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"Charley Best, just the man I want to talk to," my boss said on Monday coming into my office.
By the way I'm Charles Best, a troubleshooter for Dillon Software Products. I'm one of the best in the country and for the last six years the alpha dog at my company.
"I need you to go to Seattle and straighten out the new programs for Dynamic, our big customer out there," my boss continued. "You need to be there for the meeting Wednesday morning, so you'll have to leave tomorrow afternoon at the latest."
"Ralph, I just got back from a three day trip to Cleveland," I stood and tried to reason with him. "You promised me I could have some down time before I had to travel again. You know my wife's company awards party is this Friday. Send Jim, he knows the software."
"Can't. Jim broke his leg skiing and won't be available for at least two weeks. This won't wait." Ralph turned to leave my office. "I want you to stay there until the problem is solved; even if it means staying over the weekend. See Stella, she has your flight and rental car info. See you in five or six days."
It's tough to argue a point with someone who has just walked away and when that someone is your boss. I slumped back onto my chair and thought, damn Theresa isn't going to be happy about this.
Theresa Riley Best is my wife of three years and she has somewhat of a volatile temper. No that's not quite right; she has an explosive temper with no off switch when she gets going. She is Mexican and Irish, but her Irish temper overrides a lot of the good features of both of her heritages. And the news about this trip would set her off. What would really make her go ballistic was that I would probably miss her company awards dinner Friday night.
A dinner I had promised to attend, no matter what. She was getting an award and her promotion would be announced at the dinner. Naturally Theresa wanted her husband there.
I picked up my itinerary from Ralph's secretary Stella and decided to head home. Might as well get this over with, I thought. Maybe I could take Theresa some flowers and soften the eruption. No, if I did that she'd know that I'd either done something or was about to do something she wouldn't like. I guess I'll just have to face her and weather the storm, I said to myself.
On my way home I thought back to the first time I met Theresa. Her brother Julio and I played on the company baseball team; him at second and me at shortstop. He worked in a different division but we became friends as well as teammates and co-workers. After one game I drove him home because his old beater of a car had died.
We pulled up in his driveway and I saw this 5' 3, slender, raven haired tornado giving some guy hell. Later I learned that he was her boyfriend and she'd caught him playing around with another girl. The guy was about 6'and it was funny to see this little slip of a girl right up in his guys face telling him off.
"Shut up bitch," he told her. I guess he decided he'd had enough and pulled back his hand to slap her. The slap was never delivered.
I don't know what made me do it, he was two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than me, but I was on him in a second; beating Julio by three steps. My dad, just before he left us, tried to use my mom and me as punching bags. Maybe that's why I got so worked up seeing a guy about to beat on a woman. I'm not a big guy at 5'10 but the fight was over pretty damn quick. I hit him and he hit the ground. The young lady started kicking him and Julio pulled her away.
"C'mon Theresa, that's enough," Julio said. Turning to the guy as he was getting up holding his bloody nose Julio told him, "You better get out of here Chico before I turn her loose on you again."
Holding his nose where I'd hit him, Chico looked daggers at me. Before he could say anything Julio said, "And don't even think about trying to get back at Charley. If he so much as gets a paper cut, I'll get Juan involved. I think he'd like a shot at you anyway."
Chico's reaction when Julio mentioned this Juan was almost funny. His face got pale, his eyes opened wide and he actually started to shake. He turned and almost ran to his car.
"Who's Juan?" I asked.
Julio smiled and grimaced at the same time. "Juan is our brother. He beat some guy half to death for hitting a female friend of his and was sent to prison for assault. He just got out. Oh, this is my sister Theresa."
Chico had really good taste, I thought. Theresa was not just pretty but she approached beautiful. She was slender but with bulges and curves in all the right places. Maybe her most striking feature was her green eyes. They really jumped out at you with her creamy tan complexion.
"Hi, I'm Charley Best. Your knight in shining armor," I greeted Theresa trying to be funny.
She was still steaming and answered, "I could have handled him. If he'd tried to hit me he would have drawn back a stump. I didn't' need your help."
"Okay, I'm sorry. Next time I'll just stand there and watch while you get your ass kicked," I replied. The hell with you little girl, I thought. I put myself out there and not even a thank you. Screw you. I turned to walk back to my car. "See you tomorrow Julio."
The next day after work Julio asked for a lift home; he said his car was on life support and the mechanic was about to pull the plug. As we got close to my car I saw a giant leaning against the front fender. Julio smiled and started running toward the big man. Turning his head Julio back toward me, he said, "It's my brother Juan."
I'd learned that Julio and Theresa's father was a big, redheaded Irishman named Bill Riley. Their mother, Maria, was Mexican with dark hair and eyes. Julio and Theresa took after their mother who was only 5' 5 with dark hair and eyes. Juan must take after his father, I thought. He had to be at least 6' 4 with auburn hair worn in a ponytail. His eyes were the same green as Theresa's.
He stood as I got to my car and came to meet me. "I'm Juan Riley," he said sticking out his hand. "I wanted to thank you for protecting Theresa." Then he smiled and added, "Even if she's too much of a bitch to thank you herself."
"You're welcome and it's nice to meet you Juan. I'm sure Julio would have jumped in if I hadn't. But I can't stand a man that'll hit a woman."
"Don't know if I'd call Chico a man," Juan replied. "He's been getting full of himself lately but I think you brought him back to reality." I heard him mutter under his breath, "And if you didn't, I will."
If Juan decides to have a "talk" with Chico I feel sorry for Chico, I thought. I gave Juan a ride back to his apartment and took Julio home. Theresa was waiting on the front porch as I pulled into the driveway. She walked out to the car and waited for me to get out. Instead I stayed in the car; I didn't even turn the engine off.
"See you tomorrow Julio," I told him as he got out of my car. "You'll have to catch another ride home; I've got a dinner meeting with a client."
"Charley, I want to thank you for your help yesterday," Theresa said. She had to bend down to talk to me. "And I want to apologize for the way I treated you after you knocked Chico down." Not seeing the reaction she expected Theresa continued. "I was still hyped up from fighting with that cabron and sometimes it's hard for me to control my temper."
"You're welcome," I replied. "No problem." I waved at Julio and backed out of the driveway. Theresa stood there in shock and watched me drive away.
My dinner meeting the next evening went well and the client drove me back to my car. I was almost to my car and I looked up to see Juan leaning against my car again. He smiled as I got close.
"Give a friend a ride home?" Juan asked.
"Sure," I replied. "Get in" There's something more here than Juan needing a ride home, I thought.
"I heard Theresa thanked you for helping her."
Nodding I didn't say anything.
"I also heard that she tried to apologize for the way she treated you." I nodded again. Juan looked at me for a few seconds and added, "I heard you wouldn't talk to her or accept her apology."
"That's not true. I said you're welcome," I responded.
"She really feels bad about it," Juan told me. "I'd like for you to get out of your car and talk to her the next time you give Julio a ride home."
We arrived at Juan's apartment building and I pulled into the parking lot and stopped. I shut off the car and turned toward him.
"Is that, I'd like for you to talk to her as a favor to a new friend or is that I'll sit on you if I don't?"
"Does it make a difference?" Juan asked with a little grin.
"Yeah, it does," I answered. "If you're asking as a friend, I'll think about it"
"And if it's the other?"
"Then we have a big problem," I replied. "Actually I guess I'm the one with a big problem. You."
"Why do you have a big problem?
"Because I won't be forced to do something I don't want to do; and I don't respond well to threats." I looked Juan in the eye without flinching. "If you feel its necessary we can get out of the car and discuss the situation in more detail."
I know it wasn't smart, it fact it was pretty stupid. There was nothing to lose by talking to Theresa but my contrary mind wouldn't let me do it because I was ordered to. I waited, almost not breathing, for Juan reaction to my challenge.
.... There is more of this story ...