Exodus Romana

Graham_Clews_Arizona_study

I’m working on a fourth Eboracum book.

It’s the end of November and I’ve been typing away in the U.S. for a few weeks now. I moved offices from the wintery weather of Edmonton – to the much warmer and welcomed weather of Arizona. (Although Alberta hasn’t been too cold recently. Still, there’s always a chance of snow in Canada. )

 

Do you see the map on the wall beside me? You can probably tell it’s a map of the U.K. It’s also a tool to help with my new novel. Yes, I’m working on a fourth book to add to my Eboracum trilogy: Exodus Romana. On my website I did say the final novel in the Eboracum trilogy was Eboracum, Carved in Stone, but somewhere along the lines (spelling mistake and pun intended) I changed my mind.

I’m not going to give too much away just yet about the new novel. I have some musing to do… May the stories of Celts and the Romans live on!

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Affairs of the heart

Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV of France, circa 1750.

Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV of France, circa 1750.

Chapter Twenty hits at the heart. What choices do you have when it comes to infidelity in a marriage? For a full copy of A Slightly Tainted Hero, check out Smashwords: http://bit.ly/20HECit.

From Chapter Twenty:

When her daughter once again settled down, Meg set her tea to one side and said, “Well, it seems to me you have three choices, sweetheart. You can leave him and get a divorce. You can go back to him and make his life miserable. Or you can go back to him, try and forget what has happened, and do your damnedest to make the best of it.” She shrugged, as if the choices were obvious. “We can talk for hours, even days about it, if that’s going to help you come to terms with what to do, and I don’t mind at all. But at the end of the day, that’s where you’re going to end up. It’s really your choice.”

Louise stared at her mother, shocked at what she thought was an absolutely callous response. “That sounds pretty harsh.”

“Then see if you can find a fourth choice.” Meg appeared to ponder for a moment, then suggested a further option. “I suppose you could move out and do nothing but mope for a year or two, and I’m sure David will agree to some form of financial arrangement in the meantime. I imagine he’s feeling more than guilty at the moment. Trouble with that is it fosters guilt while resolving nothing. In the long run it might end up with him suing you for divorce just to put an end to it. Or—” Again she paused, as if thinking through further options. “I suppose you could force him out of the house and live there and do your moping at home, all by yourself. There’s certainly enough room for it. In the end, though, the result will be the same.”

Louise decided her mother wasn’t giving her much help at all and tried another tack, the more direct approach, even though she hated to ask. “What would you do?”

“That’s irrelevant. David is your husband, not mine.”

Louise reluctantly acknowledged the comment with a dip of her head, and slumped back against the sofa. What she needed was a stiff drink, though it wasn’t yet nine in the morning. “That was a dumb question, Mum. Sorry. You were lucky in your marriage. You had dad. It’s just that—dammit!” Louise shouted, fighting the impulse to fling her coffee cup across the room. “You just can’t imagine!”

“Your dad wasn’t a saint either, my dear,” Meg murmured softly.

Louise stared at her mother in astonishment. “Are you telling me I’ve got some half-brothers and half-sisters out there somewhere? I don’t believe it.”

“And I don’t believe it either, nor did I say there were. I just said that Frank wasn’t a saint. Darn it, Louise, that’s probably a good part of why I married him. He was half rogue and quite outrageous when we met, and I loved him for it. You know, I don’t think children truly realize that their parents were ever young.” Meg’s eyes moved to the artificial fireplace and the wooden mantelpiece that surrounded it. A framed black and white wedding photograph sat off to one side, a close-up of a rather stiff but happy couple in front of a clapboard church, set in a landscape still streaked with the final traces of a spring snow. A smile crossed Meg’s face as she stared at it. “Believe it or not, he was a raunchy young buck. That’s partly why you have four brothers and sisters. But I can’t say I ever one hundred percent trusted the old bugger.”

“You mean he . . . ?”

“No, no, of course not. Not that I know of, anyway. On the other hand, I’m not sure he ever one hundred percent trusted me, either. That’s a lot to ask, you know, to trust someone without question, every day, every week, every month, for fifty-five and a half years. Oh, it’s expected, certainly, and in fact it’s more than that, it’s owed and due. And yes, you do trust your mate and should, but maybe only ninety-nine point nine percent. It’s just as foolish to be totally complacent.”

“So what’s your point, Mum?” Louise asked.

“My point? I suppose it’s no more than from time to time, I did wonder what I would do if I ever caught him in flagrant whatever-it-is.” Meg smiled, almost as if relishing the notion.

“Don’t look so damned smug,” Louise said, for a brief moment wishing her dad had been caught doing exactly that so she could get a straight answer from an aggrieved wife, even if it was her mother. “Did you ever figure out what you would do?”

“Oh yes, in my mind I did. It was like a black fantasy, and believe me it wasn’t erotic. It was more a state of mind that was probably created by needless worry. That was later in life, of course, when you kids were a bit older, and we both had more time on our hands. Earlier on, I don’t think Frank or I had the time or even the conception, if you’ll pardon the word, of straying. We were just too busy. Besides, it was different then.” Meg smiled, as if the whole idea was funny. “Later, if he had strayed, I’d have left him just like you did, and told him I was getting a divorce. Worry the hell out of him for a spell. I’m sure it would have, too, because divorce was the last thing he’d have wanted. Then, when he begged me to come back, I’d have played him like a fish. I’d have finally returned, I’m pretty sure, but only when I was good and ready. I would have made sure the poor beggar’s life was miserable in the meantime, though.” Her mother seemed to think on her words for a moment before finishing with a wicked grin, “And probably for quite a while after, too.”

“For God’s sake, Mother, why would you do that?”

“Because your father would have deserved to be made miserable!” Meg seemed at first surprised by her daughter even asking, but then she nodded thoughtfully, as if reconsidering her answer. “But you know what? You’re making me think! If you do make a man miserable, he probably figures he’s just paying his penance. And when a man pays for a crime, he figures he’s forgiven. It’s a real dilemma, isn’t it?”

“Maybe, but that wasn’t what I meant. I was asking why would you have ever gone back in the first place?”

Meg fell silent as she pondered the answer, and when she replied it was as if she were reminiscing. “Three reasons, I suppose, my dear. Not in any particular order. I knew your dad, and at best it would have only been half his fault. After all, it takes two to tango. But I’d also have guessed he’d never have dared do it again, once I got through with him. And while that may sound like fancy, there’s good cause to think it would be true. You see, all in all, your dad was a good man, a truly good man at heart. I’d have been hard put to find a better one anywhere else.”

Louise sat staring at her mother, surprised at what she was saying, and wondering whether or not there was something hidden behind the words. It was so unlike her. Was there a buried past? She suddenly realized that if there was, then it was darned-well better off left there. She didn’t want to know. Her mother had stopped short on her list, though, and Louise asked, “So what’s the third?”

“Well, that’s a given, isn’t it?” Meg’s eyes opened wide, as if she were surprised at even being asked the question. “Frank loved me. From the day we met. With all the drunkenness, violence, and consistent womanizing that goes on, you’ve got to put one, single marital failing in perspective. Love doesn’t grow on trees, you know. It’s the greatest gift you can receive—from anyone. You don’t toss it away lightly, particularly when it’s still got a bloom to it.”

Louise didn’t know what to say. Was she being reproached? Then it struck her that her mother hadn’t once mentioned that she loved her father Frank, which should have been far more important, surely? Yet when she thought on it, perhaps that, too, was nothing more than a given. And which one was more important in the long run? What was obviously most important to her mother was that her father had loved her. And love given, as she said, was a gift. In fact, Louise mused, for her mother, her dad’s love seemed far more important than her own. Put that way, it sounded so unselfish—or was it just the opposite?

It didn’t matter, Louise told herself. She wasn’t her frigging mother!

“I’m not going to pry, dear, or tell you what to do,” Meg went on. “It’s your decision, but you did ask.”

 

Chapters 10 and 19

accounting quote.Read all about it! Excerpts from chapters 10 and 19 are out. For a copy of A Slightly Tainted Hero, check out Smashwords: http://bit.ly/20HECit.

From Chapter Ten:

A woman perhaps ten or fifteen years younger than him leaned casually against the doorjamb, an odd, knowing sort of grin on her face, as if she expected him to recognize her. She wasn’t a bad looking woman, perhaps a few pounds over her best fighting weight, but then, so was Louise, and it didn’t look bad on her, either. A subtle ash tint streaked her blonde hair, which was not particularly long and very neatly coiffed. She hadn’t spared the dollars on dressing herself, either. She wore a trim business suit that flattered her figure—a hip-length jacket belted at the waist and a knee-length skirt, both tailored in grey worsted wool, and complemented by a silky, oyster-hued blouse worn with the collar up. The top buttons were open just enough to reveal an inch or two of tantalizing cleavage. There was also a modest pair of high heels, which clicked on the floor as she pushed herself away from the door jamb and walked toward the bed.

Curious, Dave set the book on his lap. He was about to ask who she was when suddenly, as if doused with a bucket of iced water, he knew. Oh, shit!

“Dave, it’s good to see you.” The woman gave a low, throaty chuckle and lowered her voice to a whisper. “And ‘oh shit’ to you, too, my dear. When you’re thinking something unsavoury, my boy, you’re not supposed to move your lips.”

‘C-Carol?”

“D-duh-D-duh-Dave. Of course it’s Carol. How are you?” When she reached the bed, she leaned over and kissed him firmly on the mouth, holding her lips against his until, in spite of himself, he began to respond. The tip of her tongue briefly darted forward, which made Dave jump, then she quickly pulled back and chuckled. “You haven’t changed a bit.”

“Neither have you.” Which was almost as big a lie as Carol’s, but she certainly wasn’t doing too badly, either. And forget that initial impression of being ten or fifteen years younger. If memory served Dave correctly, only eight years separated them. And for her early fifties, Carol had kept herself in damned good shape. “It’s good to see you,” he finished weakly.

“Then look like it, David, instead of turning as white as your bed sheets. It’s been how long now, going on twenty years?”

“I suppose.” God, was his voice quavering?

Carol pulled up one of the chairs and sat down, carefully crossing her legs. Dave’s eyes wandered sideways, taking in a few inches of silky thigh; nothing had changed there, either. And yes, it had to be going on twenty years. The mountains north of Montreal, though by western standards they were really only hills. What were they called, dammit? It didn’t matter! What did matter was that there had been an in-depth tax seminar there, two weeks as he recalled, and they’d had adjacent hotel rooms. The rooms were all paired by two connecting doors that locked with a deadbolt that turned from inside the room, thus ensuring privacy. Only the one between his and Carol’s hadn’t remained locked. Oh my God! “W-what brings you here?”

“I believe it was an Airbus 330.”

“As I said, you haven’t changed.”

“Is that a compliment, or an outright lie?” Carol stared at him with narrowed eyes. “I’ll take it as part lie, but then, I lied too. You have changed. You’re nearly twenty years older, you’ve got a bunch of wrinkles, and your hair’s turning very grey, though it’s good to see you’ve still got most of it. Still not bad looking, though—for a man your age. A firm chin, straight nose, and a belly that doesn’t look that bad under those bed sheets. And oh yeah, those blue eyes. I remember those blue eyes. I’ll give you that. They haven’t changed.” Carol’s eyes twinkled with amusement as she set her tongue in her cheek. “Are you still getting it up?”

Dave cringed, but managed to reply in the same light, bantering manner, though the best he could do was, “Yeah, every morning, about seven a.m.” Why was she here?

“And I bet it stays that way until you get out of bed and pee.”

“And how is Ron?” Dave asked, steering toward firmer ground. He’d never met her husband, of course, but talking about him might offer a clue about why she was here, sitting next to his bed—an unwanted ghost from the past.

“His name was Roy,” Carol corrected, and shrugged. “We went our own ways. Six, seven years ago now.”

“Too bad,” Dave offered, and it was too bad. It might also prove to be too bad for him, as well. Why, oh why, was the woman here? Surely not looking for a replacement?

“Actually it was too bad, and in more ways than one.” Carol’s face turned serious. “He passed away a bit more than a year ago. Heart attack.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Carol,” Dave murmured, and he truly was as he mentally added, poor bugger. Even so, the thought struck him, quite uncharitably, that maybe his death was the reason why Carol was here. Had she come to tell him she was single, and free? No, surely not. If that was going to happen, she would have done that after the divorce, not now. Wouldn’t she?

“These things happen,” Carol said, her tone perhaps a little too dismissive for comfort.

“I suppose. What happened with the divorce, though? You didn’t, er, get, you know, get into some other, uh . . . ?” Dave was more than just curious, wondering if Carol made a habit of attending tax seminars with lecherous intent and had finally been caught out. It was an unkind thought, he knew that, for it took two to tango, and they’d been damned lucky that they hadn’t been caught out nearly two decades ago.

Carol didn’t seem to mind the implied question, though she did give it a moment’s thought before replying. “Not me, this time it was him. It took a while, but I noticed Roy’s absences coincided with that of the neighbour’s wife. What really teed me off was that she was a really good friend of mine, and now we aren’t.” Carol tilted her head to one side, assuming a forlorn look of hurt. “Good friends are so hard to find, Dave, aren’t they? Anyway,” she tossed her head, as if making light of it all, “I divorced the poor man.”

“Wasn’t that being a tad hypocritical?”

“Of course it was. But hey, there’s no point keeping milk in the fridge once it’s turned sour. It was over by then anyway.”

Dave figured he was getting nowhere, and began to wonder hopefully if this was maybe nothing more than a friendly visit after all. Though even if it was, there still had to be a “why.” He tried another tack. Carol had been in Toronto with one of the major international accounting firms, known throughout the financial world as The Big Four. They used to be called The Big Five until Enron went under, taking their auditors with them—though that might very well have been the other way around. Dave shook his head, trying to clear his mind. “So what are you doing now? Still counting beans with the big guys?”

“Still with the big guys, but I’m no longer counting beans. Public relations, the legal implications of practice, and so on. Administrative-type stuff.” An impish grin spread across her features. “And no comment about the public relations bit, either. I’m running an in-house seminar in your fair city, by the way. You might recall that seminars were my forte, only back then I was attending them, not running them.”

“Yeah, I do recall. And your attendance was very good, too.” Dave responded in kind, as his heart finally throttled back to a fairly rhythmic pounding. Yes, perhaps this was just a friendly visit, after all. And why not? The two of them hadn’t parted on bad terms. They had simply gone their own way. Played it safe, went home, and called it quits while the going was good, so to speak. And it had been good, he reflected, but nothing good—and illicit—goes on forever. At the end of the day, both of them had independently decided that, all things considered, some things are best left alone. In the long run, there was no future better than the one already in hand. And if what Carol was saying today was true, then it wasn’t difficult to guess what had at least prompted the visit. “I suppose you tuned into the news, once you got here?”

“Yes. This evening, though I’ve been in town for a couple of days. You seem to have made quite a splash.”

“So that’s why . . . ?”

“Uh-huh. I thought about it for a while then decided on impulse to drop by. I rationalized that you might like an update on old times. I told the desk I was your first wife, gave them my business card, and they let me in.” Carol ran her hands down her outfit as if she were on display, plainly amused. “I think I got profiled.”

“Can’t blame them.” Dave decided it was best to ignore the ‘first wife’ subterfuge, it left him uneasy. Besides, knowing Carol, it was nothing but teasing.

“I must confess to a certain prurience about the encounter.” Carol raised her eyebrows in query. “The woman who was with you, is there, uh, any . . . ?”

“Irene?” Dave laughed. “Heavens, no—she’s our office manager. The only time that ever happened was with you, in the Laurentians. Honest.” The name of the mountain range popped magically to mind, now he wasn’t trying to remember it. “My nerves couldn’t have stood another such encounter.”

“Oddly enough, me too,” Carol said, and for the moment looked pensive. Then she suddenly shifted gears. “Your kids—you had two. How are they doing? Any accountants in the family?”

“Not at all. I imagine Mike saw too much of what his father was doing when he grew up, and took up law instead. No respect for the family’s good name,” Dave teased in turn, as he recalled Carol also had a law degree tacked to the back of her name. “As for Kathy, she’s in Toronto, working for the TD Bank. She’s the only one who came close to counting beans. Got a commerce degree, and decided that was enough. Seems to be enjoying herself.”

For a few more minutes the conversation played back and forth, Carol asking questions for the most part and Dave responding, though he did toss back a few of his own. Somewhere in the background a speaker system announced for the second time that regular visiting hours were over, and that was when Dave realized how quickly time had passed, and that most of the talk had been one-sided.

“What about your brood?” he asked. “You had one back then, didn’t you?”

“Yes, and now there are two. There was an afterthought that coincided with the timing of Roy’s vasectomy. A product of overconfidence, I guess. She’s a real delight, though. Here.” Carol fumbled in her purse, a glistening, brown leather clutch not much larger than a decent-sized wallet. A faint, yet familiar scent drifted over as she leaned across and handed him a small, two by three coloured print. It showed a very attractive young girl in the traditional graduation photograph: a dark mottled background; a black gown with red and white edging on the collar; a large bouquet of red roses; a very happy smile. There was much of her mother in her, and Dave said as much as he studied the picture.

“Yes, this mum’s quite proud of her. Her name’s Theresa, but she goes by Terri.”

“She’s very pretty. Is this a high school grad, or university?” Dave asked.

“Oh, just high school,” Carol said, and bit her lip as if in hesitation before adding, “she’s only eighteen. She’s looking at a couple of universities, but will probably settle on Queens.”

“She certainly looks a lot older than…” Dave, moving to return the photograph, suddenly stopped, his heart lurching as if a hammer had hit him square in the chest. His hand pulled back, and he stared again at the picture. “…than eighteen.”

From Chapter Nineteen:

Women! And they claim they’re still looking for equality!

Dave set his hands behind his head, his mind drifting time and again over the brief confrontation in the kitchen, mulling over what Louise had said, and trying to figure out what she would do in the long term. Had there been even a hint? He supposed it was positive he’d not been ordered to leave the house yet, and she’d instead gone to her mother’s, a move that was patently ridiculous. It was also patently not permanent. Her mother, Meg, lived in a one bedroom unit in a senior’s facility on the south side, with a kitchenette and a small living room with a sofa bed for any short-stay visitor. She took her breakfast and dinner in the common dining room, and sometimes entertained the rest of her family in the suite’s cramped living room. The complex only allowed temporary guests, though there were a couple of rooms that could be rented for short-term visits of up to a few weeks.

Dave’s mind froze. Louise could only be there for a few days, a week or two at the most. What then? Was she going to get some sort of court order that locked the doors and got him kicked out of his own house? This wasn’t California, for God’s sake. Or was it? Could she do that? He was pretty sure of the answer to that question!

What a hell of a time of life for this all to happen. Sixty years old and commiserating in the dark with his alter ego over the looming loss of his wife, along with half the assets they had accumulated over the years, nearly all of them earned by him! Another five or six years together and they would have been enjoying a comfortable retirement. And now? Well, not poverty, no, but certainly a big drop from the planned comfort of those so-called golden years, which were quickly turning to rust.

Maybe there would be some part-time work during tax time for a few years after that, just to keep himself occupied through the busy part of winter—though why would he do that, if he had to give half of it up? It was all such a waste. Parting with half of everything was going to make a hell of a difference. Half his Canada Pension, half their joint pension savings, half the house, half the bank account, half the—shit, half the value of his share of the accounting practice! That would have to be dealt with too, and in cash—though there would be some discount for the tax implications and for paying out Louise’s equity share up front. Maybe it could be matched to his own payout when he retired. Maybe there was a tax advantage to be had…

Dave shook his head. Christ, he was already worrying about the stupid tax consequences, and he didn’t even know what Louise was going to do! Groaning loudly, he stared at a ceiling now washed with the first light of morning. Maybe that should be mourning! He remembered how Louise used to joke about how they’d started their marriage all those years ago: “We each had nothing, and it was mortgaged.” It didn’t take a mathematician to figure out how much of an offset that was against what they had today. And now, in one swift chop of the axe, half of it was going down the tube.

When Dave opened the inside door to the garage shortly before seven, after finally giving up on any more sleep and crawling out of bed, he did manage to field a grim smile. The Lincoln, which had less than five thousand kilometers on it, sat gleaming in solitary splendour in the farther of the two bays. Not that there was any worth in it. The vehicle had been financed on Ford’s interest free program just a few months ago, and at this stage it was worth less than was owed. Could I count that as a negative asset and deduct it? On the other hand, Louise’s small Jeep had some value, and he supposed that helped. It was a low mileage, four-year-old vehicle that she preferred to drive as a runabout, though that probably didn’t mean a thing. From what he’d seen through the office on this kind of thing, she’d probably demand a new Caddy.

 

 

 

Excerpts from Chapters Seven and Ten

Man with lipstick on his collar.Another excerpt from my new book A Slightly Tainted Hero. It just launched on Smashwords: http://bit.ly/20HECit. Grab a copy and let me know what you think!

From Chapter Seven:

Louise was prepared to find Dave in a contrary mood as she strode down the hallway and turned into his room. She was also fully prepared to be reasonable and ready to discuss how they would each deal with the cauldron of publicity that was clearly coming to a boil. Even so, what had the man been thinking of? After all was said and done, everything, all of it, was right there in living colour and on TV, from start to finish. Everything you do nowadays is on camera, he should know that. It had been the most nerve-wracking piece of footage she’d ever watched in her life.

Risking Irene Blanchard’s safety was bad enough, but once he’d gained the upper hand (though God only knows how he managed to do that), it should have stopped right there. But to kick a man in the teeth when he was down, even she knew that was way over the limit. It was as if her husband had turned into a homicidal maniac. And it had grown even worse. There’d been the episode with the guns, a needless confrontation that played itself out on the screen like the footage of two half-witted cowboys at the OK corral. And then there’d been the grand finale to finish it off—Irene Blanchard yanking down her boss’s drawers and sticking her hand up . . .

Louise paused in the doorway, for the moment speechless. Her husband was not propped up in bed as expected, but was resting on one elbow and leaning comfortably sideways as if lying on the beach. Irene Blanchard sat next to him, bent cosily forward with her elbows resting on the arms of her chair. Their heads were almost together, less than two feet apart. Louise coughed for attention, and the pair looked up in surprise. Her husband’s greeting was simple enough, though it struck her as maybe too glib.

“Oh, hello dear. Didn’t see you there.”

Louise bit her lip on the word “obviously.” There was no point commenting on the tête-à-tête; even as she strode across the room there was a nagging sense that she was being foolish about it. She was making a mountain out of a mole hill, based only on her discomfort at the pair’s close proximity. Besides, there were other issues that needed addressing, and there was no time better than now.

“Have you seen that effing film, David?” Louise hissed as she drew near the bed.

He glanced sideways at Irene as if disappointed, then looked up at his wife and said, “Nice to see you, Dave. How are you, dear? Are you feeling any better?”

“I can see you’re doing just great, I don’t need to ask,” Louise snapped.

Irene rose, her cheeks turning colour. “I was about to leave. Jason will have something on for dinner.”

Louise shifted direction. “Have you seen it?”

Irene straightened her coat around her shoulders, then looked straight at Louise. “Yes, it was on the five-thirty news. Maybe a half-minute of it, maybe three-quarters. I didn’t think it was all that bad. The only thing a bit out of sorts was when the fellow went for the gun. The weapon on the ground didn’t show up on the TV clip, so it appeared as if Mr. Lockwood kicked him in the face for no reason. That can be explained, though. The man was going for his effing gun.”

Louise hardly heard a word beyond the “maybe a half-minute” and the “effing” at the end. “I don’t mean the effing news, Irene. I’ve seen that. I mean the video on YouTube. It goes on for at least ten effing minutes, maybe more. I didn’t bother to time the damned thing. It’s got everything on it, and I do mean everything!”

“Oh boy.” Dave paled, suddenly looking tired.

Irene sat down as if stunned. Louise, however, was not finished. Looking back and forth between them, she demanded, “What are you two going to do about it?”

From Chapter Ten:

A woman perhaps ten or fifteen years younger than him leaned casually against the doorjamb, an odd, knowing sort of grin on her face, as if she expected him to recognize her. She wasn’t a bad looking woman, perhaps a few pounds over her best fighting weight, but then, so was Louise, and it didn’t look bad on her, either. A subtle ash tint streaked her blonde hair, which was not particularly long and very neatly coiffed. She hadn’t spared the dollars on dressing herself, either. She wore a trim business suit that flattered her figure—a hip-length jacket belted at the waist and a knee-length skirt, both tailored in grey worsted wool, and complemented by a silky, oyster-hued blouse worn with the collar up. The top buttons were open just enough to reveal an inch or two of tantalizing cleavage. There was also a modest pair of high heels, which clicked on the floor as she pushed herself away from the door jamb and walked toward the bed.

Curious, Dave set the book on his lap. He was about to ask who she was when suddenly, as if doused with a bucket of iced water, he knew. Oh, shit!

“Dave, it’s good to see you.” The woman gave a low, throaty chuckle and lowered her voice to a whisper. “And ‘oh shit’ to you, too, my dear. When you’re thinking something unsavoury, my boy, you’re not supposed to move your lips.”

‘C-Carol?”

“D-duh-D-duh-Dave. Of course it’s Carol. How are you?” When she reached the bed, she leaned over and kissed him firmly on the mouth, holding her lips against his until, in spite of himself, he began to respond. The tip of her tongue briefly darted forward, which made Dave jump, then she quickly pulled back and chuckled. “You haven’t changed a bit.”

“Neither have you.” Which was almost as big a lie as Carol’s, but she certainly wasn’t doing too badly, either. And forget that initial impression of being ten or fifteen years younger. If memory served Dave correctly, only eight years separated them. And for her early fifties, Carol had kept herself in damned good shape. “It’s good to see you,” he finished weakly.

“Then look like it, David, instead of turning as white as your bed sheets. It’s been how long now, going on twenty years?”

“I suppose.” God, was his voice quavering?

Carol pulled up one of the chairs and sat down, carefully crossing her legs. Dave’s eyes wandered sideways, taking in a few inches of silky thigh; nothing had changed there, either. And yes, it had to be going on twenty years. The mountains north of Montreal, though by western standards they were really only hills. What were they called, dammit? It didn’t matter! What did matter was that there had been an in-depth tax seminar there, two weeks as he recalled, and they’d had adjacent hotel rooms. The rooms were all paired by two connecting doors that locked with a deadbolt that turned from inside the room, thus ensuring privacy. Only the one between his and Carol’s hadn’t remained locked. Oh my God! “W-what brings you here?”

“I believe it was an Airbus 330.”

“As I said, you haven’t changed.”

“Is that a compliment, or an outright lie?” Carol stared at him with narrowed eyes. “I’ll take it as part lie, but then, I lied too. You have changed. You’re nearly twenty years older, you’ve got a bunch of wrinkles, and your hair’s turning very grey, though it’s good to see you’ve still got most of it. Still not bad looking, though—for a man your age. A firm chin, straight nose, and a belly that doesn’t look that bad under those bed sheets. And oh yeah, those blue eyes. I remember those blue eyes. I’ll give you that. They haven’t changed.” Carol’s eyes twinkled with amusement as she set her tongue in her cheek. “Are you still getting it up?”

Dave cringed, but managed to reply in the same light, bantering manner, though the best he could do was, “Yeah, every morning, about seven a.m.” Why was she here?

“And I bet it stays that way until you get out of bed and pee.”

“And how is Ron?” Dave asked, steering toward firmer ground. He’d never met her husband, of course, but talking about him might offer a clue about why she was here, sitting next to his bed—an unwanted ghost from the past.

“His name was Roy,” Carol corrected, and shrugged. “We went our own ways. Six, seven years ago now.”

“Too bad,” Dave offered, and it was too bad. It might also prove to be too bad for him, as well. Why, oh why, was the woman here? Surely not looking for a replacement?

“Actually it was too bad, and in more ways than one.” Carol’s face turned serious. “He passed away a bit more than a year ago. Heart attack.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Carol,” Dave murmured, and he truly was as he mentally added, poor bugger. Even so, the thought struck him, quite uncharitably, that maybe his death was the reason why Carol was here. Had she come to tell him she was single, and free? No, surely not. If that was going to happen, she would have done that after the divorce, not now. Wouldn’t she?

“These things happen,” Carol said, her tone perhaps a little too dismissive for comfort.

“I suppose. What happened with the divorce, though? You didn’t, er, get, you know, get into some other, uh . . . ?” Dave was more than just curious, wondering if Carol made a habit of attending tax seminars with lecherous intent and had finally been caught out. It was an unkind thought, he knew that, for it took two to tango, and they’d been damned lucky that they hadn’t been caught out nearly two decades ago.

Carol didn’t seem to mind the implied question, though she did give it a moment’s thought before replying. “Not me, this time it was him. It took a while, but I noticed Roy’s absences coincided with that of the neighbour’s wife. What really teed me off was that she was a really good friend of mine, and now we aren’t.” Carol tilted her head to one side, assuming a forlorn look of hurt. “Good friends are so hard to find, Dave, aren’t they? Anyway,” she tossed her head, as if making light of it all, “I divorced the poor man.”

“Wasn’t that being a tad hypocritical?”

“Of course it was. But hey, there’s no point keeping milk in the fridge once it’s turned sour. It was over by then anyway.”

Dave figured he was getting nowhere, and began to wonder hopefully if this was maybe nothing more than a friendly visit after all. Though even if it was, there still had to be a “why.” He tried another tack. Carol had been in Toronto with one of the major international accounting firms, known throughout the financial world as The Big Four. They used to be called The Big Five until Enron went under, taking their auditors with them—though that might very well have been the other way around. Dave shook his head, trying to clear his mind. “So what are you doing now? Still counting beans with the big guys?”

“Still with the big guys, but I’m no longer counting beans. Public relations, the legal implications of practice, and so on. Administrative-type stuff.” An impish grin spread across her features. “And no comment about the public relations bit, either. I’m running an in-house seminar in your fair city, by the way. You might recall that seminars were my forte, only back then I was attending them, not running them.”

“Yeah, I do recall. And your attendance was very good, too.” Dave responded in kind, as his heart finally throttled back to a fairly rhythmic pounding. Yes, perhaps this was just a friendly visit, after all. And why not? The two of them hadn’t parted on bad terms. They had simply gone their own way. Played it safe, went home, and called it quits while the going was good, so to speak. And it had been good, he reflected, but nothing good—and illicit—goes on forever. At the end of the day, both of them had independently decided that, all things considered, some things are best left alone. In the long run, there was no future better than the one already in hand. And if what Carol was saying today was true, then it wasn’t difficult to guess what had at least prompted the visit. “I suppose you tuned into the news, once you got here?”

“Yes. This evening, though I’ve been in town for a couple of days. You seem to have made quite a splash.”

“So that’s why . . . ?”

“Uh-huh. I thought about it for a while then decided on impulse to drop by. I rationalized that you might like an update on old times. I told the desk I was your first wife, gave them my business card, and they let me in.” Carol ran her hands down her outfit as if she were on display, plainly amused. “I think I got profiled.”

“Can’t blame them.” Dave decided it was best to ignore the ‘first wife’ subterfuge, it left him uneasy. Besides, knowing Carol, it was nothing but teasing.

“I must confess to a certain prurience about the encounter.” Carol raised her eyebrows in query. “The woman who was with you, is there, uh, any . . . ?”

“Irene?” Dave laughed. “Heavens, no—she’s our office manager. The only time that ever happened was with you, in the Laurentians. Honest.” The name of the mountain range popped magically to mind, now he wasn’t trying to remember it. “My nerves couldn’t have stood another such encounter.”

“Oddly enough, me too,” Carol said, and for the moment looked pensive. Then she suddenly shifted gears. “Your kids—you had two. How are they doing? Any accountants in the family?”

“Not at all. I imagine Mike saw too much of what his father was doing when he grew up, and took up law instead. No respect for the family’s good name,” Dave teased in turn, as he recalled Carol also had a law degree tacked to the back of her name. “As for Kathy, she’s in Toronto, working for the TD Bank. She’s the only one who came close to counting beans. Got a commerce degree, and decided that was enough. Seems to be enjoying herself.”

For a few more minutes the conversation played back and forth, Carol asking questions for the most part and Dave responding, though he did toss back a few of his own. Somewhere in the background a speaker system announced for the second time that regular visiting hours were over, and that was when Dave realized how quickly time had passed, and that most of the talk had been one-sided.

“What about your brood?” he asked. “You had one back then, didn’t you?”

“Yes, and now there are two. There was an afterthought that coincided with the timing of Roy’s vasectomy. A product of overconfidence, I guess. She’s a real delight, though. Here.” Carol fumbled in her purse, a glistening, brown leather clutch not much larger than a decent-sized wallet. A faint, yet familiar scent drifted over as she leaned across and handed him a small, two by three coloured print. It showed a very attractive young girl in the traditional graduation photograph: a dark mottled background; a black gown with red and white edging on the collar; a large bouquet of red roses; a very happy smile. There was much of her mother in her, and Dave said as much as he studied the picture.

“Yes, this mum’s quite proud of her. Her name’s Theresa, but she goes by Terri.”

“She’s very pretty. Is this a high school grad, or university?” Dave asked.

“Oh, just high school,” Carol said, and bit her lip as if in hesitation before adding, “she’s only eighteen. She’s looking at a couple of universities, but will probably settle on Queens.”

“She certainly looks a lot older than…” Dave, moving to return the photograph, suddenly stopped, his heart lurching as if a hammer had hit him square in the chest. His hand pulled back, and he stared again at the picture. “…than eighteen.”

 

 

A Slightly Tainted Hero

Slightly Tainted Hero front cover.

Slightly Tainted Hero by Graham Clews.

My new book is out. It’s called A Slightly Tainted Hero and it’s about an accountant. Yes, accountants can lead exciting lives…especially in fiction. The main character’s name is Dave and he’s turned sixty and feeling old—mainly in body rather than mind. Then there’s his office manager, Irene Blanchard. She’s about twenty years younger, about the age Dave’s mind seems to think it is as it valiantly labours to adjust to his ‘maturing’ body. Which is why he unwisely confronts a mugger while escorting Irene to an underground parking lot in downtown Edmonton. Oh and the mugger is armed.

Blind panic follows as shots ring out and somehow Dave becomes an overnight hero. In fact, he’s shocked to find that he’s now a successful, wounded, nationally known hero. But instant fame has its drawbacks as Dave’s past sins slowly emerge from behind a long closed door. Louise, his wife of thirty-six years, is not pleased. Neither, it seems, is anyone else as the fallout spreads: his partners at work, the police, the mugger’s family, and even Dave himself.

I’m going to be sharing excerpts from the novel for a few weeks on this blog. Here’s the first chapter. Let me know what you think.

From Chapter One:

“Irene, does anyone there have possession of a weapon?” the voice [911] asked.

Dave blinked, confused by the sudden turn of events; everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. Perhaps he should do something about the youth fumbling around on the floor for the weapon, despite experiencing a vague feeling that he was no more than a witness to someone else’s dream. Only he didn’t particularly feel like moving, not anymore. It just wasn’t worth the effort. Instead, he angled the gun toward the roof, croaked at the kid to get his arse in the car or he’d shoot him, and pulled the trigger. The bullet shattered one of the fluorescents, ricocheted onto the concrete floor, whined off into the distance, and slammed into the passenger door of Irene’s Charger with a solid thwack. The youth scrambled quickly back into the Lincoln, still clutching his shoulder and cursing a blue streak.

“Oh God, that answers that.” The voice on the phone was no longer detached. “Irene. What is going on, Irene? Irene?”

Irene was no longer there. She whirled around, startled by the gunshot, and screamed. A dark crimson stain puddled the ground where Dave stood, and one leg of his pants was slick with…

“Dave, Dave, for Christ’s sake! You’re bleeding all over the place.”

She dropped the phone and ran over to kneel at Dave’s feet. He slumped back against the Lincoln’s rear fender, grateful that the vehicle was there to keep him upright. The right leg of his grey pinstriped trousers was a glistening black river of blood that seeped down the crease and covered the laces of his shoe.

“You’ve been hit.” Irene paused, her eyes growing wider. “Holy shit, Dave. You’ve been shot in the . . .”

“Shot in the what?” Dave asked dreamily, his mind telling him that there was need for alarm here, though quite oddly he didn’t really feel any immediate panic over what just might be a serious problem.

***

There was a small hole in the one pant leg, an ugly little dot high on the inseam, just below the crotch. The tiny tear was almost invisible, lost in the thick, sticky, glistening fabric that now covered the entire inside of Dave’s right leg. Irene glanced up at her boss’s face. He stared back as if in a daze. His eyes were still focused, sort of, but they expressed a fading lack of interest in what was going on around him. And his skin. His skin was turning grey, a much ashier grey than even his hair.

“Shot in the what?” Dave murmured again, then his eyes flashed alarm and he seemed to find new strength. “Oh my God!”

“No, no,” Irene said, quickly improvising because she wasn’t sure exactly where the bullet had gone. “You’ve been shot in the top of the leg, I’m sure of it. But you’re bleeding like a chicken with its head . . .” She quickly abandoned that image, too.

Dave’s eyes were on the glistening inseam of his pants, and the crimson splatter on the concrete. “Is all that blood mine?”

Irene nodded and tried to pull herself together and focus. She looked down at the leg and bit her lip. The bleeding had to be stopped, she knew that. But it was—well, the wound was where it was. And this was Dave Lockwood, the most senior of her bosses, both in age and time in. How do you go about . . .

“Yeah, yeah. We’ve got to do something,” she muttered, acutely aware of what needed to immediately be done, while frantically wondering where to start, and hoping she had the guts to do it.

Dave solved the problem for her. “D-damn right. We’ve got to fucking-well s-stop the bleeding,” he stuttered, and began tugging clumsily at his belt with his left hand, the one not clutching the gun.

“Here, let me.” Irene pushed his hand to one side, and quickly had the belt undone. It was not the first time she’d done this with another man’s belt, Irene reflected inanely, but never under this circumstance, and certainly not with the senior partner of…

Don’t be so damned ridiculous, woman!

Irene shook her head and tried to concentrate. The slacks dropped of their own accord, and she found herself staring at a pair of bright red tartan boxer shorts and a surprisingly muscular pair of legs, one of which was literally weeping blood. It was coming from somewhere near the very top. It was coming from under those bright red tartan shorts. With another shake of her head and a deep sigh, Irene reached up and grasped the waistband. With a swift yank she pulled them firmly downward.

Dave had not, after all, been shot in the balls—or through his weenie, either—and Irene audibly released her breath. The bullet had ripped through the inside of his leg, just an inch or two from the very top. Irene didn’t possess a wealth of medical knowledge, but she was not without common sense, either. The main artery—she couldn’t remember what it was called—had obviously been hit, though it hadn’t been severed. She’d seen enough violent movies and read enough books to know that the victim’s blood was supposed to gush out in huge spasms when that occurred, and that wasn’t happening. Probably, Irene decided in the split second needed to absorb it all, the artery had merely been nicked. The blood was seeping out—the word “copiously” came to mind—but not spurting in wild gushes. And it was coming—she peered closely at the torn muscle—from a tiny black hole.

Drawing a deep, steadying breath, Irene thrust her hand forward, set her thumb firmly above where the blood seeped onto Dave’s leg, and pressed hard. She felt Dave twitch with pain, but he held steady, and so did she. The flow of blood immediately halted and Irene breathed a huge sigh of relief. It was a miracle. A full-blown emergency with a solution that had worked the very first time! That was a miracle. Irene glanced at Dave’s face and saw that he was gazing down on her with an expression that was almost beatific, though on reflection it was probably no more than being on the edge of passing out.

“Has it stopped?” he asked, his voice once again sounding very tired.

“Yes, yes,” she replied, and glanced down again to make sure. The bleeding had stopped, yes, but she was suddenly acutely aware of time and place and what, precisely, was happening. A part of her mind felt an enormous relief that events were turning out right and she’d been there to make that happen. Another part was realizing what, exactly, she was doing. One hand clutched the top of her boss’s leg, the thumb pressed over the bullet hole, while his dangling scrotum and limp penis nestled against the back of that very same hand. And the other hand, she suddenly realized, was clasped tightly around his butt, in order to keep both of them close and steady enough to apply the pressure. And—and her nose was barely a foot away from it all.

Shaking her head, Irene looked back up at Dave. It would be far more productive to keep her eyes focused on how he seemed to be doing rather than on his groin, for his features gave far graver cause for concern. He was clearly growing weaker as the minutes ticked by, probably from shock as much as from loss of blood. What would she do if he keeled over? The poor man could crack his head on the concrete and die while waiting for the goddamned ambulance to arrive.

And where the hell was that goddamned ambulance?