Rich sat in the generic chair in his suite at the Hyatt. Only then did he realize he rode back from the restaurant in George’s old Audi without feeling self-conscious. Body blows, each mysterious revelation by Molly and especially Michelle. “Be there at eight,” Michelle said. The address on the card she gave him indicated an exclusive area outside of Georgetown, way out of his budget even when he had a budget. He shook his head, but the pieces of the puzzle still didn’t quite fit together.
His phone buzzed on the table. “You say you quit smoking some time ago?” Kitterick sounded jovial, skipping a polite greeting. “Very interesting. I’m eager to hear how you explain your DNA on the cigarette butts we found at the fire.” Click. Holy hell. His DNA? Rich shivered, twisting the Dartmouth ring, a cold sweat beading his upper lip.
He was getting railroaded, but his normal mental agility was sprained. His DNA at the fire. Brandt and Associates, BandA, stealing his own deal. All that work on the Stemple project down the drain. Insurance? That was a dream. He looked around, wondering if the Hyatt was now beyond his means. Maybe George had a spare room. He barked a hoarse laugh, splashed some vodka in a plastic cup, and downed it.
As seven o’clock approached, Rich decided to face whatever was coming with his usual strengths. A fresh shower and suit helped him set his own stage. No more vodka, though it was tempting. He needed a clear head. At the half hour mark, he made his way to the lobby with long strides, a man with a purpose. George pulled up, his ride to Michelle’s place, and Rich pretended the Audi was a glittering chariot taking him to the arena.
“So what’s going on, man? Michelle’s got something brewing, sounds like.” George’s attempt at conversation didn’t fit Rich’s image of himself at the moment. No small talk for him. George soon dropped it and just drove.
They pulled into a circular driveway before a stone … well, demi-mansion was all Rich could call it. Huge, three stories, but fit into a smallish plot of land near other similarly well-appointed houses. More like edifices. Rich stopped and looked around at the neighborhood, each home lit up in the growing darkness. “Come on, man. We’re going to be late.”
It didn’t occur to Rich that George invited himself until Michelle opened the thick oak door and wrapped her arms around George’s neck, standing on her toes to give him a quick kiss. She wrinkled her nose. “At least you’ll be able to get rid of that beard finally, Arnie.” George laughed and squeezed her in a hug. Rich stared at them, his self image drooping.
“We’re being rude, Arnie,” Michelle announced in a silky voice. “Do come in, both of you. I told a little white lie, Rich. This isn’t my home per se. It belongs to my client. Miss Stemple wanted to be sure you’d answer the summons.”
Summons, was it? Rich stiffened his shoulders and lifted his chin. No one summoned him. They invited, he accepted. “I’m here, so let’s get on with this charade. Or are we unraveling one?” Michelle’s smile was slow, but her eyes were cold. Not at all his Michelle. This Michelle dressed in stiletto boots and a short skirt. His Michelle wore flouncy skirts and chunky high heels, pretty blouses, all flowers and light perfume. No, this was not his Michelle. Apparently, it wasn’t his George, either.
He followed Michelle through a foyer with a huge floral arrangement on an antique round table in the center. They entered a large room, a well stocked library. Familiar faces grinned at him, some nearly leering with anticipation. Gritting his teeth, he sat in a wingback chair as Michelle indicated.
“Please, make yourself comfortable, Rich,” she told him. Yeah. Comfortable. That would happen.
Conclusion scheduled for posting next Friday!