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Authors: Rosemary I Patterson PhD

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BOOK: The Wager
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"This is all too complicated for me."

Linda moved off with the crowd, her mind and emotions whirling. Thoughts of Malcolm, mixed up with thoughts of his nephew Lorne, mixed up with thoughts that Malcolm already had a girlfriend, mixed up with thoughts that Malcolm spoke to her warmly, mixed up with thoughts that she spent too much time living in fantasy, mixed up with the thought that she was using too many tranquillizers.

Within seconds Honey Pratt realised that Tyler Thompson

was violating her personal space. His bigger than life presence was much too close to her body. The Funeral Director took her hand is his large one and held it warmly as he kissed it sensuously.

"Won't you join me, Ms. Pratt? For the reception. It's just a short stroll through the cemetery. On the other side of the hedge."

"Why thank y'all, Mr. Thompson. But please call me Honey." She took Tyler's offered arm and felt him pull her against his body as he led her in the direction of the reception area. Somehow his tall, trim body seemed extremely comfortable against hers.

"Sex appeal, at his age," Honey recognized.

"Now Honey, don't even think of leaving after the reception," Tyler winked knowingly as they reached the reception area. "Remember I'm going to give you a personal tour of the behind the scene's areas." Honey stared at him in amazement as he left her side to personally oversee the details of the reception.

Honey moved about enjoying a fine wine and the luxurious spread of hors d'oeuvres but was conscious of both unfriendly glances and people going out of their way to assure her how welcome she was in their community.

"I thought it would be better up here in the North," Honey mused. "But it's just different not better. Half the people wish you were living somewhere else and the other half are going overboard to let you know they're not bigots." Honey avoided talking to Joseph Connor's widow. She wasn't sure which category the cab owner's wife was in.

It was a relief when the reception was over. As the guests left the area Tyler approached.

"I wonder what category he's in," Honey felt herself growing really cynical.

"Ready for the tour, Honey?" Tyler Thompson gave her full eye contact and a friendly smile. Honey felt reassured.

Tyler put his arm too comfortably around her again and led her into his showroom.

Honey stared at him in fascination as he explained the pros and cons of every model of coffins and memorials in the room. She could not believe it when Tyler gave her the sales pitch for titanium coffins for two, coming with waterproofing, earthquake proofing, a full corner in the cemetery complete with a tree and a large rock with the names engraved on it. Plus perpetual upkeep and gardening.

"Y'all really think there's going to be a resurrection and bodies are going to come out of these coffins to join Jesus?"

"Well actually I don't, Honey," Tyler laughed. "I think everything ceases when the brain dies. But you'd be surprised how many wealthy Christians buy this model."

Tyler pointed at two polished tubes connected to cylinders. Honey laughed as Tyler suggested that since she was obviously a nonbeliever she might be interested in the titanium ashes holder that would be stored in the earth for perpetuity.

"Following cremation, of course."

"Actually Sugar, I want my ashes to be spread on the ocean. That way even the particles of matter get returned fast for recycling."

Tyler smiled warmly again and resumed their tour of his showroom. Honey was blown away by the variety and cost of many of the items.

"Well Sugar, what do y'all plan to do when you die?"

"I'm not going soon," Tyler Thompson joked. "My mother lived to one hundred. Maybe by the time I'm one hundred and thirty."

Honey followed Tyler up a set of stairs to the top floor.

When they stepped out she realised with surprise that he had taken her to his living quarters. The upstairs apartment was surprisingly avant garde with futuristic furniture and uncluttered space. Inferno, Tyler's Rhodesian Ridgeback, greeted his master with enthusiasm. He gave the dog a massage along the ridge on his back and the animal responded with much affection.

"That dog means a lot to him," Honey thought.

"At last we're alone," Tyler sighed. To Honey's surprise Tyler didn't initiate intimate relations. He moved her into his living room and seated her on his futuristic chesterfield but he stayed standing himself.

"Would you care for a Bourbon?"

"How do you know my favourite drink is Bourbon?"

"The name of your dog."

Honey blushed. "That old boy doesn't miss a thing," she thought.

"Thanks, Sugar, a Bourbon sounds real good." Tyler moved to the panelled wall, pressed something and a hidden cabinet revolved to the front. Honey looked around Tyler's apartment. Everything was modern, futuristic, state-of-the-art, and in excellent taste. She watched as the Funeral Director poured out two generous Bourbons, added some ice and water, returned to the chesterfield, handed Honey hers and sat down himself on the chesterfield but not close to her.

Honey paid attention to his body language. She realised with puzzlement that it was not suggestive of further intimacy; in fact it looked like he was being quite defensive. The arm closest to her was across his chest almost in a protective manner.

"That old boy is a master of seduction," Honey hypothesized with surprise. "He's trying to get me to make the

first move." Honey revised her earlier estimation that it would be easy to get Tyler Thompson to bed.

"Only if I suggest it," Honey realised. "I bet that old boy would rationalize that I'm a person of low morals and he's just teaching me a lesson as he drops me after like a hot potato."

Inferno, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, laid his body down at Tyler's feet and looked at him expectantly. Tyler placed his Bourbon on an end table and gave the dog another deep massage. The dog smiled and whimpered appreciatively.

"I wouldn't mind the old boy doing that to me," Honey realised.

She took a sip of her Bourbon. She recognized her favourite brand.

"My favourite Bourbon. How did you know about it?"

"I'm a fan of all kinds of Jazz. Visit New Orleans often."

"I like jazz, myself. But Dixieland is my favourite."

Tyler Thompson immediately got up and went over to a modern piece of furniture. He pressed something and a CD player appeared. Within seconds Dixieland jazz filled the room. He sat back down and Honey realised he was wearing her favourite eue de cologne. A strange feeling struck her in her heart.

"My God, this old boy is twanging my heart strings, I must be losing it completely."

Honey felt the sudden onset of the panic that hit her when she was in danger of falling for a member of the opposite sex. For all her recommendations of the perfect relationship leading to higher Spirituality to the female dog walking members Honey rarely practised what she preached. Two intense but failed relationships in recent years had left her with an unwillingness to fall under the spell of certain members of the opposite sex, particularly ones for which she felt a strong sexual

attraction. Honey felt something inside her telling her to get out of this man's presence fast. She recognized deep attraction at first sight, and there was no way she wanted to allow the vulnerability produced by intense attraction.

"How come no one of colour is buried in this cemetery?" Honey felt herself demanding. She realised she was blowing it for the wager but some part of herself wanted to create an argument that would allow her to get out of the intimate situation fast.

Tyler Thompson looked startled.

"Actually," he managed, "I was going to try and do something about that, Honey. Do you want to take out a burial agreement? For you or someone else in your family?"

"Then this cemetery is segregated."

"It has been, I'm sorry to say. Common practice in the cemetery business. The other two large cemeteries in this area are still segregated as well. But if you wish you or some member of your family can do something about it."

Honey realised that Tyler was somehow putting the ball back into her area of the court. She felt her temper fare at his challenge.

"The empty family plot next to the cab company owner. I'll take it."

Honey realised that she was shaking with rage and that she was almost yelling. She realised that she was anticipating Tyler saying that such a thing was impossible.

Tyler's dog seemed to sense her rage and got up from the floor, went in between his master and Honey and growled.

"Down Inferno!" Tyler ordered. The dog obeyed instantly.

"I'll make the arrangements, Ms. Pratt," Tyler Thompson rose from the chesterfield. "I can see that I've distressed you. My apologies."

"If you wouldn't mind coming back down to the office? I'll have you sign a contract and drive you home?"

Honey realised that she had been dismissed. She could feel her face heating with all kinds of emotions.

"What an experience," Honey choked back all the responses she wanted to shout. She managed to pull herself together enough to nod brusquely at Tyler and move toward the door of the hallway leading down to his showroom.

"Jesus, I've bought an expensive funeral plot," Honey muttered to herself a short time later as Tyler drove her toward her residence in his fancy Italian sports car. "And I'm ending the segregation of a cemetery, or at least when I or a member of my family dies. This man is a master manipulator. And much too attractive as well."

Honey sighed as she realised in her mind that she was physically still much too close to the man. His physical presence, the excellent way he handled his sports car, and the Dixieland jazz he was playing on the car's CD player were turning her on. She made sure she got out of his car fast in front of her house before he could give her another of his sensuous kisses.

Tyler blew her a kiss as she turned to look at him just before going in the front door.

"He knows I'm attracted to him," Honey realised with a sinking feeling in her stomach, "despite my anger outburst." She shut the door with a bang.

"So much for winning Gloria's wager. I had better make sure I don't get alone with that old boy again. I'm not sure I can resist him for long. I'm going to wind up begging him for sex if I don't, I'm sure."

"Charlotte, I've purchased a family plot in the cemetery for us," she told her astonished daughter who lived with her as she entered the front door.

"Mom, who was that man that dropped you off and blew a kiss at you? Y'all not thinking of dating a Caucasian are you? He looked white."

"Course not Charlotte. That's the local funeral director. I just bought a funeral plot."

"Thank goodness! I was worried I'd have to try and explain why you were dating a Caucasian to all my friends back in New Orleans."

"Don't have to worry about that, Girl! I have no intention of ever speaking to that man again!"

"Why did y'all buy a funeral plot, then? I thought y'all believed in cremation."

"Uh, just to end the practice of segregation in big cemeteries up here, Girl."

CHAPTER 7.
Malcolm and Linda.

I
t was 9:00 a.m. as the dog walking group met two weeks later to allow their pets to swim in the ocean mouth off the dog park entrance. Not many members were present as there was a light rain falling.

"For God's sake, Linda, Malcolm is back." Gus Gustafson pointed toward the entrance to the Dog Walking section of the park.

The wealthy industrialist could be seen at the start of the dog section scanning the crowd of dog owners looking like he was watching for his old friends from the Seniors Dog Walking Club. He was using crutches and moving slowly for Malcolm.

Linda Daniels was shocked. Malcolm had said he was going to be released but was going directly to Kentucky to make some changes in his horse racing facilities. He had told her that the Kentucky Derby had been a big disappointment for him months ago as his horse "Starwalker" had failed to place despite being the favourite. Linda could tell from her recent hospital visits that Malcolm was grumpy and discontent. She realised from their discussions that he was looking back at the last thirty years of his life and wondering if he had made a bad choice to invest in his widespread horse racing and training empire.

Linda felt herself comparing Malcolm and his nephew Lorne. To her surprise she had enjoyed her date with Lorne

at the local symphony. Kiri Te Kanawa had been magnificent and Lorne seemed to enjoy the performance as much as she did. Linda realised that Lorne was much more informed about cultural and art matters in the community than Malcolm. He had been the perfect gentleman, dropping her off at her house immediately after they had an ending drink. The only thing that was bothering her about accepting another invitation from him was the questions he kept asking about Malcolm.

"Does Malcolm forget things?" he had asked and "Is Malcolm ever late for meetings or not show up at all?" "Are your bills to him paid on time?" "Can Malcolm always remember names that he should remember?" "Had she ever noticed any deterioration in Malcolm's cognitive functioning?" " Did Malcolm ever drink to excess in her presence?"

Reviewing the questions in her mind Linda realised that Lorne had almost been checking off questions from a mental functioning checklist. Linda realised that she had done the right thing by refusing to accept Lorne's invitation to another upcoming symphony concert.

"He's just using me to try and dig up some dirt on Malcolm," she realised with a stab of pain. Her thoughts turned back to Malcolm's approach on crutches across the sand and rocks.

Malcolm Brooks hesitated as he came to the start of the dog walking park. He ignored Tyler Thompson, who seemed to be trying to get Honey Pratt to talk to him, looked out to the ocean and spotted Gus Gustafson talking to Linda Daniels on the sandy area exposed from the ocean when the tide was completely out. Malcolm had come to find Trump. He wanted to take him with him to Kentucky. He was missing the only source of unconditional love in his life.

"I wonder if Trump is going to be another failure?"

Malcolm mused. Trump had received the attention of several of Malcolm's animal trainers but his stubborn nature had proved extremely resistant. Trump would come, heel, sit, fetch and roll over but only at his own pace (erratic) and provided that something more interesting had not already captured his attention.

"Sort of like Monica," Malcolm realised with a slight laugh, thinking of how fast she had gone back to directing all her attention to her modelling career with him in the hospital.

"Call when you get out of this boring place," Monica had requested.

"After I get rid of the crutches," Malcolm sighed. He did not feel up to making love while using crutches.

"I guess I had better try walking out on the sand to where Gus and Linda are," Malcolm decided to ignore his doctor's advice to take it easy and stay on smooth, fat surfaces for quite some time. He moved onto the slippery sand, barnacles and rocks, ignored the instability, and moved slowly on his crutches toward his friends.

"They'll know where Trump is."

"Hello Gus," Malcolm said as he reached his old friend.

Gus Gustafson greeted him with a hug. "Nice to have you out of the hospital."

Malcolm shrugged. Linda Daniels stared at Malcolm. As always, he was extremely well dressed.

"You look better without the hospital gown," she teased. Malcolm gave her a slight smile. He started to move in her direction but when Linda glanced beyond him she gasped as she realised that Malcolm's dog Trump had spotted his owner from the walkway and was heading down the beach toward him at lightning speed.

"Look out Malcolm!" Linda shouted but it was too late. Trump crashed into his owner with a sickening bang and Malcolm went flying once again. Trump jumped on his sprawled master and lavishly licked him on the face.

Gus Gustafson grabbed hold of the impulsive dog and hauled him off Malcolm. Linda could see that Malcolm's right leg was jutting out at an awkward angle. Turk O'Brien arrived on the scene, yelled some obscene curses at Trump, leashed him and pulled him out of reach of Malcolm.

Malcolm was conscious but was uttering a series of curses himself in between moans. Linda bent down and gingerly examined Malcolm's right leg. He groaned loudly.

"Looks like it's broken in one place," she told Gus. He reached for his cell phone and punched in 911.

"The paramedics will be right here," he told Malcolm who looked like he was making a mighty effort not to scream.

Linda took off her jacket and placed it under Malcolm's head. He placed one of his hands appreciatively on her right hand. It looked like he was making an effort to say something.

"Don't try to talk," Linda ordered.

Tyler Thompson and Honey Pratt came rushing out and a crowd of people was gathering around Malcolm.

"We could try and carry him to the walkway," Tyler offered.

"No, don't move him," Linda ordered. "We need to get his leg stabilized first."

By the time the paramedics arrived with a stretcher Malcolm's face was a pasty white. Linda held Malcolm's shoulders as one of the paramedics lost no time in straightening Malcolm's leg and applying a blow up splint around it. Sweat poured off Malcolm's face. He let out a massive groan as the leg was moved and he lost consciousness.

"Isn't this the same old guy we picked up off the beach a few weeks ago?"

"It is," Linda told them.

"Must have a death wish," the paramedics joked as they wheeled Malcolm back toward the ambulance.

"I'll come with you," Gus Gustafson told Linda. "Turk will you watch the dogs?"

The big man nodded.

Half an hour later Gloria arrived at the start of the Dog Walking Park and bumped into Tyler and Honey as they were leaving?"

"Have you seen Gus and the dogs?"

"Gus went with Linda Daniels to the hospital. The dogs are with Turk O'Brien. Toward the bridge."

"To the hospital? What happened?"

"Trump crashed into Malcolm again. This time it looks like Malcolm's got a broken leg."

"That dog! I don't know why Malcolm hasn't got rid of him. My God. I had better find Turk and the dogs."

Tyler and Honey watched Gloria head off at full speed down the walkway.

Tyler was taking advantage of the fact that he had managed to engage Honey in conversation again. He could feel her prickly attitude toward him lessen somewhat. They were suddenly interrupted as Bourbon, Honey's Pitbull, and Inferno, Tyler's Rhodesian Ridgeback, had another disagreement over Bourbon's cherished, red, phosphorescent ball. Conversation ceased as both dogs ran up to Tyler and Honey. Inferno had the bright red ball in his mouth and he was obviously seeking help to fend off Bourbon who was growling and snarling, demanding his ball back.

Tyler pulled the ball out of Inferno's mouth and threw it down the beach. Both dogs shot after it.

Honey felt herself feeling an odd mixture of pleasure and fear again. She realised she was in a sweat from contact with Tyler's physical presence for so long a time.

"That old boy is far too attractive, I shouldn't be speaking to him again," Honey tried to regain some semblance of her normal coolness toward men she felt herself strongly drawn to.

"There's a Dixieland Jazz concert at the Patriot next Saturday."

Would you allow me to escort you there?"

His invitation did something to Honey.

"Subconscious longings," she decided. "He's tapping into desire energy from long ago."

"Saturday at six o'clock. I'll pick you up." Tyler took her silence as assent as Gloria and Turk joined them with an assortment of dogs including Dogzilla, Trump, Inuvik and Gigi.

Honey tried to say "No" but felt her head nod affirmatively. She felt greatly relieved as Tyler kept an acceptable distance between them as they ambled off with the others and the dogs toward the parking lot.

"I'm going to have to take a cold shower when I get home," the former lounge owner told herself. "And before he turns up to take me to the concert."

Honey's disturbed mind told her that she was vacillating between eager anticipation of Tyler's attentions and fear of the abandonment that had so often occurred in the past as attractive men had only been interested in short-term affairs.

"If anyone is emotionally unavailable, I bet it's he," Honey's mind told her. "But it's only a month to Christmas. The bet just says a month. Surely I can hold on to him that long."

Honey reminded herself that the college fund could make good use of the money.

Back at her house Honey was tempted to call Tyler and cancel their date. She confided her problem to her daughter, Charlotte, who lived with her and quickly wished she had not.

"How could you think of dating a Caucasian, Mother? You must be losing it."

Honey told her daughter that Tyler's race was not the problem but that his considerable sex appeal was.

"Who is this man, anyway?"

Honey told her that he was the local Funeral Director, that he was all of ninety years old and had never been married.

"Ninety years old! What are you doing, mother, rescuing a senior from some seniors centre like you rescued Bourbon from the dog pound? You've got to stop being so compassionate."

Honey protested that Tyler was not a rescue senior. She tried to get Charlotte to understand that every time she had felt extreme attraction to a man it had ended badly. Charlotte kept missing the main point.

"White, ninety years old, a funeral director, never been married," y'all have lost your marbles! I'm going to get a one way ticket for you to New Orleans before you do something y'all regret for the rest of your life. What could y'all possibly have in common with this man?"

"Tyler loves dogs, New Orleans, Jazz, like I do and his voice and physical presence do something to me," Honey protested. "But that's not the problem."

"I'll say it's not! Y'all have got to see a shrink, Mother. Your personality is starting to fracture, I'm sure of it."

"I'll have a compatibility Astrological analysis done," her mood brightening as she thought of it. "That will get at the reasons for such a strong attraction."

"Use a shrink instead, Mother! Maybe a psychiatrist can

find out whatever bizarre reason you are attracted to a Funeral Director of all things. And one close to twenty-five years older than you."

"Didn't y'all hear about the late play write Arthur Miller and his latest and last love. She was a thirty-five-year-old artist and he was eighty-nine. That's what it's like with creative people, y'know. They talked for hours every day for months after they met. That's what happens when I'm with Tyler. I think I'm in love with the man."

"Y'all and that funeral director are not creative people. And how long did that Arthur Miller romance last?"

"It's lasted over two years until his death. Only one of my marriages ever lasted that long."

"Maybe you've developed a father complex?"

"My feelings toward Tyler are not daughterly, I can assure y'all." Honey went upstairs to contact her favourite Astrologist. Honey could feel her daughter's strong disapproval following her.

"Just because she's studying Psychology," Honey mused. "Personality fracture be damned. It's a Mars-Venus thing, I'm sure."

BOOK: The Wager
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