Authors: Simon Wood
“Thanks, very much,” he fawned.
“But don’t wait too long, she checks out tomorrow.”
“Does she now?”
A crooked smile trickled across his face.
“Thank you very much indeed for your help.”
The professional walked away from the reception back to the parking lot.
He would be waiting here tomorrow to see where she went.
The professional didn’t get far before the desk clerk called out to him.
He stopped and turned around.
“Good luck sir,” she said in a hoarse whisper and grinned.
The professional grinned back and gave her the thumbs up.
The doorman showed the professional out of the hotel.
Hello, Miss Belinda Wong, who are you and what do you want?
The professional thought.
“Daddy, daddy, I heard another car pull up,” Abby said, bouncing on the spot excitedly.
“Well, isn’t it your job to greet them?” Josh asked.
Abby agreed it was by nodding vigorously.
She bounded off down the alley next to the Michaels’ home to meet the visitors to the party.
Wiener scampered behind her acting as her second in command.
As she got to the front of the house, she found people getting out of a Toyota Camry parked curbside.
“Uncle Bo-bo and Aunt Nancy!” Abby called.
Her ribboned, pigtailed hair bounced as she ran, as did Wiener’s, whose ears were tied with similar ribbons.
She crashed into Bob Deuce and hugged him.
“Hi, Abby, you look pretty,” Bob said, picking Abby up.
Yes, you do look very grown up,” Nancy Deuce said smiling.
“Thank you,” Abby said, grinning.
Bob nodded at the dog.
“What’s up with Wiener’s ears?”
“I wanted to put his ears in pigtails like mine,” she replied.
“Oh, very nice,” Nancy said.
“Who’s this?” Abby asked.
“This is a colleague of mine, James Mitchell.
I thought I’d bring him.
Hope that’s okay?”
“Yeah, that’s okay,” Abby said.
“Hello, Mr. Mitchell.”
“Call me, James,” Mitchell said.
Bob put Abby down at her request.
She led the invited guests to her father in the backyard.
Josh was stocking an ice-filled bucket with beers on the lawn next to a trestle table.
It was one of two tablecloth-covered tables smothered with snacks and drinks.
At the rear of the yard Kate manned the barbecue and waved to her friends.
Other early arrivals sat at a picnic table with drinks.
The CD player, relocated to the rear porch, sent music across the backyard.
“Hey, buddy, happy birthday,” Bob called across the yard.
“Happy thirty-eighth, Josh,” Nancy added.
Josh looked up from the ice bucket and smiled at his approaching friends with a stranger in tow.
“I’m glad you made it.”
Josh checked his watch.
“A fashionable thirty minutes late, I see.”
The birthday invitations were for seven but Josh didn’t expect most people until eight.
Bob’s arrival swelled the numbers into double figures.
“Josh, I hope you don’t mind me bringing someone.
This is a colleague of mine, James Mitchell.
He’s in the area for a few days with nothing to do and you know what that’s like, so I invited him.”
“No, not a problem.”
Josh put out a hand to Mitchell.
“Hi, James, I’m Josh.
You’re very welcome.”
“Thanks very much.
I hope you don’t mind me gate crashing.
I’m not as desperate for a night out as Bob makes out.”
“No, really, make yourself at home.
There’s plenty to drink and food soon,” Josh said.
“Is Kate manning the barbecue?” Bob asked.
“Yeah, I’m on drinks and public relations tonight,” Josh replied.
“Barbecuing, that’s a man’s job.
You’re losing your control, my man,” Bob said, in mock indignation.
“Oh, shut up, Bob,” Nancy said and punched her husband in the arm.
“You forget, Bob, when it’s my birthday, my loving ladies do all the work for me and I get to enjoy my day.
So, who is in control now?” Josh responded.
“I think I’ll see if Kate needs any help now that the testosterone is flying,” Nancy said.
“I’ll leave you to your fantasies.”
“Thank you, my love,” Bob called to her and blew her a kiss.
Nancy blew a kiss back.
“Can I get you guys a drink?” Josh asked.
They nodded and Josh removed three bottles of beer from the freshly stocked ice bucket and popped the caps.
“Happy thirty-eighth,” Bob said, producing an envelope from his back pocket.
Josh had a bemused look on his face when he opened the envelope.
The present was a gift certificate for adult swimming lessons.
“You bastard,” he said grinning.
“I thought you’d like it.
I’m glad to see you smiling again,” Bob said.
“Happy birthday, Josh!” a man holding Abby’s hand called.
He was in his early fifties, small, no more than five-five.
He was slight and as thin as his silver hair that covered his balding scalp.
“Good to see you, Mark,” Josh called back.
“I thought I'd show my face.”
Abby let go of his hand and bounded off.
“Bob, you know Mark Keegan,” Josh said and Bob nodded in agreement.
“And this is a colleague of Bob’s, James Mitchell.”
The men shook hands.
“I brought you a couple of bottles of wine.
I thought I should, seeing as you owe me money.
We still on for tomorrow?” Mark asked, giving the bottles to Josh.
“Yeah and I’ll bring a check with me.”
Josh put the bottles on the table with the rest of the alcohol.
“How is that plane of yours?” Bob asked.
“We just had it serviced, so it’s as good as new.
That’s what the money’s for,” Mark said.
“So you’ve got a plane?” James said, breaking into the conversation.
“Yeah, a little Cessna C152 we bought four years ago.
It needed some work, but we got it at a good price,” Mark explained.
“Mark and I learned to fly at the same time so we went partners on a plane,” Josh added.
“Yeah, you can’t miss it either.
Fancy paint job with their names on the doors like they’re a pair of top gun aces,” Bob joked.
“We had a bit of luck,” Josh said.
“We fly out of the Davis airstrip and a kid from the college there overheard us talking about repainting the plane.
He offered to paint a design on it for a school project and we said yeah.
All we had to pay for was the materials.”
“That kid did a great job, it really stands out,” Mark said.
“I’ve flown a couple of times, but I don’t have a license,” James said.
“Come out with us some time,” Mark said.
“No, I’m only here until Monday,” James explained.
“Oh, I thought you worked with Bob,” Mark said.
“No, I’m an agent with Pinnacle Investments visiting some of the brokers in California.”
“You work for Pinnacle Investments?” Josh asked.
He wasn’t about to let one of their employees get away.
“I’ve got a big bone to pick with you.”
“Well, if you people have business, I think I’ll give my best to Kate.
I’ll see you about ten tomorrow,” Mark said, excusing himself.
Josh nodded to him.
“I’ll catch you later.”
“What’s up, pal?” Bob asked.
“Thursday, Pinnacle Investments sent Kate a funeral wreath to the house with my name on it,” Josh said angrily.
“Jesus, how did that happen?” Bob asked.
“That’s what I wanted you to tell me.”
“I haven’t spoken to them,” Bob said in his defense.
“Christ, I’m sorry, man.
That’s the last thing you needed.”
“I don’t know how it could have happened,” James said.
“Please let me apologize on behalf of the firm.
Let me make a phone call now.
There won’t be anyone there, but I can leave a voicemail so they get it first thing Monday.
Can I go into the house to make the call?”
“Yeah, no problem,” Josh said sharply.
James Mitchell went into the house.
Josh and Bob were together alone, the first time since the sports bar.
They looked gravely at each other, their minds full of unspoken thoughts.
“How did it go with Bell?” Bob whispered.
“I paid her but she’s not going to stop.”
Josh sighed and his anger fizzled out.
“What does she want?”
“As far as I can see, just to screw me over.”
“You know this’ll never end unless you do something.”
“Of course I know that.”
“Then what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“I think it’s time to tell the truth.
It’s the only way to stop this.”
“Oh, shit,” Josh muttered.
His response wasn’t to Bob’s comment but as a reaction to whom he saw over Bob’s shoulder.
Belinda Wong walked towards him, hand-in-hand with Abby.
The color drained from Josh’s face.
“She’s here,” Josh whispered.
Bob turned in the direction of Josh’s gaze.
“What’s she doing here?”
“I think we’re going to find out.”
Josh left Bob by the beer bucket.
He intercepted his blackmailer and daughter before they got too near the other partygoers.
“Daddy, this is Bell.
It’s short for Belinda,” Abby said.
“I know, sweetie,” Josh said with a plastic smile.
Happy birthday,” Bell said.
Josh hugged his ex-mistress and kissed her cheek.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” he whispered into her ear.
“Having fun,” she whispered back.
Josh broke the hug.
“It’s so good to see you,” Bell said.
“I think you’ve done enough meeting and greeting for awhile.
You deserve a reward.
Why don’t you see mommy?” Josh told his daughter.
Abby ran off towards her mother, weaving in and out of the crowd like a wide receiver making a run for the end zone.
“That’s a lovely girl you’ve got there, Josh, so pretty, so innocent, so trusting.
I would hate to think what it would be like for her if her heart were broken.
It would be hard to see that pretty face through those tears.
I bet you’d do anything to prevent that.”
“I would kill if necessary,” Josh said.