Her Secret Life. Gwynne Forster

Her Secret Life - Gwynne Forster

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every man here has a chauffeur. I thought…never mind what I thought.” Hmm. So Mr. Holcomb was one big-shot who didn’t have an inflated estimation of himself. He’d just gone up several notches in her opinion.

      Warren Holcomb had begun life at the bottom of the heap, so to speak, and remained there for almost half of his life. However, by his wits and ambition, he became, by age forty, sole owner of luxury hotels in Washington, D.C., Nairobi, Kenya and Honolulu. He was currently planning to build one on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Harlem. He’d accepted membership in Allegory, Inc. to show that success and manners meant more than skin color, and he was always happy to inform anyone interested that he hadn’t applied for membership, but had been invited to join. So far, he wasn’t sorry that he was a member.

      “I told the traffic cop that that Lincoln belonged to a brother, one of the very best,” the doorman said to Warren when he rushed down to check on his car. “She said you shouldn’t park it so close to Fifth Avenue, but she didn’t ticket you.”

      “Thanks,” he said to the doorman, greatly relieved. “I’ll do as much for you sometime.” He handed the doorman a twenty dollar bill. “I’m not trying to pay you, but I am truly grateful for your help.”

      “Yes, sir, and I do appreciate it.”

      He walked back into the club, took a seat at the bar and ordered coffee and two aspirin. He didn’t have a headache. He needed to settle his libido, and a pain killer usually did the trick. Jackie didn’t know it, but when he’d had her in his arms and she’d looked up at him with lips parted and glistening, he’d come close to an erection. He couldn’t remember when he’d last reacted in that way to a woman he hadn’t kissed or fondled. It was his good fortune that she hadn’t seemed eager to move out of his arms. If he was lucky, it meant she was attracted to him. He cocked an ear when he heard her name.

      “Man, that woman could melt snow in a blizzard just by showing up,” one man said.

      “Yeah. I’ll bet she’s got a forty-inch top, and that’s just about the sweetest little ass I ever saw in my life. How tall would you say Jackie is, Ben?” the second man asked the bartender.

      Warren drained his cup and stood, disgusted. He hated to hear men speak that way about women, and it doubly irritated him that Jackie was the object of their lewd expressions of admiration.

      Wanting to put an end to it, he answered for Ben. “She’s about five-nine, and you guys sound as if you’re still living in Hell’s Kitchen.”

      The offender stood and looked up at Warren. “Just because she’s black doesn’t mean you own her. She’s a hot piece. And I never lived in Hell’s Kitchen.”

      “Aw, knock it off,” Warren said. “You’re CEO of a big company, and it ought to show someplace other than in your wallet.”

      “Come on, guys,” a fourth man said. “Jackie’s the reason I come here every evening. After I look at my horse-face secretary all day, I need to see that chestnut-brown beauty with those long legs that go on forever, that neat little waist and…” He looked at Warren. “Not to worry, buddy, I’m not touching the rest.”

      Warren decided to call it a night. Hearing other men talk about Jackie in that way stuck in his craw and made him think of shortening the distance between their ears. He didn’t see himself attached to a cocktail waitress whose skirts barely covered her flawless hips, but that woman had something special, and he had a mind to investigate it.

      He left the club, got into his Lincoln Town Car and headed for his home in Brooklyn Heights. As he drove, it occurred to him that the reason why the men had such loose tongues around Jackie was because they considered her a sexy bombshell who didn’t have a brain. He’d bet she would surprise them.

      Warren couldn’t know the accuracy of his assessment. With a superior memory, Jackie knew more about some of the club members than they would guess or wish. At home, after a long and tiring day, she sat before the mirror of her dressing table, massaging her temples and relaxing, ruminating about the day’s happenings before preparing for bed.

      Those rich men think a cocktail waitress is so empty-headed that they can discuss their business and personal secrets in her presence, and she’s too stupid to pick up on it. Well, this one isn’t. I’m not interested in disabusing them of their ignorance; they may one day become victims of their prejudices, and I hope I’m around to see it.

      She fought the rising anger that welled up in her as she recalled how careless some of those men were with their manners and their talk, because they thought she didn’t deserve better. Not all of them. Holcomb respected her, and so did Ben, the bartender, and most of the older men.

      Holcomb, how she wished they’d met in different circumstances. She had just completed that thought when the telephone rang. “Hello,” she said into the receiver.

      “Hi,” her older sister, Vanna, said. “You’ve been on my mind lately. How’s Papa?”

      “Pretty good. I’m going to see him tonight. How’re the children?”

      “What can I say? Raising three kids by myself isn’t what I thought I’d be doing when I had ’em, but they’re precious, the little darlings.”

      They talked for a while, and when Vanna said good-night and hung up, Jackie looked at her watch. If she hurried and pretended that Charlie Rose and Tavis Smiley didn’t exist, didn’t turn on the television, merely said her prayers and went to bed, perhaps she wouldn’t be so sleepy when she awoke the next morning.

      As she did every morning at eight o’clock, Monday through Friday and an occasional Saturday, Jacqueline left her home for her office unrecognizable to the members of Allegory, Inc. On that morning, dressed in a conservative business suit and wearing medium-heel shoes, her shoulder-length hair in a braided chignon and her skin devoid of makeup, a smile settled on Jacqueline’s face when Jeremy, the guard, rushed to meet her as she entered the building that housed African American Woman magazine.

      “’Morning, Dr. Parkton,” he said, tipped his hat and, as usual, took her briefcase and walked with her to the elevator.

      “Good morning, Jeremy. You spoil me.”

      “Yes, ma’am, and I’m gon’ do that every chance I get. You the nicest person that comes in here. Have a good day.”

      “Thank you, Jeremy. You, too.”

      “’Morning, Dr. Parkton,” the secretaries and clerks called out as she walked through the section. Jacqueline smiled as she greeted them, aware that each of them treated her as if she were special, different from the other editors who were her subordinates. She hung her Do Not Disturb sign on the door of her office, sat down and checked her mail.

      “That man is boneheaded,” she said aloud and, for the second time, returned a short story to an Edmond Lassiter as unacceptable. “Please don’t send this to me again. It’s more suitable for a men’s magazine,” she wrote across the top of the page. Jacqueline hated to reject a manuscript for she empathized with writers, but what else could she do with that one?

      Warren parked the Town Car in his garage and went to the deli two blocks away on Montague Street to buy his dinner. He hated eating alone in restaurants, and he disliked the idea of making a date with a woman when he only wanted company while he ate. Dressing up, going across the city, or even farther, to get the woman, making reservations at a fancy place and talking intelligently when he was so tired he felt like falling into the food? Give him the deli or the Chinese take-out window any day.

      While he waited for his shrimp salad, rolls and cheesecake, his mind settled on Jackie Parks. How would she look if she wore less eye makeup and rouge? She had a body to die for and, at times, it seemed as if he would die wanting it. He didn’t allow himself to get hooked on the idea of having a particular woman with whom he didn’t have a relationship. But he wanted Jackie Parks.

      “Here you are, sir,” the Korean lady said, handing him the bag that contained his supper. “Have nice

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