by Peter Lingard
Erik Davidson removed his glasses and rubbed his eyelids. “I’m sorry I had to ask you to work late again, Sonya, but everyone else seems to think they only have to be here in body for eight hours a day to get paid. You’re the only conscientious one amongst them.”
Sonya started to back up the computer. “That’s alright, Mr Davidson. It’s not as if I have family to go home to. I’m just as happy here as I would be in my flat. Besides, you’re good company.” In truth, the man was a bore. His hair was thinning, his teeth far from perfect, his wrists and fingers thinner than the frames of his John Lennon glasses and he could fit two necks in his short collar. His breath was always stale, and invariably there were specs of dandruff on the shoulders of any jacket he wore.
“Thank you. I know that’s not true, but it’s nice of you to say it. What about that boyfriend of yours? Won’t he be upset at the hour?”
“He might have been, but the prick dumped me a couple of weeks ago. I’ve no one but myself to consider now.” She saw the concern on Erik’s face. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to lay my troubles on you.”
“No, no, that’s okay. You’d been dating a while, if I remember correctly. That’s a shame.” He put his hand to his mouth and coughed. “Look, instead of going home to a meal alone, how about I treat you to dinner? I’ll put it on expenses.”
“That’s kind of you, Mr Davidson, but I’m not really dressed to go out.” Compared to Erik, she looked dressed for any environment. She stood five-feet-five, had short, bottle-blonde curls, smiling brown eyes, and dimpled cheeks. Her lips were a little full but men found them eminently kissable and she was a minimalist as far as make-up was concerned. She wasn’t model-slim but she was happy with her body and proud of her legs. She knew she had a great backside. Her clothes that day were simple, neat and functional.
“You look fine to me. We’ll go to the pub if it’ll make you feel better. The food’s good enough, providing you know what not to order.”
* * *
The hostess gave Sonya a once-over and said she was happy to see Erik again. She picked up two menus and led them on a meandering path between diners to a table with a window that overlooked the pub’s car park.
“Give meat dishes a pass,” said Erik as Sonya studied the menu. “The Italian dishes are usually quite good.”
After he returned from ordering and paying for their food, Erik took his seat and poured wine he had also purchased.
“Cheers,” they said in unison as they chinked glasses.
They chatted about banalities for a while. When silence arrived to reign, Sonya asked, “Will one of your sons take over the business one day?”
He smiled grimly. “Unfortunately no. They say they’ve set their sights higher than insurance. What I do—we do—isn’t cool, apparently.”
“I’m sure they’ll get past that sooner or later.”
Erik coughed dryly before topping-up their glasses from the bottle of undistinguished cab/sav that was the most expensive wine the bar sold. “My hopes aren’t high. They criticise me for working as much as I do. That’s something they’ve picked up from their mother. I’ve never played football with them or helped with their homework and such, so there hasn’t been much bonding between us. They say they hate me, although there’s no reason for them to do so. Our eldest did time for fraud so I can’t let him anywhere near the business. Don’t you remember those days when I couldn’t come to work? That was the time of his trial.”
Sonya shook her head. “No. I mean, I remember your absences, but I didn’t know why.”
“Oh.” He coughed again, seemingly to cover his embarrassment. “Anyway, it’s really the younger one who thinks insurance isn’t cool. Mine is not a happy home when I’m in it but I’m sure they’re all fine as long as I continue to do what they criticise me for doing.”
Sonya was uncomfortable to hear her boss talk of his problems. She drank some water and knew it was up to her to end another awkward silence. “What’ll you do with the company then?”
“I suppose I’ll sell it. Maybe you should start saving your pennies,” he said with a smile. “Who knows? If I die before my wife, she’ll sell it. Better I should sell it first. I know its worth and can help the buyer retain clients. I should talk to her and find out if she’d rather have a lump sum or a steady income. Of course, it all depends if the buyer can afford to purchase the company outright. She may not have the choice. Then again, she might not even notice.” He made a fist in front of his mouth and coughed twice.
Sonya covered her uneasiness by studying the bruschetta that conveniently appeared in front of her. She picked up her knife and fork.
Erik sipped his wine. “This stuff’s barely drinkable.”
The crust crunched between Sonya’s teeth. “It’s not that bad.”
“Do you drink much wine or do you prefer those drink mixes that I understand are the rage these days?”
“Mostly wine. Andy, my boyfriend, liked reds, still does, I suppose. May he choke on a Chalambar.”
Erik laughed. “A woman scorned, huh?”
“Lucky for you, work’s the only thing I’ve got in my life now. You should take advantage.”
Erik coloured. “You need to choose your words more carefully, Sonya. Another man might think you meant something else.”
* * *
As she lay in bed, Sonya thought about her future. She knew she was the company’s highest paid employee. Would a new owner want her? A competitor might buy the company and already have the necessary staff. She would like a man in her life but the thought of the bar scene and all the creeps one had to wade through before finding someone half decent was stomach churning. Internet dating sites were full of liars and cheats. It was like the bar scene without alcohol and grabbing hands. Life sucked. She was drifting towards sleep when an idea made her bolt upright. Erik. If she had an affair with him, she might be able to persuade him to sell her the company. Millions passed through the company every year. How much profit did Erik make? Were there shareholders? His wife was probably the company secretary, or something. He had said it was possible that a buyer might not be able to front up the purchase price. She knew the customers and had a good rapport with them. She knew the business as well as her boss. Erik wasn’t exactly attractive, but she’d put up with men she hadn’t fancied in the past. Plus, she figured, he’d be easy to manipulate. And he’d be grateful. Rumour had it his wife indulged in not-so-discreet affairs to offset the loneliness of him working seven days a week. He was probably desperate for a little love and attention. She could give him that if there were a few million to be gained.
* * *
Sonya had a spring in her step as she walked into the office the following morning wearing a flowery dress. “Morning, boss,” she said with a smile.
“Good morning, Sonya. You’re bright and breezy this morning. I’ll have to take you out for dinner more often.”
“Thank you. I’d like that.”
“Really?” His surprise was evident. “How about tonight?”
* * *
He picked her up from her flat and suggested a Greek restaurant.
She thought of his breath. “I’m not too keen on Greek food, Erik. Could we go to a Thai restaurant instead?”
“Of course. I don’t know why I didn’t think to ask. Sorry.”
Once seated, she said. “You realise dinner tonight is completely different from last night?”
“In what way?” he asked.
Could his innocence be genuine? “Tonight’s a social event, rather than payment for working late. Or, at least, I thought it was. That’s why I’m wearing this dress.” She looked down her cleavage. “You like?”
He glanced at her breasts and coughed. “No, yes, you’re right. It’s purely for pleasure; my pleasure and, I hope, yours too.”
Sonya selected a half-radish from a dish of crudités and put it into her mouth. She nodded, chewed, swallowed and eventually said, “Absolutely. I’ve wanted to get to know you better for a while. Do you know I’ve worked for you for fourteen years? You gave me my first job after I left uni.”
“No, I didn’t realise it was that long. Have you enjoyed your time with us?”
“I’ve enjoyed working with you.”
“Oh. Really? ” He coughed. “Umm, can I say I’ve become quite,” he coughed again, “excuse me. I’ve become quite, umm, quite fond of you. You’re a bright and lovely woman.”
She would normally have slapped someone down for making such a leap but his statement suited her agenda. “The feeling’s mutual, Erik. Look, forgive me if I’m being too forward, but you seem unhappy in your home life and I’m lonely and…” She shrugged her shoulders and tilted her head to the right.
Erik filled the pregnant pause like a programmed automaton. “There’s nothing to forgive. You’re very perceptive, Sonya.” He coughed into his hand. “Would it be too much for me to suggest we comfort each other?”
She smiled. “I wanted to suggest the same thing, but I didn’t have the courage.”
* * *
He undressed routinely. He efficiently unlaced his shoes and aligned them under a bedroom chair. He laid his jacket across the chair before dropping his trousers. He picked them up, pinned the leg-bottoms to his chest with his chin, aligned the creases with his fingers and then moved to the back of the chair and lifted his chin so the garment fell over the chair in perfect order. He slipped off his tie, ran it between thumb and forefinger and draped it over his trousers. He placed his shirt over the tie, the dangling cuffs almost reaching the carpet. He picked up his jacket and placed it over the shirt. He stooped to pull off his socks and placed them on his shoes. He pulled down his shorts, stepped out of them, picked them up, folded them and put them on the seat of the chair. Lastly, he removed his glasses and placed them on top of his shorts. Sonya had left her clothes on the floor and was in bed before Erik had straightened his tie. She was amazed that a man about to have sex with her for the first time could be so single-minded and she knew what it foretold. When she watched him peel off his shorts she thought her breasts were probably bigger than his buttocks and questioned her plan. Was it what she wanted? What the hell, she thought, think of the prize.
He was a tender, gentle lover with decent endurance. His breath was still unpleasant, despite the green curry, so she turned her head sideways as often as she dared. She kept her hands from his scalp.
Unfortunately, neither could forget their daytime relationship and the post coital ambience was strained.
“That pretty good for our first time,” Sonya said.
He coughed. “Yes. I need to forget you work for me. I feel I’m letching on you. Will that go away in time, do you think?”
“So we’ll have repeat performances then?”
He paused, one skinny white leg still to be put in his pants. “I’d like that, yes, but I hope you understand I must leave now. Otherwise, my wife might get home before me.”
“Of course. We’ll work on the work-relationship thing.” She smiled. “Bad choice of words.
* * *
The following Friday they loved again, but not as well. “Is it the work thing? How would it be if I got on top? Would that seem like role reversal for you—even things out a bit?”
His cough evidenced his discomfort. “Look, I need to take this slowly. I’m a married man cheating on his wife with an employee. I’m not exactly impressed with myself. I hope time will eventually allow me some self-respect.”
She stroked his cheek. “You’re not a worldly man, are you? We can take our time. You could date me.”
“There doesn’t seem much point to that now. What I said before isn’t reasoned, it’s a feeling. Nothing to do with you—just an old man’s foibles.”
“You’re not old. What are you, fifty something?”
He coughed. “Fifty-seven, but I was referring more to our age difference.”
“Don’t. We’re two people who are fond of each other and just got a little fonder. I’ve been meaning to ask you…what’s with the cough? I’ve noticed it before but you seem to be coughing more lately. Are you ill, or something?”
“No, no, nothing like that. It’s a nervous thing, plus I use it to hide behind while I gather my thoughts, cover embarrassments, things like that. Sorry.” He smiled. “I’d normally have coughed right there as an unspoken apology. I’ll try to remember not to do it in future.”
* * *
They went out for Sunday lunch and then back to Sonya’s flat. After sex, they snoozed. Sonya woke him at six. “What time do you have to go home, Erik?”
He rubbed his eyes and put on his spectacles. “I should have left already.” He arose and started to dress.
“I’m sorry. I should have woken you earlier.”
“That’s okay. There’s no harm done.”
Sonya looked at her bed. “Did you sleep okay? I know my bed’s a little small. Do you think I could get a king-sized in here?”
He looked at the bed. “I don’t know” came out as sigh. “This is hardly us taking our time, is it?”
Sonya mentally kicked herself. “I’m sorry. You’re right.”
“Well, we’ve broached the subject now and I’d like to think I’m going to sleep here on occasion.” He smiled. “Yes. Why don’t you measure the room, go to a store and measure a king-size mattress? If it’s too big, check the next size down. Perhaps you can do it all on-line. Get whatever size you think is practical. I’ll pay for it.”
The king-sized bed accompanied Sonya a year later when she moved into a townhouse at a new marina. Erik bought the property in her name. She persuaded him to keep clothes and living essentials in a dedicated wardrobe and coaxed him into venturing out to selected places. She convinced him to hire a personal trainer at a gym near the office. She helped him buy new clothes and accessories. She praised him and fussed after him and boosted his self-confidence.
“I hope my wife doesn’t start to find me attractive,” he said one night when they were dressed to go out. “One of the reasons I let myself go was to achieve anonymity at home.”
Sex never got hotter than their first night and Sonya had long ago realised it would never sizzle. She had tried to enliven his libido but he didn’t have the drive and so she grew to accept infrequent nights of unruffled action. When he said he loved her, she believed him. When she said she loved him, it was to prevent him feeling unloved. She liked him well enough but she didn’t love him. She wouldn’t mind loving him but it just hadn’t happened.
* * *
Eighteen months later, Erik coughed dryly and said, “I’m afraid I’ve got bad news.” Sonya gave him her full attention. “Doctors advise me my wife has Alzheimer’s. As the disease progresses, I’ll have to take time off to look after her. I’m sorry.” He coughed once more but Sonya chose not to remind him of his promise. “Will you be okay running the company?”
She experienced mixed emotions. “Of course. Second to you, the company is my life. You know that.”
“Yes. I’m sorry it’s come to this, but it’s my duty to take care of her, despite all she’s put me through. You understand?”
“I do. It’s the only thing.”
* * *
After time, Erik’s absences grew more frequent. One day, he said, “It’s going to be a long haul, Sonya. You’re going to have to run this whole thing yourself and I’m sorry to say I must end our relationship. You can keep the house, of course. Apart from that, I wondered if you’d like to buy the business?”
Although she had longed for such an outcome, Sonya was stunned. She realised, now she was about to lose him, that she had grown to love the gentle man. “I…I don’t know what to say, Erik. Um…firstly, I’m sorry for us and for you and your wife. Secondly, are you sure about the house?” Erik nodded. “And you’re sure you want to sell the company?” He nodded again. “Right. Look. Oh shit. How much do you want for it?”
“It’s all goodwill, really. We’ll have a realtor value the office and contents. but the main value is in the clients and I appreciate they could leave at any time. You’ve seen the income figures. I’m sure there must be an equation that’ll help us arrive at a goodwill value—subject to all clientele remaining on the books that is. The accountant’ll probably know.”
Sonya knew it would be a fair offer. “Right, um, yeah, thanks. No, not thanks. This is not what I want. Are you sure it has to be this way?” Erik nodded twice. “You know I don’t have that kind of money.”
Erik reached out a hand. “I know. You can take out an insurance policy covering your life for the value of the company and naming me as beneficiary. When it’s paid off, I’ll cash it in, keep the profit and hand you full ownership. How does that sound?”
“It sounds brilliant. Thank you.”
“Good. It makes me happy to settle matters this way. I’ll have a lawyer make the arrangements.”
* * *
Sonya waited a few months before she started dating. She was initially shocked to find how out-of-date and out-of-fashion she was in the malicious middle-aged meat markets. She soon tired of her initial policy of a man a week and began to look for a keeper.
Nick Davies was a salesman for a logistics company. With him, Sonya revelled in the long missed ecstasy and passion. Sex with Nick was often edgy, even close to dangerous on occasion. The two acted more like combatants at times and she found an intense joy in their games. After just three weeks she invited him to move in with her.
* * *
The rising value of the Australian dollar had cut exports and made him redundant, Nick said. Could she employ him for a while? Sonya saw the opportunity to expand the business and asked Nick to find her new customers.
He wasn’t a spectacular success. Had it not been for her ulterior motive, she would have let him go. He brought in some accounts, but they were businesses that needed legally mandated insurance. They weren’t big earners. Nick took on the additional work of entertaining established customers who liked to gab over a glass of wine and hear a good joke. He took decision makers to football and cricket games and Sonya received glowing reports about him. He didn’t earn his keep but customers liked him.
* * *
The fight started over a trifle. Sonya wanted to watch a cooking show and Nick wanted a football game. Sonya acquiesced and allowed him the three-hour game. Apparently, her generosity wasn’t graceful enough and Nick harped on the matter, telling her she needed an attitude adjustment.
“You got your game, Nick, why not watch it?”
“Your attitude sucks!”
“If you park yourself in front of the telly, you won’t have to deal with my attitude, will you!”
“That’s not fucking good enough!”
“Well, I don’t know what you want. Will you feel better if I go shopping?”
“Fuck no! What kind of answer is that?”
“It’s my answer and I’m going.”
“No you’re not.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You stay here. I’ll be the one that goes…and I’m going for good. You can watch cooking shows to your heart’s content.”
“You’re being ridiculous.”
He threw his beer bottle at the television screen. “Ridiculous, huh. Ridicule that.”
The first instruction to cancel a policy and transfer funds came three weeks later. Others followed. When Sonya spoke to her clients, they told her Nick had opened a company and they were giving their business to him. Although some customers remained loyal, income plummeted and Sonya had to call Erik and advise him she would struggle to pay the insurance premiums. She told him about the employee she had loved and their silly argument.
Erik arrived at the office the next day and started calling his old contacts in an attempt to bring them back through reminders of profit and pleas for loyalty. He told them how he used the company’s profits to protect his wife from her wayward mind. He was successful with two of his oldest clients, but the rest were unmoved.
He and Sonya had dinner together and Erik asked about Nick.
“Well, his name is Nick Davies and he’s the right age and…”
“What did my replacement look like?”
“Six feet, brown hair, cleft chin and a scar over his right eyebrow.”
“Scar over his right eyebrow! He got that scar in prison! That’s my son! Michael’s my eldest. I haven’t seen him since I stopped working to look after my wife.” He shook his head. “Michael, Michael. Why have you done this?” He refocused on Sonya. “It’ll harm his mother more than it’ll harm me.”
Sonya stretched out and covered Erik’s hand. “But he was nothing like you. How can you be sure?”
“It’s him. He’s the spitting image of his mother. It’s the younger one, the one who still thinks insurance isn’t ‘cool’, who takes after me.”
She saw his hurt. “Maybe Nick, sorry, Michael just did it to me. Does he know about us? Perhaps he’ll continue to provide the money for his mother’s care. I’m so sorry, Erik. I don’t know how I could’ve been so stupid. I’ve ruined your life.”
“It’s not your fault, Sonya.” He coughed behind his hand. “Michael will have done this for purely selfish purposes. He’s his mother’s son to the extent he’ll forget her needs. Tell me, did Michael sign an employment contract that included a client register?”
“Yes and he’s definitely in breach of it but if I sue him, we’ll all end up with very little. A lot of clients will want nothing to do with either of us.”
“That’s probably true. I suppose telling everyone of his prison record would have a similar result.” He coughed. “Let me think about it.”
* * *
A week later, Sonya attended an insurance convention in Perth. As she entered the hotel lobby on the first night, her hair and make-up were immaculate and she wore a trim, revealing outfit, expensive new shoes and little else.
Nick wore a leer. “Looking for lost customers?”
“Oh, hello Nick, or is it Michael? No, not any more. I realise there’s no practical way of reattaining status quo. It’s all water under the bridge now.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Same poison?”
When he returned with the drinks, he said, “You look fantastic. Reminds me of the days when you loved me.”
“It wasn’t that long ago, Nick. I suppose that on a certain level I still love you. Of course I hate you too, especially as Michael, but it’s sometimes as easy to blur the lines between love and hate as it is between Nick and Michael. I seem to alternate between the two. Let’s make today a Nick day.”
“Whatever. It’s not like that with my father and me. I just hate the bastard. I changed my name because I want nothing to do with him. Tell me, while we’re on the subject, who’s better in bed?”
“Let’s say you’re different. How’s he doing these days?”
“No idea. We haven’t spoken in a long time.”
“When did you find out about us?”
“Early on. I used to go through his briefcase while he was sleeping. I saw an invoice for a bed and then documentation regarding a house. It pissed me off no end. Do you know what it’s like trying to get a well-paid job when you have a prison record? I worked as an office cleaner and he bought you a house.”
“You were hardly an office cleaner when we met. What about your mother? Have you seen her recently?”
“No. She’s a zombie. She and my father are well suited.”
“That’s a cruel thing to say.”
“So? My mother suffocated me to make up for his shortcomings. Now she knew how to throw herself at a man. You’ve no idea how embarrassing that was when I was young. We were your a-typical fucked up family.”
“Well, you’ve had your revenge haven’t you?” Sonya forced a smile. “Anyway, enough of that. Tell me what’s positive in your life.”
“I’m doing okay. Got me the latest Beemer 335i sport convertible. God, what a car! It’s so good, I drove here in it.”
“You drove from Melbourne!”
“I’m impressed. Want to take me for a spin?”
Nick stared at her. “With our history and all I’ve just told you? What’s going on here?”
“Do I have to spell it out? I’m lonely. There’s been no one since you and a spin in whatever it is you drive could be an exciting prelude.”
He laughed. “Don’t hold back.”
She smiled. “I won’t.”
The top was down so Sonya could see Nick take in her exposed legs as she got into the passenger seat.
“Strap yourself in and I’ll show you what this baby can do.”
They obeyed the speed limits until they were out of town. When they came across the first sign restricting speed to one-hundred-and-ten kilometres per hour, Nick said, “Bollocks to that,” and pushed his foot down. The car spurted forward and the speedo soon showed one-eighty.
Sonya punched the sky. “Way to go, Nick!”
He smiled. “There’s a speed check display on that bridge up ahead. Think we can bust it?”
“Yeah!” Sonya screamed as she lifted her fist again. She then leaned over to fumble for Nick’s fly. His trouser material was in folds and she had difficulty pulling the top of his pants high enough to yank down the zipper. “I can’t get it down. Here, I’ll hold the wheel while you do it.”
“Anything for you, baby!” Sonya took the wheel in both hands as he partially straightened his body, raising himself off the seat and pushing his foot further down on the accelerator. He squinted against the wind, reading the speedo. “One-hundred-and-ninety-two! We’ll be doing two-ton in a second.” He laughed with joy as he unzipped his fly. Sonya tittered with fear.
“For everyone you’ve screwed,” she screamed as she turned the steering wheel violently to her left. “Bitch!” Nick roared as he smashed his knee against her head too late to prevent the car from hitting the barrier, taking to the air, and hurtling into the bridge abutment.
◊ ◊ ◊
When a youngster, Peter Lingard told his mother many fantastic tales of intrepid adventures enjoyed by him and his friends. She always said, “Go tell it to the Marines”. When he asked why, she said, “They’ve been everywhere and done everything, so they’ll want to hear about what you’ve been up to.” Of course, Peter joined the Royal Marines as soon as he was old enough and now has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of tales to tell. He has had 300+ stories and poems published, as well as having many pieces aired on Radio NAG, Queensland and 4RPH, Brisbane. Professional actors have performed some of his poetry and he has appeared as a guest on Southern FM’s program ‘Write Now’ to read and discuss his work. He recited and chatted about some of his poems on 3CR’s ‘Spoken Word’ and had a monthly spot on 3WBC (94.1FM) to read his tales. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org