Drop Dead, Gorgeous

J. D. Mason

St. Martin's Press

He’s Like My Freight Train
 

 
“Do you know who did this to you, Ms. Adebayo?”
Eventually she managed to answer the policeman standing at the foot of her bed. “No.” She shook her head.
“Can you describe him?”
Lonnie could describe every inch of Jordan Gatewood, down to the birthmark on his thigh. But she swallowed. “No.”
“He’ll find you … and he’ll come after you.”
The next morning a different officer came to Lonnie’s room, a woman. “Where were you when you were attacked? Had you ever seen this man before? What was he wearing? How tall was he?”
The woman shot off questions at Lonnie like bullets and Lonnie responded the same way. “No. I don’t know? I don’t remember.”
Just when it seemed that the policewoman was beginning to lose her patience, the cavalry arrived. Phillip Durham, the man she’d spoken to the night before on the phone, burst into the room like the hero Lonnie had always suspected he was. He muttered something to the officer and to the nurse who’d followed him into the room, then pulled out his wallet and handed a business card to the officer. The female officer sheepishly handed him back his card, while the nurse turned a strange shade of red and left the room. The female officer followed.
“You called?” he asked, staring concernedly at Lonnie. “So here I am.”
Phillip didn’t bother with formalities. He didn’t ask any questions. A few minutes after Phillip arrived, an orderly pushed a wheelchair into her room. Phillip lifted her off the bed, poured her into it, and wheeled her out of that hospital to a stretch limo parked out front. He put her inside and slid in next to her.
“What was that you showed that policewoman?” Lonnie asked.
“A business card,” he responded casually, pulled it out of his wallet, and handed it to her. “A man I met at a party in Prague gave it to me.”
She read the card:
MARTIN WILKINS
A
SSOCIATE DIRECTOR
Central Intelligence Agency, European Division
They flew to Colorado in his private plane.
“We have a long drive ahead of us,” he explained to her, as he poured her into the backseat of his SUV, covered her in chinchilla blankets, and buckled her seat belt for her. “You try and get some rest.”
He wasn’t handsome, but his mannerisms had always been his most attractive feature. Phillip was Mick Jagger–ugly, not as thin, but lean, with a swimmer’s build and wide angular shoulders. He wore his silver hair cut close because he was balding, and most of the time, he dressed like he was some flower child from the sixties. But he was graceful, romantic, and careful with how he touched her. Phillip was thoughtful to a fault, accommodating, and filthy dirty rich, although you wouldn’t know it from looking at him. He didn’t wear his money like a badge because it was a part of who he was already, like skin.
The two of them had been lovers on more than one occasion, with the understanding that they would never do well together as a couple. He was always there for her, though; no matter what time of the day or night she called, he was the one she had always been able to count on. He was the one who never judged her, who understood exactly who she was and accepted her for it. Phillip loved her more than any man ever had or could, and Lonnie loved him.
*   *   *
Phillip had brought her to his château in Vail. Tonight he’d managed to coax her out of her room to actually sit down at the table with him for dinner, but Lonnie had no appetite. She was empty inside, void of that quality that had made her who she’d once been. That’s what Jordan had stolen from her. Not pussy. Not even pride; but he’d taken her soul and raked it under his heel.
After dinner, Lonnie went into the living room and curled up on the sofa in front of the fireplace. Several minutes later, Phillip came and sat down next to her, handing her a glass of sherry.
“I thought only old white women drank sherry,” she’d teased him once.
“If it’s good enough for old white women, then it’s certainly good enough for me,” he quipped, in a staunch British accent that he turned on and off when he chose.
The two of them sat quietly next to each other, just watching the fire. The house was so quiet, she could hear him breathing. Lonnie listened to the sound of the fire crackling, to Phillip sipping and swallowing his sherry. Privately she hoped that Phillip would be as content as she was and not say a word.
“While you’re sitting there, feeling sorry for yourself, I’d like to tell you a story.”
Shit! she thought, exasperated.
“Oh, don’t roll your eyes at me, young lady,” he fussed. “It’s been six months, Lonnie, and you’ve hardly said two words to me since I brought you here. At the very least, you could humor me and listen to what I have to say.”
Lonnie used to love the sound of his voice. Phillip’s voice was heavy, deep, rumbling almost. But now, it grated on her nerves.
“I’m listening,” she said, sighing.
He paused for effect, and then began telling his tale, in dramatic, old-English fashion as only Phillip could.
“Once upon a time,” he started, staring earnestly at her, “there was a beautiful princess.”
Lonnie shot a hateful glance at him. If he thought he was being funny, he was dead wrong. There was nothing beautiful about her anymore. Jordan had slit open half of her face, and left her blind in one eye. Lonnie now walked with a limp that doctors said would probably never go away.
“Fuck you,” she snapped.
But Phillip continued on, unabated. “This princess could have any man she wanted, but she chose the wrong one, and he hurt her, terribly.”
Lonnie sat her glass down on the table and started to get up, but he grabbed hold of her wrist and held her next to him on that sofa.
“He left her wounded; inside he left her hollow and a shadow of whom she once was.” Phillip pulled her closer to him, to his chest, and he draped his arm over the back of the sofa behind her. “She was afraid,” he continued, “when she used to be fearless. She shrank inside herself, and refused to come out and let the world see who she was and how beautiful she still was.”
Phillip was a romantic. And he was silly. And Lonnie felt like all she wanted to do was cry, because he was spot-on. She didn’t know who she was anymore, and she was afraid to even set foot out of this house. For the last six months all she’d wanted to do was curl up and disappear, and that was all she had done.
“She was afraid of this man, the one who had been so cruel to her, because he was a king, and he ruled over a vast kingdom filled with infinite resources and all of his subjects worshipped him,” he announced in grand style. “In her mind, there was nothing she could do to make him pay for the horrible things he’d done to her. He had committed a terrible crime, and the poor princess would have no choice but to live with the humiliation, the degradation.”
By this time, Lonnie was crying. “Stop it, Phillip,” she sobbed, helplessly. Why the hell was he saying these things to her? “Just … stop.”
“But one day, the beautiful princess met a wizard,” he said, pulling a copy of Forbes magazine from in back of the pillow behind her, and placing it on her lap.
Lonnie stared at the picture of Jordan, looking posed and poised on that cover. Bile rose in the back of her throat, and she looked at Phillip, shaking her head.
“What are you doing? Why are you doing this?”
She started to get up again, but he held her in place, staring into her eyes with those steely gray eyes of his. Phillip picked up the magazine and held it to her face, forcing her to look at it and to read the caption.
GATEWOOD TO MAKE A HOSTILE BID FOR ANTON OIL AND GAS
“Suddenly the beautiful princess began to wake up and shake the fog she’d been living in,” Phillip continued, staring passionately at Lonnie. “Yes, he was a king, but she was a princess. Yes, he was bad ass, but so was she!”
She looked at him again.
Phillip’s expression was defiant. “The wizard said to her, snap out of it, lovely girl. And he waved his magic wand.” Phillip fanned his fingers in front of her face. “And suddenly her eyes were opened.”
“What are you talking about?” she murmured.
“‘Make your wishes, princess,’” the wizard told her. As many as you like, and I will grant all of them to you. But first, you must answer one question.”
Lonnie was transfixed on the wizard Phillip. “What?”
“How do you topple a king?”
Phillip was quirky. He was odd, and eccentric. Some people thought he was crazy, and maybe he was. Lonnie had always found him amusing and wise, and a little bit scary. But the two of them had connected years ago on some cosmic level that had always drawn them back together to meet in the middle.
Lonnie stared deep into those hypnotic eyes of his. This wasn’t a game, and Phillip wasn’t simply telling her a story. Suddenly, the answer came to her. “You find his weakness,” she whispered.
Relief washed over Phillip’s expression. “And what is the king’s weakness?”
She looked down at the magazine in her lap, and her eyes drifted to the word “Gatewood.”
“His name.” It dawned on her.
“His name, Gatewood, holds the power to all that he is, princess. And all that he is not,” he said smugly. “Jordan Gatewood is a king. Joel Tunson is no one.”
She knew his secret. Lonnie knew that Jordan’s father wasn’t the late, great Julian Gatewood like everyone believed. His real father was a man named Joel Tunson, a nobody. “I have a friend who works for Forbes,” she said, feeling life creep back into her all of a sudden. “I can send him a copy of Jordan’s real birth certificate. I have a copy of it in a safety deposit box in—”
Phillip shook his head disapprovingly. “No, no, no, princess,” he groaned. Phillip’s full lips cocked to one side in a crooked smile. “That’s too damned easy.” His expression hardened. “The king nearly killed you. He tried to ruin you. You don’t simply tell his secret to some reporter. You showcase it, put it up on a neon sign for the whole world to see. You strip him of every ounce of power and dignity he has.” Phillip’s eyes narrowed. “You make that mother fucker suffer.”
“So says the wizard?” she asked, seeing the magic in this man and feeling it spark inside her.
He smiled. “So says the wizard.”

 
Copyright © 2013 by J. D. Mason