Duplicity in Dubuque
by Roy Dorman
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
“Hi, I’m Brenda Wilson,” said Rose to the woman at the sign-in table. The woman’s name tag proclaimed her to be Edith Jefferson. Rose thought she remembered Edith as one of the popular kids Brenda had circled in the year book.
“Oh, hi, Brenda,” said Edith. “So glad you could make it. I don’t think I remember seeing you at any of the earlier reunions.”
Rose thought Edith looked at her a little too closely and maybe spoke with some forced cordiality. She chalked it up to pre-game jitters. But she was ready for this. “No, this is my first; my work schedule often clashes with my social schedule. But I’m glad to be here for the 25th.”
“Well, have a good time. We’re having a casual sit-down dinner at eight-thirty. Cash bar until then. Good seeing you again.”
“Good seeing you again.” Ya right.
The name tags had the class member’s name in bold all caps and the guest’s, if any, in smaller lettering just below. Rose fastened her name tag and walked with confidence toward the bar. She was wearing her favorite “little black dress” and saw heads turn in her direction as she passed little groups of classmates and their partners.
The reunion was being held at an Italian restaurant that had been closed to the public for the evening so they could accommodate the group. Rose asked for a glass of white wine and decided to stand at the bar for a bit and let people come to her. Those who had been to the first four reunions, and also those who had stayed close by Dubuque after graduation, were probably catching up on local gossip. Rose recognized some of the names on the name tags but twenty-five years had changed most of the faces she had seen in the yearbook.
A couple came up to the bar and ordered drinks; a pint of craft beer for her former classmate, John Avery, and a Black Russian for his guest.
“Hi, I’m Brenda Wilson,” said Rose when she caught John checking out her name tag. He certainly must have known that each person only had one name tag, but he still checked out the other side of her chest to make sure. Brenda didn’t miss that, nor did John’s guest, Alice Camden.
“Come on, John, let’s get back to the guys,” said Alice. She was obviously used to John’s roving eye, but that didn’t mean she had to like it.
“Wow, I don’t give that couple long,” said a tall well-dressed man who had come up to the bar after John and Alice.
“Oh, are you a marriage counselor or have you just been to one a few times?” said Rose with a smile.
“Touché, I guess I had that coming. I’m Brandon Wells, nice to meet you.... ah, Brenda,” said Brandon, checking out Brenda’s name tag — and only the name tag. “I was just joking around; I’m with the honored guest group. That’s my date, Jill Matson, over there talking to some old friends. You have someone with you?”
“Not yet, but the night’s young,” said Rose.
Brandon laughed. “You’re certainly a lot better with the quick comeback than I am. Would you like to walk over to the group that Jill is with?”
Brenda was getting some odd vibes from this guy. He was exceptionally comfortable in his role as a tagalong. She asked for another glass of wine and thought she would see if she could learn a little more about Brandon Wells.
“I know this might sound a little like high-school drama, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be welcome in that group. They wouldn’t even remember me. They were the popular kids; I wasn’t in that clique in high school.”
“Oh, I see,” said Brandon. “Tell ya what; I’ll just keep you company until someone from your class you’re more comfortable with comes over.”
“You don’t have to do that, Brandon; I can take care of myself.”
“I’m sure you can, but it’s really no problem; all just part of the job...”
Brandon cut that thought off quickly and covered with a sip of beer. Now Rose thought she had it. She knew why he was comfortable in a crowd where he knew no one.
“So how long have you been in the escort business?” asked Rose.
Brandon looked quickly over his shoulder and then back at Rose. “Are you talking to me?” he said with a nervous smile.
“Are you in business for yourself or do you work for an agency?”
Once again Brandon checked out the immediate vicinity. “I don’t what you’re talking about; I’m in marketing with General Motors.”
“You know,” said Rose, smiling at Brandon’s discomfort, “it’s really not very convincing, or professional, for that matter, to look each time to make sure nobody’s within earshot before you answer me. I’m not going to out you; here’s my card.”
Brandon took Rose’s business card and looked it over. He then looked again at the name tag on her dress.
“OMG, as the young people say. You’re here as a classmate? By yourself? I’m having a hard time getting my head around that.”
“Yeah, definitely one of my more challenging gigs,” said Rose. “Oh, could you excuse me a minute? My phone’s telling me I have a text coming in.”
“Sure, ‘Brenda,’ I’m not going anywhere until you fill me in on the details.”
Rose read the brief text and frowned. It was from the real Brenda and all it said was “I shouldn’t have done this. I’m so sorry.” Putting the phone back into her purse, she wiped the look of puzzlement off her face and turned to once again talk to Brandon.
But when she turned, someone else had inserted himself between Brandon and her. He was a tall, well-built man about her age, dressed in a blue service station type coverall with “Larry” on a patch where everyone else in the room had a name tag.
“You’ve gotta lot of nerve showin’ up here tonight. Ya just couldn’t stay away and let things be, could ya?”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t think I know you,” said Rose. “Were you in our class?”
“It’s been a long time, but not that long; you know who I am,” said Larry as he reared back to punch Rose.
Acting quickly, Brandon grabbed Larry’s arm, and in a practiced move that twisted it behind his back, brought him to his knees.
“Okay, okay, okay!” yelled Larry.
“If I let you up, will you leave the restaurant quietly?” asked Brandon, giving Larry’s arm another twist.
“Ow! Yeah, I’ll go, I’ll go, but I’m not gonna forget this.”
A crowd had gathered and there was a lot of whispering and mumbling.
“Could somebody tell me what this is all about?” asked Rose. “Why is this man so angry with me?”
Jill Matson separated herself from the crowd. “Let him up, Brandon. He has every right to be angry with Brenda; there’s a lot that you don’t know about her.”
Brandon released the man but remained close to Rose so as to intervene if he wasn’t ready to leave.
Rose unconsciously put her hand in her purse and was thinking that maybe she should have put her handgun in it before she left. She usually covered all the bases, but bringing her gun to the class reunion hadn’t occurred to her.
“I can manage from here, Brandon. But thanks for stepping in; I wasn’t ready for anything like this.”
A small group of people, both men and women, led Larry to the exit. They were talking quietly to him and a couple of times one or another looked back and glared at Rose.
“Your family did the right thing by leaving Dubuque after the accident,” said Jill. “But it was wrong of you to come back. Nancy’s family has never forgiven you and your father for what he did to her. He was a married man and she was just a kid. You were her best friend; you should have helped her.”
Rose realized Brenda had let her walk into a quagmire of old hurt. Something ugly had happened here twenty-five years ago, and Rose was trying to figure out what her next move should be. She decided to go on the offensive.
“How do you know I didn’t try to help her? You didn’t even know me then. Sure, she was just a kid and he was my father, but how many fathers like mine take advice from their kids? I’m sorry for her family’s pain, but my family had a lot of pain, too. He left plenty of victims in his wake.”
“Did you drive or take a cab?” asked Brandon.
“A cab. I’ve got a rental back at the hotel.”
“I’ve got a rental in the lot outside; how about I drive you back to your hotel?”
“Yes, thank you, I think that would be best,” said Rose.
“Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” said Jill. “You’re here with me.”
Brandon stared at Jill. “Our contract clearly states that I’m allowed to make decisions as to our safety and/or to the safety of those around us. If you want your money back, take me to court.”
That brought a gasp from the people who were within earshot, and Jill’s face went a bright red. Apparently she’d had time to spin a number of fictitious tales about her date.
* * *
Rose and Brandon left the restaurant and walked to the rental car. “You know, it’s still early, and we haven’t had dinner,” said Brandon. “How about we find a nice place and talk about what just happened?”
“I guess if you’re not going back to the reunion that answers the question as to whether you work for yourself or an agency. But Jill will probably win if she takes you to court, you know.”
“I’ve already decided to refund her money; I don’t need her business. And, hey, that little speech you gave Jill was pretty convincing. I bet anybody there who had been having doubts as to who you were had some second and third thoughts after that.”
“Well, thanks for standing up for me,” said Rose. “And I’m buying tonight, but I’ll let you leave the tip. Brenda is probably going to pay me extra out of her feelings of guilt, and I’m going to let her. I thought that she was kind of cool, but what kind of person would let someone go into a mess this that even if they were just the hired help?”
“We get all kinds in this business, don’t we?” said Brandon. “At dinner I’ll tell you about the time I played the boyfriend of a mobster’s daughter at a funeral in Queens. I’m lucky to be alive. And lucky to be still single, too.”
“I’ve got a few I can share. Talking shop will be more fun than that reunion would have been.”
* * *
After a laugh-filled dinner in a restaurant on the other side of town from the reunion, Brandon and Rose drove to her hotel. When they arrived, they found Rose’s rental car was sitting on four flat tires.
“Damn,” said Rose. “I bet I know who’s behind that.”
“I’ll wait with you if you want to call the police,” said Brandon.
“No, I’m going to call the rental agency and put this in their lap. Insurance comes with the rental package. They can call the cops if they want to. Do you mind waiting for ten minutes while I put my stuff together? I’m travelling light and I can check out of here and get a room at your hotel. I’ll just take a cab to the airport tomorrow afternoon and bill Brenda for the extra costs involved.”
At dinner, Rose told Brandon about the mysterious text Brenda had sent. “I’m also gonna text Brenda and tell her she and I will talk when I get back.”
“Sure, take your time. I’ll wait out here in case good ol’ Larry’s lurking around.”
When they arrived at Brandon’s hotel, it was after eleven, and there were no rooms available.
“There’s a reunion in town this weekend and what with that and the normal flow of folks passin’ through town, we filled up by nine,” said the clerk.
Brandon winked at Rose and spoke to the clerk. “Well, thanks for checking; we’ll just have to look a little further out of town.”
Stepping outside, Brandon turned and looked Rose in the face. “Look, we’re not going to find anything this late. There’re two single beds in my room, and we can make do for one night. You can buy breakfast and—”
“Yeah, I know, you’ll leave the tip.”
Rose stored her things on her side of the room and hung tomorrow’s dress in the closet. “This is a little embarrassing, but I’m travelling so light that I didn’t even bring pajamas or a robe.”
Rose was travelling light in the clothing area, but not in all areas. She decided not to tell Brandon that she had had to have her suitcase go through checked baggage so she could bring her pistol.
“I’ve got more clothes here because, as Jill’s date, I was supposed to be doing things with her all weekend,” said Brandon. “She flew in from Seattle earlier in the week and is staying with an old girlfriend who’s in on the charade. I have my office in Chicago, and she found me on the internet. So, what I’m saying is, if you’d like to borrow one of my t-shirts, I’m sure it would do nicely for the sleepover.”
Rose had walked up close to Brandon while he was talking. “You know, I’m not so sure that I want to keep this professional anymore. If you still do, just tell me now so that I don’t make too big a fool of myself.”
Rose lifted her head and Brandon bent his to meet her. It started out as a warm and friendly kiss but soon accelerated into something more passionate. They slowly undressed each other and Rose found Brandon to be the very capable lover she had thought he would be. As their love-making was about to take her away, Rose found herself entertaining thoughts that maybe....
No, Rose, he’d probably just do something stupid and you’d have to kill him like you did those others.
Later, leaving Rose’s bed empty, they lay spooned together on Brandon’s bed and talked drowsily about their plans for tomorrow.
“I fly back to San Francisco at 1:00 tomorrow afternoon,” said Rose. “It’s too bad we’ve got half a country between us; I’d like to spend some more time with you.”
To find out if he’s enough like you to accept you for what you are.
“I’m driving back to Chicago tomorrow too. There’s nothing for me in Dubuque.”
“I may never come back to Dubuque again,” said Rose. “It sorta turned out to be like one of those Maine towns in the Stephen King books. Except for right now; this is very nice.”
Yes, you could get used to this. But this is always how it starts; you start thinking that this time it’ll be different. But it seems you always start thinking too much just before things get nasty.
“Very nice,” said Brandon. “I’ve been to San Francisco a few times for work but have never really seen the different parts of the city. If you don’t think I’m moving too fast, I could arrange to spend a week, and you could show me around. I’ve never even ridden the trolley cars or been to Fisherman’s Wharf.”
“That’s one of the downsides to our business,” said Rose. “We show up at the party, make nice with the customer and a few of the other partygoers, and collect our pay. No time to smell the roses.”
Brandon put his nose to the back of Rose’s neck and sniffed. “This time I did.”
“Hmmm, romantic too. I bet you have a lot of repeat customers.”
“Some, but probably not any more than you have. I have a couple of women who might be what you and I would call regulars, but for most it’s a once in a lifetime thing.”
“I’m starting to drift off,” said Rose. “But before I do, I want to say that I would love to have you visit as soon as you can get the time. Then I could visit you in Chicago and you could take me around. That is, if you don’t think I’m moving too fast.”
“Good night, Rose,” said Brandon with a chuckle. “See ya in the morning.”
Rose was tired, it was now after two in the morning, but her mind went back to something Brandon had said while they were at dinner. “If I was a woman in this business, I would probably work for an agency.”
When Rose had asked him why, he had said, “For security reasons. Here you are in an anonymous little town like Dubuque, and nobody knows you’re here except that weird Brenda. You could disappear and nobody would even know to look for you. Brenda probably wouldn’t; she’d probably just try and bury you in her subconscious with all of the other stuff she has in there.”
That observation had raised her hackles. Even though Brandon had done nothing creepy, when it turned out she would be spending the night in his room, Rose decided she would take some precautionary measures. While Brandon had been in the bathroom earlier, she had taken her small pistol out of its TSA-approved hard case and had placed it under her pillow. Even though they were now sharing Brandon’s bed and her bed was three feet away, it was still a comfort.
* * *
Copyright © 2018 by Roy Dorman