DUELING SECRETS by Ray Flynt

 

“I’ll kill him,” I muttered.

     I never thought life as I knew it would come to an end while sitting at the kitchen counter tapping on my iPad next to a plate of thawing chicken breasts.

     An affair? I sagged into my chair. Barb, you’re an idiot. How could you miss the signs? It was easy to dismiss Roger’s late nights at work when big bonuses showed up in his paychecks. And when “Mr.-Every-Saturday-Night” turned into “Mr.-Once-a-Month” I bought his excuse about an enlarged prostate—even urged him to see his doctor. He promised to “take care of it.” Now I knew: For the last three months Roger had been exercising his prostate twice a week with Sally from the office.

     I’ll kill him.

     Who was I kidding? I was squeamish about death in general and blood in particular. Once, when Roger was on a business trip, a mousetrap snapped under the kitchen sink, and I had to bribe Justin, our eight-year-old son, to dispose of the remains.

     The children! If their father were dead and their mother sent up the river for murder, they’d become de facto orphans. I couldn’t allow that to happen no matter how pissed off I was at the son-of-a-bitch I’d been married to for seventeen years.

     I stared at the iPad and re-read the latest e-mail from a home wrecker named Sally.
 

Dearest Roger,

Missing you already. I only wish that I could have joined you in Kansas City.

Till next week,

Love XOXO,

Sally
 

     I had no trouble figuring out where Sally Francesca worked. Roger had bragged about the new assistant general counsel in the civil litigation division of his firm. He hadn’t mentioned the woman in several months, and now I knew why. I’d pictured a savvy young professional, when I should have imagined a scheming temptress. But how smart could the “tart of torts” be to use her work e-mail—sdfrancesca@burgerinvestllc.net—to carry on an affair with the firm’s chief investment broker?

 

The school bus rumbled down our street and I powered off the iPad. Seconds later the front door slammed and I heard clomping on the front stairs that could only belong to Patrick, my thirteen-year-old hockey player. I realized it was my day to drive him and his buddies to practice.

     “Hi, Mom.” Emily’s voice, our eleven-year-old daughter, sounded behind me.

     I turned to greet her. “Hey baby.” I tried to sound chipper. “How was school today?”

     “Okay.” She cocked her head and looked quizzical. “What’s the matter? Have you been crying?”

Kids are so perceptive.

     “Nah.” I laughed and drew a finger under one of my eyes. “I’m coming down with a cold.” Changing the subject, I added, “You want to ride along while I take your brother to hockey practice? We can stop for ice cream on the way home.”

     “Sure,” she said, “but I gotta get out of this uniform.” She scampered toward the front hall, then stopped suddenly. “Oh no, I have to wait for Justin to get home.”

     “Not today. He’s visiting a friend’s house after work… I mean school.” I couldn’t get Roger and Sally off my mind.

     “Cool,” Emily said, and continued on her way.

     Damn you, Roger. It’s your fault that I learned of the affair.

     Roger had caught the Super Shuttle to the airport at 6 a.m. and left me a message on the kitchen table about important insurance papers that needed my signature. “Check my appointment book,” the note read. There, directly under the important papers, was a Post-it note with an e-mail address that I didn’t recognize—Roger5618—at a popular free e-mail service. Below it the word “gulliver” which I recognized as the name of his beloved childhood Basset Hound, and which I suspected was the password. For all I knew, I’d find information on that e-mail account that related to the insurance papers. At least that’s what crossed my mind at the time.

     “We’re ready, Mom,” voices called from the foyer.

     My job beckoned, and figuring out what to do with Roger would have to wait.

 

I hardly slept. Mostly due to thinking about all the sickening details in those “dearest” and “darling” e-mails, but I’d rubbed a mentholated sports cream on Patrick’s leg after hockey practice and then thoughtlessly touched the corner of my eye. The burning sensation only added to my agony. Once more I stared at the alarm clock, just minutes from time to roust the kids. I lay there thinking how I’d spun my psyche through the stages of grief in less than twenty four hours—shock, anger, bargaining, and depression, mostly depression. All those grief emotions save acceptance, which seemed light years away, if possible at all.

     I turned off the alarm and dragged myself out of bed. The sight in my bathroom mirror made me look like a poster girl for “40 is the new 60.” Ugh. I pulled myself together and concentrated on fixing breakfast for the kids.

     Emily was the last to head for the bus stop. “Get some rest, Mom,” she said, after kissing me goodbye. “You look tired.”

     I choked back tears, and hugged her close. “I will baby.” Except she wasn’t a baby anymore. Wiser than her years, she could sense something going on with me. I envied her innocence and wished that I could put the genie, those dreadful e-mails! back in the bottle.

 

Two hours later I sat at the kitchen table with my best friend, Joyce. We met in Junior High and had been close ever since. She lived two houses away in our manicured suburban community with three-acre yards and Colonial-styled McMansions, so when I called her and said we needed to talk, she popped over and brought a fresh batch of cinnamon rolls she’d just pulled from the oven. I bared my soul, and showed her the e-mails I’d found. I chuckled after listening to her gasps and “Oh my’s” as she scrolled through the e-mail threads. When she finished reading, her gaping mouth and crinkled brow told me that she shared my disgust.

     Joyce took a sip of her coffee and peered at me over the top of her bifocals. “Barb, there’s only one thing you can do,” she said in a somber demeanor. “Go on Dr. Phil and confront the S.O.B.”

     I couldn’t help but laugh, and was glad I’d invited her over to commiserate. Joyce was the antidote I needed for my depression.

     “I wish he were dead.” I sighed.

     She bit into one of the cinnamon rolls and mumbled, “Unfortunately, I don’t know any hit men.”

     “I was speaking figuratively, Joyce. The kids need their father, especially the boys.”

     She raised an eyebrow. “With the kind of example he’s setting?”

     “Well, they don’t know about… that.” I gestured toward the iPad.

     “Seriously,” she said, “I think you should just file for divorce and take him to the cleaners for all he’s got—the house, SUV, your vacation home in Florida, his retirement account—he’ll learn not to dip his stick in muddy waters.” Joyce had a way with words, which is what I loved about her.

     I topped off our coffee cups. “I’ve thought about it,” I admitted, “but we’re Catholic and the church frowns on divorce.”

     Joyce aimed a finger at me. “That’s ‘cause their priests don’t marry. If they did, they’d change that policy faster than they could say summa cum laude, or, you know, whatever Latin phrase they say.”

     I shook my head. “I don’t see divorce as an option.”

     “Well,” Joyce said, “we’re Methodists, and if Harry ever tried those shenanigans, believe you me he’d be sitting in a homeless shelter in his underwear.”

     “I don’t know what to do.” I sighed. “It’s good that Roger is in Kansas City until next Tuesday, because at least I have time to think. If he’d come home last night I might have strangled him.”

     “Honestly, honey, I’m glad I’m not in your shoes. And what are we going to do about that hussy? At a minimum she should lose her job.” Joyce raised her arm in the air. “I’ll volunteer to call the office and rat her out on abusing their e-mail and, how should I put this?, ah, extracurricular activities with fellow employees.”

     I nodded. “Yeah, it doesn’t seem right.”

     Joyce glanced at her wristwatch. “Oops! I’m due at the club for a tennis match in a half hour.” She stood and hugged me. “Let me leave you with this timeless thought.” She paused to deliver her punch line. “Don’t get mad, get even!”

 

After Joyce’s visit, I dozed on the living room sofa, waking an hour later clear-headed and with a seed of a plan germinating in my head. After a lunch of leftover macaroni salad, I sat at the kitchen table and brought my iPad to life. Joyce’s comment about Roger “dipping his stick into muddy waters” had given me an idea. I first logged onto my philandering husband’s secret e-mail account to check for new activity. Nothing. Good. They’re keeping him busy at the conference. He’d traveled with two other guys from his office, and I hoped that he wouldn’t get into any more trouble than drinking too much.

     I exited his account and followed the steps to create a new account and profile, which I did in the name of Sally D. Francesca, using the office address. Her handle would be sdfrancesca@ the same Internet mail service my husband used. They asked for a mother’s maiden name as a security question, and I typed “Jezebel.” I created a password and logged on for the first time. Then I wrote an e-mail to Roger5618, and tried to mimic Sally’s style. On the subject line I typed “IMPORTANT new e-mail address.”
 

Dearest Roger,

As you can see I’ve got a new e-mail address. A guy from IT stopped by today and asked questions about my e-mail account. I don’t want to get paranoid, but concluded it best to create a “private” account so that we can be assured of “private” conversations. J

Missing you so much, and can hardly wait until Tuesday to be in your arms again.

I’m visiting with a sorority sister over the weekend. You probably won’t hear from me until Monday afternoon. It’s nothing to worry about, but I’ve scheduled an OB/GYN appointment that morning.

Love XOXO,
Sally

 

I knew Roger. To tell him there’s nothing to worry about was to invite worry. Hinting that the IT department might be monitoring her work e-mail would guaran-damn-tee that he’d use the newly created e-mail address for correspondence which she would never see. Instead, Roger and I would be swapping suggestive messages for the duration of his stay in Kansas City.

     No matter his reputation for creative investments, Roger’s “secret” e-mail address was pedestrian with its use of his name and our house number. On a computer, there is little visual difference between the number “1” and the lowercase letter L – “l.” I returned to the Internet and set up another new e-mail address, this time for me to use to communicate with Sally. Thus, on the same URL as his other e-mail, Roger56l8 was born.

     My cell phone chirped, and I retrieved it from my purse. Joyce’s name glowed on the screen.

     “Barb, how are you?” she asked, as if expecting the worst.

     “Much better since our chat this morning.”

     “Ah, you called Dr. Phil?”

     She made me laugh. “Hardly. But I’m working on a plan right now.”

     “Do tell.”

     I filled Joyce in.

     “Wait a minute,” she said, panic in her voice. “What if they’re swapping phone calls while he’s away?”

     “Well, then I’m screwed, Joyce. But I don’t think that’ll happen. Roger hates using the phone. You saw those e-mails, every detail got covered, including stuff people would normally discuss on the phone.”

     “Oh… but what about Twitter?”

     “Roger’s a bit of a technophobe. He wouldn’t know a tweet from a canary cry. Doesn’t even have a Facebook page. I’d love to chat more,” I said, “but I need to finish Roger’s e-mail for him and send it.”

     Joyce signed off, promising to keep in touch. I turned my attention back to the computer screen.

     Roger’s communiqués, aside from the use of “darling” and “love” were mostly businesslike and short. He had an aversion to using the caps key and punctuation, preferring extra spaces. I began to type.

 

darling

tired from the trip and busy   golf all day tomorrow and dinner at night   check for a message from me late sunday
love

roger

 

     I hit send and offered up a prayer that my scheme would work, and that each of them would just reply to the message they’d received rather than contact the other using their e-mail’s address book. I’d know soon enough. I also wondered how I’d explain what I’d done at my next confession. If I were lucky, I’d get Father McNaulty who became a priest when telegrams were still popular, and who wouldn’t have a clue.

     I fished my husband’s American Express card out of the desk in the kitchen—the one he told me to use for emergencies—and picked up the phone. Roger didn’t know it, but he was about to treat the kids and me to two Luigi’s king-sized pizza supremes, plus a generous tip for the delivery guy.

 

The phone rang later that evening and Justin rushed to answer. “Hi, Daddy,” he said, followed by, “Here’s Mom.”

     I grabbed the phone and braced myself, not sure how I’d react at the sound of his voice. “Hey.” I tried to sound strong.

     Roger jabbered on about how boring his day had been, how he wished his colleagues wouldn’t spend so much time in the bar. “Uh, huh,” I muttered. Is this how a horny man sounds, I wondered, when his girlfriend is twelve hundred miles away, and his wife is the only female he can talk to?

     “How are the kids?” he asked.

     “They’re good.” I summarized our delicious pizza party and mentioned that Patrick had scored a goal in his intramural hockey practice.

     “Any calls from the office?”

     Ha! He’d read Sally’s (my) e-mail and the worry had commenced.

     “Oh, I’ve got a call waiting,” I lied. “Joyce said she’d check in with me. I better go.”

     “Alri—”

     I hung up. Roger needed more quality time to contemplate Sally’s OB/GYN appointment.

 

I vowed to have a good weekend with the kids, and I waited until Sunday evening before again checking e-mails. First I checked Roger’s secret account. The only message was the one I’d sent from Sally’s “new” e-mail address. So far so good, my plan was working.

     Since Sally’s (my) message to him had said not to expect to hear from her until after her doctor appointment on Monday, I decided to check the new account I’d created for Roger. Sally had responded to the innocuous message Roger (I) sent and gushed for two paragraphs about their reunion on Tuesday. Time to cool her jets, so I hit reply and typed:
 

sally (no more darling)

wife meeting me at the airport  no fun on tuesday

please be careful at work   the guys w/ me seem to know about us   lots of ribbing  worried that hr dept might start asking questions

roger

 

     With the message sent, I leaned back in my chair and smiled. That ought to hold her for awhile. Well, maybe not, as a ding signaled an arriving e-mail.
 

Dearest Roger,

You mean more to me than my job. I won’t let anything or anyone come between us.

Love,
Sally

 

     Oh, that bitch has it bad. But in a war with me, she’ll be the collateral damage.

 

Monday morning dawned, or as I hoped Roger would think of it—OB/GYN appointment day. I knew Roger had spent the weekend worrying that he’d knocked Sally up. Nothing focuses the mind like the thoughts of fathering a child with your mistress when you’ve got a wife and three children at home. Of course, I had no intention of forcing him to choose between his forty-year-old wife who recognized all his faults and idiosyncrasies and a vivacious twenty-five-year-old who apparently worshiped the ground on which he walked. No, no, not going there. I had a more diabolical idea.

     Joyce joined me late morning for coffee. I summarized all of the latest communications and my plans for a final e-mail exchange that afternoon.

     “There’s only one thing wrong with your plan,” Joyce said. “By Wednesday she’ll still be wiggling her ass around the water cooler at the office, and eventually they’ll figure out that all the e-mails each other received were a hoax.”

     I grinned back at her. “I think I’ve got that covered. Remember your suggestion about getting her fired?”

     Joyce’s jaw dropped. “You didn’t?”

     I shook my head. “The next best thing.”
     “Details, details,” Joyce cooed. 

     “Alicia Taylor and I co-chaired the Halloween party at Roger’s office last year. Her husband is their HR director.”

Joyce nodded.

     “Alicia and I have become friends, so I called her this morning and had a heart-to-heart, filling her in on all the details of Ms. Francesca’s communications with my husband. When I’d finished telling her the story, Alicia asked,     ‘You’re sure she used the company’s e-mail to carry on her affair?’ Absolutely sure, I’ve seen them, I said. We ended the conversation with her saying, ‘If you don’t mind, I’ll discreetly speak with my husband.’”

     “Wow. What happened?”

     “She called me back an hour later to tell me that Ms. Francesca had voluntarily accepted a transfer to their Philadelphia office, and would be gone by tomorrow.”

     “Where are they transferring Roger?” Joyce asked. “Moscow?”

     “Alicia said she didn’t share too many details with her husband other than suggesting he confront Sally about her abuse of the e-mail system. Besides, Roger tells me he brings in more business than the next three top selling brokers. He’s safe for now.”

     “You know,” Joyce said, “Alicia probably figured if that woman was going after your Roger it might only be a matter of time before Sally set sights on her husband. Now you have to make sure Roger gets his just deserts.”

     “Oh, don’t worry. I’m working on it.”

 

At five O’clock that afternoon—4 p.m. Kansas City time—I returned to the computer. I checked the account I had created for Roger, and found only one gushy message from Sally. It had been sent first thing that morning, and didn’t mention her transfer. I then logged on to the secret e-mail account I’d created for Sally and sent my husband a message that would ensure him a sleepless night and a restless flight home:
 

My Dear Roger,

I just got back from the doctor’s office and he said I’ve got a STD. He called it a virulent strain of gonorrhea. I’ve had a burning/itching sensation for a few days, but I had no idea. I’ve started treatment. The doctor asked me about my recent sex partners, but I didn’t give him your name. I think he could tell that I wasn’t being truthful, and reminded me that a man could have the STD even without any symptoms. You might want to check with your doctor. Sorry to have to share this news.

Maybe you’ve heard already, but I’ve decided to transfer to the Philadelphia office. Besides, would you ever want to speak with me again?

Always,

Sally
 

     I clicked send and the deed was done. I only had to await Roger’s return.

 

The next evening I waited patiently at the airport’s cell phone lot. Shortly before 7 p.m. the phone rang and I pulled into the lane for arriving passengers before answering. “I’m at Delta baggage claim,” Roger said.

     “I’m there in two minutes.” We’d done this a hundred times.

     There he stood at the curb, his trench coat over his arm, and the rolling suitcase beside him. I was less angry at the sight of him than I expected. I decided my tempered feelings were due to the fact that we both had a secret. Maybe they weren’t equivalent in scope, but enough to convince me that the ledger was balanced. Our life together would never be the same, I knew, but I’d manage to keep our family together.

     Roger looked haggard, which is what I’d hoped. He waved, I popped the trunk for his bag, and then he slid into the bucket seat next to me. “I’m beat,” he said, and leaned back.

     I glanced over at him a few times, but he looked straight ahead and we did the twenty-minute drive in silence.

     Once home he threw his arms around the kids, but seemed to avoid my gaze. He plopped in front of the TV and tuned to CNBC, his usual nightly ritual. At 9 p.m. he stretched and yawned and announced he was going to bed.

     I tiptoed into the bedroom an hour later and found Roger snoring loudly. From my bedside table I retrieved a cotton swab and the tube of mentholated cream I’d used to treat Patrick’s leg a few days earlier. I gathered the ointment on the swab, and then lifted the sheet off my husband, who always slept in his birthday suit. He never stirred as I placed a generous dab of the cream on the tip of Mr. Happy, then pulled the sheet over him.

     After all, “Sally” had promised a burning sensation, and I didn’t want him to be disappointed. And who knows, once his “condition” gets cured, I expect Roger to return to full sexual potency as “Mr.-Once-a-Year.”