JoAnn Baca


Catherineís patience was wearing thin, and she attempted for the third time to break through his monologue on the subject of why they should not split up. "Listen, Tom, I...."

But it was no use. He wasnít listening, would not yield the floor. She held the receiver away from her ear and scowled at it in aggravation. Tomís voice, tinny and insistent, continued to pour from the earpiece. Eventually, she placed the receiver to her ear and tried to interrupt again. "Tom, Iím going to hang up if you donít...."

This last comment penetrated his single-minded verbal assault. Tom Gunther, a man used to being listened to, used to being catered to, finally took a breath. "Wha...? Did you say something, Cathy?"

Even though he couldnít see them, her eyes flashed with the same irritation that saturated her voice. "Yes, Tom, I did. Or rather, Iíve been trying to for the last ten minutes." Taking a deep breath, she plunged into what she was afraid would be a futile attempt to end the conversation. "Iíve heard all this before, Tom. It doesnít change anything. Donít you understand? Iíve changed. Iím not the Cathy Chandler you were attracted to. I seriously doubt we have much in common anymore."

She knew that Tom hadnít risen to his high position in business and society by being easily deterred, so she could only roll her eyes in frustration when his voice changed to what he probably thought was a persuasive intimacy. "Cathy, be reasonable. We have the same things in common weíve always had. Weíre good together. You canít have changed so much in just a few months. I know youíve been traumatized by your attack, but...."

Brutally, she cut him off. She wasnít going to allow him to characterize her commitment to her new job and her new life as a temporary aberration caused by her reaction to her attack. In her soul, she knew she was forever transformed. Not trying to disguise any of the disgust she felt, she barked, "Stop that! Donít blame my breaking things off on the attack." She heard him sigh gustily and knew he was working up to an interruption. Changing tactics, she forced her voice to sound calmer, more reasonable. "The fact is, even before that, I felt...restless, unhappy. Partly it was our relationship, partly the work I was doing, partly it was my life in general. All the aftermath of the attack allowed me was space and time to think, to analyze everything in my life. One thing I realized was that I donít feel the same way about you as I did when we began dating."

Tom also became conciliatory, perhaps assuming her reasonable tone signified the beginning of a change of heart. "Now, babe, you donít mean that. I want you in my life. Maybe you arenít ready to make a commitment to marriage right now, but give it some time. I love you, and I know whatís best for you. Let me do the thinking for both of us on this one, OK?"

His words had the opposite effect he had intended, for Catherineís reasonable tone evaporated as, voice shaking with anger, she countered, "Face it, Tom, it takes two to make a relationship. You canít argue or wheedle me back into one. No matter how strongly you feel we should be together, if I donít feel that way, too, why would you want to be with me?"

Stumped, Tom changed tactics yet again, his voice reflecting an apology Catherine knew didnít ring true. "Cathy...maybe I havenít been as attentive as I should have been recently, but you know you need me. Youíve always needed me, and you always will."

With a resigned sigh, she argued back. "No, Tom. I know now that I have the strength to depend on myself. I donít need anyone to do my thinking for me. Perhaps once, but no longer."

Angered by her insistent denials, Tomís voice reflected a sarcasm he couldnít hide. "The attack took more out of you than I thought. You used to be more sensible. Now youíre acting like a child!"

Catherine smiled to herself, her anger gone. All the old manipulative tricks he used seemed so obvious now. Was there actually a time when they had worked on her? She laughed as she replied, "Iím a child when I donít agree with you, but sensible when I do? I see."

He heard the humor in her voice, and it angered him all the more. The nerve of her -- laughing at me! Who does she think she is?! With an authoritative growl he shot back, "Iím weary of this, Cathy. Youíre becoming quite tiresome. Youíre so unattractive this way. Do you know what you sound like?"

But Catherine wasnít falling into the old traps. "A woman who knows her own mind?" With a sarcastic edge, she continued, "You call me a child, say Iíve always depended on you to make decisions. I guess you donít remember all the times youíve depended on me, my contacts, my abilities when you needed help. Remember the Opera Guild reception I organized for you? How about the charity auction you volunteered to chair but couldnít be bothered arranging? Could an indecisive child have pulled off the successes I have for you?" she challenged, knowing it would irritate him and glad of it.

Really angry now, Tom lashed out, wanting to hurt her, not caring whether the pain went deep. "Ms. High and Mighty thinks sheís been such a help to me. I donít doubt youíve had your uses. But Iíve handled a lot you donít even know about to make things a success, for which youíd gladly take the credit. Take the City Planning Commission party the night of your attack. I asked you to help me put it together, yes. So you arranged for the room, the flowers, the catering. But do you know what closes deals, little lady? Offering the Planning Commission what they really want. Yeah, they want to be wined and dined. But what they really want, what cinches the deal, is a little more...personal attention. So, yes, you did your little bit, but it was me who made that evening a success."

For a moment, events flashed through Catherineís mind. Pieces clicked into place. Suddenly, the horrifying truth was before her. In a strangled voice, she asked, ""

"What was me?" Unsure of her reaction, he wondered what she was referring to.

"The...escort service. That night. It was you who arranged it?" Her voice shook with an emotion Tom couldnít identify. But he was on a roll now, scoring points, and he didnít stop to think about what sheíd said, what it meant.

He laughed harshly. "Who else? You think those ladies showed up on their own? And they donít come cheap either. Yeah, I hired them. And, if youíll recall, I got the contract. Believe me, sweetheart, it wasnít the shrimp cocktail you ordered that turned the trick!"

Amused at his little joke, Tom didnít at first realize that Catherine had hung up on him. He immediately redialed her number, ready to blast her for such an immature action, but she refused to pick up the phone. Seeing red, he slammed the receiver down and flew out of his office, yelling over his shoulder at his secretary to reschedule his appointments for the rest of the day. On the street he hailed a cab and headed for her apartment. He offered the cabbie an extra twenty if he ignored the speed limit and got him to his destination in a hurry.

* * *

After Catherine heard Tomís confirmation, the phone slipped from her hand to the cradle almost of its own will. She was stunned speechless. She was still trying to process her emotions when a sharp knock on the door startled her out of her musings ten minutes later.

"Cathy! Let me in right now! Cathy!!" Tomís anger had festered during the short cab ride, and he was seething as he heard the bolts slide and the doorknob turn. As soon as the door cleared the jamb, he shoved it hard, causing Catherine to stumble back. He slammed the door behind himself and immediately grabbed her by the shoulders. "Why did you hang up on me? Why? Answer me!"

Catherineís forearms came up in a move Isaac had taught her, and she broke his grip easily. It was almost instinctive, for she hardly looked at him as she did it. He was so astonished that she had recovered her equilibrium so quickly that his anger was diffused somewhat. In a more reasonable tone of voice, he continued. "Talk to me, Cathy. Donít shut me out."

She turned toward him, and he was taken aback by the icy fury in her flashing green eyes. She was angrier than he had ever seen her. Where was his pliant, tractable Cathy? "Talk to you, Tom? How about instead of talking, I explain something to you and you listen. Listen well. This is the last conversation we will ever have, so I want you to really hear me."

Tom tried to cut her off with a "Now, babe, just listen..."

"No, you listen." Catherine jabbed a finger into his chest...hard. It stunned Tom into silence. "I donít know why I never put it together before. Until today. Until you said it yourself. It was so obvious, but it never occurred to me." She seemed as if she were talking to herself. "Tom, answer me again: did you hire an escort service to send call girls to the Planning Commission party?"

Puzzled, he again responded, "Yes. Thatís what I said. And donít tell me youíre shocked by that, Cathy, because, frankly, I donít believe it."

"No, Iím not shocked." She shook her head. Tears filled her eyes. Her voice trembled a little as she asked, "Do you realize what you did?"

Completely mystified now, Tom barked, "What? What did I do? I mean, besides land the contract? Whatís the big deal, Cathy?"

She blinked the tears away, unwilling to let him see her cry. Anger built in her as she explained exactly what the "big deal" was. "The man who ran that escort service ordered the disfigurement of one of the call girls at that party. His goons mistook me for her. So, in a way, you are partially responsible for the attack on me. You, Tom."

The color drained from his face as the implications of her comment hit him. My God...

"You arranged things very neatly, Tom." The fury in her voice was replaced now with a kind of cold resignation. "You arranged your way right out of my life. I think itís time for you to leave. Please, leave now. And donít call me again."

Tom tried to think of something to say, but before he could do more than gulp a deep breath, Catherine had grabbed him by the arm and was propelling him toward the door. "Out!"

She dragged the door open with one hand and thrust him out with the other. Tom didnít come back to himself until the door banged shut in his face.

Catherine leaned against the door, sobbing into her hands. All that terror, all that pain...because he wanted to impress some politicians. She gave in to her grief for a time, letting it wash through her...and away. Then, with firm resolve, she brushed the tears away and stood upright. There was one thing for which she would always be grateful to Tom. If it hadnít been for that fateful "arrangement," Vincent might never have come into her life. And that would have been the true tragedy.

Maybe someday she would find a way to thank Tom for that.