Death in the Saddle, Ch 5

While seated in the limo parked at the TV studio lot, Jim, the chauffeur, had watched the TV program on the screen mounted from the headliner in the passenger compartment. When it was over, he shut the set off and moved to the driver’s seat, anticipating Bruxton’s arrival. He knew Bruxton was going to ask him his opinion of the program and more specifically, what he thought of Bruxton’s performance. Already, he was thinking of ways to answer the questions, but keep the conversation to a minimum.

Since shortly after he began working for the Bruxtons years ago, Jim had learned to avoid rendering comments unless pressed to do so. Most of the time this strategy worked, despite Bruxton’s constant need for affirmation. Bruxton’s chameleon-like personality, appeared congenial, ingratiating and encompassing when in the company of influential people or those he wished to impress. But among subordinates, he tended to be impatient, demanding and often insulting. He almost never asked staff for their opinion—on anything! Jim was the rare exception, and it was a mostly unwelcome honor. Seeing Bruxton emerge from the TV recording studio, Jim hurried to open the rear door of the limo.

“Well, what d’jah think of the telecast?” Bruxton took his cigar canister out of his pocket and tossed his jacket onto the rear seat.

Jim answered perfunctorily, “It was fine, yeah, just fine.”

“That bitch threw me a curve when she asked about acquiring the resort and then asked about my partner’s role in all that. It was none of her goddamned business and it was definitely not part of the plan.” He lit the cigar, took several puffs, then looked at the lighted end. “But what the hell, I guess I finessed it okay. The public’s never gonna know what it took to get that prime land or how many so-called charities I contributed to. Did I say charities? Isn’t that a fuckin’ laugh. Political pay-off is what it was, pure and simple.” Bruxton extended his left wrist to look at his watch. “10:45; Jim swing by the office, I want to pick up something before we head to the Springs Hotel for that afternoon meeting.”

Smoking Gun

Jim parked the Bentley in a “no parking” zone on El Paseo while Bruxton hurried into his office with his brief case. He got out of the car, removed his visored hat and wiped the leather sweatband with a handkerchief. He hand brushed his graying hair and replaced his hat. In addition to the hat, Mrs. Bruxton demanded that he wear a black suit, white shirt, black tie and black patent leather oxfords. It was not the best uniform to have to wear in the desert climate, but appearances were important to Mrs. Bruxton, and he enjoyed pleasing her.

Jim walked to the curb, reached into his inner jacket pocket and removed one cigarette without taking out the whole pack. After lighting it, he inhaled deeply for several seconds, retained the smoke, then exhaled with a cough that produced mucous. He looked around before spitting on the curb. Smoking inside the limo was prohibited. Mrs. Bruxton objected to it vehemently. Even the faintest odor of tobacco evoked a tirade from her. He kept a small deodorizer in the glove compartment and sprayed his jacket after each smoke, then would pop a Lifesaver into his mouth from one of several rolls he kept in the compartment under the folding armrest.

Seeing Bruxton emerge from the building, Jim dropped the cigarette on the pavement and ground it under his shoe until the paper was torn to bits and the shredded tobacco dispersed. Following closely behind Bruxton, and carrying his brief case, was a tall attractive young woman. Jim hurried to open the rear door of the limo. He glanced at the woman and nodded with a slight smile.

“Jim, this is my new secretary, Miss….”

“Ouvray,” she added quickly.

“That’s right, Miss Ouvray. She’s going to assist me at the hotel meeting. We’ll probably be busy for an hour or two. I’ll call you when we’re ready to return to the office. If Mrs. Bruxton calls, and asks you to drive her somewhere, tell her I’ve given you strict orders not to leave the hotel parking area. Understand? Good. And for God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t tell her I’m with my secretary.” Now let’s go!

Smoking Gun

Jim swung the Bentley into the drive of the Springs Hotel, and pulled to a stop at the valet stand. A young valet immediately came over and opened the door. Bruxton, with his secretary at his side, got out and walked briskly into the hotel and across the expansive hotel lobby to the long reception area. Bonnie Ouvray followed quickly behind him, gawking at the sheer opulence of the surroundings; the marble columns, the capacious easy chairs, sofas and love seats. Two perched, uncaged cockatoos, part of the tropical décor, ignored the staring passersby with haughty indifference. Bonnie watched in awe as a gondola traveled in a serpentine waterway in the recessed area of the lobby, carrying tourists from restaurants to specialty shops on the main floor.

As he approached the reception clerk, a young woman smiling cheerfully greeted Bruxton. “Good afternoon, Mr. Bruxton, good to see you again, sir.” She handed him a card key. “Your suite is ready for you. Would you like help with luggage or packages? Would you care to have anything sent to the suite—a snack or perhaps luncheon?”

“No, no, my secretary and I are going to be in the bar for a cocktail before we go upstairs.” Bonnie, confused by the conversation, was seized by a premonition of betrayal.

“Mr. Bruxton—I don’t understand: aren’t we attending a board meeting?”

“Yes, of course.” He looked at his watch, “We’re a little early. I thought we’d have a bracer at the bar—something to fortify ourselves before confronting those tedious old goats.”

“But, I don’t drink.”

Bruxton took her hand. “Don’t concern yourself about it. I’ll have Sam, the bartender, fix you a refreshing cooler. Trust me, you’ll like it.” They walked into a dimly lit room with Art Deco furnishings, booths and small round tables. Piped in music of the 40s and 50s added to the romantic ambience. Bruxton guided the cautious young secretary to a secluded corner booth. A cocktail waitress followed them.

“Have Sam fix his special Cuban drink for the lady and a double martini for me.” He placed a ten-dollar bill into the pocket of the abbreviated lacy apron the cocktail waitress wore over her black mini skirt. His hand brushed against her inner thigh, but the cocktail waitress made no complaint. He turned to Bonnie. “Relax, Dear—you don’t mind me calling you Dear, do you?”

“No sir.”

“These meetings are just too damned dull for sober people. The drinks will help us relax and make the afternoon more tolerable. Now sit. Relax.”

Minutes later, the drinks arrived. Bonnie’s came in a tall frosted glass with a creamy white froth and a maraschino cherry. She unwrapped the plastic from the long straw to take the first sip. It surprised and pleased her. “Oh, this is lovely.” There was none of the strong alcoholic taste she anticipated and dreaded. A warm comforting sensation was engulfing her; she pushed herself back into the leather upholstery, smiled and closed her eyes.

Bruxton offered her the olive in his drink, but she refused. He insisted that she take it until she relented. The olive tasted sour and bitter, but she was fearful about complaining. He reached across the table and held her hand. Although wary, she was reluctant but did not withdraw her hand. Bruxton was forceful and accustomed to having his way; she could see that. He looked into her dark eyes. “You’re a beautiful young lady, do you know that?”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I knew the moment I saw you that you were something special.” He leaned back and appraised her like a work of art to be acquired. Unconcerned or oblivious to her possible embarrassment, he continued, “I see a wonderful future for you in our organization—providing you play your cards right.” He looked at the empty glasses and signaled the waitress to bring another round.

Bonnie said, “Oh, no, please, I shouldn’t….” She shook her head and held up her hand.

“Nonsense, drink up, Dear, you’ll feel more relaxed, besides, there’s hardly any liquor in it.”

“Mr. Bruxton, I’m rather confused….”

“Call me Peter.” While holding her hand he squeezed it but gently. “Now, tell me why you’re confused?”

“Aside from the fact that my head is beginning to spin, I must confess: I saw you much differently in the office. I thought you were abrupt and at times a bit well, vulgar, but now you seem friendly and even kind of sweet.” She tilted her head coquettishly and smiled. “I like you this way better—Peter.”

“Good!” Bruxton leaned back and assumed a tutorial air. “Now let me tell you something about my business so you can understand me better. I’ll admit my language gets crusty when things don’t go just right. In public, I make an effort to sound polite; I don’t always succeed. At times I’m forced to make decisions at the expense of others, and that doesn’t always endear me to them. I’m in the game of land development; often I use other people’s money, but I guarantee nothing. If my investment judgments pay off, I have a group of happy investors who think I’m great. If the investments fail, as they do on occasion, I become a target for abuse. But everything is spelled out legally before any deals are made. Naturally, I’ve made a few enemies along the way.”

Bruxton continued to talk, and Bonnie continued to sip her cocktail. She was well into her second drink when she began to feel excessively warm. She unbuttoned the top two buttons of her blouse. “Mr. Bruxton, uh, Peter, I’m feeling a bit warm, and a bit woozy. I think I need to lie down.”

“No worries.” Bruxton replied. “I’ll take you to my suite where you can rest until you’re feeling better.”

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