Strange as Angels Dancing
Chapter 5: An Unknown Visitor
Ben managed to anchor himself down to his work the next day in spite of all that happened the night before. When they parted he wasn't quite sure if there would be further dates. But the upside to such dilemma was there was no guarantee that there wouldn't be another one either. Neither Jeb nor Sean could read him properly though it wasn't for lack of effort. They both visited their brother's office with more frequency than usual concerning trivial matters all the while hoping to pick up on some information about the dinner.
But Ben kept quiet even though he was very well aware of what his older brothers were up to. He learnt his lesson and refused to open his mouth further informing them lest it showed up the evening section of the Herald. The day ended and Ben escaped the confines of the office with a grateful sigh of relief. He had changed at the office and went straight to the gym afterwards. It was populated with the usual post-work businessmen trying to keep their youth a while longer. But all they were doing with any great interest were checking out the female half of the club-members.
Ben was in pain after twenty minutes. He feared correctly the night before. The sweat was stinging the living daylights out of the claw marks. He put bandages on them but they wouldn't hold because of the constant movements in the area. After an hour he was cheerfully willing to grab the damn Siamese by its tail and whirl it over his head before sending it flying into the Thames. He had no idea that such slight wounds could hurt so much and forced himself to finish his sets instead of crying in defeat and going home.
He sat in the steam room thinking what his brothers would have done were they in his place last night. Sean...now Sean would have killed it, stuffed it and set it on his desk as a warning to all other cats. Jeb would have bought it off of Beth because it would have been a chick magnet. Lorien would have been the only one the cat would have taken a liking to, a fact which didn't surprise Ben. The cat probably would have followed the surgeon home purring all the way Ben thought sourly as he gingerly toweled off the wounds again.
He drove home and found the very same doctor lounging around in the lobby waiting for him.
Well?" He asked grinning.
"Well what?" Ben replied confused.
"Well, what happened to your dinner date last night?"
"Is that on the BBC now? Is there anyone in London or the Western Hemisphere who does not know I had dinner with Beth last night?"
"It went that well?" Lorien asked contritely.
"Sorry, come up. Let's not discuss this in the Lobby." The two men took the elevator in silence.
Lorien glanced at his brother and frowned. "What happened to your neck?"
Ben's head dropped, "I got attacked by a cat bred by Satan himself. What's wrong?"
"It's infected Ben, badly in fact."
"Damn cat." Lorien laughed out loud at the tired voice.
As soon as they entered Ben's flat Lorien made a straight line to the bathroom. He dug around for Bacitracin and some real bandages. He found the latter but there was none of the ointment to be found anywhere in the apartment. It figures, the doctor thought sourly. Ben's one of the healthy idiots. Until he coughed up a lung or a kidney Ben would never use any medicine. Not even aspirin or Tylenol Lorien noted with reluctant admiration. "Brother, I'm running down to the local pharmacy."
Ben stuck his head into the bathroom, "You're not getting me anything..."
"For a big man you scare easily don't you? Don't worry Ben all the stuff is over the counter and you won't get arrested by having them sitting around the place. I'll be back in five."
Ben frowned a little staring at his brother's disappearing back. He didn't like to take drugs, even for the rare headaches that visited him once or twice a year. He took a mirror and faced it with his back reflecting off the bathroom mirror. Oh my G-d it was infected! His mouth dropped open, the hellion left a little more than just scratches! And he sweated all over the wounds for over an hour. Ben winced and closed his eyes; suddenly he was glad Lorien was getting the medicine.
He took a quick shower and dried the water off his neck. Lorien came back with a bag filled with ointments and even gauze wraps. Ben looked at the stuff splayed on the coffee table.
"You are not performing an operation here are you?"
"No, but those claw marks are going to need some serious looking after. Tell me Ben, what did you do? Pick up her cat and play rugby with it?"
"Not funny brother. I did nothing. Not a bloody thing." Lorien gave a wise look at the older brother.
"I swear I did nothing." Ben adamantly defended himself.
"Cats don't attack without reason Ben; they are very smart creatures. And besides how the hell did the cat get behind your neck?"
Ben winced as the cold ointment was rubbed into the wounds but he immediately felt the cool effect the drug had on the infection. "It was a very big cat." He replied dryly.
"Perhaps a mountain lion? Or does Beth prefer the more exotic jaguar? Never mind, I rather not know actually. Things like this were meant to remain a secret between you, Beth and her cat."
Ben punched his brother lightly and let Lorien get away with the joke. He was always grateful to see him back in the family fold. Matt still made him feel uncomfortable, especially when the two men became affectionate in front of him.
But the tradeoff was that at least he knew where Lorien lived and how he was doing. The years that Lorien stayed outside of the family were painful for Ben. That was the only time he was angry enough to confront the oldest of the brothers. To have a full-blown physical fight with Sean who still made Ben stop in his steps every time he called his name was never even considered by the younger brother until Sean's anger and accusation drove the Lorien out of the house.
Ben closed his eyes, better to not think about those dark days. When Daphne was near-addicted to sleeping pills and Sean walked around like a man thirty years older. Jeb rarely came home on the weekends and lived a lifestyle that was even risqué by his rather morally loose/non-existent standards. "Ben, Ben, are you listening to me?" The third brother snapped out of his sad reverie and turned to the doctor. "Sorry there, what were you saying?"
"Every time you wash put the medicine on, and keep it covered. Try not to rub it and definitely don't sweat on it. You worked out today didn't you?"
Even if he was younger Lorien was endowed with the particular authority given to the medical profession that made every one of them act like Moses coming down the Mountain.
"Yes, and guess what little one? I'm working out again tomorrow, and the day after that, and the following day..."
"Shut up. Try to bandage it before you go to the gym then. And once it scabs into a nice shade of purple, don't pick on it. Unless of course you want it to get infected and swell up again."
"Thank you Lorien. But I really didn't need to hear that."
"Graphic descriptions are the best way to discourage people from doing stupid things. Trust me, I'm a doctor." He took a sly look at Ben and noticed his preoccupation.
"But tell me how did the dinner go?" Lorien slipped in hoping to get an honest reply.
"It went well I think. I don't know what she thinks about it all. She's probably just amused by my antics."
Lorien heard the sadness and the slight tinge of fear in Ben's voice and felt pity for him. He never understood why Ben was so unsure of himself. Out of all of them he was the most fit, the most athletic and possessed the most patience also. Women always flocked around this shyest Winters but it was as if Ben was oblivious to their attentions. Lorien had seen him go through a wave of curious females not paying one whit of attention to any. Then later complain that nobody expressed any interest in him. It was a strange type of blindness Ben suffered and one that Lorien couldn't find any cure for.
"Tell me something Lorien. Does your hospital do any research?"
Curious at Ben's question Lorien replied, "Well yes. We are a teaching facility and we also have a very heavily funded bioengineering department. Why do you ask?
"Just wondering. Want a very well-armed Siamese by chance?"
Lorien laughed at the deadpan tone in Ben's voice. "I don't think so. Especially if it's got one very attached owner. Thanks for the offer though. Why don't you try feeding it next time you visit Beth's place? Maybe the cat will like you better if it associates you with food."
Ben snorted, "That thing will eat my hand first. I have never met a pet quite like that hellion. I swear it's only one generation away from a wild cat."
"Siamese are very intelligent, even in the feline world. It's also very territorial and fiercely loyal to one master. And if it's female it doesn't like male invaders in her territory.'
"When did you become such a cat expert?" Ben asked puzzled.
"I'm not, Matt is. His friend has like seven cats or something. I personally think she's far gone but that's just my opinion."
"See if she wants another cat then. If I'm to have a chance with Beth that cat has got to go."
Beth petted her beloved Jasmine while she was finishing her dinner. Something was definitely wrong with her beloved Siamese. It's been acting strange and strained around her since last night. She suspected it had something to do with Ben and earlier in the evening she finally dug out the evidence from the wastebasket in the bathroom which confirmed her suspicions. There were few crumpled tissue papers dabbed with blood but they told her everything she needed to know.
She lifted the cat and stared right into the emerald green eyes. "Have you been a bad girl?" The cat meowed like a helpless creature but Beth wouldn't be taken so easily. "You have been haven't you? What did you do to my date you silly creature? What did you do hmm? Please don't tell me you attacked him where it counts the most."
"MEOW." Replied the cat blinking furiously.
"I'll take that as a no but seriously I will have to call him won't I?"
The cat refused to answer.
"Oh dear, that bad. Damn and blast."
Lorien was already gone when Ben's phone rang. Ben dashed into the living room to answer. He refused to have a phone in his bedroom to disturb his badly needed rest. He was hoping it was someone special and Fate didn't disappoint him. "Ben? Did I catch you in a bad time?"
"No, of course not. How are you?" He replied feeling as cheerful as he sounded.
"I should be asking that question." Beth responded contritely.
"I don't understand."
"I found the bloody tissues in the bathroom. Did Jasmine scratch you?"
"We had a slight disagreement but I'm fine seriously. That's one guardian you got there." Ben added weakly. This was bloody embarrassing, to be attacked by a cat and come out the loser in the confrontation. Then have its owner, a woman you wanted to impress apologize to you for her cat's behavior and victory.
"Well I wanted to make sure. Jasmine doesn't take to people easily and I was worried. Do you need anything? Believe it or not when I first got Jazz as a kitten I used to get scratched everyday and I think I have some of the ointments around my flat somewhere. I could dig them up if you need them."
It took Ben five seconds to make a decision. "Could you? I've got the scratches bandaged but if you could find something for them I'll be grateful."
Beth smiled; this was the perfect excuse to see him again. "Not a problem, do you want to swing by tomorrow?"
"That sounds lovely. I'll call you from the office then."
"Thank you for trying to protect my cat from my wrath. Forgive Jasmine, she knows not what she does." Beth teased all the while laughing.
"Done." Ben replied only too happy to forgive the blasted cat now.
They finished the conversation in that hopeful note. Beth looked at her cat, "Now tomorrow you are going to be a lady and BEHAVE. Is that clear my ferocious feline?" Jasmine blinked in all innocence and gave another sweet meow as her reply. Beth decided to lock up the cat in the bedroom before Ben visited her. No need for another confrontation between man and beast.
Ben went back to bed and wondered how to make his visit last longer then few minutes. Maybe ask her out for coffee? Take her out to buy a new pet perhaps? A large dog with a penchant for eating cats? He mentally shook his head. It wouldn't do to hold a grudge against an animal, especially one that Beth was so obviously attached to! He was grateful that Lorien visited him today. Otherwise Beth would see the wounds as they were and really feel guilty about leaving him unarmed with Jasmine. He hoped the medicine would take immediate hold on the scratches and take most of the swelling away before tomorrow evening.
Night-winged hair he thought drowsily and silver-tinged laughter. He closed his eyes as those two desirable thoughts haunted him to his slumber. Beth stayed up for half-hour more but she too soon fell asleep. Jasmine curled up on the second pillow and followed her master to dreamland. Most people say animals don't dream but Jasmine does, definitely. So in this silent night neither animal nor human heard her front door open. Mitch quietly entered her flat. She changed the lock after they had broken up but it didn't take much for him to get a copy made of the new set of keys. He stood on the doorway and stared at the peaceful woman for almost an hour, until the cat woke up to second human presence in the room. Green eyes blazed and she hissed with her ears flattened to her skull. Jasmine unsheathed her claws and curled into an attack position but before she could launch herself Beth woke up.
The sleepy woman looked around the room, nothing was amiss but something had scared Jasmine quite badly. Probably the same nightmare she assumed as she scratched the cat between her ears. Jasmine's been doing that for a while now she thought then mentally added to check if there was something in her diet that was causing the Siamese to wake up in the middle of the night. Beth fell back asleep in ten minutes but the cat did not and kept watch until dawn came across the sky.
Chapter 6: All That Glitters...
Mitch woke up before his clock radio went off. He had always woken up before the alarm yet he set it every night, as was his wont. He shook his head a little to clear the sleepiness away. He stayed up way too late visiting Beth but it was worth it, it always was. Fairer than fair, more beautiful than any fairytale princess she was a vision, awake or buried in slumber it didn't matter to him. As long as he got to see her once a day it was good enough to keep his drive in full gear. The emerald green eyes focused immediately on her photo next to his bed. He flicked off a small dust particle from the frame and placed the beautifully encased picture in its usual spot.
He sat down on the floor and immediately began his usual morning routine; 500 crunches, 500 push-ups with his fingers, not his palms. He's been doing these exercises ever since he entered Cambridge. He knew he was attractive, and on the surface he was more popular than Sean Winters. After all, that one was tundra on legs while he aimed to charm and please. Yet he could never keep any by his side for long while those Sean chose to be with, stayed with the man. This was a mystery to Mitch, one that annoyed him as both got older every year. Mitch smiled a little as his logic reasoned - if Sean keeps up with his current behavior he would die a lonely and old man.
His intense dislike of the oldest Winters was also another mystery to him but the answer was very simple really. They were like two animals; both realizing each other's potential and power. They circled each other warily, trying to gauge each other's strengths and weaknesses while protecting their backs. Mitch, because it was his habit to do so. Sean because his self-preservation instincts have kicked in when he first met Henley years ago. The man wasn't self-aggrandizing nor did he say a word which Sean could pinpoint as the crux of his distrust. But there was a layer of falseness, of something unreal about Mitch Henley. And the more Sean heard about him, the more his disquiet bothered him.
Henley felt the drops of sweat slowly travel down his back but he ignored the wet trail as he focused on his push-ups. Faster and faster he went, yet the motion was always constant in height and effort as the man finished his workout. He rested on his stomach for a while, catching his breath and forcing his heart to beat a slower rhythm. One-Two-Three, One-Two-Three and soon the muscle obeyed his orders. He marched into his luxurious six-piece master bath and took his cold shower. He soaked in the ice water for five minutes thinking about what he needed to do before, during and after work.
Ben Winters, the name was becoming more than a slight annoyance. However, he has yet to consider Big Ben, Fat Ben, Chubby Cubby Ben as a threat because he still saw him as what he once was, an obese, painfully shy and socially inept child. Whose single claim to fame was having brothers like Sean, Jeb and Lorien. How the hell did that happen? Mitch wondered how could the Winters genetic pool produce such an anomaly? Perhaps everything negative went to the third brother, something akin to a DNA dumping ground. The thought made him chuckle a little as he toweled himself dry. Big Ben, Big Ben, what do you think you're doing with the likes of Beth? Where do you think you're going with a creature like her fatboy? Can you even appreciate the way the light glances off that flawless skin? More beautiful than the best Mikimoto pearl that money could buy, and so much more desirable, not to mention useful.
He sighed a little, if Ben got too big for his own good Mitch would just have to put him in his place. He's done it before, he'll have to do it again, that's all. And he's quite good at it actually, practiced on many, including his parents. He walked into his closet, all his clothing were sorted by color, shade and fabric. His shoes were all neatly buffed and dust-free. His socks arranged by fabric in their drawers and even his underclothing had their proper place in his bedroom. He sorted out the best colors for today's clients. A horde of Americans was descending upon his firm and he had to put on the best British act he could muster. Dark gray suit with paler gray stripes. White shirt with tight collar and a dark navy blue tie with conservative pattern. He even sported his Cambridge pin that always impressed the annoying Americans.
He was drinking his coffee when he saw a set of keys glint in the sunlight. He quickly took them from the credenza and hid them in his safe. Those were precious to him for they gave him access to Beth's life. When she first broke up with him and changed the locks he panicked. He had no way of seeing her, and soon his days and nights evolved into a full 24-hour nightmare from which he could not wake. So he bought the biggest, most beautiful bouquet of flowers, spent at least two hundred pounds on the exotic collection. Then he put on his most dapper suit, his most charming smile and visited her apartment complex.
To his relief, the concierge was female and new to her job. He told her he was going to ‘surprise' Beth with the gift but he'd forgotten to grab his keys. The girl believed him and gave him the extra set the front desk had for such occasions. He thanked her, and took the elevator to Beth's floor. He checked the keys to make sure they worked. Then he took the elevator back to the garage entrance in the basement and exited out that way to the city streets. He dumped the flowers in a trash bin and proceeded to a locksmith where he had a set made. He re-entered through the garage door using the keys for you can exit but cannot re-enter without them. He returned the set to the front desk making the woman swear to never tell anyone the prank he pulled. The girl, all starry-eyed and seduced by him never did.
Mitch finished his unbuttered toast, and his black coffee. He put on his Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Repetition Watch and made sure it was snug against his wrist. The watch costed him over 45,000 pounds but it was worth it for its precision, its slim, dark beauty was perfect against his bare skin. He also liked the watch's chime and special-ordered one to fit his needs. Instead of the usual pink-gold he made his platinum. The silver-bright look pleased him more than the mellow color of the gold. This was the only piece of jewelry he wore, no other adornments were allowed against his body, the exception being of course, women.
He checked the Dow, which was already kicking in high gear. At least his American investments were doing well. Something that always made his morning a nicer one to wake up to. A small lump on his window ledge caught his eye. It was another dead pigeon. Good he thought to himself, the poison's working on those bloody rats with wings. They were fouling up his window ledge and he did not pay over a million pounds for his flat so the birds could take a crap in front of his face. He opened the window and with a small ruler prodded the limp body off the edge. Then he placed another special mixture of birdseed and cyanide on the ledge. He was taking at least two maybe five down every day. Hopefully sooner or later these idiotic pests will realize his windows were not a place where they could roost in safety.
If someone had caught this behavior they would have realized immediately how disturbed the man really was. But no one did, and though his parents suspected something when he was a child they never had any evidence to prove he was responsible for all the animal deaths around the estate. Besides he was their only child and heir so the parents' blinders were even bigger than usual. And in public, and in front of the adults Mitch Henley was the model child. With his bright green eyes and infectious smile very few adults could suspect him of such hideous cruelty.
He knew the rules of Society. Don't get caught was the one he obeyed without exception. He never left any evidence behind, he was not the messy, sloppy kind but a precise, mechanical clock with certain, very human needs. He learned to admire women and their obvious gifts. He liked them for their softness, their ability to absorb other people's pain. They were also the best group of listeners one could buy, a fact he appreciated to a great degree and spent a lot of money doing so. But he did not like them when they became demanding, questioning and doubting him. Then the darker more unstable side arose teaching those who crossed his path why they should never, ever do it again.
The only exception to this rule was Beth. Lovely, gorgeous, unattainable Beth. Like the ivory maiden in all the medieval stories he's read she was the most perfect creature he ever set his eyes on. He knew her visage; it was hard to skim over a magazine cover without catching that round face, the sharp chin and those heart-rending eyes. The dark raven-winged hair was more than beautiful when they were spread over his pillow and many nights he spent awake brushing them with his fingers. Her voice was silver-like, ringing clear yet soft and ingratiating to one's senses. And when she laughed he found himself unable to breathe.
All his young life he dreamt of a mate like her but thought such creature did not exist on this earth. He convinced himself he would have to settle for less and managed to do so until he met her one day. Then the rules of the game changed totally and he delved into her past as well as her present to learn more about her. He wanted a way to make himself a permanent fixture into her life and as soon as possible. So he studied her, her needs and her family's poverty. Like many titled lords and ladies they have the proper name but not the money to upkeep such an expensive heirloom.
He had money, he had power but he didn't have Beth and he wanted her above all, even his sense of self-preservation. Like a madman on a brink he took the fatal step and had fallen into the trench. Mitch Henley was always border-lined though nothing save Beth Whitehead could have successfully pushed him over the edge. In the beginning their relationship was a dream. She did what she was told and he was more than happy. He intoxicated her with everything he had, and Henley thought that would be enough.
It was the biggest mistake he would ever make. After a while she began to move like a dreamer waking up, and no matter what he did she pulled away from his grasp. Money didn't bring her back; presents, no matter how expensive or rare didn't make her return his phone calls. Soon his frustration turned into anger and that developed quickly into obsessive-compulsive drive. He never lost anything in his life, he never came second to anyone and he wasn't about to start with the one thing that mattered to him most. He called this love and to a man whose sense of decency was non-existent it was. But to others, including Beth it was anything but.
Mitch Henley was walking through life as if he was the only human being existing on the face of the earth. The rest were either minions to be handled quickly or enemies who needed to be dealt with. Very few, perhaps four could be considered otherwise and even they did not have the same rank of importance as he did in his own viewpoint of this world. The first two were his parents whom he took care of long time ago. They knew better than to say anything against him now. The third was Sean Winters. As much as Henley hated the man the oldest Winters was a figure to be reckoned with and carefully. So Henley had a reluctant and grudging admiration for the man. The fourth was Beth Whitehead and out of the small assembly she mattered the most.
He packed his briefcase and took his private elevator to the garage where his Audi waited for him. To his total humiliation he found out Sean Winters was driving the same exact model and make. But after a while it didn't bother him, after all should it really surprise him that he and Sean had similar tastes in cars? After all they were both well known to prefer brunettes to blondes and liked their women agile and graceful to look at. Neither liked bony-thin fashion models but rather preferred the more fuller-figured curves that were becoming so rare these days.
His car roared out of the garage and as soon as he hit the road he immediately began calling the people on his mental list. By the time he reached his office he was done with all his morning calls. He turned his attention to the various e-mails and memos left on his desk and computer. With that brilliant psychotic mind it took him less than an hour to plow through those. His assistants did not hover over his desk, they knew better than to disturb him without being summoned.
Instead they waited in their respective offices, and when he needed them he would buzz them on their private coms. His idea of efficiency was inhuman and those he hired immediately realized the consequences if they fail to do as he asked. And they were without exception all women. By ten he was finished with his morning work and spent rest of the time until lunch attending various meetings in his firm. He rarely ate mid-afternoon meal as it makes him exhausted around three. The only exception to this rule was when he had clients as he did today. The Americans were mercifully quiet and interested only in what he had to offer. By two they were his newest clients and Mitch knew his day was a total success.
The only thing that marred this triumph was the fact he had nobody to celebrate it with. He couldn't risk going back to her flat, not after what happened last night with that bloody cat. An idea crossed his head and he pondered for a while. After work was finally over he strolled to the nearest corner store and did some shopping. He already knew what brand of cat food Beth bought for her precious Siamese and the knowledge made his mission that much easier. It wouldn't take long for him to mix the floor cleaner with the cat food. The next time he visited her he would make sure the Siamese had her treat. After that barring any great mishaps his access to Beth should be 100% clear.
He returned to his flat and as he keyed open his door he smelled the dinner his personal cook/maid whipped up for him. She was of course gone from his sight. He never saw her and that was the way he liked it. The main course was vegetable lasagna and it was agreeably presented on the warmed plate. He opened a bottle of red and enjoyed the glass as he changed for the evening. He finished everything Diana cooked for him and half of the bottle was emptied before he put it back into the wine-cabinet. He checked the ledge, two more dead pigeons for him to clean up. He finished the unpleasant task quickly and with great distaste. Once again he hoped they will stop perching in front of his windows and spread out more of the poisoned birdseed to make sure that came to pass.
The clock in the hallway rang midnight as he crawled back into the sheets. He didn't turn off the lights though. Instead he studied her picture once more and dreamt of all the things they did together and would do in the future. Beth didn't belong anywhere else except by his side. She couldn't love another man like she once loved him. And he in turn couldn't find anyone after she abandoned him. He took a deep breath and turned off the light. Tomorrow will be different he convinced himself. Tomorrow he may find another way back into her heart. Until then he'll just have to keep himself satisfied with his nocturnal visits. And he was anticipating the next one, where if everything goes according to plan the bloody cat will be dead before morning came.
Chapter 7: Not Alone
The coffee date never materialized as Ben was yanked into an all day, off-site meeting with a client who could be described with one word -- PARANOID. Sean also attended the torture marathon in order to ensure his younger brother's safety and to teach the client of the fact that the Winters Group do not work for him exclusively. When the meeting was done the client was properly chastised and Sean was content with the outcome. Ben on the other hand would have wrung the neck of the first person who looked at him askew.
He checked his voice-mail and to his dismay found no messages from Beth. He called her office but it was already past six and she would have been home by then. He rung her flat but she wasn't there either. "Hi Beth, it's Ben. I am very sorry we didn't get together today. I was pulled into a meeting with Howard Hughes of London. I hope everything's well with you and if you could ring me back I'd be grateful. Ta." He hung up the phone and banged the receiver on the desk twice in sheer frustration.
For the rest of the evening he watched the tele, with one eye on the phone. After ten he knew it would be impossible to meet her though his randy mind conjured up couple of scenarios where that would not be the case. He finally ended up taking a good long soak and wished he did go to the gym instead of loitering around his apartment like a lovesick fool. It wasn't long before the warm water lulled the exhausted member of the firm into a light nap. Then as luck would have it the phone rang. The blue eyes flew open and Ben managed to grab a towel before dashing wet and disoriented into the living room.
There was silence. Ben frowned a little. He was sure there was someone on the other end.
"Hello, are you alive?"
"If this is how you get your jollies you're beyond pathetic." He hung up in irritation.
Mitch frowned, she wasn't with fatboy so where was she?
Beth was finishing her last glass of wine with her friends. She was bitterly disappointed Ben didn't ring her but she knew there must have been a good reason. Ben wasn't the type to play and flee and she was sure she would have a message from him when she went home. The problem was she had to play all her messages in order to pick up his. However she was determined to. She could not let Mitch dictate her life forever, especially since she was healing now.
The impromptu invitation she received at four was to a friend's engagement party. When people realized she had broken up with Mitch they began to call her again. Nobody exactly knew what happened to the relationship but the gossip told of a messy affair and even messier breakup. And they would remain in the dark because Beth was tight-lipped about the whole situation. Which in itself spoke volumes but nobody could break through the aristocratic Whitehead barrier to confirm any rumors.
Jenna kept a close eye on her friend and felt pity go through her as she watched Beth valiantly try to win back her old life. It would be impossible she thought sadly, after one's been scarred by the likes of Mitch there is no place where one could feel safe. What a b******, what a vicious, scum-feeding, bottom-dwelling b******. Just because he can't have her he's determined to make sure nobody does. She took a deep breath and calmed herself. No need for Beth to witness her rage, no need to get her more worried than she already is. With a fresh smile Jenna walked up to Beth.
"That wineglass is empty. Bad sign." She poured a generous amount. "Eat, drink and be merry. If not, then at least drink and act like you're merry. If that's not possible just drink and forget."
Beth laughed but took a sip, "I don't need this to be merry and I've eaten if you didn't notice!"
"Yeah I saw you go for thirds on the shrimp. I won't tell if you won't." Her friend's mirth turned even brighter as she threw her head back and laughed. It attracted a great deal of attention but all of it was good. Beth felt alive; finally unburdened for a moment and she reveled in it.
Then she remembered feeling this grace when she dined with Ben only few days ago. A soft smile came across her lips and gentled her whole face. She had the strength now to flip through all of Mitch's subtle threats to find Ben's voice. Somehow Mitch seemed to diminish in importance and menace when she knew what waited for her at the end of the corridor. Jenna saw the Gioconda smile but refrained from asking. That was the old Beth, the one brimming with confidence and sarcastic wit. And as far as she was concerned a gift must never be questioned or explained.
Beth came back to her flat in a pleasant state of inebriation. The cab driver watched the woman enter her building and chuckled. He never had such a pretty looking drunk in his taxi before! Beth keyed in and Jasmine joyfully ran to her master. Then the cat came to a sudden halt as the alcoholic fumes reached her sensitive nose. "Well that's gratitude for you!" Beth complained in good humor and she tossed her purse to the floor. "Let's see who breaks down first and wants a nuzzle."
She took a hot bath then armed herself with a cup of coffee and two aspirins. She might be tossed but she wasn't stupid. If she didn't want a mother of a hangover tomorrow she better be ready for it tonight. After finishing the cup she began drinking water from a large tumbler. Then taking a deep breath she hit the play button on her answering machine.
"This is Mitch..." The fast forward button was immediately pressed.
"I was wondering..." The same reaction once again.
"Where are you..."
"What are you..."
"Call me when..." Like hell she thought sourly.
"There is a new..."
"Hi Beth, it's Ben. I am very sorry ..." She hit the forward button then realized who it was. She rewound the tape and began to play the message. "Hi Beth, it's Ben. I am very sorry we didn't get together today. I was pulled into a meeting with Howard Hughes of London. I hope everything's well with you and if you could ring me back I'd be grateful. Ta."
She laughed out loud and sat still for a moment. No need to listen to the rest. She hit the erase button and looked at her watch. It was past midnight. He wouldn't be awake now and it would be ever so rude to wake him up. But he did say ring him when she got his message...she dialed his number before her courage disappeared. Ben sat up on his bed, his mind bleary with sleep. He looked at his alarm clock, what in bloody hell... He ran to the living room and grabbed the phone before the machine picked up the call.
"It's me." She replied cheerfully.
"Beth?" He asked still fighting to reach a state of consciousness.
"Of course it's me. You said to call you when I got your message so here I am!"
"Beth, are you drunk?"
"Yes dear, very much so." He smiled in spite of the ridiculous situation Beth put them in.
"Where did you go?" He asked amused.
"To a friend's engagement party. You should've seen the rock she had. It would have sunk the Titanic if the iceberg didn't."
"Ahhh, must have been impressive." Ben made himself comfortable in the armchair.
"Very. But I didn't like it. It was too big on those small fingers. Dwarfed them actually."
"Isn't that the fashion nowadays?" He asked curious.
"Bad taste is never in fashion Ben but she was in love. Besides, it was nice to see everyone again."
"It must have been. Exactly how many did you have?"
"Glasses or bottles? I would be counting bottles if I were you." She piped back.
"And this was an engagement party? I had no idea they served alcohol in those things."
"You're lucky we didn't get a stripper. Now that would have been in very bad taste!"
"You're right that would have been something atrocious. So did the lingerie thing come up?"
"You men, always the one-track mind. But yes it did and she received some beautiful ones."
"Care to tell me?" He asked teasing in semi-innocence.
"Why are you curious Ben?" Her voice suddenly got deeper and Ben felt the whole conversation take a turn to a blind spot in his brain. Did he want to continue? Should he?
"Just wondering. Are you drinking water?" He decided to keep it safe. She was drunk and if anything happened tonight it would not be with her consent.
"A lot, I think I downed a liter. And I already took two aspirins."
"Good girl, why don't you get some sleep? Do you want to meet for dinner tomorrow?"
"That sounds absolutely lovely. Why don't you swing around seven?"
"I'll be looking forward to that. Goodnight Beth."
"Ta." She whispered before hanging up the phone. She realized what he had done in spite of the alcoholic haze fogging her brain. She offered and he refused. Sweet man she thought to herself. Sweet and decent, an angel's heart and a body made for sin. She breathed a deep sigh unwittingly making the cat wrinkle her nose in distaste. Better get some sleep before she really does something she'll regret. Though going to an empty bed was making her feel regret already.
The next morning came without pain and without guilt for both. She remembered very clearly what she had done and what was his response. She panicked for a while wondering if he thought less of her for her actions but something told her he had taken the whole thing with a dash of his usual good-natured patience. Both went through the day wondering if the other would call and cancel their date. However five rolled in without bad news and Ben took off from work before Sean could volunteer him for some more ‘post-five' activities for the firm. Jeb heard the heavy but fast footsteps disappear down the hall and grinned. This is getting to be a bad habit he thought with some amusement.
Yet the second Winters was glad for the third. Ben deserved every bit of happiness thrown to him by miserly Fate. What never ceased to amaze Jeb was how glad Ben was for each crumb. Taking a deep breath Jeb pushed away thoughts of life's unfairness and instead opened up the day's paper. Might as well do some constructive reading while he waited for Sean to make up his mind! The handsome smile was erased the next minute when he read the heading over a couple prominently featured on the Society Page. Megan Addelson, here seen with her new beau, Jeffrey Sunday of the firm Sunday, State and Thomas...
The thin cheeks tightened and the blue eyes died to a coldness which would have surprised even Sean. Megan never told him about this one and he was not happy to be left out of the loop. He knew Jeff Sunday and the man was about as dull as they come. How could she stand the Preacher Man as he was known to some of the more witty social circles? Jeb glanced at his calendar, the next important social occasion would take place on Friday. Without hesitation he dialed her home number. "Hey Meggie, please say yes and rescue me. Call me when you get home. I'll still be doing the slave routine at the firm. Bye."
Beth got off the elevator and fumbled to get her apartment keys out of her purse. She stood in front of her door and it took her almost ten seconds to see the string wrapped around her doorknob. She frowned and looked to the left where the string trailed off. Confused but curious she picked it up and followed it around the corner, another corner and then to an emergency exit door. She opened it, took a flight of stairs and nearly crashed into Ben waiting for her.
"Just wanted to make sure you could find me." She laughed out loud and sat on the steps. "That was the most unexpected stunt I've ever had the pleasure of participating in. Is that for me?" She asked pointing to the lovely bouquet of flowers. "No, it's actually for your cat." He replied promptly then flashed his teeth. "Yes it's for you. This is for your cat." He pulled out a can of very expensive cat food. "Oh my, that is definitely bribery and you're not going cheap either."
"No, I would like to make certain I leave your flat with all my limbs still attached." He replied sardonically. She chuckled at his deadpan tone and led him back to her flat.
She judiciously ignored the messages blinking on her answering machine and hurried to go out. Beth opened the can and spooned it into the lavender porcelain bowl. Jasmine came out immediately and sniffed around the dish. Then without hesitation she dug into the meal savoring every morsel. "I think she likes it." Ben whispered watching the cat eat. "Definitely. Let's go before she yowls for more." He nodded in agreement and the two left silently.
"Italian or Thai?" He asked as they got into his car.
"Thai, I'm in mood for some of those fresh spring rolls." She purred snuggling deeply into the seat.
"Thai it is. Buckle up, we're going to break some speed limits."
The two ended up going to a wine bar after dinner then walked around for a while longer before returning to her flat. Jasmine was asleep on her favorite spot and Ben made a huge circle around the sofa in order to make sure the cat didn't wake. He saw her answering machine blink and looked at the number displayed. "Christ Beth, you must be the most sought-after human being in all of England!."
Beth froze in her spot and turned to hide her face but she moved too late and Ben saw her reaction. "What's wrong?" He asked as he saw the pallor increase making her look almost sickly. She did not answer. "Beth? What did I do wrong?" He asked now his alarm making his voice rise. She shook her head, "You did nothing wrong Ben. Excuse me but I have to get some rest now. Thank you, it was a lovely evening." Ben knew that if he walked out the door he would never be invited in again. His body stiffened and he asked, "What are you not telling me Beth?"
She bit her bottom lip and managed to prevent herself from breaking into tears. She hit the play button and Ben heard the messages. All of them. His mouth dropped open as he realized what she was subjected to. After it was over she tried to explain but no coherent sentences fell from her lips. "It never stops. He won't stop. He says this is my fault; that if I was reasonable for one moment and see him this would all be over. But it's not my fault I swear Ben. He terrorizes me day and night, and there are times when I think he's in my apartment watching me sleep...I can't sleep anymore Ben. Not the way I used to. Even Jasmine's acting strange and I can't stop looking over my shoulders. He sends me presents, I return them. He gives me flowers I give them away. He writes me e-mails and I don't even read them...but he's still in my life, controlling everything I do. And I'm so tired, so tired Ben. There are times when I wish I would never wake up."
Ben's response was immediate, "Pack a bag. You're not staying here, not like this and don't ask me to leave you alone. If this animal's after you there is no bloody way I'm leaving you tonight. So please pack a bag and grab your cat. You're staying with me. Heaven knows the place's spacious enough. Sean had to buy the biggest flat in the whole blasted building and I've got more empty rooms than occupied ones. There's a guest suite with a private bath and sitting room attached to it. You're more than welcome to it for as long as you want it. Say yes please. Otherwise I'm camping out here tonight and we'll both look a mess for work tomorrow."
She couldn't refuse, not when it was put to her so bluntly and he was right of course. She was fooling herself, thinking her life was back to normal. It was anything but and the longer she stayed on her own in order to deal with Mitch, the more isolated she will become. "Thank you." Was all she said but it was enough for Ben. Beth grabbed Jasmine and placed her in the wicker basket, which doubled as the pet-carrier. Within five minutes both were out the door and Beth felt a huge relief blow through her as her building faded into the darkness. She wasn't alone anymore.
Mitch visited her later that night. He had the treat all ready for the Siamese but as soon as entered through the front door he knew something was wrong. He went to her bedroom and saw the empty bed. Everything changed for him and the light that shone sanity into the frenzied brain faded as rage and madness slowly pulled the shades down in his mind.
Chapter 8: Brothers in Arms
Ben opened the door to his flat and let her in. He walked past the kitchen then down the left corridor with Beth trailing behind examining the bachelor pad. He opened several doors and said, "This is your place as long as you need it. I'll get you some fresh sheets and towels." She peered into the room and frowned. When he returned she asked, "Why is it decorated for a woman?"
Ben belatedly realized what he had forgotten to explain earlier. "My mum comes to town quite often. She can't stay with Sean because he's difficult to live with. Lorien's...well he's a surgeon and Jeb's place has too much traffic for her nerves. So she stays with me."
"I wouldn't want to displace her..." Beth argued weakly feeling embarrassed.
"Daphne? She won't mind one bit so don't worry about it. Come on let's free your cat before the thing rips through the basket." Beth laughed, Jasmine has been wailing for the last ten minutes and scratching the walls of her wicker cage. She opened the lid and the cat dashed out of its prison. The feline was disoriented as it was in a new place but it wasn't long before the Siamese found a nice spot underneath the bed. Ben sighed in relief as her pet disappeared from sight. She unpacked her things while Ben remade the bed and put new towels in the bathroom. "If you need anything..."
"May I use the phone?" She asked her exhaustion finally showing through the calm veneer.
"Sure, I'll bring one in. I think there's a jack behind the night-table."
"Ben, there is no need for that. All I have to..."
"It's not a problem Beth. I'll be right back." He replied and disappeared from her sight. Beth managed to not cry as she waited for her host to return. She didn't deserve this; she didn't deserve Ben after all she put him through. Feeling even more ashamed of her previous treatment of the third Winters' brother she berated herself mercilessly. Meanwhile Ben managed to dig up an old phone from a filing cabinet and returned to see her nodding off to sleep.
Christ, what she must have been through. To get that day after day, to be frightened for your life for how long? How long has that son of a b**** been tormenting her? Who in their right mind would do something like that? All those messages, those horrible words, those G-d awful threats...he has to be stopped now. Ben steeled himself as he plotted out a course to do so as soon as possible, tomorrow even. If plain threats won't work perhaps a letter from an attorney might dissuade the ex-lover from persecuting Beth any further. But an inkling of doubt remained in Ben's mind. Maybe Mitch was too far gone for any sane resolution to the problem. Maybe what Beth needs now is police protection and not a wall of papers standing between her and her psycho ex.
Ben took a deep breath and relaxed. No need to send her off into panic yet. She was in bad enough state as is. Let her get some rest and try to get her life together. I'll make some calls tomorrow and see what can be done without dragging her name through the local rag. That would kill her, to have her problem be made into dirty laundry for everyone to see. She would not survive such a scandal and Mitch, he might feed off of it and turn it to his advantage.
Ben plugged the phone in and whispered to Beth, "Are you awake?"
She opened her sleepy eyes and shook her head. "Go to sleep. We'll take care of everything tomorrow." He offered and she smiled in gratitude. "Thank you Ben." She replied softly then kissed him on his cheek. She didn't even bother to change and crawled underneath the blanket. He waited until she was truly asleep then tucked her in. He didn't turn off the lamp and he didn't close the door. He also left the hallway's light on in case she woke up in the middle of the night. All his instincts told him she wouldn't want to be in the dark by herself. He saw the small shape of the cat crawl out from underneath the bed and take her rightful place besides her master's head.
In spite of his mixed feelings towards the pet he smiled in gratitude. That cat could take down a B-29 if she felt like it he thought in amusement and went to his side of the flat. He took a can of Coke because he would need the caffeine and trudged to his study. While checking his voice-mail he turned on his computer and began to flip through his electronic Daytimer. It wasn't long before he saw the name he was seeking. Sullivan O'Malley was a world-reknown expert on England's laws. Though he was not a legal practitioner he knew enough criminal attorneys to recommend one. He would also be more than familiar with victims like Beth and could recommend the best recourse for her to take.
Ben e-mailed the information to his computer at work and sat back finishing the soda. Should he do something? Should he make a visit to Mitch and explain point blank where he stood with Ben? That Beth was no longer available to him as a human target? That he would now have to go through Ben, the Winters family and all their influence if he wanted to continue his abuse? The cheeks flexed and the eyes darkened. Abuse...what a bloody hateful word. But that was what this was, plain, unforgiving, inexcusable abuse. What an idiot, he couldn't deal with the problem so he made it hers. What a coward...what a tailless, useless, worthless piece of genetic mistake. Even when his last girlfriend broke up with him Ben never lashed back at her for her rejection. It hurt deeply to find out she didn't need him, didn't love him anymore. It never crossed his mind to hurt her for leaving him. Life goes on, people change and situations sometimes don't work out. Why couldn't Mitch handle this fact of life?
The answer to that question unnerved Ben. Something told him that maybe Henley was never able to deal with rejection. Maybe Henley made sure he would never be in a situation where he could be wounded. His thoughts turned onto darker paths and Ben had to push them away. If what he suspected was true then Beth was in real danger, something even worse than what she was enduring now. Ben decided then. As soon as he had enough ammo he was going to drop by Henley's place and straighten the man out. Either that or put him in a place, preferably behind bars so he couldn't continue.
Ben had no illusions. Going after Henley would take a load of money and Sean's cooperation. He wasn't afraid though. He never asked for Sean's help in anything, not even when they were growing up and he was constantly teased and humiliated by his peers. Even then he never ran to his big brother to protect him from the taunting remarks and the beatings. But Beth was different and Henley would be too big a problem for Ben to handle alone. If Sean flexed his muscles maybe Henley's common sense or what was left of it will make him back off. Mess with the third Winters was one thing, messing with oldest was another.
He closed his eyes and quietly cursed into the empty room. Sean, Sean don't fail me now. He whispered to himself. Don't tell me I'm wasting my precious time and company resources for a pretty face. I would gladly commit crimes for that pretty face...I would do just about anything to protect that pretty face and the gorgeous laughter. Heaven doesn't usually drop its angels onto mortal's lap but I've got one now and I'm going to see what I can do to keep her earth-bound even for a little while...
Ben was awake by five. He knew Sean would be at work by six and he wanted to talk to him before anyone did. He took out the spare keys and left a brief note with them.
These are the keys to the flat. Use them and please be careful today. If you need anything picked up from your flat call me so you don't go back unescorted. Even better I'll pick up anything you need. Sorry to leave you before you wake up but I've got tons to do at the office. Call me when you wake up and you're more than welcome to anything in the fridge. There's a fresh pot of coffee waiting too.
He stared at the note unhappy with its rather impersonal tone. But he knew any sign of intimacy would make her run for the door and into danger. Before he left he took another peek at the sleeping woman and her cat. She looks so peaceful he thought, not betraying the hell she's been put through the last couple of months. Even in her most vulnerable moment the woman was stunning. Such beauty he thought might just possibly drive a man to the brink. So many writers and musicians have composed their works to this most well known madness of Man.
How f****** stupid. Romanticizing violence, replacing love with obsession and making it acceptable if not desirable for the general public. Women die, paying the ultimate price for this most painful and grandiose delusion and I have no plans for Beth to become one of those terrible statistics. Ben nipped his anger in the bud. No need for him to get himself worked up. That would come later, when he faced Mitch Henley. He'll just save his energy until then.
He actually beat Sean to the firm and paced in front of Sean's closed doors. The eldest parked at the underground lot and saw Ben's car. He stopped and stared at the green BMW. Why was Ben in so early? Feeling worried Sean took his private elevator to his office and saw Ben waiting for him. His fears rose a notch, "Ben! What's wrong?"
The mildest son looked at him, "I need your help."
Sean for the second time in three minutes stopped in his tracks. He saw indecisivenes, anxiety and something he could not pinpoint immediately. Vulnerability. His hackles rose as an automatic response to his brother's agitated state. "What has happened?"
"Could we discuss this in your office? It's private." Sean gave a single nod and punched in the codes into the keypad. Then he locked it behind him, "Well?"
"It's better if you hear it." Ben replied and took out the answering machine's tape. He plugged it into the small entertainment unit Sean kept behind his desk for personal use. It didn't take long for the oldest to turn pale. "How long?" He whispered to the third brother.
"Days, weeks, months. Ever since she decided to brake it off. He's been stalking her Sean. I think Mitch is almost gone. Did you hear his voice? Does that sound like someone who's standing on sanity's sidewalk?"
Sean took a deep breath, "Ben, this is a private matter between Beth and Henley. And as much as I like to help..."
"Good." Ben replied smiling. "I was hoping you'd say that."
Sean gave a cautious look, "Say what?"
"Beth's staying with me until this is all over." Sean's jaw dropped open.
"I couldn't leave her alone Sean. Besides I've got so many..."
"Are you sleeping with her?" Sean asked bluntly. Ben could be naïve enough to fall under the spell of a beautiful damsel in distress.
"No and she's not using sex as a trade Sean. Give me some credit here." Ben's voice was sharp and reflected his disappointment of his older brother. Sean apologized at once.
"I wanted to make sure, that's all. And I am sorry for even mentioning it Ben. How is she?"
"Thin, you could see her ribs through her T-shirt. She goes to bed with the light on and I think she's about three steps away from getting medication so she could stay sane. Besides that she's just peachy. And her cat attacks people randomly because it's feeling Beth's strain." The humorous end to the morbid description managed to bring a thin smile to Sean's face. He continued to stare at his brother, the blue eyes never leaving its mirror image on the other visage.
He knew what Ben was asking without using the necessary words and considered the ramifications of what was required. Taking on Mitch Henley because of business was one thing. In the private arena Henley was definitely the favored bachelor though Sean wondered sometimes why Henley was liked by so many. If the tape was any indication of what he was like in private life it would be a near miracle for Henley to not have been arrested already. The thought made Sean wonder. Ben watched his older brother's mind tick at a rate he could not even begin to attempt to emulate.
"Sean, say something."
"I wonder...I wonder if this is the first time he pulled this stunt?" Sean replied looking at his brother with curiosity. Ben caught up with him and his mouth opened.
"If he's as disturbed as we both suspect then it stands to reason he's done something like this before. He might have been able to buy silence but there has to be records, maybe even police sheets somewhere Ben. Perhaps nobody connected the dots yet. Perhaps if Mitch Henley realizes you've got information on him, going back oh...thirty years, information that could ruin him socially if not economically you might be able to convince him to stop harassing Beth. I know it's not an ethical answer to your problem but then we're not dealing with morality here are we?"
"Do you know someone who could do this?" Ben asked. Ethics be damned, time is of the essence now. Every bone and sinew in his body told him Mitch was close to the edge and wouldn't be too long before he snapped. Sean opened his briefcase and flipped through his huge card collection. He used only one detective and the man failed just once -- when Lorien disappeared so many years ago. He handed it over to the anxious man. "Are you ready for this?" Sean asked for Ben was the kindest of them and would do anything to avoid a confrontation. In spite of his size the man was extremely gentle and thoughtful. Characteristics that made him an anomaly in the world of business but which Sean was grateful for.
"Of course not Sean but look at the other option. I have absolutely no desire to go to the ME's office and identify her body." Sean winced at the answer but managed to control himself. His own fears matched those of the younger brother, "Whatever you need Ben, just ask. Don't hesitate to come to me." Ben felt relief flow through him. Sean's unwavering support meant so much to him... "Thanks Sean, I probably will."
Sean's eyebrow rose, "That's news to me. You never came to me for help, even when we were kids."
"Didn't want to bother you. You seemed to be always so busy with things." Ben replied carelessly but Sean heard the almost-forgotten hurt in the man's voice. "I'm not that busy now." Sean replied quietly then turned his back to his brother. Ben didn't take offense though, he knew why Sean dismissed him so abruptly. The oldest had a very difficult time showing affection, and if there's even a glimmer of tenderness that managed to shine through his controlled exterior Sean would always change the topic or go off and do something on his own.
"Thanks brother." Ben said cheerfully and returned to his own office. Sean froze for a moment before closing the door behind the disappearing figure. His guilt came then, and in waves crashing against his conscience. So it was a long time before he made private calls to his personal contacts - people who had access to police records, even those locked and sealed, including juvenile folders. If Ben was about to go face to face with Henley it might be wise to know what he was exactly dealing with. And hopefully between the detective's and his own research they should be able to solve the dark enigma named Henley.
© 1999 Copyright held by the author.
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