Friday, May 30, 2008

Jason's Reckoning by Merry Phillips

A frustrating call to Memorial Hospital was the first step in learning about Jason's other woman.

"Rasmussen," a man had answered.

"Mr. Rasmussen, this is Janice Callahan. Memorial Hospital submitted a two hundred fifty-dollar charge to my credit card last month. I need to know who authorized the charge before I call the credit card company to dispute it. As I've already told three people in the billing department, all I have is a computer reference number."

"I can understand your frustration Ms...."

"Mrs...."

"Mrs. Callahan, but there are strict confidentiality laws we have to observe. The penalties attached to them are severe."

"I know that. There are severe penalties attached to quite a few laws, including the ones covering credit card fraud. In fact, there are quite severe fines for businesses refusing to cooperate in uncovering the fraudulent use of a card."

"Really, Mrs. Callahan, there's no reason to get excited."

"On the contrary, Mr. Rasmussen, submitting fraudulent charges to credit cards is very exciting. Moreover, your refusal even to investigate the matter is thrilling. It implies that you were aware the charge was fraudulent."

"Ma'am, I'm not refusing to investigate this. But the law and hospital policy are very clear about violating patient confidence."

"I'm not asking you to violate anyone's confidence! I only want you to look up the billing record and tell me who authorized the charge! I was in a meeting in Springfield that day. I didn't get back to Chicago until two o'clock the next day. I've explained this to your staff already. Do I need to report you to the Illinois Hospital Association? They probably won't tell me anything either, but I'm sure they'll ruin a lot of your people's days pawing through your accounts. It may not be today, but it will happen."

"Well, yes. Yes, they would. Let me check. Here it is."

"Who authorized it?"

Of course. Jason Callahan of Chicago paid the account with this credit card. For Ms. Sherry Adams."

"I see. Thank you, Mr. Rasmussen."

"Not at all, Mrs. Callahan, good day."

A trip to the Town Hall where Sherry Adams lived yielded a street registry that gave Janice all she needed to investigate the other woman. Fortune smiled on her when she learned the house next door to Sherry's was available for monthly rental with a security deposit equal to three months' rent. Settling her father's estate after his recent death was the perfect excuse to take time off to conduct her investigations.

At first, she hated the younger woman and it took every ounce of her willpower to keep her sharp fingernails from shredding Sherry's face. She wanted to hate her quarry's perfection of shape and form. Everything from Sherry's shiny, blonde hair as it danced on her shoulders and cupped her small ears, to her deep, laughing, brown eyes over a gently upturned nose and a mouth shaped like Cupid's bow. Perky breasts, narrow waist, and long legs with delicate ankles completed her perfection. God, she's a fucking cheerleader, Janice remembered thinking.

For months, she worked her father's lessons to maximum benefit as she learned her enemy's weaknesses and strengths. No one knew her rage or pain. She pushed them into a box, closed the lid, and locked it.

It was some weeks before Janice's curiosity overcame her squeamishness at invading another person's home. One day Janice snuck in to get a better idea of her enemy. Her first impression was that Sherry kept a neat house--not a perfect one, Janice was relieved to see, but a neat one. She went through the other woman's bills, hoping to find some extravagant expense, but was disappointed. It hurt when she found magazines, toiletries, and clothes obviously belonging to Jason. Finding a "Congratulations" card from Jason to Sherry for Taming Dom signed, You rock babe! I Love You, Jason, made her double over in pain.

Even as she considered her determination to ruin both Jason and Sherry, she knew it was not actually possible. She could make them miserable, publicly humiliate them, destroy their credit ratings, but they'd still have each other. From the start of actively watching Sherry, she had strange erotic dreams. Though she was always the one in command in the dreams she often woke shaking and terrified at what she had made the other woman do. Still, she was determined to get revenge.

A couple of months later she watched from a restaurant across the street as Sherry and a friend ate lunch at a sidewalk cafe. Jason's mistress was apparently celebrating her companion's success. They ordered champagne and Sherry proposed a toast, making the other woman blush. Janice watched the graceful movements of Sherry's hands as she talked. Sherry's easy confidence and serenity was entrancing. During the lunch, Sherry's companion made several inviting gestures to Sherry, finally stroking a fingernail over the back of Sherry's hand where it sat on the table. Sherry refused the invitation with a shake of her head and a statement Janice couldn't hear. The other woman's response upset Sherry and she abruptly ended the lunch. When she kissed the other woman's cheek in farewell, Janice felt a frightening surge of lust.

Fear and confusion chased her back to work. She wrestled for hours with the sudden clarity of her feelings. At last, her nightmares made sense. Every thought of harming Sherry had involved some compliment of form, face, or character. Every dark fantasy had played itself out with the younger woman clinging to her and begging forgiveness.

She was not ready for this complication. She was still formulating her plan and needed to be calm and in control, not hot and needy! She got herself under control and considered a new plan. She would have this interloper, and Jason, on her terms. First, she needed to see for herself what their relationship was like.

She remembered Jason telling her he had to check the certification of a new guide in one of the schools. He left late Friday night and would be gone a week. That was her opportunity to observe them together. She waited until Sunday and followed Jason.

Late that afternoon she watched through binoculars, set on a stand to keep her hands free, as Sherry took papers into the backyard and started reading. She could see that it was Sherry's second novel, Keeping Sara. The stakeout was rather boring; all Sherry did was read and make a few marks. Nevertheless, Janice kept watching and soon Jason came out.

Her Jason.