The Ten O’Clock
Connie Taylor, licensed family counselor, wanted to tell her 10 o’clock – a pretty young mother named Kath Wilkes who was having an affair with her wealthy boss – to go for it.
Every now and then an overwhelming desire to just get real would creep into Connie’s consciousness while she was listening to a client over the ever present drone of the white noise machine in the waiting room.
Then it was all she could do not to say to Mrs. Atkins, who spent 24/7 caring for her son, comatose for 7 years since a diving accident, that drugs and alcohol were a perfectly reasonable way to cope with the miserable demands of her life, or to tell Condi Alvarez that holding a pillow over the face of her abusive husband Butch when he was passed out drunk was really a pretty freaking good idea.
And so today, as she nodded sympathetically and asked the standard leading questions while scribbling frownie faces on her notepad, Connie not only wanted to tell Kath to keep taking the grand a month that her boss was forking over and squirrel it away until she had enough to leave her prick of a husband, but to ask the old guy for a raise.
And then she heard the name. Martin Wingate. Kath’s boss was Martin Wingate.
Connie’s Payless pump, which had been dangling from her foot, dropped to the floor with a thud.
Where do you see yourself in five years? she stammered, buying time with the old standby as she struggled to regain her composure and put the facts together.
The facts were bad.
Two years before, Connie had another client who was involved with Wingate. Wingate, the oily, leering CEO of a big national insurance company, the biggest employer in their armpit of a town.
Wingate’s company was actually owned by his wife, who had inherited it from her father.
Mrs. Wingate wore the pants in the family, which was convenient since Martin couldn’t seem to keep his on.
Secrecy and duplicity were, by necessity, the name of the game for Martin Wingate.
Lily Nolan was a sweet, Sunday school-teaching local girl that Wingate had seduced, sending her, full of shame and remorse, running to Connie Taylor, licensed family counselor.
Connie had listened in horror. Wingate had been going far beyond merely taking advantage of Lily’s naiveté; he was involving her in sadistic sex acts with other men and feeding her coke, all the while promising to marry her – when his son was a year or two older, that is.
Connie, who usually avoided giving direct advice, didn’t mince words. She told Lily to break it off with Wingate and find a new job.
Instead, Lily Nolan killed herself.
Well, Kath was saying – gushing, really – in five years I’m going to have finished my college degree…the kids will both be in school…Martin has promised me a CFO position…he said he’s going to leave his wife as soon as their son graduates from high school then we can get married so in five years I will have been Mrs. Martin Wingate for at least a year, including time for his divorce to go through. Oh and my divorce she added, twisting a strand of honey blond hair.
Connie could tell Kath was fighting guilt. She knew all too well from 16 years of sad experience at New Dawn Counseling that women could get desperate, and when desperate, could justify a lot of things that would cause them a world of hurt and regret later.
She knew perfectly well where Kath would really be in five years. The affair with Wingate would end within the next few months and the grand a month would dry up. And if her below-living-wage salary wasn’t enough to send her looking for a new job, Wingate would surely find other ways to get rid of her. He’d have a new girlfriend by then and Kath would be nothing more than an inconvenient footnote that needed deleting. Kath’s marriage would inevitably implode, and she would join the ranks of all the other struggling single moms, too overwhelmed with scraping by to ever go back to college.
Worse, the young woman would be stunned by Wingate’s deception and that enthusiastic light in her eyes that was such a part of her charm would dim, never to come back.
Martin Wingate, dutiful boss, had spoken sorrowfully of the loss of poor Lily Nolan at her memorial service.
Oh and, Kath was adding, one day we’re going to have a baby of our own, Martin and me. He says he’s a little old for a baby but if I want one I can have one.
The autopsy had shown Lily Nolan was two months pregnant at the time of her death. Rumors went around at the insurance company that she had gone several times to the hotel room of a consultant from Dallas who was conducting team building training at the office.
The towel covering the ripped vinyl seat of her desk chair bunched up beneath Connie’s backside. She shifted uncomfortably. The pump dropped again.
The thing is I really do love him Kath was saying, sounding like she was trying to convince somebody. She said she had already spent the money Wingate had given her this month on a lavish anniversary party for her parents.
Connie wondered how much money it would take for Kath to start a new life on her own, free of Wingate and her prick of her husband.
Connie sighed. She drew emphatic circles around the frownie faces on her pad, her pencil digging into the yellow paper.
For that matter, how much cash would it take for her to start a new life, or at least a better one, one where she didn’t have to sit in a rundown office that smelled like body odor, listening to
horror stories, watching people dig their own graves, dealing with human wreckage discarded like slaughterhouse entrails by assholes like Martin Wingate, and all the while the white noise machine grinding relentlessly in the shabby waiting room…
Kath do you have a cell phone number for your boss? she heard herself asking, interrupting a soliloquy about little Martin or Martina, how her kids would be the perfect age to enjoy a baby sibling by the time she and Wingate married.
Cell phone? Kath sounded wary. Connie explained that she needed it for the insurance forms.
You know how crazy insurance is these days she said and Kath said she of all people sure did.
Connie wrote the number on the top of her note pad.
I’m so glad I came to you, Kath was saying at the door. I feel a lot better.
You’re going to feel a whole lot better soon Connie said. So am I for that matter.
She shut the office door.
Blackmail is such an ugly word she thought. She tried to think of better ones. She liked “negotiation.”
She wrote down Lily Nolan on her pad and underlined it twice.
She wrote down Kath Wilkes and underlined it twice.
She scribbled a few dollar signs as she dialed the phone. In the background, for once, the white noise machine seemed to sing.