MORE OF SOMETHING MORE,
a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influenceand the woman important to each
Outside the bar, Helen spilled her story, which, given her earlier reluctance to talk, took Atom by surprise. He was speechless.
“I’m not a girl who’s afraid of odd noises or tricks of light, but lately I can’t help looking over my shoulder. Which came first, the looking or the note, I can’t remember. I’d driven to Melrose for some shopping, and was going back to the car. It was starting to get dark, and my yellow Beetle stood out like a highlighter. I was swinging my arms like a little girl, when I see something on my windshield. A ticket! The blood rushes to my head. I paid the meter and wasn’t gone that long. So unjust! Walking faster, I focus on the windshield, but when I get there it’s a piece of paper folded in half. Relieved, I set down my bags and open it. Written in block letters: I’M WATCHING YOU.
“Such a sick joke! My stupid friends, I think, and look around, but I don’t see anyone I know, just strangers passing and wondering what’s going on. My anger turns to fear and my body goes rigid. I drop it and rush inside. After making sure the doors are locked, I stare through the windshield, then the rearview and side mirrors. No one seems to be paying attention. I drive away and watch for anyone following. I’m not sure there was, and not certain there wasn’t.
“Ever since, I’ve been trying to come up with who. A stranger, someone I know, an enemy? I’m sorry to say I thought of you then struck you off. You’ve always been straightforward, even if your advances were ahead of my timetable. I thought of Kelly but that doesn’t make sense. He’s the one that drifted from me, and we’ve known each other too long. Then there are the investors. Stephen has always warned me not to get too close. I thought it was jealousy, and cute. Now I think he was right. Dress up, smile and be pleasant, he says. If one tries to be too intimate, excuse yourself to go make drinks or something. Unnecessary, I thought, but he was right. They had more in mind than investing in Slade.
“I put them into categories and worked from that. Strike off the young to begin. Not many and more likely to spend time with someone willing than to waste it changing her mind. Next came the sophisticates who size up the scenario right away. In public, they’re pleasant and engaging then retreat into private space to scratch their itch. They saw I wasn’t going to follow. Strike them off.
“That left the super-rationalists who think that because they have money they can buy anything. It’s the largest category, and Stephen’s target: men with disposable cash who want to leverage it into more wealth. I can’t remember all the things they offered: weekend trips, vacations, cars, jewelry, clothes. My problem was how to decline without saying no. Stephen taught me about getting the client to nod yes when closing the deal. So he’s trying to get them to yes-nod and I’m trying to avoid saying no or shaking my head. Sometimes I was afraid to breathe and feel partially to blame if someone got the wrong impression.
“One guy stood out. Stephen was making introductions and I shook hands with everyone. His were dry and bony and a shock to feel. I went to get the drinks and didn’t think more about it. Later, I feel my skin crawl. He’s nearby and watching. He wasn’t typical of the others. He’s stick thin with gray hair crawling around his neck and ears. His skin’s red, like he’s outside a lot. His clothes are out-of-fashion: a too-large green plaid sports coat and brown slacks. His glasses are thick like bottle bottoms and his crazy green eyes are rimmed with red. He’s frightful, and I didn’t understand why Stephen would allow him there. I excuse myself but feel his eyes as I escape to the bedroom. I stayed so long Stephen came looking, and when he knocked I imagine those bony hands scraping the door. I can’t forget him so he’s on the list even though there’s no proof.
“I tried talking to Lola about things and had her up, but she was so excited about being at the condo, she didn’t pay much attention. That’s good in one respect. It’s a relief to talk someone else. You can see I’m going a bit crazy. I’m flattered you want me to go with you, but I don’t want to make any big decisions right now, not until I get my head straight. Then there’s Stephen’s project. I’d like to see it to its conclusion. Things might be clearer then.
“I don’t feel comfortable outside. I need to get back. Sorry I can’t invite you over. Can I drive you to your car? No? Good night then.”
Helen climbed into her car, started the motor and drove away, leaving Atom alone and confounded about whether to leave Slade as planned, or wait until more certain of her affections.
The next chapter will be posted by July 26.
The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.