A Dance of Skin and Bone
Paul Sumner had always been a simple man. In his most adventurous dreams he could never have imagined the events that had led him here, huddled in the darkness and afraid. His once well groomed goatee was now an overgrown wild mass of scruff. The fastidious, professional haircut now a tangled mess caked with mud and sweat. A white button-up shirt, stained, un-tucked, rumpled; his neat silk tie lost. Crisp tailored slacks now torn, with no trace of the smart crease that had once been a clean vertical line.
At this moment, it felt like years since he had seen his tidy condo nestled on the top floor of the Hornesby Tower that overlooked the bay. The sad truth, that it was just three short weeks ago, sat like a heavy stone in his guts. Even now he could hear the ruffling footsteps of Thomas Younger searching for him in the dark space.
The two were friends, business partners, conquerors in a world of Insurance Claims. Then she happened, Elizabeth Sanderson and her quiet and dying brother Karl. What a pair, what a tragic story, what a complicated ruse. What a nightmare.
“Only one of us is getting out of here, Paulie.” Tom’s voice was cold and certain, breaking the silence. Paul held his breath. “Just give me the keys. I promise to make it quick, painless. There are no other options left. This only ends one way.”
And that was just how it started three weeks ago…
* * * * *
“This only ends one way,” Elizabeth smiled.
She was beautiful, in that Southern Belle sort of way, with long brown hair and natural curls that wreathed her smooth face and spilled over her soft shoulders. She wore no make-up, if she did it was subtle and complimenting. Her deep, honey-brown stare had a way of catching the light and holding it; luminous.
From their first meeting, Paul had found it difficult not to follow the curves of her hips with his eyes when she walked in, her breasts when she sat at the other end of his desk, and her ass when she left. It seemed that the soft cotton sundress was made for just those curves, holding to her body as if by the delicate strokes of a painters brush.
“My brother’s illness has taken for the worst. The Doctor’s give him three months at best. It may sound monstrous of me, but I hope for his sake it goes much quicker.” She brushed a curl from her face, tucking it behind her ear. “You see, he needs assurances that the insurance policy on the family estate transfers into my name when he passes. Your firm has held the policy for nearly twenty years and I would like to maintain the business relationship, hopefully by making this go smoothly. So you see this can only go one way to benefit all parties concerned. Your firm keeps the prestige of my family’s name as a client, and I get the comfort of knowing that if anything happens, the estate and I are well protected.”
Paul put his hands together, smiling. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the polished walnut desk. “Miss Sanderson, I can personally assure you that we are more than willing to accommodate your brother’s request. And we are very eager to continue to provide the financial security you and your namesake deserve.”
He slid a drawer open, smooth and quiet, keeping his eyes focused on hers. He resisted every urge to glance at her cleavage peeking from the low-neck front of the pale green sundress, even if only for a moment. He withdrew a manila folder and opened it, turning and sliding it across the desk with a well-practiced motion.
“There is no rush, but after you and your lawyers have looked over the documents, a simple signature will complete all the details. Normally we would require your brother’s signature, being the policy holder, but with your Power-of-Attorney over Karl’s policy we just need you. That is, just your signature.”
Careful, Paul, he thought. Keep it professional and friendly, not flirty.
* * * * *
Paul hit the polished wood floor; the squeak from his shoes briefly filled the court. He sat up to Tom’s laughter as the racquet ball bounced across the line hitting the wall.
“Five to nothing. You’re terrible at this, Paul. I don’t know why you continue to embarrass yourself out here.” Tom offered his hand.
“Enjoy the small victory, Tom. I’ll be back to winning every game by next week, I had a late night.”
Tom shrugged, “The whole office heard. Jeannie, from Accounts Payable saw you out with Miss Southern-Money-Tits last night. Dinner at Beauregard’s huh, expensive fare. I hope it was worth the desert.” Tom chuckled in his usual look-how-funny-I-can-be manner. “A working girl would have been cheaper.”
Paul retrieved the ball from the corner where it rested. When he looked back at Tom, he wore his clean, gloating smirk. “Another high-end conquest. She’s got a net worth of $6.2 billion. If I’m not mistaken, that puts me in the lead. You’ve got a bit of catching up to do, Tom.”
They both shared a laugh at this, the same genuine laughter they had through college when they weren’t competing for commission and rank within the firm. Times change. Though they were friends, the competitive nature of business worked its way into every aspect of that friendship. Fifty-one inch flat screen? Nice, I just got a sixty-seven inch 3-D flat screen. Apartment in the Wolverton? Nice, I’m in the Hornesby Tower… Paul was winning.
“So,” said Tom, “how was she?”
“Not much different from any drunken co-ed worth $6.2 billion. If she owned a candy store, she’d run out of hard candy is all I’m saying, like a Hoover.”
They finished their game laughing and hit the showers. The gym was on the ground floor of their office building, so getting back to work after lunch was a simple ride up the elevator to the twenty-second floor. Paul’s cellphone rang as he stepped into the hallway, it was Elizabeth.
He answered, “I was wondering when I’d hear from you. You left so quickly this morning I thought I was a one-nighter.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I need you for at least two more nights. It’s already been cleared with your boss.”
Paul looked towards the large glass doors of the Insurance Firm. He was alone in the short hallway. “My boss, excuse me? I could get fired for fraternizing with a client. What did you tell him?”
He could hear her laughing in that cool, honey drawl. “You are just too funny. You and your associate have to come out to the island and view the estate holdings. You have nothing to worry about, sugar. Have a great afternoon.”
She hung up and Paul slid his phone into his pants pocket. As he pushed through the glass doors Simon, the main office receptionist, waved him over. Paul put on his nicest fake smile; he hated talking to Simon, not because he was gay but because everything was ‘serious honey’ in his vocabulary. It really got annoying to listen too.
“What’s the story, Simon?” Paul asked as he leaned against the counter.
“Serious business, honey. Mr. Lamplighter called down and wants to see you, pronto. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him sound happy before.” Simon stood and handed Paul the message with a smile. “You had to have done something serious, honey.”
“Thanks for the heads-up. Guess I better go and find out what I did right.”
Paul turned away and tried to look as if it were a normal day, he took extra care to walk casually to his small office, though inside he was bouncing with excitement. Surely this was a promotion, or a raise. He dropped his briefcase on the desk and checked his tie in the mirror on the wall. With his hair tossed just right, he evened his cuffs, and put on a smile. This was the face he would walk into Mr. Lamplighter’s office with.
He closed his door and strode to the elevator banks, pressing the call button and waiting. The door chimed open and Tom laughed as he saw Paul.
“Just had to show me up, waiting at the elevator for me, huh?”
“Nothing like that at all, Tom. Mr. Lamplighter has some news for me; Simon says he’s never heard the old man sound so happy.” Then, in mimicry of Simon, Paul sang, “Serious honey.”
Paul walked into the elevator and gave Tom a wink as the doors slid shut. It was a quick ride to the twenty-third floor. He was greeted by Mr. Lamplighter’s Secretary and ushered through the oak doors into the office. Paul had been here only once before, and nothing had changed since his interview four years ago. It still smelled of leather, peppery tobacco, and Old Spice. The old man himself was seated behind the large maple desk, just as before, and motioned for him to take a seat in the ox-blood leather chair across from him. Paul complied, doing his best to appear cool and relaxed.
Mr. Lamplighter’s face was heavily lined with wrinkles and wreathed by bristling white hair from his thick sideburns. Yet, despite the aged face, his eyes were crisp and fresh. They were the eyes of a man much younger, the vibrancy they held mirrored that of a young prince.
“Paul Sumner, I’m glad you could tear yourself away from the racquetball court downstairs to come and see me.”
Paul tried to keep his composure as he felt his insides turn to ice. Did his lunch break take too long? What was he missing? He thought only of breathing nice and slow.
“You seem worried, don’t be. I’ve taken notice of your work with us here. I’m pleased how well you’ve taken to our way of doing things. Please, relax, Paul.”
“Of course, Mr. Lamplighter. I’m pleased that you’re-”
“Come now, I detest ass kissing so I’ll stop you before you start. It’s unhealthy by any reason. Paul, I’ve called you up here for a very specific purpose. The actions you’ve taken recently with the Sanderson estate, and Miss Sanderson in particular, have brought closer to the scrutinizing eye of this firm. She has professed great appreciation in your very passionate handling of her case. It’s like you’ve become part of the family, Paul. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Paul’s heart raced, the old man knew. Mr. Lamplighter was flaunting it right in front of him, dangling the carrot before his eyes. Paul only wondered how long before the stick let its presence be known.
“Mr. Lamplighter, I assure you-”
“Oh, I think we’ve become close enough for you to call me Roger at this point. You see, Elizabeth is my niece.”
“Roger, I,” but Paul had no idea what to say. All those flashy words he used selling and maintaining with his clients had suddenly fallen apart. He had nothing but a head full of emptiness, useless space.
“You think things over; we’ll talk more when you get back from the Sanderson Estate on Tufton Isle. You’re in for a real treat I assure you.”
* * * * *
Tune in next Tuesday for the second half the trip through my mind explaining how I go about writing my fiction. And next Thursday we’ll finish up with the second half of Dance of Skin and Bone.
Please feel free to comment below, I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by! Have a great day! 🙂
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