(Continued from The Halloween Party)
Maria Monello checked the large clock whirring over the counter. And that’s what it felt like it was doing: whirring, not ticking, skipping seconds altogether to gobble minutes. She had closed the shop at noon to devote totally to the Barton party preparations knowing exactly how long everything would take. The candy apples, cool and shiny on the sideboard were done and should have been delivered by now. By rights, she should have kept Shea around for the afternoon to at least deliver. But she had other plans so here she was, late and alone.
The petite fours, all 200 of the little bastards, were in process. Nothing but the final icing then the pumpkin, or skull, or bat flourish on top. Another thirty, forty minutes at least. With a puff of her bottom lip and the back of her hand she blew her bangs back off her forehead, then stood softly trying to regulate her breathing. Her heart was not so much beating as flipping as she looked at her flour-dusted phone on the table. She had to make the call. She knew she had to make the call. Her hand almost shook as she reached for the phone then pulled back.
It was like being at the top of Wildcat back when she was a skier. That slope was at the very, very, veriest edge of her capabilities. Every time she stood at the top, tips over the edge, she felt this same way. Wanting to, not wanting to, afraid to, needing to. Once she pushed off, handed control over to the mountain, she was in control by only the thinnest razor’s edge. An exhilarating and terrifying feeling all at once.
She picked up the phone and moved back toward the office where the reception was better, stopping to stand in front of the mirror wall. She caught her own eye and smiled ruefully, “You’re a simple bitch”, she whispered to herself, then slowly, turned to look at her backside over her shoulder. It would be black slacks and tuxedo shirt later but now it was jeans and a t-shirt. Yes, the jeans-worn and torn like the kids wore them-were tight. They got tighter every year, but she still could rock them, even if she said so herself. And the way the seam ran up her middle every time she moved? That was nothing she could take out in public.
She caught her eye again; it was good that she wasn’t a poker player. They had softened allowing the vulnerability that she tried to constantly cover to leak out. Her knees almost dipped as her free hand slid over her backside. The buzzing that she’d felt distantly and intermittently in her crotch for a week now, was louder, undeniable and pert near deafening. She watched herself press the call button and lift the phone to her ear.
Things were coming together at the Barton’s. There were at least a dozen people there already and Beth could hear another car as she spoke on the phone to the pastry chef. “This is unacceptable, Maria”, she said sternly into the phone. “You should have been here by now…”
Duke sauntered in to listen to the one side of the conversation. Beth held up a finger. “Mr. Barton will be there within the half hour and…yes. Un-Huh. Well, they had better be ready. Yes, we will work this out.”
She disconnected with a sigh. “OK, Maria is ready. Late as usual. You have to go pick up the candy apples.”
Duke sighed in turn. “She knows I’d be happy to paddle her ass without needing an excuse right? She knows this.”
“It’s her process. She’s late with the pastries, you have to pick them up, she comes later with the second batch, apologizes, begs you not to punish her in front of everyone then….”
“She’s a sweetie. I’ll go now…”
“Yes, but don’t diddle too long…”
“Don’t you mean dawdle?”
She looked at him with raised eyebrow.
“Right, right….”, he said heading for the door.
“Duke”, she stopped him looking out the window onto the patio, “That couple over by the fire.” She nodded at two men huddled off to the side in animated, if muted, conversation. One was slight and wispy with thin blonde hair. The other pretty much the same but a head taller and thicker.
“Yeah, don’t know them. They came in on Buzzy’s invitation.”
“Is Buzzy here?”
“Not yet-they said he’d be here later. Nine or so…”
At that moment Buzzy Wagner was trussed up with zip ties and a ball gag in the trunk of his Audi deep in the bowels of his condo’s parking garage. He had regained consciousness and seemed fine. But he was a bad bet for nine o’clock.