Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Rough Draft: Chapter Two

Chapter Two


United States
July 1993

When William traveled, Valerie drank. About fifteen years ago, that meant that Valerie drank only a few nights every month, but lately, she drank for weeks at a time. Since William had become lead outside counsel to Orion Capital Management, the private equity firm lead by his college roommate and Harvard football co-captain, James Dempsey, III, he spent every other week in Manhattan. William's business trips left Valerie alone in their six-bedroom home in Chestnut Hill, or at her desk outside her husband's office. Valerie could never decide which place she hated more. Probably whichever one she was in at the time.

William always boarded the earliest shuttle available on Monday morning from Logan Airport to LaGuardia. Valerie booked the flights for him. William returned on the last available flight Friday night. The return flights put William back home around two in the morning, which was usually about an hour or so after Valerie had passed out in their king-size mahogany bed with QVC blaring in the background.

It was ten o'clock on Monday morning when Valerie arrived at the office. She tucked her pocketbook away in her bottom desk drawer and looked over at the new computer that the firm had just purchased for her and two other secretaries. As she leaned underneath her desk and switched her [type?] flats for her tall black [type?] heals, she decided that she wouldn't need to turn her computer on that day.

Valerie opened William's hard cover calendar and glanced at the clock. 10:08. William was probably just wrapping up his first meeting of the week with James over breakfast at [the St. Regis Hotel]. Valerie loved the St. Regis, although it had been years since her last stay. She always wished William would take her along on his trips to New York City or Los Angeles, but William insisted that she be treated like everyone else.

Valerie, on the other hand, refused to think of herself as just another secretary at Ford, Crowl, & Bernstein LLP. Being the wife of the managing partner should at least get her some special treatment, she believed, and so when that special treatment wasn't given to her, she took it. That meant that for the two weeks every month that William traveled, Valerie never came in before ten and she always left before three. Most of all, it meant that Valerie felt perfectly comfortable entering William's corner office, closing the door, and gulping vodka, or sometimes gin, from the flask that she hid on the far bookshelf. On those mornings, Valerie turned one of William's big leather chairs around to face Boston Harbor. She watched the boats and the planes and she drank until her pain subsided.

Today, Valerie drank until she missed Abigail less. As she watched the planes float in and out of Logan, she thought back to the day a year and a half earlier when Abigail's flight took off to Cape Town. Abigail didn't cry, or show any emotion really, when she hugged Valerie goodbye so Valerie clenched back her tears, which sharpened her already sharp jawline. But when Abigail hugged William and started to weep, smiling and scared, Valerie recognized the familiar feel of heartbreak.

Since Abigail left, Valerie had spoken with her daughter once every other week when Abigail called her father's office. Their conversations were always short and shallow until Abigail perked up and asked if her Daddy was there. Valerie always transferred the call into William's office secretly hoping that it was somehow disconnected along the way. Valerie hated when William got up from behind his desk and closed his office door before he picked up the phone to speak with "his Abby." "What's so secret that you need to close your door?" Valerie asked William one afternoon. William dismissed her, insisting that he simply didn't want to bother other lawyers in his hallway. But Valerie felt excluded. She hated that Abigail told William everything, and not her. Even worse, Valerie hated that she wouldn't know what to say even if Abigail had tried.

Valerie filled the flask again from the [Grey Goose] bottle that she had stashed in the file cabinet on the other side of the office. She sat back down, stiffly upright in the chair as if to fool herself that she wasn't already feeling the soothing effects of the alcohol. She massaged the leather cover of the flask in one hand and the silver cap in the other, and muttered her side of the conversation she hoped to have when Abigail called next week. That's excellent, Abigail. The African people must be very happy to have you there helping them. But Valerie knew she sounded painfully fake. What she really wanted to do was scream across the Atlantic, You total fool of a young woman! What in God's name are you doing there? Why South Africa? Why now? What did I ever do to drive you away? Of course Abigail knew that was just what her mother really wanted to say, which is why she couldn't wait for Valerie to transfer each call to her father's office.

An hour, and a full flask and a half of vodka later, Valerie fell asleep leaning over the tall arm rest of the oversized chair. Six voicemails had collected on William's line but Valerie hadn't heard them and wouldn't have cared even if she had. She sat up, grabbed the cap that had fallen on the floor and twisted  it back on the flask that she had tucked between her thin legs. With one heel on and one off, she stumbled over to the bookshelf to put the flask back in its hiding spot. She shimmied her other shoe back on and walked slowly back to her desk.

When Valerie saw the red voicemail light lit, she picked up the phone and attempted to enter William's password. It took her three tries before her fingers hit the right buttons. The first five calls were the usual -- ornery clients looking to speak with William about some deal that they thought was more important than life itself. Valerie jotted down their names, uncaring. But the last message was different;  different accent, different tone. Valerie dropped her pen at the sound of both. It was the [Cape Town City Police], "calling for Mr. or Mrs. William Ford." The [Chief of Police] had very important news about Ms. Abigail S. Ford and asked for a return call as soon as possible. The Chief stressed again the importance of the call. Valerie scribbled the number down, without hyphens, and frantically searched for the instructions Abigail had explained to her about how to place an international call. She got through to the police on her first try and was immediately transferred to the Chief. A minute later, she vomited all over her new computer. 

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