Bruxton tilted back in his chair, propped his feet on top of an open desk drawer and grunted into the intercom, “Ms. Ouvray, come in here.”
Entering tentatively, with a steno pad held like a shield of armor, Bonnie Ouvray, hesitated at the door. “Don’t stand over there. Come in.” Bruxton pointed to a chair on the other side of his desk. “After we finish here, I’d like you to accompany me to another meeting at the Springs Hotel this afternoon.”
Bonnie sat upright and held her pad more defensively. “Mr. Bruxton, I’m happy to accompany you, but I simply cannot join you for a drink again. I….”
“Of course not, sweetie. I don’t want you to do anything you don’t wanna do.”
He became uncharacteristically solicitous. “And just to show you how sorry I am, I bought you a little gift, a token of my appreciation for your understanding and forbearance.” He smiled. “Forbearance, isn’t that a classy word?” He reached into a lower desk drawer and handed her a narrow gift-wrapped box with a lacy ribbon.
Nonplussed, she stood, placed her steno pad on the chair then looked at Bruxton. “Should I open it?”
“That’s what you gotta do to find out what’s inside.”
She untied the ribbon carefully and removed the wrapping slowly, then opened the hinged lid. “Oh!” She placed a hand over her mouth and stared wide-eyed. “I don’t know what to say! This is so exquisite.” Her long, tapered fingers gently lifted a double strand of brilliant pearls. In a breathless but troubled whisper, she said, “Mr. Bruxton, it’s so beautiful.”
“Here, let me help you put them on,” He grabbed the pearls out of her hand, stood behind her, placed them around her neck, then fastened the clasp. He held her hips and turned her around. “That looks great. It’ll look better with some cleavage showing—just my opinion, of course.”
She caressed the necklace and looked into his eyes. “How will I explain this to my dad?”
“Tell him they’re from an admirer. If you’re worried, stash ’em somewhere for a while. Hell, do whatever you want with them. Look, baby, I’m crazy about you. That little gift is just the beginning. After I divorce that bitch of a wife of mine, I want to marry you. Then you’ll be getting all kinds of gifts from me.”
He put up his hand to stop her from commenting. “You don’t have to say anything now—just think about it. As a matter of fact, while we’re at it, I have another little present for you.” Again he reached into his desk drawer, removed a large brown envelope and handed it to her. “Don’t open it now. I’ll tell you about this while we’re at the hotel.”
She appeared confused. “I—I don’t know what to say….”
“Don’t say anything. Just remember that I’ve got enough dough to buy you anything you’ll ever want….”
A staccato knock at the office door preceded the appearance of a young man who walked briskly toward Bruxton and stopped abruptly in front of him. “Mr. Bruxton?”
“Yeah—who the hell are you?”
The young man handed Bruxton a folded blue form. “Sir, you’ve been served.”
Bruxton grabbed the form and opened it. “A subpoena?” He growled and made a menacing move toward the messenger. “Goddamit, get the hell outta here!” The young man left hurriedly. Bruxton read the print naming him in a divorce proceeding initiated by one Mary Elizabeth Bruxton. His eyes scanned the three sheets, and he frowned. The legal jargon initiated a penetrating ulcer-type pain, the kind he experienced after eating spicy Mexican or deep-fried foods. He slammed the form on his desk and grumbled as he reached into his desk drawer for two antacid tablets. “Shit. My attorneys can handle that bitch’s shysters. She wants a fight? She’ll get one.”
Bonnie, cowed by Bruxton’s burst of anger, sat primly, her brows furrowed, her eyes fearful. She fingered her new pearls nervously.
Pressing his lower chest in the midline with his fist, Bruxton emitted a long, low, rumbling belch that went unexcused. “Sweetie, let’s forget about this crap and make plans for the evening.” He picked up the phone and punched in a number. “Jim, I want you to pick up my bags at the estate, then meet us here at the office. Call the hotel and tell them to have my reefer stocked with liquor and good wine—not the crap with the hotel label. Then have the concierge make arrangements for two at that fancy French joint at seven. He listened a moment, then barked, “What do you mean that might present a problem? I don’t give a shit what she wants! She’s got her own cars: a Mercedes and a Jaguar. She can cram her fat ass into either one and drive herself—she doesn’t need a chauffeur. Listen, I’m still your boss, and I’m paying the bills. Yeah, you can tell her I said so. You just follow my orders. What’s that? No, for chrissake. Don’t tell her I’m having dinner with—tell her a business associate. That’s right, a business associate. It’s none of her goddamn concern.”
He slammed the phone down and looked at Bonnie, who returned his gaze with a timid, concerned smile—a smile that only served to arouse him further. He pushed his chair back, stood, then walked toward Bonnie, who sprang to her feet and moved to the back of her chair. “Don’t run from me, Baby, I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to be close to you. Especially at a time like this.”
He extended his wrist and looked at his watch. “Oh hell! It’s five o’clock, closing time for us, but the stores are open late tonight. Go downstairs to one of those fancy-shmancy dress shops and buy yourself an outfit for tonight. Then you won’t have to go home to change, and we’ll have more time to enjoy the evening. Here’s some money.” He reached for his wallet in his back pocket and peeled off ten one hundred dollar bills.
Bonnie started to shake her head, but Bruxton grabbed her wrist and forced the money into her palm.
“Look, this is a legitimate business expense. I’ll dictate some letters to you while we’re in the hotel. Afterwards, we’ll go to dinner and you can wear your new duds and pearls. We’ll talk some personal stuff, then we’ll talk about some business matters. That’ll make it all kosher. Later, I’ll take you home.”
Bonnie backed away. Bruxton put up his hand to quell her concerns. “Call your folks and tell them you’ll be detained, or if you prefer, I’ll call….”
She interrupted. “No, no, I’ll call.”
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