After Parkinson’s nurse had collected the DNA samples from the baby, Justin left Gisela and went home. This would be the third night he’d slept there after his wife’s softening. Whenever this
happened, Katelyn slept in Olivia’s room—she was hardly around. But tonight, Justin was determined to sweet-talk her back in the master bedroom.
Before he rang the bell, Justin heard the sound of his children’s feet, of their laughter and the piano. It must have been Natasha playing French jazz. He’d missed those moments of
fatherhood—the goodnight pecks, hugs, cuddles… He put down the pizza he’d bought them—Natasha’s favorite butternut squash and crispy sage. He then removed his shoes. Before his hand reached the
bell, the door swung open and Layla stood before him with open arms.
“Hey daddy, I missed you… I knew it was you.”
“Oh, I missed you too, honey.” Justin stepped forward and hugged her. “How did you know?”
“I heard the steps.”
“Whoa… you can tell my steps--”
Natasha came running and jumped on him. “Daddy!”
After a little chitchat and laughter with the girls, he ran upstairs and flopped down on the bed for a few seconds to catch his breath. Then, dragging himself out of bed, he hit the shower. The
cold water felt invigorating, as it soothed his worn-out body.
A few minutes later, he came out and slumped in his rocking chair at the lounge just outside the master bedroom. It felt great being home after the unpleasant encounter with Gisela. He lifted
himself slightly and removed the car key that was pressing into his thigh and remained fiddling with it. His eyes settled on Gisela’s image inscribed on the keyholder. Heartless! Why hadn’t he
thrown it away? His body washed cold just thinking of her.
Katelyn walked in with a smile—the same smile he used to see in their courtship days. She tipped her head sideways and her long curly hair, perhaps just done the same day, fell to one side,
revealing her feline eyes. She smoothed her dress down, not looking at Justin, as if allowing him the privilege of admiring her figure and shapely shoulders, back, and bosom—which were exposed. She
must have deliberately dressed for him.
“Been here long? I’d gone shopping,” she said, giving him her hand.
She looked more of someone from a beauty contest than shopping. Would she be seeing someone? Dan? No, she wouldn’t stoop that low. This was how she’d been dressing since he moved out with Gisela.
However much he tried to allay his fears, he felt insecure.
He took her hand in his, kissed it, and hugged her. “Not so long ago… you look amazing.
She eased herself from his embrace and handed him what looked like a magazine. “This was brought this morning.”
Justin sat back and flicked through the Audited financials of the company he was planning to invest in. “Mamma Mia… twenty percent EBITDA?”
With a slight nod, she pushed back her hair, revealing the gold of her eyes. “Whatever that means...”
“It’s the profit percentage…. I must close this deal next week... wait a minute…” He ran a finger on the page, squinting a little.
This was just a trick to get her attention. There was nothing wrong he’d seen.
“What’s up… I just see numbers but can’t make head or tail of anything.” She bent over so close her breath tickled the underside of his chin.
But she immediately straightened and moved away when he looked up to kiss her.
Justin closed the booklet and curled it up into a tight tube, tapping it on his knee.
“I miss you, Katie.”
She pulled an armchair and sat, crossing her arms over her chest saying nothing.
“Oh, boy… you’re making me blush… Have you lost weight? You’re looking good, you know.” He stopped tapping the financials and peered in her eyes, his mouth twitching with a smile. “Please move back
to our bedroom and I’ll use the couch. It’s not good when the kids see us sleeping in separate rooms.”
She turned her head to the side to avert his scrutinizing gaze, but the sudden rosiness of her cheeks gave her away. A sudden knock at the door wouldn’t have come at a better time. “Oh, I need to
release the workers… it’s already six!” She looked at the wall clock and dashed to the door.
“Wait a minute.” Justin followed her. “I didn’t see Olivia, is she around?”
“I’m worried about her.”
“Could you please invite her boyfriend for dinner tonight? I wanna talk to both of’em.”
Despite the unpleasantness of Olivia’s love life, it was a done deal with his wife. Justin looked forward to the night. He moved to the balcony and watched Katelyn until she disappeared behind the
cowshed where farmworkers waited for her.
Justin gazed at the fluttering leaves on the trees. One couldn’t tell of the storm they’d suffered—the scorching sun and the winds that howled and tore their brethren from branches to the ground.
Yet, they reflected the beautiful and soft slanting sun rays of the evening. The plucked leaves, swirling in the gusting wind, revealed the hardship passed. This was his angel Katelyn—bruised, but
always sweet and ready to forgive. Tears welled in his eyes. A living saint!
Later that evening, Katelyn and Olivia helped in the kitchen when Justin descended to meet Ryan, who sat by the table, playing chess with Mike. Layla and Natasha were at a corner, strumming chords
on the piano and singing along.
Ryan rose to his feet and gave Justin his hand. “Hello, sir.”
“Hello... Please carry on.” Justin pointed to the chessboard, shaking Ryan’s hand.
Ryan bit his lip, and Justin divined his thoughts. Ryan should have moved the rook to B1. He still could do it now, it set him up to revert to the Carlsbad pawn structure if he had to, but he’d
lose a chance to move his knight into a more protective position. He did exactly that and Mike captured his bishop, exposing the king.
Ryan beamed with a lingering smile. “Checkmate.” He moved his bishop from the edge of the board on his end and captured Mike’s King. Game over.
Mike cursed. “Damn it, I didn’t see that coming.”
Rose showed up. “Dinner’s ready.”
At the dining table, after Natasha had said grace, Justin spread a napkin on his lap and smeared butter on the bread. “You want some?” He passed a basket with Ciabatta bread to Ryan, whom he
fancied looked pensive.
“Thank you.” Ryan broke off a piece and put it on the edge of his plate and leaned back a little to allow Olivia some space to serve him broth.
There was excitement at the table.
Katelyn laughed and joked easily. Justin hadn’t seen her more lively and good-humored for a long while. Her high spirits rubbed on him; thank God, he’d not lost his family. The old life was
returning and he wouldn’t have wished for a happier family reunion. He thought everything excellent: the wine, turkey in white sauce, fish fingers, ratatouille, the assorted salads and above all,
the broth—he’d served himself three times.
“Delicious, out of this world!” he said, handing Ryan tartar sauce. “The fish fingers go well with this.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Ryan, smiling. He must have been completely won over by Justin’s charisma.
Olivia, who’d been reclining on the table, sat upright and rubbed her arm, altered in shape by its pressure on the edge of the table.
She rolled her eyes. “Ha… ha… ha… he doesn’t like fish--”
“Let’s just say I’ve never tasted good fish before... lemme try this.” Ryan dipped a piece in tartar sauce and bit at the tip, chewed on for a few seconds then pushed the remaining in his mouth.
“Mm… this is so delicious.” He scooped more pieces onto his plate.
From time to time Olivia smoothed the folds of her dress, and each time Ryan talked, she glanced at him, and again relapsed into a radiant smile.
Justin liked Ryan’s civility. Contrary to Ambrose’s insinuations that he was an uncouth bastard, Ryan was articulate in his speech and conversant with the use of fork and knife—something Justin had
suspected would give him trouble given his peasantry background.
“So, what do you do for a living?” he asked.
“Just got a new job with Pioneer Capital Group as an Investment Analyst.”
“You mean?” Justin swallowed and shifted in his seat. “The same Pioneer on Monrovia street? Hammond is your MD?”
“Yeah… you know Hammond?”
What a coincidence? Ryan might be of great help. But Justin needed a little probing to figure that out. “Just met him recently… um… you analyze their investments?”
“Yes, I do… Eighty percent of my work involves that...”
“How many deals have you closed this year?”
“Just started working for them a few months ago… but, ah… at the moment I’m working on three projects… I should at least close one by the end of this month.”
“Sorry, just curious… which one is that?”
“Err… It’s difficult to explain to an outsider but lemme try to simplify... Ah, one of the Group’s companies… Green Plant Horticulture, is looking into buying off one of the shipping companies
to export farm produce at a low cost. I’m analyzing several of these shipping companies for the most profitable merger.”
Justin’s heartbeat skipped. Green Plant Horticulture was the very company he was looking into investing in—Katelyn had just given him its financials a few hours ago. He must use Ryan to get insider
information before he puts any dime in that company.
At that instant, Katelyn, who’d dashed to the kitchen, came back with more tartar sauce and placed it before Ryan, whose appetite for fish fingers skyrocketed past the roof.
“Let him eat… you can talk about those numbers later,” she said, smiling at Justin.
“Sure, let’s catch up later,” said Justin, licking the tips of his plump fingers, “what turkey, so nice!... Can’t have enough of it.” he went for a second helping.
“What did I miss other than EBITDA, OPCO, PROPCO… or you’d not reached there yet?” said Katelyn, handing Justin a glass of Sauvignon wine.
These were familiar terms Justin used when talking on the phone with his business associates.
The simple-hearted Natasha laughed each time her mother laughed while Layla and Mike did much of the eating than talking.
After dinner, Justin was more than eager to talk to Ryan. He looked out of the window at the sun sinking behind the bare treetops and the nightingales singing their way into their nests.
“Get the chessboard upstairs.” He slid a hand over Mike’s shoulder on their way out of the dining room. “You okay son… you’ve been so quiet.”
“Yes I am,” said Mike, without looking at him.
The girls had never wavered in their affection for dad despite his scandal with Gisela. But Mike became cold towards him. He avoided Justin and whenever he couldn’t, he confined himself to either
‘yes’ or ‘no’ to all his inquiries.
“Let’s go play chess upstairs,” he said, motioning to both Ryan and Mike to follow him.
At the upper lounge, they settled down and Rose served coffee. Justin arranged the chessboard and flipped his eyes between the lads. “Who goes first?”
“Sorry, dad… I got a slight headache… just wanna lie down a little.” Mike said and waved at Ryan. “I’ll see you later.”
Was Justin jinxed with boys? Turns out, the son he’d been looking forward to seeing for the last nine months wasn’t his child. His own flesh and blood couldn’t hide his disgust for him. He was
determined to do whatever it’d take to win over his heir. But for now, there was important business to attend to.
“Okay, Mike… have some rest, but lemme know in case you need anything,” he said.
Left alone with Ryan, Justin broke the silence, leaning forward. “It’s amazing we’re in the same field… I’m an equity investor.” He shook Ryan’s hand to open the game. “Good game.”
Then, Justin fingered a black pawn and sipped coffee as he waited for Ryan, whose expression remained stern and focused. Obviously, he was thinking of his moves.
Ryan opened with a pawn to the center, the Queen’s Gambit. If Justin took the hanging pawn, Ryan would control the center of the board. From there, it would be easy for him. Justin read his mind
pretty fast. He declined, defending the center instead of taking the bait.”
Ryan straightened and sipped coffee too. “You’re reading my mind… I didn’t imagine you’d play the Tarrasch defense.’’
Justin chuckled. “It comes with experience… been playing for the last twenty years.”
“This will be a long game... I’ve not lost in my last thousand games”
“A thousand! In a span of how long?”
“Just a week.”
Where do you get all the time?”
Ryan stroked his chin, most likely anticipating many moves ahead. “I play it online, every time I’m working on complicated financial models.”
Justin’s mouth slowly dropped open. Though this was exactly what he’d wanted them to talk about—business, never had he heard of someone using chess to work out financial models.
“How do you work out models with chess?”
Ryan moved a knight and smiled, watching intently at Justin’s reaction. “Well, it depends on the project assumptions...check!”
“What just happened? “Justin stroked his mustache.
All his pieces had been pinned and he couldn’t move any without being captured. Game over. A perfect zugzwang. Not only was this boy civil, but he was also a genius. What a lack of exposure? Just
with chess, Ryan was capable of making lots of money. If he could beat Justin, the former National Champ in less than ten minutes, what else was he capable of? He’d introduce him to his club.
“I don’t want more embarrassment.” He pushed the chessboard aside and warmed his hands with the cup of coffee. “Tell me something… do you guys disclose everything to prospective investors?”
“Yeah, we give them audited accounts and they’re free to independently do their due diligence… In fact, today the Group CFO dispatched the audited accounts to a prospective investor in that company
I mentioned… ah, Green Horticulture.”
“You and me both know it’s difficult for the auditors to pick creative accounting in the financials.”
“That’s true… but in our case, the fact the chairman of the Board owns a church, gives the business some credibility… I guess that’s why our investors are never worried.”
“Look.” Justin shifted in his seat. “I’m the potential investor here and in a week’s time, I’ll be putting my money in Green Horticulture. I need to know the truth, otherwise, I’m may lose a lot of
Ryan’s jaw was on the floor. “Are you kidding me… Magnum Equity Investments is your company?”
“Yes, it is… What do I need to know?”
With trembling fingers, Ryan grabbed his coffee and sipped. “I dunno if this is ethical… um—”
“C’mon, it’s always ethical, to tell the truth. I’m not asking you to lie… all I want to know is the truth. Are those financials accurate?”
“Well… I’ll be honest with you… um... Everything else is accurate except the company has not struck off its profits amounts confirmed as not collectible from old customers. If this is done, the
correct position is a loss of twelve percent and not the reported profit of twenty percent. The profit is overstated by about four million dollars.”
Justin felt his heartbeat. “What… Are you for real?”
“Get the debtors aging… look at the customers from line twenty to fifty. Some of them already closed shop, others have denied the liability, and others stopped trading with the company… All these
amounts should be knocked off the company’s profits.”
Justin’s heart raced faster. He’d have lost millions of dollars were it not for Ryan. How could he repay him?
“Can I bring the financials we go through… Sorry I know it’s late... How about tomorrow?”
“Sure no problem. I’m willing to assist where I can… you might also like the five tests I devised to analyze healthy investments using their cash position… If I was an investor, I wouldn’t
waste a minute on the audited accounts… most of these are cooked.”
Did he just hear devised?
“Really? Have you done an MBA?”
“I dropped out… the curriculum was focussed more on exams and not practical knowledge… anyway… the tests I invented myself.”
This boy was a genius with great potential ahead of him. Justin wouldn't let him off his grip.
He stretched his hand to Ryan. “I need to know more about you… I’m a businessman and I know the value of market intelligence. I wouldn’t have known what you’ve told me… I owe you. Just name the
“No. No. No… I’m doing this probono… the only thing I want from you is to allow me to marry Olivia.” Ryan dropped his gaze on the floor.
Justin stroked his mustache. He should be the one requesting him to marry her and not the other way round. With him, his daughter’s future was secure. “Do you love her?”
“More than anything in the world… I may not pay dowry immediately but I promise to do so as soon as my financial affairs stabilize.”
“That’s all I want from you… love her… spoil her… be faithful to her.” Justin forced back tears that threatened to spill over at the mention of faithfulness. It hurt him to imagine Ryan could cheat
on Olivia. What a hypocrite. His voice shook. “My daughter isn’t an object I should sell you… I do not require dowry from you.”
Ryan’s mouth twitched. “I know sir... I’ll take good care of her.”
“What’s your notification period should you want to resign?”
Ryan’s eyes widened. “One month.”
“Go tender your resignation tomorrow and tell’em you don’t wanna serve notice. I’ll make good any financial implications. You’re now my Investment Analyst... Not unless you decline the offer.”
Ryan remained silent for a few seconds with popped eyes and a heaving chest, then blurted out. “Of course, I accept… I can’t believe it. Thank you so much.”
Later, after Ryan had left, and the children had gone to bed, Justin and Katelyn retired to the master bedroom. He slumped on the couch as he’d promised and covered himself, but listened on as
Katelyn switched off the lights and changed into her nightgown.
Just when she was about to get into bed, he jumped out of the couch and grabbed her by the waist, pulling her up close against his chest. His hand gently glided through her hair, as he looked at
her without flinching. Her feline eyes shone brightly in the dim natural light from outside. A small but teasing smile crept upon her face, and goosebumps lined his skin. Not the kind that one gets
in the cold, but the kind one gets when nothing else matters except right here, right now.
“No, I can’t do this tonight… I need some time,” she said.
Had she really forgiven him?
He couldn’t directly ask her for fear of conjuring up bad memories. “I understand… can I then at least just hold you the whole night? I don’t insist though... I can still sleep on the couch.”
“Yes… it’s okay, come sleep with me here… I missed you too.”
At four a.m., Justin’s cell phone rang. It was Ambrose. Elizabeth had fallen ill and was admitted to the hospital the previous night. Her condition had worsened. Justin and Katelyn dressed and left
for the hospital in a huff.
© Copyright 2020 reaganwyatt. All rights reserved.