I trail after Dicks turned out feet through the exit doors of the airport and into the bright afternoon. The sun beams down on the pavement radiating heat. A gentle breeze stirs the humid air into a light broth of mixed people and luggage. I trail behind my new boss to the parking area. He stops at a black BMW convertible.
He gestures to the sleek ride and wipes the sweat from his brow. “This is it.”
It’s a gorgeous car, a sexy car. A strange choice to pick up his newly imported stable hand from hell and gone nowhere. I feel impressed by the loveliness of the leather seats and the sheen of the car. Unimpressed by my reflection, which is cast back to me squat and distorted.
Dick pops the trunk, “I could have brought the truck,” he said. “But I thought you’d enjoy the Florida sunshine on the way home.”
Maybe the heebie jeebie feeling was wrong, maybe Dick is a nice guy and I’m just too tired to think clearly.
I smile into his mirrored sunglasses, “Thanks,” I said. “That’s thoughtful, I am tired of being crammed into enclosed spaces. The trip took longer than we planned.” I push my enthusiastic hair out of my eyes, “Sorry about the ticket fiasco.“
I heave my life’s possessions into the empty trunk.
He grins and said, “Ah, don’t you worry, you’ll pay it back.” He slams the cavernous space closed. “It’s surprising how big the truck is on these little cars.”
I return his grin with a hesitant smile. What a strange thing to say.
Driving down the I95 towards West Palm Beach, the wind tosses my unruly curly hair whipping it into a white girl Afro.
Dick talks nonstop, “We have some of the finest Quarter horses in the area.” He signals left and zooms past a vehicle on the freeway. “Tracey, my wife, has been cleaning up on the show circuit. She loves it here in Florida. The weather here is fantastic.”
He reaches over and pats my leg, “You must be hot. You should take your coat off.”
My creeper alarm begins to go off again, but maybe I’m overreacting, he was just talking about his wife. He’s telling me job related information. That’s a good indicator he isn’t going to lock me in a cage and use me for his pleasure. I shiver just thinking about it. Gross.
I take my coat off. I’m wearing a tank top. It is a respectable no cleavage top.
His eyes linger too long on my hidden cleavage. I feel the heebie jeebies coming on in droves. I should have worn a nun’s habit.
He continues to talk enjoying the sound of his own voice. “We have a couple stallions, good looking muscular horses, impeccable bloodlines. We breed a few mares; they currently have colts at side. We have yearlings and two year olds, enough horses to keep us busy,” he chuckles. “Hell, you’ll have plenty of work to keep you busy. But not too busy. “ he hesitates and sizes me up. “You’ll have some time for pleasure.” He adds in a Latin lover voice.
All the heebie jeebies multiply in my stomach, copulating, and reproducing, I shudder with revulsion.
“Speaking of pleasure—“ He murmurs edging closer to me.
My insides contract, I hold my breath— warning, warning creeper alert is authenticated.
I feel Dick’s eyes on me. I can feel his dirty thought on me too. I turn my head away to look at the palm trees flying past. I rub my hands on my pants trying to get rid of the sick feeling building inside. I clasp them together in a silent prayer for a comet to fall out of the sky and land on Dick.
He clears his throat and continues on in his Latin lover voice, “I thought maybe you and I could fool around on the side.” He pauses, “You know, have some fun.”
I freeze. I pretend I don’t hear. “Pardon?” I ask as I turn to face him. I stare him in the eye giving him a chance to take it back. Hoping he will take it back. “
“I thought maybe you and I could fool around on the side?” He repeats.
I frantically reach for an appropriate response, how can I put this nicely? I need to put it delicately, so I don’t end up in his oversized trunk and in a canal as alligator food. “Um, no thanks, you’re married.”
I pat myself on the back. Good job Deb, diplomatic answer. You held back— you didn’t say being humped by a hippo might be less disturbing than fooling around with you. And just to be clear I’m not hating on the hippo. It’s the creep factor. There are good-looking men with the creep factor. AKA, boor, louse, scoundrel, it’s people without ethics or morals, they don’t walk— they slink and slither.
Dick laughs at my moral reasoning, “Awe you don’t have to worry about Tracey getting upset, she’s okay with me getting a little on the side.”
I drop my head, an evil, judgemental thought flickers through my mind, I bet she’d be okay with you getting it on the side all the time. Shiver me timbers and make me walk the plank. Is that why I’m here? To become Dick’s pirate hoard? Not today dear Dick, my treasure trove is my own. I’ll take my chances with the plank.
I reply to Dick’s invitation using my firm tone, “Um, no thanks I’m not comfortable fooling around with my boss,” I sit taller in my seat. I remember reading somewhere that if you try and look bigger than you actually are, some predators will leave you alone.
I flick a look towards Dick, and guide us towards PG conversation. “How many show horses do you have?” I see Dick has tensed up considerably. His hands throttle the steering wheel, and in the back of my mind I imagine Dick changing our travel plans to include a secluded area— to dispose of the cold shoulder Canadian. I plan a defensive strategy. I decide on running. Yes, running would be good, and maybe dodging if he has a gun. Yeah running and dodging, I’ve done that many times escaping from spirited aggressive wasps, and radar sharp wood boring beetles. This guy could barely walk.
“We have six show horses,” He answers me begrudgingly. “Our daughter Tabitha shows horses as well. You’ll be sharing a room with Tabby.”
Sharing a room with his daughter. Excellent, there has to be some level of security in that fact.
“Does your son Zack ride?” I ask.
“How do you know Zack?” He snaps looking at me with suspicion.
“I don’t know Zack,” I explain. But on the phone interview you told me about the alligator that tried to attack Zack. And how you wrestled the Gator away from him.”
“Right. “ He glances sideways at me, like maybe I am more than just a set of boobs, “I forgot I told you that story.”
“It was a crazy story, hard to forget.” Especially now that I saw the size of Dick, Alligators are known to be agile, I had serious doubts Dick could wrangle his way out of a sleeping bag with limber lively movement. But then again, when parents need to protect their young, anything can happen.
“Does he ride?” I ask again.
“No, Zack doesn’t like the horses. He has other interests.”
“Do you have anymore kids?”
“No, that’s it, a million dollar family, a boy and a girl. We’re lucky, but if you think that’s lucky—“ Dick goes on talking, regaling himself, and supposedly me, with his self important stories.
I sigh with relief as he announces our arrival into their property. The driveway is a curving paved road through a grove of orange trees, which evolves into a circular driveway in front of the house. I can’t see any horses or barns from where we are parked.
He lumbers out of the car, “Get your bag, and then Tracey can give you the tour.”
He disappears into the house losing interest in me, maybe because I’ve shown none in him. Better.
The house is a sprawling bungalow, tile roof, and stucco finish with stone accents. The double entry doors are solid dark wood, with scrolled metal door handles. I pack my bag out of the car and step into the house. Dick is standing inside the doorway enjoying the air-conditioning. He leads. I follow, a submissive pony on his heels lugging her bag through a stone entry way and into a large kitchen.
A petite blonde-haired women with a pixie cut turns from the sink to greet me, “You must be Debby. I’m Tracey,” she said offering me a firm handshake. “Welcome to Florida, we’re so glad you’re finally here. You must be exhausted from the trip.”
I feel my worries melt away, “Nice to meet you,” I said accepting her hand. “No, I’m not too tired from the trip, just excited to finally be here and looking forward to starting the job.”
She shakes her head, “Well. You don’t need to start today.”
“Actually I would really like to do something.” I rub my hands together, “I could use some exercise. I’m not used to sitting around so much. All I’ve been doing is sitting.”
Tracey gives Dick a look, “See, I’m not the only one who thinks getting off your ass and exercising is good for a person.”
“Dicks eyes glitter with an edge, “We can’t all be athletes some of us use our brains.”
Tracey steps up and pats his stomach, “No offense Sugar, I was just teasing.”
She catches my eye, “Okay. Grab your bag. I’ll give you a quick tour of the house, and then if you want to change into something cooler we can go down to the barn.”
I like her. She seems straight to the point, no nonsense, no bullshit, lets go. And she didn’t even proposition me. I was sure she wore the pants in the family. As I discovered later, she didn’t just wear pants— she wore the holster with the nine-millimeter glock. When something was to happen around the stable, Tracey pulled the trigger.
She smiles sweetly showing me the bedroom I was to share with Tabitha; it had an en-suite, walk-in closet and two single beds.
“Sorry, we don’t have enough space for you to have a room of your own. Tabitha is a good girl. I’m sure you two will get along. She’s down at the barn right now, so you’ll meet her right away.”
“I’m sure we’ll get along fine.” I reply. One of my mom’s well-worn phrases enters my thoughts— Beggars can’t be choosers. True story.
Tracey breezes out the door assuming I’d follow.
I do. Ever-dutiful Debby.
Cruising through the house her hands sweep here and there, like a graceful game show hostess introducing prizes, “The living room, the bathroom to shower and change after swimming. “ She speeds out a side door, “ The patio, and of course— the swimming pool. Feel free to use the pool whenever you like. You have Mondays off. “ She gestures out past the pool, “We have tennis courts if you play tennis.”
I haunt her steps.
She moves quick and sharp back into the house. “Go ahead and change. I’ll be in the kitchen and then we’ll go down to the barn.”
I smile, as I change into a clean shirt, swipe on deodorant, and throw on a pair of shorts. I’ve always wanted to live in a house with a swimming pool. It’s all going to work out.
We stroll along the access road to the barn area; it runs along a canal.
Tracey motions to the water. “We don’t get the big alligators in these canals, but there are some small ones. We have to watch the dogs. Supposedly, if alligators have the choice to eat a person or a dog, they pick the dog every time. I’m not sure who tested that theory out?” laughs Tracey.
The road takes us past the white wooden riding-ring with golden sandy footing. The barn is whitewashed cinder brick with a metal roof. The entryways are accentuated with curved arches. There are white wooden turn out pens and a round pen. A shed containing a small tractor and feed is towards the back of the property. A small eight-stall barn sits all alone bordering the far end.
As we come around the backside of the barn a couple of corgi’s bound towards us barking a greeting.
I stop to meet them. They both clamber for attention. “They’re so cute!” I gush giving them both a rub.
Tracey shakes her head, “Spoiled brats. The one with the big white bib is Salt, and the one with black on him is Pepper.”
Tracey and I enter the barn at the middle entranceway, the dogs are on our heels. The stall doors are richly coloured dark wood with thin railings at the top. The ceiling is open beam to encourage air movement. A young girl sporting an ash-blonde ponytail has a sleek black horse in cross ties, and is brushing him down. Her eyes flicker towards us as we enter, and then quickly dart away when they land on me.
“Hi Tabby,” Tracey said, “This is Debby. She’s our new stable hand.”
The slender girl moves over to the other side of the horse, “So what else is new mom?”
Tracey’s mouth tightens, “It’s only polite to say hello.”
Tabitha continues to brush the horse, refusing any type of connection. “Why should I say hello, she’ll only be here a little while. Just like Julie.”
Tracey stalks over to her unreceptive daughter. “You’re being rude. Say hello.”
I shrivel up inside, the uneasy feelings are back. Who’s Julie? And why won’t I stay long?
“Hello Debby.” Tabitha said in a robot tone. “Pleased to meet you.”
Tracey stalks back to me, “Teenagers!” she said. “Come on, I’ll show you the office.”
We walk across the aisle from the cross ties to an elaborately carved wooden door. We step inside, on the far wall there is a showcase lined with shiny trophies of every size, and fancy-ribbon medallions. The walls are covered with pictures of winning horses, in halter class, jumping, western pleasure, trail classes, and too many others to bore you with. These people were serious.
Tracey taps the desk, “This is Dicks work space. He’ll be in the barn quite a bit, answering the phone and reaching out to potential horse buyers.” She almost glares at me, “He doesn’t like anyone touching his desk.”
I hold up a hand, “No problem. I can’t see why I would need to touch his desk.”
“Good.” She grins, “I just wanted to make it clear.”
We leave the office, and the corgi’s trot behind us. My new best friends.
I leave the barn with Tracey to meet the horses, and I see Tabitha in my peripheral vision shooting me daggers of dislike with her eyes.
Who was Julie? And where was she now?