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    lomax61
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Hooking Trout - 16. A Council of War

Trout seeks out his allies for a council of war.

One Sunday each month, Helen visits June's apartment for an English tradition they call 'High Tea'. This comprises of a large pot of Assam tea, stacking cake plates of mini salmon and cucumber sandwiches, vol-au-vents with assorted fillings, all finished off with buttermilk scones, strawberry jam, and clotted cream. Helen provides the 'high' in the proceedings, bringing a bottle of gin or vodka—or both—and a jar of stuffed olives for their martini fix. Fortunately for me, today is one such Sunday. Each month, June invites me, but I rarely attend citing more pressing engagements such as Sunday afternoon drinks and tea dance at Colt with the boys. This Sunday, however, afternoon tea is precisely the kind of island I need in the eye of my current hurricane, and, on this occasion, I plan to provide the spice.

As soon as I get off the phone to a now enraged June, I recruit Doug. After spending an afternoon with his sister and Jimbo, sitting through hours of the Cartoon Network, including Frozen for the umpteenth time, he and Stew pounce on my cry for help. In their stead, they leave Snoopy to entertain Jimbo—arranging to pick him up later—while they join us, intrigued, excited, and more than a little relieved to be in adult company.

By six o'clock, all members of the newly-formed Wedding Council of War are seated and in session.

"So," says June, folding her arms. "Amanda, Garrison, Greenwell, his fiancée Beatrix, and her brother. The gang of five, huh? Let them bring it on."

Of everyone gathered, Marisse—already red-cheeked from the cocktail—looks annoyingly nonplussed at the news. What I don't share with any of them is my indiscretion with Carlos or the unpleasant laughter I witnessed between Greenwell and Garrison when they handled the oranges, something I'd gone out of my way to buy for Carlos that morning.

"I can't believe Amanda roped in Garrison," Helen says to June, over the rim of a vintage martini glass. "I thought you told me when they met, she disliked him intensely, the conniving little bitch. I have to admit to being somewhat impressed."

"You're assuming she masterminded this," says June. "Could as easily have been the stinky weasel himself."

"Have we ruled out coincidence?" I ask, knowing how pathetic I sound, but hoping one of those sitting around June's dining room table might chime in. Nobody does. Not surprising, really. I told them how she'd merrily driven away on Saturday morning, convincing me she was upstate having a spa weekend with her cousin, which was clearly a barefaced lie.

"What I don't understand," says Marisse, "is why Roger's fiancée's brother, Charley—"

"Carley—I mean Carlos," I correct her, ignoring Doug's glare.

"Yes, him. Why is he involved?" continues Marisse. "I mean, what has he got to gain?"

"Probably nothing. My guess is they are just using his place as a meeting point. Or he's in it for the ride," says June. I adamantly avoid looking at Doug because I'm sure my face has lit up.

"Sorry, guys. I'm lost here. I know you all believe they're up to something," says Stew, echoing my own thoughts. "But what, exactly?"

Stew is a laid back, African-American version of Doug, same double-plus size, but where Doug quickly turns to drama, Stew's soothing default is calm rationality.

"It's obvious, isn't it?" says June. "She's after Cedarwood. Or as big a slice of the pie as she can get her over-manicured claws into."

"Makes sense. Amanda and Garrison both know about your grandmother's intentions for Cedarwood," says Marisse.

"Which is why we keep telling you to get a prenup sorted out, honey," says Doug.

"Done. Marisse got one put together through her lecturer at law school. We just haven't signed yet," I reply. "But after that, it's a done deal."

"Then what is their angle?" asks June. "She knows she's getting a payout once the marriage and divorce are settled. How much did you agree, Trout?"

"Five grand. Cash."

Which will clear out half my savings, but it's a small price to pay for saving our family home.

"Which is fair enough," says June. "Cedarwood's worth a helluva lot more. And the prenup surely takes care of everything else. Especially with the fidelity clause."

I take a deep breath before continuing.

"Look. There's something I haven't told anyone."

The room goes quiet. All eyes are on me now. In all honesty, I was also about to mention my evening with Carlos, but seeing their faces, I stick to the one fact.

"She's pregnant. Amanda. Only just confirmed. And, no, before you ask. The kid's not mine."

"As if," blurts Marisse, the only one to speak. Apart from her, the silence in the air is oppressive.

"And she says she doesn't know for sure who the father is," I add, to try to lessen the tension.

"You believe her?" asks June.

"Yeah, I do. Although I think there might be a couple of likely candidates—"

"Honestly, dear," says Helen, mostly quiet up until this point. "You really do know how to pick them, don't you? This girl really is pure class."

"Is she going to keep it?" asks June, something I haven't talked to her about yet. I'm hoping that's a conversation she's saving to have with her family or friends.

"I've no idea. But maybe she knows nobody's going to be there to support her when the kid's eventually born. So if she's going through with the whole pregnancy thing alone, maybe that explains why she's doing what she's doing. Whatever it is."

"Angling to get a bit more security for herself and the bastard-to-be." In her usual brash way, Helen comes straight to the point. "Like I said, I'm impressed."

"Hang on. How does being pregnant affect the prenup and the fidelity clause," June asks Marisse.

"I'm no expert, but I don't think it does," says Marisse. "Nothing's actually signed yet. It'll only take effect once they get hitched."

Inside me, a tiny bit of the tension I'd be holding is released at the explanation, whether the truth about Carlos and me might also affect the agreement.

"You don't think she's going to claim the kid's his, do you?" asks Doug to June. "Because surely that might affect any divorce settlement or prenup arrangement?"

"Even if she did, a paternity test would soon clear that little ruse up. No, there must be something else."

"Trout?" says Doug, in his grown-up voice. My spine stiffens. "For the sake of full disclosure, want to tell us what happened that got you and this guy, Carlos, so buddy-buddy?"

All eyes are back on me. After an involuntary squirm, I fold my arms on the table and stare daggers at Doug.

"She went out one night last week and asked me to babysit him. That's all. End of story."

"Babysit? Hold old is he?" asks Marisse.

"Twenty-four."

"And straight off the cover of GQ, if what I saw this morning in Fort Dix is anything to go by," adds Doug.

"Not helping, pal. Nothing happened. He's a nice guy, likes beer and soccer. We got along. So sue me."

Everyone else keeps on talking, but I can feel June's gaze drilling into me.

"Just for the sake of clarity, let's put this whole thing in perspective, shall we?" says Stew, always a leveler in any group. "First of all, from what I'm hearing, you all believe that Garrison is now up to speed with everything Amanda knows. About Trout's arrangement with her to get married and make sure he gets Cedarwood. Correct?"

"I think we can assume so, yes," I reply.

"And although you saw them, nobody saw you today. At the restaurant," continues Stew. "So although they know about us, none of them are aware that we know they're all in cahoots?"

"Also correct."

"Excellent point," says Helen.

"Okay, so worst-case scenario," says Stew. "Garrison goes crying to your grandmother and tries to convince her the whole wedding is a sham. And, if necessary, he'll have Amanda to back him up."

"No dear." says Helen, calmly checking her phone while speaking. "And you were doing so well up until then. If Beth takes back her offer of Cedarwood, then the bitch ends up with nothing. And from what I am hearing, she's not only a gold digger, she's a lot smarter than that. No, there's something else at play here."

"Is it too late to call the whole thing off with Amanda?" asks June. I'm sure everyone else is thinking the same thing.

"And start all over again?" I'm sure my voice comes out as a whine.

"Fair point. And maybe that's exactly what Garrison wants to happen," adds June. "This is a total fuck-up."

"Somebody must know what the hell's going on," says Doug. "Hey, how about her best friends?"

"No," says June. "Natalie's too stupid. And I saw her friend Gina on the street recently. No love lost there. They haven't spoken since the party. I think Gina's a bit pissed with her for some reason. And, incidentally, she's not particularly happy with your friend Tommy, either."

"Shocker," says Doug.

"Anyone else we could talk to?" asks Marisse.

Doug, Marisse, June, Helen, and I sit around, staring at the fruit bowl in the middle of their dining room table. Eventually, I hear myself whisper.

"Clara."

Even as I say her name, my heart sinks. "Like I said, that's who Amanda was supposed to be meeting this weekend, at some upstate spa. If anyone knows what's going on, it's likely to be Clara."

"Her cousin? Family? Yeah, like she's about to let on about anything," says Marisse.

"Trout's right," June chips in, ignoring Marisse. "I liked her. She was on the level and seemed pretty chilled. Do you think you could talk to her, brother?"

"She's just given birth, June. It wouldn't be fair…"

I hate the thought, and I'm sure it shows on my face. Thinking back to her call yesterday morning when she missed Amanda, I wonder if she wanted to tell me something. Besides which, with the new baby to contend with, she has so much on her plate. Before I can continue, Helen breaks the silence.

"Enough of this horse shit," she says, emphatically, tossing her phone into her handbag. "All you have is speculation and assumptions. Sounds to me like what you need are concrete facts and a mother's touch. Something distinctly up my street. Leave Clara for now. I'm going to give my man a call."

"Your man?" says June. "What man?"

"The one who trailed your stepfather for three months. The one who got the photos of him with the punk bimbo. The one who managed to get my ex-husband's home and office phone tapped. The one who helped secure me a sizeable divorce settlement."

"You used a private detective?" says June aghast.

"Trust me, it takes a private dick to catch a public one," she replies. "It'll be your birthday present, Trout. Nobody fucks with our family. And there's no need to thank me. Just don't act on anything, any of you. Leave this with me."

"We're all supposed to be going to Montauk next weekend," I say, deflating. "Not sure I can face that now."

Helen thumps a black lace-gloved fist down on the table, rattling the bone china and drawing everyone's attention.

"You must. All of you," she says, treating each of us in turn to a subarctic stare. "And under no circumstances can you let on that you suspect anything. I'm serious. I'll get to the bottom of this, but you need to act as though nothing's happened. Can you all do that?"

"For a whole weekend?" I know it sounds like another whimper, but I am not feeling the love right now. Helen simply raises her eyes and waits for a collective response.

"Yes," says June, for all of us. "Yes, mum. We can. Business as usual, right?"

"Jolly good. In which case, I'm done here." She pulls a pad from her bag, opens to a blank page and the pulls out a couple of pens. "Got a few calls to make. I'm going to need the names of everyone, except Garrison, including the companies they work for, the addresses and telephone numbers—if you have them— and any other details you can give me. Whatever you have. Write them down now. And in the future, don't send anything to me by electronic means. If you think of anything else, unless it's urgent, save it for when you next see me. Are we clear?"

"Crystal," June answers for us all. I can see the pride in her eyes when she sees her mother on fire. "And what if there is something urgent?"

"Write the message down on paper, pop it into an envelope with my name on the front—I'm guessing you all know what envelopes are—and give it to any of the staff behind the bar of Velvet Purple on Bleeker Street."

Beyond the window, weekend traffic and the occasional siren of a police car or emergency vehicle in the distance are the only sounds we can hear while the pad is passed around the table.

"Velvet Purple?" says Stew, finally, looking up impressed, and clicking the pen closed. Once we've all written down what we know, Helen replaces the notepad and pens into her bag, before snapping the clasp shut. "Tell the truth, Helen. Are you part of some secret international espionage organization?"

"Don't be ridiculous. I work the bar there evenings, part-time. Toodlepip, everyone."

She stands abruptly, bag dangling from her arm, and exits stage left.

After the rest of us are done, Stew and Doug walk me to my car. Stew is clearly amused by the whole farce, but Doug knows me well enough to recognize the tension in me. As we reach my car, he notices me looking nervously at my watch.

"What time's she due back?" asks Doug.

"Around eight-thirty. I should be there right now, really. Said I'd cook dinner tonight. But I'm not in the mood now."

"Call for takeout," says Doug. "Give her a call now and tell her you're too tired to cook."

"I can't. She left her phone at home."

"She…what?"

"She left her phone…"

We all have the classic comical moment where our brains catch up at the same time.

"How long does it take to get to your place?"

"Not long. I could be home by seven-thirty."

"Do you have her password?" Doug continues.

"What are you two thinking?" asks Stew.

"I don't. But maybe there are messages still on the display screen."

"Stew, can you go and pick up Snoops. I'll head back with Trout and see if she's left us any clues. And then I'll meet you at home later."

The two have a few quiet words while I unlock my car. Doug always tends to get his way, and before long, with a roll of his eyes, Stew is smiling and waving us both goodbye.

Back home, I have to circle the block a couple of times before I manage to find a parking space, and by the time we walk around the corner and head to the apartment, the hour is already nudging eight. When we stand outside of the building, I look to see if any lights are on in the living area.

Everything inside is still in darkness.

Fortunately, the temperamental elevator is working tonight, and we make our way into the apartment. Once I have all the lights on, I head straight for her bedroom and open the door, thankful my father had locks fitted on none of the interior doors—except the bathroom. Her LV bag sits on the bedside table, and as I pull the purse open, Doug enters but comes to an abrupt halt by the bed.

"What in the name of Martha Stewart happened in here?"

"What can I say? Amanda likes peach."

Feeling a little guilty, I fish to the bottom of her bag, but only snag my fingertip or errant paper clips and staples.

"Looks like a Disney princess projectile vomited in here. Has your father seen this travesty? Loving the Chinese silk dressing gown, though."

"Doug, don't put that on. You'll give it stretch marks—"

"Bingo, baby. Here it is."

The huge phone is hidden face down under a small peach silk cushion. When Doug put on the dressing gown, the pillow tipped over to reveal the device. He pulls the display to his face while I go and join him. The top entry shows four missed calls from Clara. The next two are actual texts.

RG: Everyone's in. Sunday 3pm at CB. C U there, baby. xoxoxo.

RG: Trix confirmed. Trout just left with the fat pal.

"Fat pal? Who's the fat pal?"

"Uh, that would be you, Doug."

"I'm telling you now, Trout. These bitches are toast."

"Anything else."

"Two missed calls from RG and a message asking why she's not picking up. And the last two are from someone called GAS. One is telling her not to forget to bring the copy. Who's GAS?"

"Garrison Akron Spencer. Good acronym, too, because whenever I see him he gives me gas. And the copy he's referring to is anybody's guess. The prenup agreement? Or could be something to do with the transfer agreement my grandma has asked to be arranged as our wedding present. Interesting, though. They're definitely up to something. Hold the phone display up so I can take a picture."

Doug understands and does what I ask. When I next see Helen, I can show her, and maybe she or her contact can make sense of the messages.

"Can you swipe up a little," I ask Doug. "That last message is dropping out of view."

When he does as I ask, the message that comes into view makes my blood run cold.

GAS: In case I forget, remember that next weekend is what counts. Remind everyone what's expected of them. Everything's riding on it.

"What the fuck does that mean?" says Doug, looking as alarmed as I feel.

"I have no idea, and I'm sick of speculating. Let Helen do her job. In the meantime, let's put everything back exactly as we found it."

I notice Doug wiping the phone down with a tissue plucked from her scented tissue box.

"Doug, I doubt she'll be checking for fingerprints. Can we just get a move on?"

By the time we're finished, the small cushion back in place covering the phone, Doug and I stand at the bedroom doorway surveying the room, like two gays dads putting their kids to bed for the night. Right then, a key sounds in the lock. I quickly close the door, and we both head for the open kitchen.

Amanda steps into the apartment, looking tired, her eyes immediately settling on Doug and me.

"Evening, boys," she says, brightly, dropping her bag by the door and kicking off her shoes.

"Hi Mandy," says Doug, beating me to the greeting, a takeout menu already in his hand. "Trout couldn't be bothered to cook, so we thought we'd order takeout. But he said you'd left your phone, so we couldn't call you. What do you fancy? Indian? Pizza? Thai? Or how about Chinese?"

"Anything. Just don't ask me to decide because I'm pooped. And don't order too much. Not for me, anyway. I'm not particularly hungry."

"You have a good weekend?" I ask, trying hard to smile.

"The best." She braces a hand against the wall and rubs one of her feet. "Feel rested and revitalized. Ready for anything."

She begins to head off towards her bedroom, but stops and turns back.

"Oh, and Doug," she says.

"Yes, Amanda," he says, smiling broadly, and using an unnaturally sweet voice.

"Now you come to mention Chinese. When you finished with it, do you think I could have my robe back?"

While Doug and I both stare guiltily at the item in question, the one he is still wearing, Amanda disappears into her room. Without saying a word, as Doug removes the garment, we both meet each other's eyes.

In five days' time, we have to pull off a whole weekend of trying to act normal with this charade going on around us.

We are so fucked.

Trout seeks out his allies and prepares for the performance of his life in Montauk.

As always, please leave any comments, suggestions, and/or reactions.

@lomax61 aka Brian

Copyright © 2018 lomax61; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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Chapter Comments

It’s about time for Trout to look for allies. Amanda pushes him around way too much. Obviously, she has something to hold over Trout (the sham marriage), but she’s been bullying him pretty much as soon as she moved in.
;–)

I have the feeling that catching Doug in her robe won’t change her opinion of either Doug or Trout. She seems like the type who would believe that Gay men want to dress up in her clothes. She thinks she’s superior to Trout and all his friends anyway.
;–)

Edited by droughtquake
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32 minutes ago, droughtquake said:

It’s about time for Trout to look for allies. Amanda pushes him around way too much. Obviously, she has something to hold over Trout (the sham marriage), but she’s been bullying him pretty much as soon as she moved in.
;–)

I agree. And it’s one of the first sensible things he has done in the whole story. Of course, now the game of chess begins, with Trout and his friends trying to enjoy a weekend away while Keeping a beady eye on his other guests.

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Are you okay? I hope you are not sick with the COVID virus. Please be safe you guys.

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I think Trout is practicing Social Distancing. It’s difficult to plan a conspiracy when you can’t meet in person. It might be easier to spy on your enemies when everyone is wearing face coverings though!
;–)

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49 minutes ago, Job said:

Are you okay? I hope you are not sick with the COVID virus. Please be safe you guys.

All good. But trying to keep working from home to strictly working from home. Will come back to this soon.

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i start liking Helen a lot  😛

she is a little bit like clifton’s mother in Naked Calendar 😬

hope that your muse will be visiting you soon 😆

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