Russell Hatler

I carefully closed the door to the den and spoke softly into my cell phone.

“You promised never to call here, Angela,” I said. “It is good that Julia Ann is in the kitchen making dinner. What do you want?”

“Oh, Jerry, I know I promised but I must see you.”

It was almost a whisper, the veiled desperation unmasked by a slight quiver in her voice.

“Carlos has hurt me again,” she sighed. “He knows, Jerry, he knows. What can I do?”

“He knows nothing,” I said quickly. “Carlos knows nothing unless you told him yourself.”

In my mind I suddenly pictured her standing by the small wooden desk in the dimly-lighted hallway of her small apartment, the phone clutched in her left hand and her right arm pulled tight across her slender body, hugging her full breasts, soft and dark and rich with promise and I began to harden in spite of the bitter rage that flowed through me.

“I would not do that, Jerry,” she protested. “Perhaps he is angry because I returned home late last Wednesday, the night you told me of your troubles with the marriage to Julia Ann and your wish to be gone from her. The night you promised to go away with me when you receive your papers of graduation from the University. That was a good night, Jerry, but I would not tell anyone of your promise. Please believe that I only wish to please you.”

I closed my eyes and tried to regain control of the anger. It is not good to make plans in the heat of emotion. That of course is why the marriage to Julia Ann had dissolved into such an irreparable muddle. It is almost certainly the reason I had foolishly allowed myself to become involved with Angela two months ago, a maid Julia Ann paid to clean the house each Tuesday morning. That particular Tuesday morning I had taken time away from work to concentrate on my final examinations for the MBA I had been pursuing for the past four years. The company I worked for, American Pharmaceutical Laboratories, had contracted with UNCW to provide eighteen of us with the necessary educational courses to become certified Masters of Business Administration. It is perhaps noteworthy that none of the MBA candidates was a woman.

At first it was a foolish flirtation, the two of us exchanging furtive glances while she cleaned the den and then, when Julia Ann hurried off to the Harris Teeter to pick up eggs and flour for the birthday cake she wished to bake for her seven-year old niece, Angela bending casually across the reading table to flick away a puff of dust with her pink feather duster and showing me the coffee-dark skin hidden beneath the loose white top of her frilly maid’s blouse, the rich curve of her breast and the large and still-more-darkened areola. And it was still only a game until I reached across the reading table and slid my hand beneath the taut brassiere that restrained her loveliness and scooped out one large and voluptuous breast, the nipple distended and erect, taunting me to plunge it to my lips. And her eyes also, the bold challenge flashing from her eyes, daring me to satisfy her lustful hunger. And we were suddenly naked and both aroused beyond reason. There was nothing in that room but the ripening scent of desire.

I took her there on the hardwood floor, the lunging and thrusting of our frantic coupling a terrible sight to behold and yet hidden from all but the watchful eyes of Julia Ann’s aged Siamese cat who regarded us with disdain from the open doorway. And when we had finished, exhausted, and dressed in silence, even then I could feel the ache of desire upon me, as if we had merely paused for a breath of air and could as easily begin again given the slightest provocation.

And ever since a quickening of the heart and loins whenever we chanced to see each other, leading to stolen hours in cheap motel rooms and afterwards, to bitter regrets. Which, of course, is why I shared with Angela the story of my difficulties with Julia Ann. The difficulties were not entirely imagined but I fear the solution was something of an oversimplification. You see I have toiled for ten long years in a minor supervisorial position with a large pharmaceutical firm and the MBA was to be my passport to personal freedom. I had not planned to share that freedom with anyone, including my beloved Julia Ann.

Today was Monday. Tomorrow morning Angela would be here as usual to clean the house. I remembered Julia Ann had a dental appointment scheduled for ten o’clock. Perhaps I might be able to sneak away from work for an hour so I could try to convince Angela that all would turn out well. I wouldn’t say no to a little ass-grabbing in the mix either. Thursday night was graduation on campus at UNCW so that was out. Peter Matthews, the ring leader of our group of MBA aspirants, mentioned something about a surprise party at the Hungry Horse Nightclub after the formal ceremony was over. He bragged about knowing one of the dancers at the Hungry Horse who offered “take-out” and he also knew of a spot on Wrightsville Beach that had rooms they rented by the hour. I had already scheduled a personal day off on Friday so tomorrow almost had to be the only time I could spare to be with Angela.

“Listen, baby,” I said. “You got to settle down. I’ll come home tomorrow morning and we can sit down and figure this thing out. You know graduation’s right around the corner. After that we’ll have all the time in the world. You know you can trust me, right?”

I heard her sniff once briefly and then she said, “Oh, Jerry, I have such hopes for us. We make nice love together, no?”

“Yes, baby, we make nice love together,” I said. “Now go back in there to Carlos and imagine in your heart that we are getting out of Dodge in the morning. Can you do that for your Jerry?”

“Thank you, Jerry,” she said gratefully. “It is enough that you have told me so.”

“Good night sweet Angela,” I said and folded up the cell phone.

Julia Ann was dicing carrots when I came into the kitchen.

“Who was on the phone, Jerry?” she asked.

“One of my guys in Denver is having trouble interpreting the results from a trial and he needed some guidance,” I replied smoothly. “What’s for dinner?”

The next morning didn’t quite go as smoothly as planned. For one thing my guy in Denver called at seven their time, nine my time, and he wanted to give me a blow-by-blow account of the problems he was having getting cooperation from the provider. Apparently the provider had been promised three support guys instead of just the one and they were reluctant to pull one of their people off a critical project to help with the data entry. By the time I got that mess straightened out it was ten-thirty and I still had seventeen emails and a mailbox full of voicemails to deal with. I figured the problem with Angela would have to go on the back burner. One of the things you learn in business school is how to prioritize your crises. Be even nicer if you could learn how to avoid them.

On Wednesday morning I discovered Julia Ann was laboring under the misconception that she was going to attend the MBA graduation ceremony with me. I nipped that little problem in the bud but it cost me a fake diamond tennis bracelet and a promise of a romantic weekend trip to Asheville. Sometimes a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do. At least Angela didn’t call. Maybe she and Carlos got back together. I didn’t have time to handle all the problems in the universe.

Thursday night was a blast. The eighteen of us who were in the graduating class got all dressed up in caps and flowing robes and did the whole Pomp and Circumstance thing. Then we changed into our civvies and headed to the topless dive where, as promised, Peter had us lined up with some choice slap and tickle in the VIP room. God, I got wasted. I vaguely recall the trip to the sleazy motel although I can’t remember faces or even smells. The next thing I remember was the sun starting to come up in the east over the ocean and me buried up to my neck in sand and the tide coming in.

Julia Ann and Angela sat on the beach maybe ten yards away in those crappy fold-up chairs that have gaily colored fabric over aluminum frames, drinking coffee together and holding hands. A shovel leaned up against the back of the chair Julia Ann sat on. They both wore bathing suits; Julia Ann’s was a bikini, but the one Angela had on seemed more modest. I glanced to my left and saw Carlos in a situation remarkably similar to my own, although he had a deep gash over his left eye rather than a hangover. Then Carlos and I simultaneously peered bleary-eyed toward the ocean at the foam that flecked the tops of the ocean waves. The large and loudly crashing breakers seemed to be getting closer.

“Sweetheart,” I hollered at Julia Ann. “You’ve had your fun. Now let’s all go home and talk this out.”

She smiled at Angela.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” she said sweetly. “I don’t guess there’s all that much left to talk about.”

“You’ll never get away with this,” I said. “When the Wrightsville Beach patrol discovers two drowned bodies buried in the sand don’t you think they’ll suspect foul play?”

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a succession of huge piles of dark sand behind where Julia Ann and Angela were sitting. I had forgotten about the beach nourishment project. According to the Wilmington Star News the north end of Wrightsville Beach was closed to tourists until late next week.

“We’ll be careful to cover you both up before the workers get here,” Julia Ann said pleasantly, glancing at her watch. “Since you already told your boss you won’t be in today, my guess is they won’t start looking for you until Monday at the earliest.”

That’s when I started to get really mad. The bitch had it all planned out. I would’ve slapped her silly had I been in a position to move my arms. They were unfortunately pinned tightly to my sides by the wet cocoon of sand I was enclosed in.

“Our bodies will eventually surface,” I yelled. “Wives are always the most obvious suspects in a murder case.”

“Oh, not to worry my dear,” she said. “Angela’s baby brother picks up the garbage early Monday morning at the Shell Island Resort. His truck has a big scoop on the front end. He said it’ll be months before they find your pitiful bodies in the landfill. Meanwhile Angela has been sending money to her people in Mexico. Lots of money. Of course, your life insurance policy won’t pay out for seven years or until they find the bodies.”

She smiled at Angela.

“We don’t care, though, do we honey? We’re booked through Charlotte to Mexico City first thing Sunday morning.”

Then she glanced at me for the last time.

“I charged the tickets on your Visa card, sweetheart. Hope you don’t mind.”

They got up and folded the beach chairs. As they walked away together, I could feel my anger building but at the same time I sensed that anger alone wasn’t gonna do me much good. As the first spray of sea water went up my nose it struck me that the whole Angela thing had been a really bad idea. Then I glanced over at Carlos and prickled with a modicum of pride. The poor chump. I’d be willing to bet he didn’t even know what a goddamned MBA was all about.