Gus hollister couldn't remember when he'd been so
tired as he closed and locked the doors of his CPA firm.
Well, yes, actually he could remember. It was last year at exactly
the same time, April 16, the last day of that year's tax
season. Not that it was totally over; he still had tons of stuff
to do, extensions to file, but he'd made his deadline, all
clients had their records, and he was going home. If only it
were to a home-cooked meal and several glasses of good
wine. Like that was really going to happen. But he was simply
too tired to care whether he ate or not.
Instead of taking the elevator, Gus trudged down the
three flights of stairs and out to the small parking lot. Exercise
these days was wherever he could find it. He winced at
the lemon yellow Volkswagen Beetle that was his transportation
for the day. His wife had taken his Porsche, and he was
stuck with this tin can. If only he were a contortionist, which
he wasn't. Gus clicked the remote and opened the door.
After tossing his heavy briefcase on the passenger-side seat,
he struggled to get his six-foot-four-inch frame into the
small car. He hated this car. Really hated it. He inserted the
key in the ignition, then lowered the windows and stared out
at the dark night, an anxiousness, which had nothing to do
with taxes and the long days and nights he'd been putting
in, settling between his shoulders.
For some reason, he didn't think it would be so dark, but
then he remembered that they had turned the clocks ahead
a few weeks back. Regardless, it wasn't supposed to be dark
at eight-thirty at night, was it? But he couldn't bring himself
to care about that, either.
He was almost too tired to turn the key in the ignition, so
he just sat for a moment, looking out across the small parking
lot to the building his grandmother had helped him
buy. A really good investment, she'd said, and she was right.
He rented out the two top floors to other businessmen, and
the rent money he received covered the mortgage and gave
him a few hundred dollars toward his cash flow every
month. He owed everything he had in life to his feisty
grandmother Rose. Everything. And they were estranged at
this point in time because of his wife, Elaine. He wanted to
cry at the turn his life had taken in the last year. He banged
the steering wheel just to vent before he started the Beetle,
put it in gear, and roared out of the parking lot at forty miles
an hour.
Thirty-five minutes later, Gus untangled himself from the
Beetle, a feat requiring extraordinary concentration and
agility. Then he danced around, trying to work the kinks out
of his body. The Beetle belonged to his wife. She looked
good in it. He looked stupid and out of place sitting behind
the wheel.
Today, Elaine had been out job hunting, and she wanted
to make an impression, so she'd asked him if she could borrow
his Porsche. Every bone and nerve in his body had
screamed out no, no, no, but in the end, he had handed her
the keys. It was just too hard to say no to Elaine, because he
loved her so much. Especially when she kissed him so hard
he was sure she'd suck the tonsils right out of his throat.
When that happened, he could deny her nothing, not even
his beloved Porsche.
Elaine had passed the bar exam six months earlier and
was looking for gainful employment. Or so she said. For six
months now, she'd been looking for a job. Citing the economy,
she'd told him that all the law firms wanted were slaves,
not a qualified lawyer who had graduated at the top of her
class. That was the reason she hadn't been hired. Or so she
said. She hadn't even been called back for a second interview
by any of the firms. Or so she said.
Sometimes he doubted her and instantly hated himself
for his uncharitable thoughts, thoughts that had been coming
more and more frequently of late. His gut was telling
him that something was wrong; he just couldn't put his finger
on what that something was.
Gus reached across the seat for his briefcase, then closed
and locked the Beetle. God, I'm tired. No one in the whole
world could or would be happier than he when today, April
16, turned into tomorrow, April 17. He was a CPA, a
damned good one if he did say so himself, and he had been
working round the clock since January 1 to meet his clients'
needs. He'd made a lot of them happy and a few of them sad
when he pointed to the bottom line that said, REFUND or
Gus walked across the driveway, wondering where Elaine
was. It was nine fifty-five, and she wasn't home. The jittery
feeling between his shoulder blades kicked in again when
he saw no sign of his car. He frowned as he walked toward
the back entrance of his house, the house his grandmother
had bought for him. It was a beautiful four-thousand-square-foot
Tudor. He shivered when he thought about what she
would say when she found out he'd added Elaine's name to
the deed in one of those tonsil-kissing moments. For months,
he'd been trying to find the courage—no, the guts—to tell
his grandmother what he'd done. He knew she'd go ballistic,
as would his two aunts. None of them liked Elaine. No,
that wasn't right, either. They hated Elaine; they could not
stand her. And Elaine hated them right back.
Elaine said his grandmother and the aunts were jealous of
her because she was young and beautiful and had stolen his
love away from them. He'd never quite been able to wrap his
mind around that, but back then, if Elaine said it, he tended
to believe it. With very few reservations. His grandmother
and the aunts had been a little more blunt and succinct, saying
straight out that Elaine was a gold digger. End of discussion.
The strain between him and his beloved zany grandmother
and dippy aunts bothered him. He had hated having
to meet them on the sly, then keeping the meeting secret
so he wouldn't have to fight with Elaine and suffer through
weeks of tortured silence with no tonsil kissing and absolutely
no sex. Elaine held a grudge like no one he knew.
He owed everything to his grandmother. She'd raised
him, sent him to college, financed his own CPA firm, then
helped him again by buying him the beautiful house that he
now lived in. With Elaine. And no prenup.
His grandmother had never once asked him even to consider
paying her back, even when he'd tried.
He loved her, he really did, and he hated the situation he
was in. Tomorrow or the day after, regardless of how it
turned out, he was going to have a come-to-Jesus meeting
with his wife and lay down some new rules. Family was family,
and it was time that Elaine realized that.
Gus opened the gate to the yard, and Wilson came running
to him. Wilson was the one thing he'd put his foot
down on. Elaine said dogs made her itch and sneeze. Well,
too bad; Wilson was his dog, and that was that.
"What are you doing out here, boy?" Gus tussled with the
German shepherd a moment before walking up the steps to
the deck, which was located off the kitchen. The low-wattage
back light was on. He didn't need Wilson's shrill barking to
alert him to the pile of suitcases and duffel bags sitting outside
the kitchen door. His suitcases. Six of them. And two
duffel bags. All lined up like soldiers. Next to the suitcases
was a pink laundry basket with Wilson's blanket and toys. He
knew even before he put the key in the lock that the door
wouldn't open.
"Son of a bitch!" He looked at the hundred-pound dog,
who was barking his head off and dancing around the pink
laundry basket. The jittery feeling between his shoulder
blades had grown into a full-blown, mind-bending pain.
The words gold digger flitted through Gus's mind as he
tried to peer in through the kitchen window. The only thing
he could see wa