Elbows on the pub table, knuckles pressed hard into his cheeks, he stared at the tiny sequin bubbles sparkling up in his glass until they disappeared into the line of foam. Mulling over the previous three weeks, a feeling of triumph, warmed his inner satisfaction. All that planning and smart talking; shame he couldn’t boast about his inspired thinking. He was positive that his scheme, dodgy it might be, would succeed brilliantly.
He leaned back on the faded rose velour, content with his foolproof strategy; ‘I guess there ain’t too many around here that could’ve pulled together a plot like that.’ Randy, his brindle Pit-bull wiggled his backside and fixed his black eyes on his master. Chuck leaned down and fondled the dog’s ears. ‘You’re next, we need to sort your flight details; nothing but the best for you.’ Randy’s tail thumped.
Chuck looked up to see Paul with his grey close-shaven scalp, weaving through the crowded tables. “Gidday, old man. Grab a seat.”
Paul, a workmate on the airline shook hands and settled opposite Chuck. “Good to see ya. I hear there’s a wedding coming up.”
“Sure! But only family and a few friends.” Chuck felt more at ease with Paul who had moved from the US three years before him.
“Okay! She’s a great girl. Wish you well.”
Chuck looked Paul in the eye, “Thanks, Paul, I can’t believe I finally got her; I’ve plans for Laura. Tell all, later.”
“Oh yeah! And what’ve you been hatching in your conniving head this time? Or is this another great idea that’s likely to bomb?”
“Fine friend you are. You’ll see.” He paused, “Cool it buddy—keeping a low profile.” He smiled and blew two smoke rings.
“Family coming Stateside? They’ll want to be in on your big day.”
Chuck shook his head, “Too far—a second wedding when we get back.”
“You leaving for good?”
“Yep! I’ve resigned. Leave right after the reception, we’ll have a night here— Booked through Hawaii the next day. Don’t tell Laura, big surprise.”
“You’re playing it close.”
“Maybe, but I’m the guy who likes a good strategy and this one’s a boomer.”
“Good luck, I’m on my way,” Standing, Paul drained his glass. “See ya.”
Chuck watched Paul retrace his steps between the tables and leaned back to ponder the future. Asking her to marry him—a total pushover. How desperate can she be? Pawnshop around the corner from the pub had been a lucky break. She couldn’t wait to get that ring on her finger and spent the evening admiring it. Even shoved it under the nose of the barmaid. Too bad when she realises, it’s a fool’s paradise, and I’ve got her working right up to the wedding.
“You’ll have to organise everything.’ Laura dab-dabbed with a tissue. ‘I won’t have time. What about my dress? Sob, Sob.’ Perfect! Exactly what he had in mind.
No sense wasting a month of earnings, besides he had things to do, like finding a celebrant who’d keep his officious mouth shut and not ask awkward questions.
He emptied his glass, called for another, lit a Camel filter, fingered his cream enamelled lighter and observed the bar patrons. Not one man in this room would have the intellect to figure out such a scheme. Peasants all, in this back-of beyond country. He strolled to the bar, claimed his beer and returned to his seat.
The rough aroma of his distinctive cigarette wafted around as he mulled over the plan once more. Faultless! Being a perfectionist was all very fine; he was fully aware that no work-mate would dare disagree with him. Cowards every single one!
That sleek goddess in the garage! His little BMW Z4 Roadster was the envy of not only the guys on base but also the neighbours. A wreck when he’d bought her, he sometimes thought it was their envious looks that kept him idly working on the car for over a year. He wasn’t satisfied until she was as trim as the day she was launched in 1989, a feisty little dame. But now she was flawless, not only in her glittering fire-engine red but she’d been the key to opening doors to people he’d otherwise never have met. Laura for one!
Then there were her stupid relatives; that stick-in-the-mud couple that live on the Hill—her mother’s brother and wife. Just as well they’re both delusional and no clue as to what people can do to make life easier. I saw how impressed they were that I’m a pilot; I saw those dollar signs flashing in their eyes. If only they knew.
Then, Laura’s parents ringing from England to say her dad was to have a triple by-pass and would be in hospital and her mother wouldn’t leave him to come to the wedding. Perfect! Couldn’t have planned it better myself.
Best forget the folks in the States. Thank God there was no pressure from the boss or workmates for a wedding invite; they hadn’t been asked, and simply don’t matter. ‘Phone calls to a couple of relatives and a few friends on Laura’s invitation list soon sorted the hangers on….
‘Hi! Chuck here. Unfortunately have to tell you the wedding’s been postponed due to problems with the Registrar’s Office.’ Another flash of genius! Swallowed it like starving gannets—not one turned up.
leaned back, crossed his legs and pondered the pattern on his socks;
he drew on a second cigarette. Two associates glanced his way on
entering the bar room, but turn towards a far table. So what? They
were a part of this whole dull-witted community and the brains of his
plan would be totally lost on them.
He’d legally signed for the ceremony, wet or fine to be under an oak tree in a nearby park. The day was grey with patches of drizzle. Chuck wondered at the age of the celebrant, as he mumbled his way through the nuts and bolts of the service sheet? It was all over in minutes with five participants, the happy couple, two witnesses and the celebrant. As it happened, a couple of nearby workers became surprised, if unexpectedly jovial, witnesses. Both smelled of beer. They were councilmen pruning magnolias nearby and happy to oblige when he mentioned beers afterwards. After the ‘I do’s’ and to himself, the ‘I won’ts,’ the wedding party sauntered across to the Globe hotel for drinks and a sandwich.
Later, Chuck told Laura, “If you want a honeymoon in Hawaii, we have to watch what we’re spending.” He showed her snaps of his mother and two sisters.
Later we’ll live near them in Manorfield. You can still be a pharmacist.”
Laura asked, “And what will you do when we get back?”
He’d stared out the window at cars creating petrol-tinged rainbow waves through puddles and without turning said, “The family look forward to meeting you as soon as we return. Mother and my two sisters will be at the airport.” He smiled, “In a few months, you can fly back and see your folks. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” His smile stretched hard and firm like a tightrope.
The last month had been a challenge; giving notice on the house and the same for his flying job. Then selling almost everything to buy the three airline tickets.
The hardest part was selling the BMW; the dream he’d bought not long before meeting Laura. The car he’d lovingly primed, taped and spray-painted a dizzying red had been a joy realised, but if his plans were to work, he needed every dollar he could get. Meanwhile, everything looked good. There’d be another day for a Z4.
Then there was that Pit-bull; he’d barely accepted Laura. She didn’t like dogs and made her hostility known to Randy who responded with menacing growls. The dog had his own passport and would travel Doggie Special Class. Chuck’d made detailed plans for Randy’s flight to Honolulu. He’d organised a top-notch kennel, full attention énroute, regular watering, feeds and personal attention throughout. The airline required owners to report with dogs five hours before departure. A bit of a bugger, but it would work.
Chuck encouraged Laura to work on at the pharmacy. “You love it there—it’ll give you extra pin money.”
“But,“ she stammered,” But I need time to look for a special dress, I need stuff for the trip. I really need to stop work to buy shoes and undies and ….”
Wear that cream, silky thing you wore to the Arts Ball.”
“I can’t do that. Everyone will know.”
“Not everyone. ‘Sides, with Randy, we need money for three tickets.”
Eventually when he knew Laura had realised there was no point in arguing, he made it clear that flying was his world and she shouldn’t worry about a thing.
On the day before they left, she packed her bags then helped Chuck clean the apartment. She looked around, “I’m going into town to find a wedding dress.”
Chuck said, “I want to pack this heavy gear into the crate; then I need you to help lift it into the van.” She looked at the miscellaneous pile of implements that once packed would take at least two to lift. In one heap from his workshop, were two vises, several hammers, and a foldaway metal workbench.
Laura said, “Do you really want all this? Replace it back in the US.”
here, need the cash—get this into the van.” In three
hours he’d packed a wooden crate containing electric hedge
clippers, his woodworking and garden tools, and lastly, the
four-stroke lawn mower. “See ya!” Slamming the doors he
drove off. Four hours later he was back with an empty van and a
When Laura’s work mates heard from Paul they were not invited to the wedding, they could only wonder if Laura knew what she was doing. They spoke to her and asked her as tactfully as they could, ‘Do you really know this man?’
Anna, her closest friend, was concerned and drove to the flat after the nuptials. Laura was alone. Chuck was delivering the van he’d sold to two back-packers at the airport.
“Is this really what you want?” asked Anna of a tearful Laura, “Everyone thinks he’s horrible. You’re far too good for him.”
Hands in pockets and her face the colour of a passing rain-cloud, Laura fixed her eyes on Anna as she paced the almost empty room. “I have to admit, he has hit me. Only once. Ooh! I’m not sure any more—everything’s so rushed and confusing. He’s so handsome. Anna! I really don’t know what I’m doing,” she sobbed and threw herself on the bed. “Help me, Anna, what should I do?”
Anna sat beside her. “I hate to tell you this, but one of his workmates told me he is spreading it about, that when he gets you to Hawaii he’s got plans to put you on the streets as a hooker. He wasn’t joking. Has he told you that?”
Wild-eyed, Laura sat bolt upright. “Of course not. I don’t believe you.” She grabbed a tissue and blew her nose. “Are you sure? He’s such a charmer—you know what he’s like.” Her voice was thick with half-smothered wails. “Did he really say that? He wouldn’t do that—would he? He’d never get away with it.”
“It’s a horrible thought but yes, I believe he would do that and there’s a good chance he’d get away with it. None of us like him; you know that!” said Anna. “I’ve got to get you out of this, but you’ll have to do exactly what I say.” Heads together, the two young women were on the bed when they heard the front door open.
“He’s back,” whispered Laura. “What‘ll I do?”
Chuck walked in. “What’s going on here?” He threw his door keys on the bed.
“The ‘phone’s cut off all ready. I have to go next door to ring my boss at the office.” “We’ll come with you,” said Anna, “I have to ‘phone work.”
“Yes,” replied Laura, her voice quavering. “We need to go anyway. Brian and Joan have l-l-lent us their car to get to the airport. They’ll have to come with us but we need to pack the car boot tonight.”
“Okay, okay, calm down,” said Chuck. He strode ahead crossing the lawn over to the grander two storied brick and half-timbered house next door.
Anna whispered to Laura. “Surely, between us, we can outwit this snake. We need to know what his ex-boss thinks about him. Is he the monster we think he is?”
“I don’t even know his boss’s name or phone number,” said Laura. “I’ve never met him. How can we ask him? I can’t think of any way to find out either. Chuck doesn’t have a lot of friends.”
“Maybe that’s a warning sign,”
Chuck was some distance ahead and ringing the bell as they neared the house. Street-lights threw bushy shadows over the lawn, a black cat sloped by a garden edge and a single gull on a homing flight keened above in the early twilight.
“Let me think,” Anna murmured. In the morning, you pretend to sleep in. We’ll ask your neighbours to come early—before Chuck leaves in Brian’s car with that animal. Brian and Joan can persuade him they’ll make sure you’re awake and ready. That Joan will take you and the leftover bags and meet him at the airport.”
As they arrived, Chuck was talking at the neighbour’s front door.
“Ye-s“ muttered Laura. “When he and the dog are gone, I’ll sort my cases.”
“Somehow we’ll have to let Joan and Brian know so they can get you right away from all this. I think they’re also worried and no doubt will have an answer.”
“That’s okay with me—I think,” said Laura with telling hesitation.
“But before we do all this, we need his boss’s name,” Anna whispered, “Just to confirm what we all suspect.”
Joan welcomed them at the door, “Come on in, it’s a bit nippy out there.” Brian handed out glasses of glowing red. Standing in an uneasy circle exchanging banal comments and nervous laughter, they drank to the future. After a few minutes of superficial chat, Chuck requested the use of the ‘phone. “Is that okay? I know it’s in the hall. They’ve already cut our connection.”
While he was out of the room, Anna quickly explained to Joan and Brian what they had in mind. The couple looked at one another. “Perfect; he’s a louse,” said Brian. “We can fix that.”
Anna quietly turned to Laura. “Soon as he comes back, I’ll use the ‘phone and press ‘redial.’ Should go straight back to his boss.”
a genius Anna,” said Laura.
In the morning the neighbours came to wish them God-speed and Chuck reluctantly conceded that Laura, still sound asleep, might be tired after the wedding celebrations, the previous night’s late dinner as well as cleaning out his garage and flat. He seemed preoccupied and unaware of tension eddies. He packed his own luggage into the boot of Brian’s car then buckled Randy into the back seat.
Joan explained how they’d drive Laura and the remaining luggage to the airport and meet him at Departures. Stroking the dog’s head, he accepted the plan without question.
“See you later,” called Chuck, waving from the front passenger window.
Meanwhile, as soon as Joan was positive that men, dog and car were well on their way, she ran over to Laura.
Half-dressed and giggling hysterically Laura sorted through bags and cases. “I can’t believe I’m doing this. It’s like a really bad dream. What if I’m making a huge mistake?” Twenty minutes later she looked up. “I’m ready. What’s left is his. I’ve got everything of mine. What happens now?”
Joan smiled, “You’re going to an obliging aunt who is in on our plan and will look after you for a couple of days. She rang me last night. She has the ticket and will put you on the plane to your parents.”
“But, but, why are you doing this?”
“Laura. This man is evil. Can’t you see that?”
“I suppose you’re right. I’m so tired and confused, everything is so horrible; except you of course. Thank you for doing this for me.”
“One day you’ll look back and see it for the nightmare it was. Now, promise me you won’t contact anyone before you leave. Not a soul. Not even your aunt and uncle. Understood? We’ve no idea who he might ring from the airport. He’ll have to fly; the dog’ll already be loaded. Later we’ll go to the airport and collect Brian’s car.”
“Of course. I don’t know how to thank you both, especially when I think what he had planned for me. Ugh!” She shuddered. “It’s too repulsive to think about.”
“Anna told me, last night on the ‘phone, his boss thought he was a brute. Didn’t have a good word to say,” said Joan. “How did you get tangled up with that pimp?”
“In a bar, did you know he was going to put me on the streets in Honolulu?”
“Only when Anna told me last night, he’s a nasty bit of work.”
“He seemed—so sincere.” Laura scrubbed at her overflowing tears. She gave a quavering laugh. “He’ll wonder for the rest of his life how we outsmarted him. You two, plus Anna and ‘Redial,’ have probably saved my life. I’ve no idea how to thank you.” She gave Joan a hug. “Right now, my head’s a mess, but thank you, thank you, thank you.”.