“False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.”
“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”
Standing in their ostentatious kitchen, Brad Underwood’s memory was addled: had he told his wife he was working late so he could sleep with Jessica or had he told his boss he had to leave early so he could sleep with Pam—or maybe vice versa?
“You reek of Jack Daniels,” Tina said, placing a large plate of leftovers into the microwave. She slammed the stainless steel door and hit the REHEAT button. “I thought you were working late, again, Brad?”
“Yeah . . . yes, I was.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“I stopped off for a couple of drinks. You know, to unwind.” He smiled a cat-caught-with-the-canary grin and tried not to sway too much. “The boss was riding my ass today. Now you wanna ride my ass too?”
“You are really something. Always have some bullshit story to feed me.” She narrowed her eyes and placed her hands on her slender hips. “You must really think I’m—“
The microwave beeped.
Tina snorted. “Saved by the bell. . . . . And by the way, your fly is undone.” She carried the plate of leftovers into the next room and dropped it on the table. Without looking back, she added, “I’m going to the hot tub—to ‘unwind’ myself.”
* * *
Brad sat alone in the dining room, chewing on rubbery chicken and bitter mashed potatoes, gazing at the sputnik chandelier above the table. His mind wandered to a random thought. If I could combine Tina’s looks, Pam’s cooking skills, and Jessica’s bedroom gymnastics, I could have the perfect woman.
He laughed out loud.
Perhaps there was a time when Brad had felt guilty for these slight adjustments to the truth, but that season had long passed. And besides, people who play it straight, well . . . they refer to those people as suckers. Living in Poverty Town with their portly wives and ordinary children and their low-paying jobs and pointless futures. Not him. No way, no day. Like his father used to always say, “In this life, Son, you either step on people or get stepped on yourself. Choose wisely.”
And his father’s advice had never failed him: Brad had graduated top of his class in college, now earned a six-figure salary at a respectable law firm, and had married a trophy wife to boot. She couldn’t cook and perpetually rode his ass, but she did look fantastic on his arm at parties.
Yeah, honesty and integrity were mere illusions—coping devices used by the poor to justify their lack of intelligence and tenacity. To climb the ladder of life, you have to step on some rungs.
He smiled and took another bite.
* * *
Brad hadn’t been feeling well since dinner. And now, he sat in his gloomy home office, “unwinding,” contemplating if it had been the chicken or the umpteen glasses of booze that now gnawed at his gut. It couldn’t have been the couple lines of cocaine he had snorted; he was absolutely sure of that.
There was a knock at the door.
“Come on in,” he said, wiping the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand.
His wife entered and settled into the oversized leather chair across from her husband, wearing nothing but a teensy-weensy, blue silk robe loosely tied in the middle. “You don’t look so good.” She crossed her legs and leaned forward, exposing the majority of her ginger freckled breasts. “How many more of those have you had?”
He snatched the glass off the desk and downed the contents. “Do you need something? Or did you just come in here to ride my ass?” She mumbled something that sounded like what have you done? Or possibly want to have fun? He leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath, attempting to prevent the contents of his stomach from migrating northward. “What did you say?”
She pointed at his glass and repeated, “Can you make me one?”
Brad fumbled around with the bottom drawer of his desk, managed to keep from vomiting (thank God for small miracles!), removed an extra glass, and poured a couple of drinks with minimal spillage.
“You know,” she said, taking the glass, “When we first met, I thought you reminded me of Johnny Depp. And your boyish charm made me fall for you, fast. I truly believed we could make this work.”
“Make what work?”
She took a drink and winced. “Our life . . . our marriage . . . us.”
Brad struggled to form a coherent sentence. “Wait . . . quit beating around the bush. What are you trying to say?”
Tina smiled and shook her head. “A relationship can’t work without a foundation of trust. And unfortunately, sweetheart, I don’t trust you anymore.”
He set his drink on the desk and squinted to focus on his wife’s angelic face. “I’m not sure what you’re—“
“Stop it!” She slammed her glass down. “You think I don’t know about those two scrawny bitches? And how many nights do you ‘work late’ every month?”
Brad attempted to speak but couldn’t force the words out of his mouth. Something was terribly wrong. Now, not only did he feel nauseous, but he also struggled to keep his eyes open. The room grew darker and smaller by the minute.
“Not feeling well, sweetheart?”
He gulped in as much air as possible and managed, “What did you . . . ?”
“You’ve been poisoned, my dear.” She picked up her glass off the desk and took another relaxed drink. “Don’t look so surprised. What is it your father used to say?” She tilted her head up and to the left. “Oh yeah, something like . . . you have to step on people before they step on you, right?”
His eyes went to the half-empty glass. She put something in my damn drink. This bitch is trying to kill me.
As if she had read his thoughts, “No, not your drink.” She sat up straight and gulped the remainder of her whiskey. “The mashed potatoes. But I didn’t poison them.”
“That would be me,” a voice from across the room.
Brad looked up, eyes wide and crazed, and saw his boss, Michael Carter, standing in the doorway. Michael walked up behind Tina and placed his hands on her shoulders. His employer donned a robe, too, only his was off-white and properly sized for his athletic frame.
“When your wife called me a few months back,” Michael said, “she was hoping I could help save your marriage.” He rubbed Tina’s shoulders in a familiar manner. “But when we compared notes, well, it appeared you weren’t cutting it at home or the office.”
“Nothing personal, sweetheart. I just need a man I can trust,” Tina said.
Brad could feel his heart pounding in his chest. Sweat soaked his shirt. He struggled to move or talk or shriek; however, he only managed to wet the front of his pants. Tears formed in the corners of his hazel eyes, then meandered down his cheeks.
Tina stood and looked down upon her husband. “I know you’re in pain now, but it’ll all be over soon, dear. I promise.” She untied her robe and let it fall to the floor. “Now . . . back to the hot tub.”
“Sorry, Brad, but it is what it is,” Michael said, slapping Tina on her naked butt.
She paused in the doorway and looked over her shoulder at her dying husband. “Oh, sweetheart, one more thing.” She feigned a whisper, “He really will be riding my ass.”
Brad screamed inside his head.