"So tell me, what's life all about anyway?" Ward Bolton asked an audience that knew better than to answer a rhetorical question. "Never mind. You sleepwalkers don't have a clue. Not one damned clue. You and your stories. You make me wanna puke. Your awful childhood. Boohoo. Your terrible parents. Boohoo. Your unfair teachers. Boohoo. The mean men or women or trannies or eunuchs in your life. Poor little ole you. Boohoohoo."
Ward hadn't changed much, at least not from Elaine Trilby's vantage point, and she had the best seat—front row center—in the hotel's cavernous ballroom. His hair was graying, and cut shorter than she recalled; also, combed more conservatively, the better, she surmised, to match the suit and tie that had replaced the T-shirt and jeans. But the eyes were still penetrating, the walk an insolent swagger, and the words delivered with resolute certainty.
Also as in days of old, the three hundred souls comprising Ward's audience were enraptured despite the verbal assault, which he privately called "tearing 'em down to build 'em up."
Happy anniversary, you bastard.
In one respect it seemed like only yesterday, rather than a decade ago, that Elaine last saw him, so vivid were her memories of their time together. And yet in a way it felt like a lifetime had passed since Ward introduced her to more pleasure—and pain—than she'd ever known.
"In case you hadn't guessed it," he went on, "you'll get no sympathy from me, you assholes." The vein in his forehead—the same one Elaine found so charming once upon a time—appeared about to pop. "Your friends, family and frickin' shrinks will offer you a shoulder to cry on. They'll all buy your bullshit. But not me. I'm not in the market."
Of course you aren't. You're full of enough BS yourself to fertilize the planet.
Don't be glib, girl. Focus on what he did to you. Or helped you do to yourself. That way you won't change your mind.
For reassurance, Elaine hefted the red leather purse off her lap, felt the extra weight of it and set the accessory back down. Thus comforted, she refocused on her target-to-be.
"You see, all you victims, I know your dirty little secret. You love your victimhood. You love it more than any of the lovers you ever had. And why not? It doesn't go running off in the middle of the night or first thing next morning. It stays with you all day, in fact, kissing your booboos when your boss or your mommy or your kid or society picks on you. And most important, it assures you that if it weren't for all those nasty people out there, you'd be somebody."
And for a while back then, Elaine had been somebody.
"Well, I'm here to tell you you're right. You are a frickin' nobody! You hear me? No-bod-y. And you wanna know why you're a nobody? Because it's much easier to be a nobody than a somebody. If you're a somebody, you need to take responsibility for your life, and you all'd rather slit your wrists than do such a thing."
Elaine never did get the logic of that last bit of wisdom, but what did she care about logic in those days?
Ward Bolton snapped his fingers and a slope-shouldered Assistant appeared bearing a baby bonnet. He handed it to his boss, then vanished. Ward donned the headgear and tied it under his chin.
"Oh poor me, oh woe-is-me, oh-me-oh-my-oh-me." The audience tittered at his impeccable imitation of a precocious infant. Next came a comically contorted face. "I'm a baby. I'm helpless. Won't you please take pity on me?" Now the audience laughed full out. Meanwhile Ward removed the bonnet and tossed it aside
Elaine had laughed too back then, because her life had finally changed for the better, seemingly overnight.
The upgrade began when Aunt Lil—in whose custody Elaine's drug-addled mother had left her—enrolled her niece in Renewit Seminars' ten weekly "Get Over It!" sessions. The sixteen-year-old sat transfixed as this marvel among men persuaded her she could get over anything, including a father who'd abandoned her mother, a mother who'd abandoned her daughter, and a self who'd abandoned all hope of happiness.
"Don't laugh, damnit," Ward scolded his audience. "It's not funny. It's you. Poor, miserable, self-pitying you. You think that's funny? Tell me what's funny about it? What's funny about giving up your strength and power to victimhood? What's funny about cowering before everyone you meet? What's funny about starting out full of smarts and vigor and ambition and ending up a doormat, a pushover, a pussy willow, a nobody? Hell, by the time you reach puberty your life is over. Done with. You're a corpse. Or, more accurately, a fucking zombie, because you can still walk around and mumble gibberish."
Elaine hadn't minded the profanity, since everyone around her—especially at school, but even at church—used language much worse than Ward's. And she didn't mind the epithets flung at her during his harangues because, after all, she deserved them. In fact, they weren't as harsh as the ones she'd hurled at herself. Elaine took Ward's strident tirades for what they were worth to her at the time: a warning that if she didn't shape up and stop being afraid of everything and everyone, she'd spend the rest of her life wretched and unhappy.
"Pathetic, that's what you are. I don't know what you expect out of life, sitting there on your pity pot. Even if you get what you think you want, when you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror you'll still see that same scared, scary-looking character. Aaaarrgh." Ward threw his hands across his eyes to block the scary view.
Elaine knew the feeling, until the physical transformation that came with "Begin Anew!"
Aunt Lil had gone on to study Buddhism after finishing "Get Over It!" but generously staked Elaine not only to that series, but to the more advanced (and expensive) "Begin Anew!" that would, the brochure promised, "transform participants into the beautiful creatures they were meant to be." The seminar would accomplish this miracle by instructing enrollees on how to dress, style their hair and achieve a confident bearing. For an extra stipend, which Lil was more than willing to pay on behalf of her niece, an eleventh session would offer, for women only, a complete makeover by Renewit staff members.
"Well, now that you know how revolting you are," Ward continued, "what're you gonna do about it? And I don't wanna hear how you're paying me the big bucks to tell you what to do about it. Bullcrap. Figure it out for yourself."
And with that Ward Bolton strode off stage.
His departure was followed by whispers, murmurs and frowns throughout the audience. Some headed for the exit, only to find it blocked by a stoic Assistant. Most sat motionless, waiting to see what, if anything, would happen next.
Several minutes later, Ward Bolton casually strolled back on stage and smiled benignly.
"Hey, you're the deserters. You're the ones who surrender so easily. I never give up, not even on losers like you." The audience issued a collective sigh of relief. "Now I suppose you think I'm gonna tell you how to improve your pitiful lives. Forget it. You've been fed enough pablum by all those human-potential con artists. But I'll damn well tell you what not to do. Never—and I mean never—whine or complain or bellyache again. Do you hear me? Ne-ver!" The vein reappeared briefly, then receded. "In other words, whatever else you do, don't ever squeal like a stuck pig again." Strategic pause. "If you wanna roar like a lion, well, I guess that's okay." Followed by nervous laughter from the audience.
In all these years, Ward hadn't changed a single line, not one, but then why would he if his marks kept buying them as is.
"Whining is boring," he informed the wide-eyed innocents "Complaining is boring. Bellyaching is boring. No one wants to hear it. Oh, some people will listen to your pissing and moaning, because that'll make 'em feel better about their own crappy lives. Otherwise, they won't give a fig about all your troubles." Another dramatic pause. "You don't believe me? You think people really care about your fucking problems? Are you really that naive? C'mon, no one on this planet is that gullible."
Wrong. Some people on this planet are beyond gullible. Certainly Elaine was. To this day, she shuddered just thinking how credulous she'd been, practically begging Ward Bolton to take advantage of her.
Damn her. And damn that predator.
"You think about it," he suggested. "We'll talk about this next time."
And with that Ward Bolton turned abruptly and strutted off stage.
The session over, an Assistant stepped up and cordially invited attendees to partake of refreshments in the third-floor hospitality suite.
Riding up in the elevator, Elaine felt her purse again for comfort. Upon exiting at the third floor, she strolled down the hallway to the hospitality suite, briefly enjoying the feel of plush carpeting beneath her four-inch heels. Once inside the room, she negotiated her way to a door at the back that offered access to Ward's private suite, where, Elaine knew from her Assistant-in-Training days, he'd be winding down.
Assistant-in-Training. She remembered the first time she'd heard that term. After the tenth "Begin Anew!" session an Assistant hopped up on stage and reminded attendees that next week Renewit staff members would conduct a makeover session for those enrolled in it and after that, for a mere six hundred dollars more, enrollees could participate in the Assistant-in-Training Program leading to the inestimable privilege of supporting Ward Bolton's life-changing seminars.
Just the prospect of assuming such a role excited Elaine, because not only would she be helping the Exalted One help others, she'd surely be accelerating her own progress toward self-assured womanhood.
Already her timidity was dissipating, thanks to the "Get Over It!" seminar's reconstruction process, during which she'd begun initiating conversations with those sitting next to her, which might not seem like much of an accomplishment to others but for Elaine it was equal to cresting Mount Everest.
Her transmutation continued with the "Begin Anew!" series, and the makeover that capped it led to a physical transformation to go along with the psychological one. Elaine had started with ratty, lackluster hair, shapeless ankle-length dresses and a wan, sickly complexion, and emerged with long, lustrous tresses, snug thigh-high dresses and a face considerably enhanced by Revlon blush and Maybelline mascara.
The new Elaine received the grudging admiration of girls at school and the fawning attention of boys previously unaware of her existence.
Then came the Assistant-in-Training Program, and the end of life as she'd known it.
It happened midway into her training. She was busy in one of Renewit's suite of offices in the Bolton Building, sharpening pencils and preparing sign-in sheets for that night's "Begin Anew!" session, when a veteran Assistant, whose funereal demeanor Elaine found almost amusing, appeared in the doorway.
"Ward would like to see you," he informed her.
Ward? Ward Bolton? Wanted to see her? Must be some mistake. But on the offhand chance it wasn't, she asked, "What about?"
"That's for him to say. He's in the Peaceful Room." The messenger about-faced and left.
Elaine resembled a somnambulant as she made her way to the room in which Ward enjoyed periods of quiet time during non-seminar days. She knocked on the door and, upon being invited in, traversed the threshold of the dimly lit space as if entering a holy place. She found Ward in bulging T-shirt and tight jeans, reclining on a red velvet sofa, which, if it belonged to anyone else, might be considered garish, as might the rest of the room, whose two velvet armchairs, frieze carpeting and sparsely adorned wallpaper were all various shades of crimson. The sanguine decor notwithstanding, the room seemed bloodless.
Elaine gingerly approached the sofa.
"C'mon, c'mon, I won't bite." Ward sat up and motioned her to one of the two chairs opposite him. "Make yourself at home."
Elaine sat and tugged at her short blue dress while realizing this attempt at modesty was futile.
Though she'd had no direct contact with the man before that night, even from a distance he seemed imposing, fairly reeking of power and machismo. Up close, he was so massive, even in a sitting position, she felt Lilliputian in his presence. His build was that of a weightlifter and his face that of a boxer, complete with slightly bent nose and scar tissue above both eyes, both of which, Elaine was certain, could penetrate her soul.
"You gotta be curious why I sent for you," Ward said. His voice was the same as on stage: gruff, more befitting a dockworker than a lifesaver.
"I . . . yes, I am," Elaine said.
"Well, here's the thing. As you know, you won't qualify as an Assistant for another year, when you're eighteen. Right?"
"Um . . . right."
"Well, that's too bad, because I've had my eye on you. You catch on quickly, you work hard and you get along with others. Most important, you don't gripe about the workload all the time." He chuckled as if he'd said something funny. Elaine laughed, though she didn't quite get the humor.
"So what do we do?" Ward said. "Sit on our hands for a year? Hell no. We make you my personal assistant. That job you can do immediately."
He openly gazed at Elaine's legs, a substantial portion of which showed below an ascending hemline.
"I'm . . . I mean . . . I'm grateful," she stuttered, temporarily misplacing whatever poise she'd gained.
"You should be. As you know, I'm very discriminating. I don't choose just anybody to assist me."
Ward winked, rose from the sofa, and took his time covering the distance between sofa and armchair. He towered over her, forcing her to crick her neck upward to see his face. As if to make it easier, he bent over and leaned in close while placing two outsized hands on the arms of the chair. Then he transferred them to her knees, from which point they crept upward, pushing her dress even higher on her thighs. His eyes briefly locked on hers, then he pulled the dress back down as far as it would go.
Throughout this scene, Elaine felt her cheeks flushing and her heart pounding in her chest.
"Never cover up, " Ward said in that gravelly voice of his. "Be proud of who you are, and reveal yourself to the world. You've got a lot to share with it."
He returned to the sofa and reseated himself, then grabbed a pack of Marlboros and a Ronson lying on the coffee table. "I only smoke in this room—it helps me meditate," he explained, then removed a cigarette, lit up and inhaled deeply. "You'll do well here, I can tell," he said, exhaling. "You're not a frickin' idiot like my last assistant, whose ass I just fired, though not nearly soon enough." Ward took in another lungful and let it out gradually. "You should split now and get plenty of sleep. Report to me here at 6 p.m. tomorrow."
Elaine left, barely aware of having done so. She wasn't sure why he chose the Peaceful Room rather than his office for their next meeting. Perhaps he also used the room to wind down from the day's pressures, whatever they might be between seminar sessions.
Ward Bolton intended to wind down all right, and Elaine discovered exactly how the next night.
Ensconced on the sofa when she entered the Peaceful Room, Ward wore a silk robe and a welcoming smile. He invited her to sit next to him by patting the cushion. She sat, this time forgoing any attempt at modesty.
"All right then," Ward said. "I'll bet you've been wondering how you're gonna assist me."
"As a matter of fact—"
"Well, mainly by helping me relax. Doing these seminars is tougher than screwing a porcupine. Everyone has these expectations of me. Even I sometimes wonder if I can deliver. I always do, but the tension is a ballbuster."
"I can see where it would be," Elaine said, her voice a bit shaky.
"Not that I want pity or sympathy. What I want is to handle the problem."
"I see, but how--
"I'll tell you how you can help. No, better yet, I'll show you."
And he did. All night long.
Elaine knew on one level there was something amiss with what they were doing, but on another she felt, for lack of a better word, honored. Ward Bolton was the greatest man she'd ever known, one who'd helped thousands of people "find themselves" and cope with their lives more effectively. And he'd selected her to, in a sense, help him do that.
Ward was Elaine's introduction to the fleshly pleasures, and she found that first time both painful and awkward, as she suspected it would be based on her friends' accounts of their own initiation into carnal activity. But the discomfort was well worth it, she told herself.
For the sake of the cause.
Aunt Lil was not happy when Elaine arrived home after midnight. More accurately, she was livid. Livid and, at the same time, relieved, as indicated by her greeting: "Thank God you're alive."
Then, "Were you in a car accident?"
"Did you pass out from drugs or alcohol or something."
"You know I don't use or drink, Aunt Lil."
"And for that I'm very happy. Then did someone kidnap you and hold you prisoner?"
"No . . . I . . . I—"
"I don't want to hear it. Wherever you were, whatever you were doing, you could have at least called."
Yes, she could have, but Elaine had no wish to lie, nor to tell the truth. So she did neither and hoped for the best.
"I . . . um . . ." she began, not knowing where she was headed.
"Never mind," Aunt Lil said. "I'm exhausted from worrying myself sick. We'll talk in the morning."
They each ate their ham-and-eggs breakfast in silence, at Lil's request. Then over coffee she said, "Well, where were you till after twelve o'clock, and what were you doing?"
Elaine felt cornered. She still would rather not tell the truth, as Aunt Lil couldn't possibly understand why she'd done what she did. But lying to this kind, supportive surrogate mother was not an option either. So in the end Elaine fessed up.
"That . . . that . . . lecherous creep!" was her aunt's first reaction, followed by, "And to think I once admired that man. Practically worshiped him, in fact. How old is he? Do you even know?"
"So he says."
"Yes, of course, how else would I know?"
Sarcasm? Elaine even caught herself by surprise.
Lil ignored the question. "Well, for the sake of this conversation, let's say he's indeed thirty-four. That still makes him twice your age. I get that he's supposedly a great man. As I said, even I thought so. But what he did with you was inexcusable. I should call the cops."
"The police? Really? Aren't you overreacting a bit?"
"Overreacting? If anything I'm under-reacting. You're only seventeen. He committed statutory rape. I should go after him myself with that stupid gun your uncle left behind, which was about the only thing he left me when he ran off with that slut."
"Go after him with a gun? And what? Kill him?"
"I was thinking more along the lines of a threat, but now that you mention it, yes, I should shoot him between the eyes, knowing what he's done with you. I hate him now."
"I thought Buddhists were supposed to love everybody. You're always saying they do."
"We do love everybody. All sentient beings. But that doesn't mean we can't blow a man's head off for raping a woman, statutorily or otherwise. In fact, I should plug him in the balls. That would be a fate worse than death to a man like him, a perverted cradle robber."
Lil stood abruptly and began clearing the dishes.
Elaine got up to help. "Cradle robber? Really? I'm a big girl now, Aunt Lil."
"Right. I almost forgot. And yet you're foolishly involved with someone twice your age."
"So? What's age got to do with it? I'm old enough to make my own decisions, and I assure you Ward didn't force me to do anything I didn't want to do."
Elaine sat at the glass-topped kitchen table while her aunt piled dishes in the sink. As Lil began washing them Elaine changed subjects.
"Why don't you use the dishwasher?"
"Because I'm too upset," Lil said. "I need something to occupy my hands or I will go for that gun." She gazed out the window above the sink; a group of teens was milling about on the corner. "Isn't your school bus due any minute?"
"I've decided not to go today. I'm too tired."
Lil turned, looking none too pleased. "Young lady, you will damned well . . ." She paused and closed her eyes for a fleeting moment, then opened them. "Okay, okay. But just this once. And no more doing anything with that . . . man . . . or I'll yank you out of the training."
"But you can't . . ."
Elaine's voice trailed off as she thought better of extending the argument. Instead she went to her room and crashed.
She knew she should stop "relaxing" with Ward but couldn't, mainly because she enjoyed—no, she loved--helping him relax. After the initial pain and discomfort, their thrice-weekly sessions afforded her enormous pleasure. Elaine's girlfriends had said their satisfaction increased after the first time, but they'd understated the case. Which was understandable, since they hadn't been with an older man who knew every inch of a woman's body, and how to caress and stimulate it for both her satisfaction and his own.
Then one night Elaine knew pain again, but of a different sort entirely.
They'd just finished relaxing on the sofa's rollout bed when Ward took her hand and softly stroked it.
"Kiddo, it pains me to say this, but I gotta let you go."
Elaine knew what that signified in business, a subject she'd been studying in her spare time and that she intended to pursue in college. But she wasn't sure what Ward meant by it—though she had an inkling.
She decided not to guess. "What's that mean, you're letting me go?"
"It means I'm letting you go."
"Are you firing me?"
He stopped stroking. "No, no, nothing like that, You'll still be an Assistant, just not my personal assistant."
"See, our time together is over."
Elaine felt disoriented, as if her life had been turned inside-out. Things had been so good between them; Ward seemed to care for her as much as she did for him. She must have done something to upset him.
"What did I do wrong? Whatever it is, I'll stop doing it. I'll—"
He placed a thick forefinger against her lips.
"Shhhh. Please don't make this difficult. It's not anything you've done. It's just that this thing has run its course. Happens all the time, and when it does it's best to break it off right away rather than delay the inevitable. All the others have been grateful I didn't drag things out."
"All the others?"
"Of course. I'm not a priest, you know. I've got nothing against lovemaking. In fact, making love is one of my favorite things to do. Now I'll make love to someone else. Please, my sweet, don't create a scene. Just go."
"You've made love to other trainees?"
"Naturally. Nice young women, and very appreciative of me."
As if to emphasize the point, Ward got up without bothering to wrap a sheet around himself, apparently aware that his regular workouts continued to pay off handsomely.
A wave of nausea washed over Elaine. Soon someone else would be lying beneath that body, experiencing the kind of bliss she could no longer live without.
Ward strolled into the bathroom, leaving the door open. She heard him emptying his bladder at length, then flushing the toilet
Upon reappearing he said, "You still here? When I said go, I meant it."
Ward began to dress.
"No buts. No wailing. No crybabies here. You'll survive and appreciate the experience. Like all the rest did."
Elaine got up, still in a daze, the bed sheet wrapped around her. Then without thinking she dropped it. Sitting on the sofa in his standard T-shirt and jeans, Ward seemed to watch appreciatively as she slipped into her bra and panties, then the abbreviated dress.
"You've got a lovely body," he observed. "It'll make some man very happy. And then you'll marry him and have kids and a home and all that, and before you know it you'll be very happy yourself. Trust me on that."
Trust him? Was he trying to be funny again? She'd have laughed if she weren't on the verge of tears.
Her voice quivering, Elaine asked, "So you're dismissing me, just like that?"
"Of course. How else would I dismiss you? Now get the frickin' hell outta here."
Elaine couldn't believe he'd said that, or that this was happening in reality and not in some nightmare. She felt lost, alone, humiliated. And glued to the floor.
Ward Bolton sighed. "Okay, I didn't wanna hafta do this but you're forcing my hand. Too bad. I kinda liked you."
He grabbed the mobile phone forever present on the coffee table, punched a button and spoke into the device. "I need you in here. Now!"
No sooner said than done. Two men, newly assigned to stand guard at the door, burst into the room. They looked like fellow weightlifters and may have been twins in their matching buzz cuts, tweed sports coats and yellow turtlenecks.
They stood like statues in front of Ward as he came right to the point.
"Get this bitch outta here."
Not much made Elaine happy, let alone very happy, after that night. Certainly the midyear abortion didn't make her happy, nor did her quitting Renewit afterward, nor the cancer that took Aunt Lil five years later, nor the feeling of unworthiness that haunted her even after she received her MBA from Stanford six years AW, after Ward.
She found it impossible to trust men, so she slept with anyone and cared for no one.
Then came the headline two weeks ago in the Living section of the Arizona Republic. "'He's Baa-aaack: 'Pity-Pot' Guru to Conduct Seminars for First Time in Five Years."
Elaine was dimly aware that Ward had turned the seminars over to select staff members he'd trained to conduct them, and that he'd also written several best-selling books and appeared countless times on TV talk shows. Still, she'd managed to push him to the edge of her consciousness. Now here he was, back from the edge, gazing at her from a three-column photograph above the fold. He appeared older, of course, but still ruggedly handsome and as smug and self-satisfied as ever.
In addition, he seemed to be mocking her.
And that's what did it. For the first time since Ward had kicked her to the curb, Elaine thirsted for revenge.
She laid down the paper and rummaged through the house that Aunt Lil had bequeathed to her.
Along with the gun.
Elaine wore the dress Ward had called his favorite, the bright, but not too bright, red one, let out only slightly to accommodate the few pounds she'd gained over the years.
The first thing she noticed as she approached his private suite was the two guards, looking more like cave dwellers than weightlifters, flanking the door, arms folded across their chests. Tall and wide, they wore suits and ties but seemed more suited to loincloths.
"I'm here to see Mr. Bolton," Elaine said, effecting an air of calmness.
"Who the hell're you, lady?" one of the Cro-Magnons asked.
"An old friend."
He looked Elaine up and down, his tongue all but hanging out. "Mr. Bolton usually don't receive people after doin' his thing."
"He'll want to receive me. Tell him Elaine Trilby is here and wishes to speak with him."
"Wait a minute."
He knocked on his master's door.
"Who is it, for chrissake?" Neither the voice nor the disposition seemed to have changed.
"It's Herman, Mr. Bolton. Woman out here says she wants to see you. Says her name's Elaine Trilby."
"Trilby. Elaine Trilby. Seems to think you know her."
"Well I don't. Never heard of an Elaine Selby. Tell her to go away."
Herman turned to Elaine.
"Says he don't know—"
"I heard what he said. The shithead knows me, all right. He must be getting senile."
"Now just hold on a minute . . ." Herman sounded indignant on his employer's behalf.
Elaine rushed past him, then quickly opened the door, entered the room, slammed the door shut and slid the dead bolt home. Judging by the frenzied pounding and cursing, Herman and his partner feared the consequences of their laxity.
Ward Bolton sat in an easy chair sipping a glass of wine. He'd changed into cream-colored slacks and an open-necked sport shirt.
"Now see here, whoever you are, you can't just—"
"Of course I can. I just did it." Elaine paused to smile as best she could. "I'm Elaine Trilby. Since you've forgotten me, I'll remind you. Ten years ago, when I was seventeen, you screwed over me, in a manner of speaking. Not that I feel the least bit sorry for myself."
"I don't know any Elaine Trilby," Ward said, "let alone who I did or didn't screw ten years ago."
"Have there really been that many virgins parading through your life, you pile of excrement?"
"Hey, now wait a frickin' minute. I will not sit here and listen to—"
"Yes you will. You will sit here and listen to whatever I have to say, which may be the last thing you listen to." Elaine opened her purse, removed the gun and pointed it at his head.
The color drained from Ward Bolton's face. "What the frickin' hell. You can't—"
"And stop telling me what I can and can't do. Those days are over." She flicked the safety. "I can blow your head clean off if I want to. And believe me, I want to."
Ward's right hand shook slightly as he put his half-full glass down on the end table. "Why, what'd I ever do to you? Were you an Assistant or something?"
"Trainee. And what didn't you do to me, plus God knows how many others?"
"But I want you to know this: while I think you're a pile of shit, I've got even more contempt for myself for letting it happen. What kind of a girl sleeps with a phony, muscle-bound cretin like you?"
"You and I . . . we . . ."
"Yes, we screwed, or as you so fondly put it at the time, relaxed."
"Oh." Ward seemed to unclench, despite the unwavering gun. "So? What's the big deal? Did you enjoy it?"
Elaine cocked the gun, after which Ward returned to panic mode.
"God-damn-it!" he screamed, the familiar vein in his forehead prominent once more. "Cut this crap out!"
More pounding on the door. "Mr. Bolton? Are you all right, sir?"
"No, I'm not frickin' all right. This insane woman is pointing a gun at my head and—"
"Insane? Now I'm insane? All right, here's how insane I am."
Elaine sighted in and shattered a framed photograph of Ward Bolton and John McCain, the now-deceased U.S. senator, hanging on the wall behind the easy chair.
"Son of a bitch! You're going to kill me."
"So? What's the big deal? Maybe you'll enjoy it."
Elaine fired at the ceiling above him, sending plaster down on his head and shoulders.
"Please, I beg you. Take pit . . . I mean . . . I don't know what I did to deserve this."
"I was afraid of that." Elaine took her time approaching him in the easy chair. "And because you don't know what you did to deserve this, and probably never will, which means you'll probably continue to do the same thing to other unsuspecting victims . . . sorry, I know how you hate that word . . . I'm going to ensure you can never again do what you've been doing. Not ever."
Elaine stood within inches of her intended target, who in desperation lunged at the weapon. The sound of the gunshot filled the room as Ward grabbed his groin. He screamed like a banshee and at first Elaine thought this might be another of his loony imitations, but then she saw blood spread across his crotch and knew it wasn't.
Through the suite's large picture window she heard sirens approaching, the police probably having been summoned by Herman, so she wasn't surprised a few minutes later when two burly cops rammed their way into the room. Both held guns and one demanded she drop hers, which she did quite willingly. The same cop picked it up while the other snapped a pair of handcuffs on her and rattled off her rights. Neither was she shocked when shortly she found herself sitting in the backseat of a squad car.
What did surprise Elaine was the smile on her face—broad, bright, and like the one she wore during sex, satisfied.