2/11/2014

A Dame with a Past - Part 7


Continued from Part 6


I must say, given what Harry had learned about Mike McGraw, I wasn’t all that surprised to see him in the lobby of the Bernice Arms. In fact, I wasn’t all that surprised to see his sporting a black eye. Like Harry said, the guy’s a loose cannon.

I ask, “What are you doing here, Mike?”

“What am I doing here?” Mike jumps to his feet and pushes his chest in my direction. “I have every right to be here. I have as much right to be here as you do. In fact, I have as much right to be here as Bernie. She’s my wife! This building is half mine!”

“I think you’d best back off, Mr. McGraw,” Al says, walking toward McGraw. The menace in his voice is unmistakable.

I hold up my hand. “It’s okay, Al,” I say, and turn toward McGraw.

“Actually, Mike, that’s not technically true,” I say, backing out of swing distance. Last thing I need is to get into a fist fight. “Bernie’s mother left the building to her in a trust. The trust is solely in Bernie’s name and is protected from community property laws.”

“But, but…” McGraw sputtered, pacing back and forth. His face is flushed with anger. After more pacing and muttering, he turns to me.

“I want to see my wife,” he demands. “She’s here, right?”

Kimball attempts to put a calming hand on McGraw’s arm, but the angry man shakes it off.

“Get your hand off me! Who the hell are you, anyway?”

Keeping his voice calm, Kimball replies, “I’m Joe Kimball, the building manager. To answer your question, yes, Bernice is here. Marty, why don’t you go talk to her?”

Good idea. I excuse myself, and head for the elevator. As the doors are closing, I hear Kimball trying to reason with McGraw.

“Before you see your wife, Mr. McGraw, I think you’d better calm down. Why don’t you sit here for a while? Can I bring you some coffee?”

Yeah, good luck with that.

~


I hit the buzzer on the gate outside Bernie’s apartment, and she comes out to open it. “I know there must be a way to release this from inside the apartment, but I haven’t discovered it yet.” She laughs as she unlocks the gate.

“I’m glad you’re back, Marty. Wait ‘til I show you…” She notices my face. “What’s wrong?”

“Mike is here, Bernie. He’s a bit, um… upset.”

Bernie pales. “Oh, no.”

Taking her hand, I lead into the living room. We sit on the overstuffed couch and I turn to face her.

“Bernie, I think we should talk. I want to help you, but I can’t if I don’t know what’s going on.”

At that, she bursts into tears. Great. Looking around, I spot a box of tissues on an end table, and hand them to her.

“I’ll be right back,” I say. “I’m going to go find us some tea or something.”

I’m surprised to find a well-stocked kitchen. On the counter, next to a covered plate of cookies, there’s a note from Louise Fennimore.

 

Nice touch. Sounds like Bernie has more friends here that she thought. Good thing. I think she might need them.

I fill the kettle sitting on the stove and turn on the burner. While the water heats, I rummage around and find some tea bags, a sugar bowl, cups, and a tray. I load everything on the tray, add the plate of cookies and the note, and head back to the living room.

As I set the tray down on the coffee table in front of the sofa, I’m relieved to see Bernie has stopped crying. I have a hard time with weeping women, like most guys, I guess.

I settle down next to her. “So…”


~


For the next hour, we sip the Darjeeling and munch cookies, which are a delicious shortbread, by the way, my favorite. And Bernie talks. And talks some more. She holds nothing back. I’m envisioning McGraw throwing hissy fit in the lobby, but I don’t want to rush Bernie. Besides, I’m confident that, between the two of them, Joe and Al can control him.

Seems old Mike hasn’t been quite so successful at hiding his true nature as Harry thought. Bernie is well aware of his past.

“But I thought he’d changed, Marty. He was so sweet and charming to me at first,”

Yeah, aren’t they all, I think to myself.

“It wasn’t until we’d been married for about six months that I began to wonder if he really had changed.”

She went on to describe their disintegrating relationship. It was an all too familiar story.

"The man I thought I married is disappearing before my eyes. There’s never enough money, and we fight a lot about that. We’re not wealthy, by any means, but there is no reason we can’t make it on our salaries. I think he gambles it away, Marty.

"Then it got worse. He’s hardly ever home, and there are more and more late nights. And I smell perfume on his clothing.

“I asked about it, and he said it was from his women clients. Right. I knew there was more to it. And more than one woman. The scents vary. Expensive scents, too. During college, I worked at the perfume counter at Macy’s, so I recognize a lot of them. Joy, Armani, L’Air du Temps.”

She pauses to pull another tissue from the box to wipe the tears that are rolling down her cheeks again.

“Ha! L'Aire d’Evanescence! The way my marriage is disappearing, that should be my signature scent,” she says grimly.

“And since that letter from Mr. Worthington, Mike’s gotten really weird. He’s super nice to me one minute, and really mad at me the next. I mean, I’m guessing you saw what I’m talking about downstairs. A couple of times, I thought he was going to hit me, Marty!”

Poor kid. She deserves better.

“Why do you stay with him, Bernie? It doesn’t sound like there’s much in it for you.”

“I guess I’ve been afraid. I have no family. I don’t have much money and besides, the house is in his name. Where would I go?”

I can’t help myself. I raise an eyebrow at her, then cast my eyes around the room.

“Oh!"

~

Continued in Part 8




Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 5, Muse 7: "An Air of Evanescence"

1 comment:

JeffScape said...

A slight slip back into exposition (and perhaps a bit of the obvious), but it's working.