THE STOKES MANSION –
that on the phone?” Fred asked as watched his wife return the receiver to its
cradle. “From the look on your
face, it looks like you just got some bad news.”
“Not really ‘bad’ news, exactly.
Just… confusing.” Leticia
rose from her chair by the telephone table and followed Fred into the living
room where she watched him approach the bar and begin mixing himself a martini.
“Did you… have a good day at the hospital?”
He froze. Although he was
supposedly just arriving home from work, in truth he’d left early and had
spent the past several hours in the company of one Nurse Donna
“I suppose you could say it was all right – just an ordinary day like
any other.” He swirled his martini
around in the shaker before straining it out into a cocktail glass.
“You never told me who that was on the phone.
You said something about it being confusing?”
“Yes, I did,” she nodded as she began to
anxiously wring her hands together while she watched his every move closely.
She walked farther into the room and approached the bar where Fred was
standing. “That was Mark on the
telephone from New York.” She
paused and examined his face for any kind of reaction.
“He said that he’s been talking to Mr. Crosley, my accountant.
It seems like there’s a bit of a… discrepancy in funds.”
“Yes,” she continued without giving Fred much
of a chance to either react or respond. “From
what Mark told me, there have been several large withdrawals from my – our
– personal banking account in the last few weeks that total several thousand
dollars – all made by you. Would
you care to explain that to me?”
A stunned and panicked Fred took a lengthy sip
from his martini to give himself a chance to hurriedly fabricate a logical
response and nearly choked on an olive in the process.
“I… um… c-can explain,” he stammered and
coughed through a mixture of anxiety and olives.
“You see, I… um….”
Fred paused and exhaled slowly to calm himself.
“I admit I borrowed the money.”
“Yes, darling, borrowed!
It was only meant to be a temporary loan.
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I found myself in a bit of a… um…
cash flow problem. I… needed the
money and I didn’t have enough on hand so I… um… borrowed it from our
account. I assure you that I had
every intention of paying that money back. Surely
you don’t think that I would….”
“To be honest, Fred, I’m not sure what I
think.” Leticia walked past him
and towards the large French doors that lead out onto the terrace overlooking
the lake. “I only put your name on
that account because I trusted you. You’re
my husband, after all – I should be able to trust you, but….”
“You can trust me!”
He rushed up behind her and pulled her into his arms.
Unfortunately for him, she refused to be taken in by his charms and
firmly pulled herself out of his grasp. “Darling,
I… love you.”
“You don’t steal from the people you love,
“I didn’t steal from you!
I borrowed! I told you that I
only borrowed the money because I needed it.
I promise you that I was going to pay it back!”
Leticia continued to stare out the window at the
lake. She had to focus her eyes
somewhere; she couldn’t bear the sight of him.
Even worse, she couldn’t bear for him to see the pain that must have
clearly shown in her own eyes.
“Why did you need it?” she asked softly as
she tried to make some sense out of the entire mess.
“For what reason did you feel the need to steal… I mean borrow… so much money from me?”
“It was for a… a surprise.
It was for… well….” Fred’s
voice trailed off as his mind began to race through every possible reason he
could fabricate for taking the money. And
then…. “Just let me show you.
I… I wanted to wait and let this be a surprise but…
Just wait here and I’ll be right back and you’ll understand.”
raced out of the living room, into the foyer, and up the stairs, leaving Leticia
to silently worry and fret that every facet of her marriage had been little more
than a sham. How could she have been
so blind? How could everyone –
especially Judith – been so right about….
“I… I told you I wanted this to be a surprise
but….” Fred spoke up as he hurried back into the room carrying a small
velvet box in his outstretched hand. “Here.”
Leticia’s eyes narrowed as they focused on the box while she tried to
process what he was saying. After
several long moments, she took the box out of his hand and slowly opened it,
revealing a beautiful and sparkling sapphire ring.
“Fred, I… I don’t understand.”
“I saw it in the widow of the jewelry store and
knew I had to buy it for you,” he began weaving his story.
“I didn’t have enough money on my own all at once to purchase it so
I… gradually borrowed money from our joint account so that I could get it for
you as a token of my love and devotion. I
had every intention of paying all of the money back before our sixth month
anniversary – when I was originally intending to give you the ring.”
“Oh, Fred, I…
I don’t know what to say.”
“Just say that you love it – and that you
Fred took Leticia into his arms as she held the
ring up to the light to admire its beauty. Maybe
it was her willingness to overlook Fred’s faults or her deep need not to
believe he was capable of such treachery, but if she’d really been looking at
the ring with a clear mind, she should’ve been able to readily tell that while
the ring was indeed valuable, it was in no way expensive enough to account for
the full amount of money missing from their account.
Meanwhile, Fred heaved a sigh of relief that the crisis seemed to be
averted and said a silent prayer of thanks that he’d seen fit to hold on to
Annabelle Lake’s ring after Stephen Lake had thrown it back at him.
Even more fortunately for Fred, before his wife
had a chance to question either the ring or him further, the telephone rang,
interrupting the moment, soon followed by their housekeeper, Ruby
into the room.
Rutherford, it’s Mr. Reginald on the telephone,” Ruby announced as she stood
in the doorway. “He says it’s
A perplexed and concerned Leticia quickly pulled
herself out of Fred’s arms and hurried to take the phone call.
“Yes?” she said as she held the receiver up
to her ear. “The hospital?
But I….” She exhaled
slowly and sunk down into the chair beside the telephone table.
“I… I see. How… is
she?” A pause. “I…
see. We’ll be right there.”
“Leticia, darling, is everything all right?”
Seeing the distressed look on his wife’s face, Fred rushed to her side.
“It’s Jillian,” she replied, slowly rising
from her chair. “There’s been an