The Elevator: third scene, third character. (For fun, we’ve talked about casting this for a movie. Gina would be Susan Sarandon. Michelle would be Ashley Judd, and Isabel would be . . .?)
Tucked into the corner of a wing chair, Gina Rossman lifts her swollen eyelids and stares at her unrumpled bed. The report, in a manila envelope, still rests on Sonny’s pillow. She spent the night in this chair for nothing.
So much for dramatic gestures.
She closes her eyes and wishes she could exchange the world of illusion for reality. An hour ago she was back in college, strolling to class on a leaf-strewn sidewalk, her skin pinked by crisp autumnal air. She smiled at an English professor who approached to praise her paper, then she took his arm and laughed, shamelessly flirting with the amiable fellow.
In her dream she’d had no children, no husband, no serious concerns. No need for confrontations.
She lifts her head and glances at the clock, then frowns at the view outside the bedroom window. The sun is usually brighter by seven-twenty . . . but how could she forget Gordon? Destructive hurricanes are nothing new for Florida; in the past three months Hillsborough county residents have anxiously monitored the paths of Alberto, Chris, and Debby. The local weathercasters, who would probably lash themselves to a wavering flagpole if the stunt would get them national airtime, are positively giddy about the latest weather heading directly toward Florida’s central west coast.
Sonny will blame his absence on the storm, of course. He’ll claim he didn’t come home because he had to single-handedly prepare for the hurricane. He sent his employees home Thursday afternoon, he’d remind her, because he wanted to give them time to leave the state. His act of generosity left him with a stack of declaration pages that had to be faxed to frantic clients who needed to know the limits of their coverage. Besides—and at this point he would give her an easy, relaxed smile with a great deal of confidence behind it—he hadn’t built a Fortune 500 company by limiting himself to a forty-hour work week.
She used to accept his excuses, used to be proud of him for putting in more hours than the average husband. But no longer.
Now she knows where he’s been working overtime.
She pulls herself out of the comfortable depths of the wing chair and smoothes her slacks. She wanted Sonny to find her still dressed and awake when he came through the door, but if he didn’t come home last night, he probably won’t show up this morning. He’ll be at the office, feeding papers into the fax machine.
An alarming thought skitters across her brain. What if he doesn’t come home at all today? He might want to protect that woman, so he could be planning to ride out the hurricane in whatever rat hole she calls home.
Later, when the weather has passed, he’ll claim he was slaving at the office until the power went out and he had to evacuate to the nearest shelter.
Last year she might have believed his lies. This year, she has rebuttal evidence waiting in the manila envelope, along with a private investigator’s report. A list of places, dates, and times; eyewitness accounts of intimate dinners and lunches; even a receipt Sonny dropped outside Foster’s Jewelers.
The amount on the receipt nearly buckled Gina’s knees: forty-three thousand dollars for a diamond bracelet. Forty-three thousand that must have been siphoned off the company books. Forty-three thousand—money that should be part of her children’s inheritance—has been wasted on baubles for some tart’s wrist.
How much of his children’s future has Sonny squandered?
The investigator also included a photograph of Sonny walking down Ashley Street with the woman on his arm, her head brushing his shoulder. Sonny’s face is visible and marked by an expression of remarkable tenderness. The object of Sonny’s inappropriate attention is not facing the camera, but the photo reveals a tall, lean creature with a striking sense of style, a floppy rain hat, and a youthful body that has not borne three children and invested its best years in Sonny’s dreams.
Gina moves to the bed, plucks the envelope from her husband’s pillow, and stares out the window while she taps the package against her fingertips. A maelstrom is swirling in the Gulf beyond; a killer storm. Before the sun rises tomorrow, its merciless winds and rain will sweep over Tampa and destroy anything that hasn’t been properly secured.
Her husband is in his office in the Lark Tower, Tampa’s oldest skyscraper. His suite is on the uppermost floor, where the winds and rain will have the freedom to do their worst. Downtown Tampa is under an evacuation order, but everyone knows Sonny Rossman is a stubborn workaholic.
What might happen if he chose to remain in his office as the hurricane blew in?
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