month. I need to sort out some things."
"I don't know, Mitch. I just need some time. And I need to be with Mother."
"I hope she's okay. I mean that."
"I know. I'm going home to pack a few things, and I'll leave in an hour or so."
"All right. Be careful."
"I love you, Mitch."
He nodded and watched as she opened the door. There was no embrace.
* * *
On the fifth floor, a technician rewound the tape and pushed the emergency button direct to DeVasher's office. He appeared instantly and slapped the headphones over his extra-large cranium. He listened for a moment. "Rewind," he demanded. He was quiet for another moment.
"When did this happen?" he asked.
The technician looked at a panel of digital numbers. "Two minutes fourteen seconds ago. In his office, second floor."
"Damn, damn. She's leaving him, ain't she? No talk of separation or divorce before this?"
"No. You would've known about it. They've argued about his workaholic routine, and he hates her parents. But nothing like this."
"Yeah, yeah. Check with Marcus and see if he's heard anything before. Check the tapes, in case we've missed something. Damn, damn, damn!"
* * *
Abby started for Kentucky, but did not make it. An hour west of Nashville, she left Interstate 40, and turned north on Highway 13. She had noticed nothing behind her. She drove eighty at times, then fifty. Nothing. At the small town of Clarksville, near the Kentucky line, she abruptly turned east on Highway 12. An hour later she entered Nashville through a county highway, and the red Peugeot was lost in city traffic.
She parked it in the long-term section at. Nashville Airportand caught a shuttle to the terminal. In a rest room on the first floor she changed into khaki walking shorts, Bass loafers and a navy knit pullover. It was a cool outfit, a little out of season, but she was headed for warmer weather. She pulled her shoulder-length hair into a ponytail and forced it under her collar. She changed sunglasses and stuffed the dress, heels and panty hose into a canvas gym bag.
Almost five hours after she left Memphis, she walked to the Delta boarding gate and presented her ticket. She asked for a window seat.
No Delta flight in the free world can bypass Atlanta, but fortunately she was not forced to change planes. She waited by her window and watched darkness fall on the busy airport. She was nervous, but tried not to think about it. She drank a glass of wine and read a Newsweek.
Two hours later she landed in Miami and left the plane. She walked rapidly through the airport, catching stares but ignoring them. They're just the usual everyday stares of admiration and lust, she told herself. Nothing more.
At the one and only Cayman Airways boarding gate, she produced her round-trip ticket and the required birth certificate and driver's license. Wonderful people, these Caymanians, but they won't allow you in their country unless you've already purchased a ticket to get out.Please come and spend your money, then leave. Please.
She sat in a corner of the crowded room and tried to read. A young father with a pretty wife and two babies kept staring at her legs, but no one else noticed her. The flight to Grand Cayman would leave in thirty minutes.
* * *
After a rough start, Avery gained momentum and spent seven hours at the Royal Bank of Montreal, Georgetown, Grand Cayman branch. When he left at 5 P.M., the complimentary conference room was filled with computer printouts and account summaries. He would finish tomorrow. He needed McDeere, but circumstances had worked to seriously curtail his travel plans. Avery was now exhausted and thirsty. And things were hot on the beach.
At Rumheads, he picked up a beer at the bar and worked his well-tanned body through the crowd to the patio, where he looked for a table. As he strode confidently past the domino game, Tammy Greenwood Hemphill, of Greenwood Services, nervously but nonchalantly entered the crowd and sat on a stool at the bar. She watched him. Her tan was store-bought, machine-inflicted, with some areas browner than others. But on the whole, it was an enviable tan for late March. The hair was now colored, not bleached, to a soft sandy blond, and the makeup likewise had been tempered. The bikini was state of the art, bright fluorescent orange that demanded attention. The large breasts hung wonderfully and stretched the strings and patches to their limit. The small patch across the rear was woefully incapable of covering anything. She was forty, but twenty sets of hungry eyes followed her to the bar, where she ordered a club soda and fired up a cigarette. She smoked it, and watched him.
He was a wolf. He looked good, and he knew it. He sipped his beer and slowly examined every female within fifty yards. He locked into one, a young blonde, and seemed ready to pounce when her man arrived and she sat in his lap. He sipped his beer and continued to survey.
Tammy ordered another club soda, with a twist of lime, and started for the patio. The wolf locked into the big breasts immediately and watched them bounce his way.
"Mind if I sit down?" she asked.
He half stood and reached for the chair. "Please do." It was a great moment for him. Of all the hungry wolves lusting around the bar and patio at Rumheads, she picked him.
He'd had younger babes, but at this moment at this place, she was the hottest.
"I'm Avery Tolar. From Memphis."
"Nice to meet you. I'm Libby. Libby Lox from Birmingham." Now she was Libby. She had a sister named Libby, a mother named Doris, and her name was Tammy. And she hoped to hell she could keep it all straight. Although she wore no rings, she had a husband whose legal name was Elvis, and he was supposed to be in Oklahoma City impersonating the King, and probably screwing teenage girls with
Love Me Tender t-shirts.
"What brings you here?" Avery asked.
"Just fun. Got in this morning. Staying at the Palms. You?"
"I'm a tax lawyer, and believe it or not, I'm here on business. I'm forced to come down several times a year. Real torture."
"Where are you staying?"
He pointed. "My firm owns those two condos over there. It's a nice little write-off."
The wolf did not hesitate. "Would you like to see them?"
She giggled like a sophomore. "Maybe later."
He smiled at her. This would be easy. He loved the islands.
"What're you drinking?" he asked.
"Gin and tonic. Twist of lime."
He left for the bar, and returned with the drinks. He moved his chair closer to her. Now their legs were touching. The breasts were resting comfortably on the table. He looked down between them.
"Are you alone?" Obvious question, but he had to ask it.
"Yeah. Do you have plans for dinner?"
"Good. There's this great cookout there at the Palms beginning at six. The best seafood on the island. Good music. Rum punch. The works. No dress code."
"I'm in game."
They moved closer together, and his hand was suddenly between her knees. His elbow nestled next to her left breast, and he smiled. She smiled. This was not altogether unpleasant, she thought, but there was business at hand.
* * *
The Barefoot Boys began to tune up, and the festival began. Beachcombers from all directions flocked to the Palms. Natives in white jackets and white shorts lined up folding tables and laid heavy cotton cloths over them. The smell of boiled shrimp and grilled amberjack and barbecued shark filled the beach. The lovebirds, Avery and Libby, walked hand in hand into the courtyard of the Palms and lined up for the buffet.
For three hours they dined and danced, drank and danced, and fell madly in heat over each other. Once he became drunk, she returned to straight club soda. Business was at hand. By ten, he was sloppy and she led him away from the dance floor, to the condo next door. He attacked her at the front door, and they kissed and groped for five minutes. He managed the key, and they were inside.
"One more drink," she said, ever the party girl. He went to the bar and fixed her a gin and tonic. He was drinking scotch and water. They sat on the balcony outside the master bedroom and watched a half-moon decorate the gentle sea.
She had matched him drink for drink, he thought, and if she could handle another, then so could he. But nature was calling again, and he excused himself. The scotch and water sat on the wicker table between them, and she smiled at it. Much easier than she had prayed for. She took a small plastic packet from the orange strap between her legs and dumped one capsule of chloral hydrate into his drink. She sipped her gin and tonic.
"Drink it up, big boy," she said when he returned. "I'm ready for bed."
He grabbed his whiskey and gulped it down. The taste buds had been numb for hours. He took another swallow, then began to relax. Another swallow. His head wobbled from shoulder to shoulder, and finally his chin hit his chest. The breathing became heavy.
"Sleep well, lover boy," she said to herself.
With a man of a hundred eighty pounds, one shot of chloral hydrate would induce a dead sleep for ten hours. She took his glass and gauged what was left. Not much. Eight hours, to be safe. She rolled him out of the chair and dragged him to the bed. Head first, then feet. Very gently, she pulled his yellow-and-blue surfer shorts down his legs and laid them on the floor. She stared for a long second, then tucked the sheets and blankets around him. She kissed him good night.