Death in the Saddle, Ch 2

At his ornate oversized desk, Peter Bruxton sat with a phone in one hand and a smoking panatela in the other. Looking up, he saw his new secretary at his door. Holding his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone, he said, “Come in, come in,” then leaning back in his tall leather chair, he signaled for her to sit down. He put up his index finger, denoting a moment longer on the phone, then placed the phone closer to his mouth and shouted, “Bullshit! Call in those mortgage payments now. I’m not running a fucking credit bureau—that’s right, if they can’t pay, we’re repossessing. They bought quick enough at sub-prime rates. No more extended payments.” The phone was slammed onto the cradle as he looked at the young woman seated opposite his desk. He made a quick assessment of the exotic beauty. “Now, what do you want?” He flicked the cigar ash into a tray.

“Mr. Bruxton, Mr. Kurtz, your partner…”

“I know he’s my partner. What does he want?”

“Yes sir, sorry sir, it’s just that the mortgage department from the Continental Bank called a third time asking for payment on Mr. Kurtz’s estate loan.”

“Chrissakes! How much does he owe, d’ya know?”

“No sir.”

“Tell Kurtz—no, get him on the phone. I’ll talk to him. The secretary punched in the call-waiting button and handed the phone to Bruxton. He grabbed the phone and ordered the secretary to wait.

“Kurtz? Bruxton here. Listen, I know you owe the bank a pot full of money and you’re tapped out—don’t interrupt. I know the real estate market is in the toilet and you’re gonna be tossed out on your ass. Here’s what I’ll do for ya. Shut up and listen. I’ll pay off the bank, you’re gonna be free and clear. What d’ya mean, what’s the catch? No catch. Haven’t I always pulled your balls out of a vise? The house becomes mine, and you pay me rent. Think about it, Kurtz, before I develop buyer’s remorse. The offer is good for forty-eight hours. No, I’m not joking. I’m doing it for the same damn reason I’ve done everything else for you and your buddy, Jake.” Bruxton replaced the phone, leaned back in his chair, clenched the cigar with his teeth and stared at the seated young secretary who pulled her hem over her knees.

She attempted a tentative smile. “I beg your pardon, sir, did you want me for anything else?”

“How long ya been working here, Miss…?”

“Ouvray, Bonnie Ouvray—just three days sir.”

“Like your job?”

“Yes sir.”

He pointed to his side. “Come over here. Stand here, next to me. Let me get a good look at you.” Bruxton eyed the flawless café au lait complexion and the trim figure of the tall beauty. Cascading jet-black hair framed the large almond-shaped eyes with long lashes and full sensuous lips. She smiled nervously, revealing perfect glistening teeth. At age twenty-four, the young woman stood with the confidence borne of beauty and aplomb.

“Come closer—I won’t bite you,” Bruxton reached out to hold her arm. Instinctively, she withdrew as the office door opened. A woman with coarse platinum hair, and a face made youthful by plastic surgery strutted into the long office. A St. John knit only partially concealed her early matronly mid-section and the fullness of her bust. She waved her hand quickly and repeatedly in front of her face and frowned. “Phew! This place stinks of cigar smoke.” She walked to the window and threw it open, then turned and glared first at her husband, and then at the young woman. “Am I interrupting a tête-à-tête?”

“I was just welcoming Ms. Ouvray here, to the staff.”

Fifty-two year old Mary Bruxton, bedecked with diamond stud earrings, a gold necklace and matching bracelets, surveyed the young woman, then nodded toward the door. “Would you mind giving us a few minutes alone?”

Bonnie Ouvray left the room hurriedly, and closed the door behind her quietly.

Standing with hands on hips and bent slightly forward, Mary Bruxton stared at her husband. “Listen, you jerk, what did you mean when you said you were welcoming that little cookie to the staff? You make damned sure you’re not welcoming her to your private staff. Must I remind you of your paternity suit with that last chippie who worked for you? Why can’t you keep your pecker in your pants?”

Then, before Peter Bruxton could respond, she scowled and continued, “When I actually still wanted to have sex with you, you acted like you’d forgotten what the hell that thing was used for. Now it seems like it’s all you can think about. Not that I care. I don’t want any part of it now.”

“For chrissakes, Mary. Let’s not have another shitty scene. Why’n hell did you come here, anyway?”

Mary raised her chin defiantly. “I’ve every right to be here, and besides, there are a few things I need to discuss with you.”

Bruxton looked at his watch and shook his head. “I can’t spare the time.”

Mary looked at her watch. “Take the time! Have lunch with me. I detest eating alone, and my mahjong girls are busy today. There are things we need to discuss and I’m just NOT taking no for an answer, so come on.”

“Okay, but no nagging or arguing. I don’t want to aggravate my ulcers.”

Smoking Gun

The chauffeur opened the door and Mary Bruxton slid into the rear of the Bentley. Primping before a vanity mirror, she bared her teeth and wiped them with Kleenex. The chauffeur walked to the other side to open the door for Peter Bruxton. “Jim, take us to that overpriced French hash joint in Rancho Mirage, and don’t take the scenic route.”

Mary closed her eyes, shook her head and sighed, “Why must you be so boorish?”

“You inspire me, I guess,” Bruxton replied. He pushed himself back into the plush leather seat, pulled down the armrest dividing their seating and withdrew a silver cigar canister from his jacket pocket.

“Put that damn thing away! Don’t you dare smoke in here!”

“I paid three hundred and twenty five thousand clams for this fuckin’ hearse, and you’re telling me I can’t smoke in it?”

Mary pointed her finger at him. “That’s right and you better not use it for fucking your floozies, either.”

“C’mon, Mary, don’t talk like that. You’ll give Jim here, the wrong impression.”

“Oh, really?” Mary responded coldly. “Would you like me to ask him how many times he’s seen you in this back seat with a whore?”

Her husband returned the cold stare, then looked out the window. Both of them remained silent the rest of the way to the restaurant. When they pulled in, Peter Bruxton opened his own door and abruptly exited the car. His wife waited for the chauffeur. “Thank you Jim,” she said as she got out of the car. “At least someone’s a gentleman!”

The valet held the tall door as the Bruxtons walked in. The maître d’ smiled and bowed slightly at the familiar patrons. Mr. Bruxton not-too subtly put folding money in his hand, and the maître d’ ushered them quickly to a corner booth. Bruxton eyed two young women with halter dresses seated at a nearby table and nodded his approval. Mary ignored his flirtations and walked briskly to distance herself from him.

Seated at the table, Bruxton stretched his arms to either side of the back of the booth and looked up at the exposed rough-hewn beams of the ceiling and walls of the recreated auberge. He nodded and said, “This is real class, this is what the customer pays for—the atmosphere, the pizzazz and the hokey props. That’s what I’ll give our clientele at the Sunburst Club in Montana. Yes sir, we’ll snow ’em with class.” With his unlit cigar he pointed to the décor.

“Put that damn thing away, for heaven’s sake!”

“I wasn’t gonna smoke it.”

She stared at him. “Don’t you dare stick that napkin in your collar, and take your elbows off the table. You are the epitome of vulgarity.”

“Is that a compliment, Mary? No? I didn’t think so.” Bruxton gazed upward and moved his lips as though communicating with a compassionate spirit, then cast a baleful eye at Mary. “Thanks for not naggin’.” Bruxton took the tall padded menu offered by the waiter, gave it a perfunctory glance and said,  “Give us two dry martinis and be damn sure they’re dry.” As the waiter left, he continued, “Okay, let’s have it, what’s on your mind that’ll aggravate my ulcers?”

Mary sighed, “We have an ongoing problem with your daughter, Deena.”

“What d’ ya mean, my daughter? She happens to be our daughter. What does she want now, besides that gorilla stud at U.S.C. who can’t put two sentences together?”

Mary leaned into the table and spoke softly. “I don’t want her involved in that family. That kid’s old man, Oscar Brazilowicz, is a union boss; that means trouble—goons, guns, payoffs—all that crap.”

Bruxton nodded. “Listen, I don’t want her involved with that yokel either, and she knows it.”

The conversation stopped as the waiter returned and set the martinis down.

“Bring two more,” Bruxton said.

Mary plucked an olive out of her glass, chewed it and said, “And he knows how you feel. He’s becoming extremely resentful.”

“Too damn bad about him, he’s not gonna get my consent for marriage. He’ll have to kill me first.”

“He might be thinking just that.”

“Screw him.” Bruxton studied the menu. “Can you believe a cup of onion soup is eight-fifty? They’ve got a hell of a nerve. What is it—boiled water, sliced onions, pieces of stale bread and cheese?”

Mary ignored his comments. “What do you intend to do about Deena’s dating?”

“I’ll talk to her and that ape boyfriend and lay down the law. I’ll tell em I don’t want em to get married, simple as that.”

“Yeah, that ought to stop nothing.” Mary took a carrot stick from the relish plate and crunched down on it. “There’s another matter—I got a call this morning from Lucy Kurtz. Your partner’s wife.”

Impatiently, he shouted. “I know who the hell she is, what did that prima donna want?” People at a nearby table turned to look.

“Hold your voice down. She was crying. She told me they were about to lose their home. They can’t meet the bank’s demands for payment, and they’re facing foreclosure.”

“Yeah, I know. I talked with Larry this morning. I made him an offer to pay off his mortgage.”

Mary’s eyes widened. “You did what? You offered to pay off his mortgage? Why? Still trying to salve a guilty conscience?”

Bruxton put his drink down. “Jesus, don’t bring that thing up with Lucy again. You’re never gonna let me forget, are you? You know damn well it was consensual.”

A waiter returned with two more martinis. He was joined by another waiter who presented them with a half loaf of warm crisp pre-cut French bread on a wooden server with a porcelain tub of whipped herb butter.

Bruxton glared at the second waiter. “What took you so long, Buddy, I’m starving here and you’re moving like a goddamned slug.” Bruxton reached for an end piece and slathered it with butter. “I could make a meal out of this and a bowl of onion soup.”

Mary rolled her eyes. “Now tell me about this new secretary. How did you find her? What experience has she had? What’s her background? Is she single?”

“Hold it. I already forgot your first three questions. Oh yeah. Well, she’s had two years at the local college. Majored in Business and Communications or something like that. She’s got good computer skills and handles the phone well. That’s all I need.”

“You be damn sure that’s all you need.”

With his mouth full, he grumbled, “What the hell’s that supposed to mean? She’s probably got a boyfriend anyway.”

Mary placed the last of a buttered slice of bread into her mouth, then licked her index finger and thumb. “That never stopped you before.”

“What the hell do you want from me? Are we going to eat in peace, or are you just going to nibble away at my ass? You’ve already spoiled my appetite.” He rubbed his mouth with his napkin, then replaced his unlit cigar in the corner of his mouth and sat back in obvious frustration.

“Eat what you can, because if you think your appetite is spoiled now, you’re absolutely going to puke when I tell you this….”

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