Death in the Saddle, Ch 11

In a clinging black silk dress that enhanced every sensuous curve in her body, Lucy Kurtz, stood before the full length bedroom mirror, preening and thinking she resembled the late Audrey Hepburn—or was it Jackie Kennedy? She placed her hands on her hips, turned to look at her left side, then turned to look at her right side. Hell, she looked better than either one of them. They were dead and she was quite alive, thank you. She reached into her jewelry chest for a double strand of pearls and placed them around her neck but had difficulty fastening the clasp. “ Larry, can you help me here?”

Her husband stopped what he was doing and came over to help her. He fumbled with the locking mechanism but was unable to fasten the clasp.

She pushed his hands aside. “Never mind, I’ll do it myself.”

“Sorry about that.”

“Story of my life—if I want something done, I’ve got to do it myself.” She turned to look at her beleaguered husband. “Aren’t you dressed yet? The Bruxtons are expecting us at six thirty, and I don’t want to be late. It’s already six ten; I don’t want to miss what those investment bankers have to say, and I don’t want the Bruxtons to be angry.”

“Bruxton will be happy to see you any time you get there.”

With hands on hips she assumed an aggressive tone. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Larry buttoning his collar stretched his neck upwards. “You figure that out.”

“Listen: you can thank me that you’re still a partner. All right, a minor one, but at least you’re getting an income. You just don’t know how lucky you are to have me.” She brought her face close to the mirror, licked her middle finger and ran it over her eyebrows. “If I could get a job in that office, I’d make sure you’d become an equal partner.” She snapped her fingers. “Just like that. In fact, I may approach him yet and ask for a job.”

“You’ll do nothing of the kind. I don’t want you to pursue that possibility,” he said. “Besides, you know Bruxton won’t permit family members to work in the company. He’s still pissed over those two Johanssen brothers who squeezed him out of one of his sawmills. He called it goddamned thieving nepotism. I wouldn’t buck him on that issue. And I wouldn’t trust him with you in the same room. If I thought he ever intended to do again what he did three years ago, I’d kill him. I swear it! I’d kill the sonofabitch.”

“Relax my brave hero.” Lucy walked away with a swagger. “If he ever tries something like that again, you won’t have to kill him—I’ll do it myself!”

Smoking Gun

“Come in, please,” the maid greeted the Kurtzes and whispered, “The gentlemen from the bank are already here. They’re with Mr. Bruxton in the den. Mrs. Bruxton is in the great room having a drink with Mr. Parma.”

Larry Kurtz left his wife and joined Bruxton and the bankers in the den.

Lucy asked the maid. “Who’s Mr. Parma?”

“Oh, he’s a famous TV and movie star.”

“Really? So famous that I’ve never heard of him?” Lucy asked with a dismissive sneer. She walked past the maid and headed toward the great room. “This I must see.” She reached the room and stopped suddenly at the entry. “Oh! Excuse me. Didn’t mean to intrude, but I thought I could find a drink around here.” She put her hand to her swan-like neck. “I’m absolutely parched.”

Parma left Mary’s side on the settee and stood.

Mary set her drink down and assessed Lucy rather coolly. “Lucy Kurtz, this is Mr. Frank Parma, star of Light House Productions. Frank is starring in a movie that’s being made in Yucca Valley. You know of him, I’m sure.”

“Why, yes of course.” She smiled broadly and drank in the handsome figure from his curly black hair to his dress boots and still didn’t have a clue as to who he was. She extended her hand. Frank kissed it as he bowed.

“My, how courtly.” Lucy’s eyes glommed onto him then looked at Mary. “I love him already.”

“Mind your manners; he’s my guest, and I’ll brook no competition.”

“My dear, no one can possibly compete with you.”

“Just remember that,” Mary said without a trace of humor.

Smoking Gun

In the dinner seating arrangements, Mary had placed herself between Frank Parma and one of the bank officers. On the opposite side of the table, Lucy Kurtz was seated between her husband, Larry, and the other banker. Peter Bruxton sat at the head of the table. Jim, the chauffeur, acted as a butler; a chore he had performed many times before. With white gloves, he presented a bottle of wine to Bruxton for his approval. Bruxton gave the label a cursory glance and waved it off. “Yeah, that’s fine—just pour.”

Once everyone had been served, Bruxton stood and raised his glass. “Ladies and gentlemen, here’s a toast to your good health and good fortune—wait now, don’t drink just yet—he nodded to the bank officers, right and left—here’s to our bank friends. We hope you loosen your purse strings for our new recreational project in Montana.” He smiled broadly. “And don’t worry boys, you’ll make your profits, but good!” His laughter was followed by their polite but limited chuckles.

Mary recoiled, stared into her plate and thought: why must he be so damned boorish and offensive? Frank, sensing her embarrassment, placed his hand on hers as they rested in her lap. She looked at him, thanking him with her eyes.

Lucy thought as she watched Mary: I know exactly what you’re feeling: you’re ashamed because Bruxton’s a coarse pig. You’d like to be rid of him and run away with that handsome thing next to you. He’s probably already made you feel like a real woman again. I know the feeling because I’m saddled with a guy who’s also a class A jerk. The difference is: your husband has money to go along with his monumental ego and repulsiveness while mine is a hopeless clod.

After dinner, Bruxton, concluding his role as major domo, gulped the last of his brandy, then banged the snifter on the table. He wiped his mouth and tossed the napkin on his plate. He looked at one banker, then the other. “Well, fellas, have we got a deal or not? Three hundred million semoleons at 6.3%. The first payment of twenty million, payable at the completion of the first phase of the new building program in approximately one hundred twenty days. The accountants can wrestle with the details. Final approval will be made after I give the okay.”

The bankers looked at each other across the table; one raised his eyebrows, the other lowered his head to conceal a smile. Both knew that Bruxton had pleaded for the loan.

Larry Kurtz engaged the bankers in conversation as he walked them to the door. Mary remained at the table with Frank while Bruxton followed Lucy as she entered the great room. She turned and was startled to see Bruxton behind her.

“Lucy, you’re more gorgeous than ever—couldn’t take my eyes off you all evening. I’ve thought about you many times.”

“Bruxton, stop! You disgust me!”

“Oh, yeah? You didn’t seem to mind at the time.”

“You must have drugged me. I’d never consent to….”

“Don’t give me that bullshit! You were damned hot to trot. Listen, if Larry can’t satisfy you….”

“Shut up! You’re nothing but a filthy degenerate….”

“Are we intruding on a romantic interlude?” Mary asked as she walked into the great room with Frank at her side.

Bruxton showed no emotion. “I’m going upstairs to look over some papers before I go back to the hotel.”

Larry, having said goodnight to the bankers, joined Mary, Frank and Lucy in the great room. Lucy, still angered over Bruxton’s comments, walked over to Larry. “Time for us to leave, Dear. I have a splitting headache.” She gave Mary a perfunctory peck on the cheek and thanked her for a lovely evening. She turned to look at Frank, and asked, “Are you returning to Yucca Valley tonight?”

“No.” He explained with aplomb that the Bruxtons had made their casita available to him while he was on location.

“Really?” Lucy’s voice escalated an octave as she sang out, “How very convenient. How very convenient, indeed.” She walked slowly toward the door and looked over her shoulder. “Mary, dear, we must get together again soon.”

Mary closed the door behind them. “Whew! Thank God she’s gone.”

Frank reached for Mary and embraced her with a passion that squeezed the breath out of her; then he planted a long open-mouth kiss on her. She closed her eyes and held his face in both her hands, then pushed him away gently, looking at her watch. “It’s 10:15, darling; you have to get up at 4:30 to be on the set….”

“Will you come to the casita and turn down the bedding for me?”

“Not while that ogre is upstairs. His presence anywhere around here turns me off. Completely off.”

Frank glanced at the stairs then returned his gaze to Mary. “We’ve got to talk about our future.”

“I’d like that. I’ve rehearsed my lines a thousand times, you know. I’m anxious to tell that loud-mouthed egomaniac that I want out.”

Frank cast another glance at the stairs. “I’ve got to know: is he physically abusive? Has he laid a hand on you?”

“Don’t concern yourself with such matters. It’ll be my choice when this marriage ends.” She turned and ascended the stairs as Frank looked after her.

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