She nodded a few times but stayed quiet.
Her eyes closed again, but her mouth finally opened. “Three months, one week, and four days after our wedding.” She paused, took a shaky breath, and continued. “My husband has been beating me for twenty years, one month and eighteen days.”
My stomach coiled. Not that I needed more motivation, but twenty years gave me a special surge of it. “You’ve been keeping track. Why?” God, if I found myself in that kind of a situation, one thing I wouldn’t do was mark the days off on a calendar. I’d try to forget them.
Lifting her gaze slowly, her head followed. For the first time, I saw something blaze to life in Mrs. Tucker’s eyes that gave me hope she was still alive somewhere deep inside that shell. “Motivation.”
Damn. Somewhere deep inside that shaky, seemingly scared shitless shell was a brave and motivated woman ready to break free.
“Why have you stayed with him this long?” I asked.
She lifted a shoulder and followed it with a sigh. “The first ten years I hung around because I kept hoping that I’d wake up and whatever demon had taken him over would be gone and he’d be the man I fell in love with. When I finally stopped being naive, I stayed with him because of our kids.” She twirled her wedding ring around her finger, practically glaring at it. “Of course I realize staying in an unhealthy relationship for the kids isn’t the best reason—”
“But it isn’t the worst either.”
Mrs. Tucker wiped her eyes, although I didn’t notice any tears. Maybe they were only phantom ones. Maybe she’d stopped crying the real kind long ago, when she realized nothing would change no matter how many she shed. Until today. Today, everything was about to change.
“I managed to explain the bruises and bandages for a long time, at least until the kids were in high school. But when I was covering a different body part every other week and picking up a new box of Band-Aids every time we visited the grocery store, they each figured it out eventually.”
“What did they do?”
Mrs. Tucker almost smiled. It was so close, it almost counted. “They got out. They escaped. One’s in college on the East Coast, and the other’s playing semi-pro soccer in Washington. They spread their wings and flew away. They did what I should have done long ago.”
“But that’s what you’re going to do now.” I twisted toward her and slid the envelope from her hands. “It might have taken you a while, but you’re leaving him now and that’s what matters. Not that you maybe hung around for too long, or that you may have stayed for the wrong reasons, or that you’re scared witless to do what you’re about to. What matters is that you’re doing it.”
Mrs. Tucker’s eyes met mine again. “What matters is that I’m taking him down in the process. What matters is that he’s going to feel what’s it’s like to feel his whole life slipping away from him. What matters is that he won’t be able to control it. I’m taking that from him. I’m going to be the one hovering over him when this is over. That is what matters.”
“You’re doing this to get even,” I stated. I was fine with that. Even was good enough reason for me. Hell, at the end of the day, I didn’t need a reason. When the term domestic abuse came up, that was all the reason I needed.
Mrs. Tucker shook her head. “Revenge,” she stated, her eyes narrowing. “I’m doing this for revenge.”
So Mrs. Tucker had a bit more fight inside of her than I’d thought. Good for her. “You’re divorcing the bastard and taking him for half of everything.” I gave her a nod. “That’s a solid case of revenge if I’ve ever heard one.”
“I’ve got twenty years’ worth of revenge to dole out. If there was a way to take him for more, I would.”
I dropped the envelope into my briefcase. I needed to wrap things up. Time was a luxury I never had. Especially time with the Client. “You realize that when this is done and you’ve got the damning evidence you need, you’re going to have to get out of that house and stay away from him while you file for divorce, right? He can’t be anywhere close to you or know where to find you when he receives those papers. You know that, right?”
That speech wasn’t in my job description. I didn’t council or advise or offer post-marital counseling. My job was one thing and one thing only—to seduce the husband and open up that pre-nup loophole. Something about Mrs. Tucker, however, left me conflicted. She wasn’t just married to a cheater—she was married to a man who beat her. I didn’t know what he’d do when he found out she was leaving him, but I knew enough to guess it wouldn’t turn out well for Mrs. Tucker. Whether it meant a few more bruises, or some mental blows that would leave permanent scars, or if he was one of the crazy ones who came at her with a loaded gun, I wouldn’t be able to sleep well if I didn’t say my piece.
“I’ve already got that figured out. I have a couple of suitcases packed and hidden and an emergency fund I’ve been stowing away for years. I know exactly what I need to do. I’m ready. All I need is for you to do your part, and I’ll be free.” She exhaled as a shadow of a peaceful expression came over her face. “I’ll finally be free.”
I gave Mrs. Tucker’s hands a squeeze before rising. The sooner I got the file studied, the sooner I could arrange the Greet with the Target and the sooner I could stick it to that a**hole. Mrs. Tucker focused while I gave her the standard Meet lecture and when I gave her the phone, her eyes went a little glassy. “You know what the ironic thing about this whole thing is? If I could do it all again, knowing what kind of a man Rob would become, that wouldn’t stop me from marrying him. I’d do it all over again.”
My forehead creased. “Why’s that?”
She stopped twirling the ring on her left hand and lifted her right. She wore another ring on her right ring finger. One with two different gemstones. Mrs. Tucker smiled at it. “Because I got my two angels from that devil of a man. Because I might have had to endure twenty years with him, but I get to spend the rest of my life with them.” She polished her thumb over the ring before setting her hand back in her lap. “They were worth it.”
I smiled conventionally and waved as I left Mrs. Tucker. The thing that stuck with me most about our conversation was that I didn’t doubt what she’d said. She would go through another twenty years at the mercy of a pair of fists in exchange for her children. When I slid into the car, I was hit with a wave of depression that my whole life, I’d only loved one person like Mrs. Tucker loved her children. There’d been a single soul I’d walk through hell for.
He was the same person who was responsible for dropping me in hell and leaving me there. The person I was seeking my own revenge on.
Love is positively f**ked up.
MR. TUCKER’S FILE WAS probably the least surprising one I’d ever gone through. Since I already knew he beat his wife, the rest was easy to fill in. I know that stereotypes were generally frowned upon, but in my business, stereotypes were less about labeling and more about math. To an Eve, stereotypes were a rudimentary form of probability and statistics.
I could study a Target’s file until my fingers were numb, but no amount of paperwork could prepare me for every situation that might arise with the Target. So I read the file, took what I learned, and applied the stereotypes I’d picked up along the way to improvise my way through an Errand. Yes, I planned. Sure, I manipulated. But I improvised just as much, if not more.
Rob Tucker owned a string of car dealerships throughout Florida. His commercial and billboard advertising included him in every shot, with his blinding white smile, too-bronze tan, and bloated ego. Looks-wise, he was attractive for a man in his fifties, but he was aware of it . . . although he was probably inflating his looks by double. Mr. Tucker probably couldn’t pass a mirror without stopping and smiling at himself before making a douchy pistol shot.
He wore tight polos to show off the biceps he worked out five days a week. That explained why Mrs. Tucker’s bruises went deep and hung around longer than most. He drove a Corvette—yes, a red one—played poker on Friday night with his “buds,” and played eighteen holes of golf on Saturday. On Sunday, he religiously rose early and went to church with his wife, and sometime after, he religiously struck her across the face for drying out the pork roast, or undercooking the haricot vert, or making the custard too soupy. Mrs. Tucker’s notes were detailed in a way I’d never seen. She was taking it seriously, at least five steps more serious than any of my other Clients. If she could do that, I’d step my serious scale up five steps, too.
From the amount of time Mr. Tucker spent at gentlemen’s clubs, he could have a regular customer punch card. Though she couldn’t prove it, he’d had a handful, if not a small army, of affairs with employees, friends’ wives, prostitutes, and quite possibly a couple of neighbors.
As stereotypes went, Mr. Tucker threw the general curve by several points.
After spending the majority of the night perusing the file, I got up early to send Henry a quick email to let him know I needed a week to wrap up something before I could start at Callahan Industries.
Not even two minutes after hitting send, his response pinged in my inbox:
Vacation requests already? What have I gotten myself into? Have fun wrapping whatever-that-something-is up. -HC
Henry didn’t have a clue what he’d gotten himself into. Not a clue. That was my first thought after reading his reply. My second was to let a smile creep out right before I hit reply.
How’s it going on the other side of the world?
Before I could type anything else, I rushed to slip on my heels, grab my purse, and head for the door of my hotel room. Another ping from my laptop stopped me. I should keep going and check it later. My focus needed to be on and stay with the Tucker Errand, not exchanging pointless emails with Henry.
I hurried over to check my laptop. My focus wasn’t as ironclad as I’d always believed.
Let’s just say I’m going to need another Guinness the instant I step foot on U.S. soil again.
Poor Henry. The days where his infectious smile and shrug could fix just about any problem were over . . . and what was I doing thinking Poor Henry? If that wasn’t the last time I put those two words together, I would wrap a rubber band around my wrist and snap it each time I even thought about pairing Henry’s name with the word poor.
G had booked another penthouse for me, so after making my way down thirty floors, I stepped out of the elevator and headed for the rental car that was already waiting for me at valet. My car was nice, but not as nice as I was accustomed to. That was because I was about to go shopping for a really nice car at a nearby car dealership.
Tucker Automotive Group.
Yes, the abusive bastard had named his company after himself. Not exactly the surprise of the century. Or even the hour.
According to Mrs. Tucker’s notes, Mr. Tucker didn’t work directly with the customers anymore. He mainly stuck to running the business and screwing the conveyor belt of young assistants he had rotating through his office. But he made an exception for clients who were deemed “high profile”—aka wealthy ones shopping for cars in the six-figure range—or customers who were . . . of the XY chromosome and genetically blessed.