Passage from Decadence COLLECTION
FIVE – THE FACE OFF
Stella phoned me (her Battle Buddy #1) late one afternoon with nothing but rage in her voice…
“Meet me at the usual spot, we have a great deal of shit to talk about!’ “
“Trust me──you’re going to want to hear about….’um current events.”
“Everything came to a head last evening at the spot (the Barnyard)!”
“I’ve got to talk to someone who will get it…damn!”
“Because I’m not thinking clearly!”
“Everywhere I look I am seeing the face of my enemy I thought I left behind in that cesspool, over in the theatre’ (Middle East). My girl was at the beginning stages of a mental plateau. Ohh…holy shit!
‘Just get your fucking ass to the spot…and move your ass soldier!”
Suddenly, SLAM went the phone. I remember staring at the receiver and thinking…
“Oh my god…what the hell has happened now?” Getting dressed and out the door was pretty much a no brainer.
I rushed to meet her without a second thought. I knew she needed to get things out into the open and a “trusted-agent” to confide in (me). There was something in her tone that frightened me; although full of rage on the inside, her voice had been deadly calm. This was a dangerous trait in Stella, and only meant one thing⸻SHE WAS OUT FOR BLOOD!
I raced to Perimeter to meet her at Maggiano’s, but she already beat me to the finish line. I could see her sitting there in the sun, unemotional, unmoved, and just basting in indignation. But a cold shiver raced up my spine. I know that look far too well. Parts of that girl’s psyche was back in that sun blanched hellhole we left, not too long ago. She was on the ground in Iraq, and in high pursuit of her targets. I could not help, but to put on my Battle dress uniform, figuratively. For a Battle Buddy…that’s what we do!
Although she was overwrought with emotion, it wasn’t something that outsiders could see, nor understand. I, however, know this woman. It was on like it was nobody’s business that day. By the time the sun had set, the wheels of her wrath would-be set-in motion and no one would be able to halt them. My objective concerning her had been upgraded──now I had to keep her from driving over that proverbial cliff──clambering for revenge.
I can tell you this without any fear of reproach, there was nothing on this woman’s face but blunt trauma, period──and only I could recognize it within her. Whatever she experienced the night before was now baiting her. Yes, her calmness was terribly disturbing. I wasted no time getting to the table because I could tell, without a doubt, this was truly Stella’s darkest hour emotionally…yet again! I was there that infamous night in the theatre’, after her brutal military assault. Because her assailant was one-star general there was no tribunal. He was flown back to the states over night. Stella-Ann was never the same. Who would be? But she swore that night to never allow anyone to violate her ever again…man…woman…or child! So yeah…I know that look.
I hurried over and sat down as swiftly and quietly as possible. Stella looked over at me slowly; eyes filled with confusion; uncontrollable hurt but most of all, scorn. I sat there for almost a minute without a word exchanged between us. Just subtle glances without esoteric lingo. What was there too say?”
Finally, she greeted me…
“Hello, thank you for coming on such short notice.’ She reached over to give my hand a stern squeeze of her appreciation. It was our thing between us.
“I’m sure you’re curious about why I’ve asked you here and what happened last night?”
“However, if I’m going to tell this story, I’m going to tell it right.” Stella’s voice released a long sigh of discontentment, and a few deep breaths.
She slowly began to settle herself into her seat comfortably…as she ambivalently started her tale──this was the most uneasy and vulnerable I had ever seen her, for a while. Yet, true to form, Stella pulled from deep within her and found the courage to orate her terrible ordeal from the night before.
“Baby girl, in all honesty, this story began a few weeks ago. With my talent of persuasion and perception.”
“I’m afraid I set up my own heartache.”
“Most of all, I set the wheels in motion for the truth to finally surface.” Her head swayed side to side, slowly.
“There are some things a woman must absolutely know before she can continue down the path of moral degradation.” She simply must know what lies beneath her lover’s surface!”
Stella looked away for a moment, as if remembering something horrific from the past. She then replaced her mask and continued speaking.
“I guess I knew early on that he and I would never be betrothed.”
“But you…of all people…know how I feel about that.”
“Don’t think for a moment that I wouldn’t want this, but for me the power of control meant more.”
At the end of the day its truly how a motherfucker conducts himself under pressure, and how he treats me, the entire duration.” Stella’s jaw tightened like a fucking brace. But she carried on with the damn drama.
“I knew that he would never live up to my expectations as gentleman, or my standards as a mate.”
“Yet, somewhere deep down inside me, I managed to hold out hope.”
“Please don’t misunderstand me; Bart has many beguiling masculine traits, but very few of them are those of a true southern gentleman.” Finally, she allowed herself a slight chuckle to lighten her mood.
“To put it simply, he is an extraordinary lover but, unfortunately for him, his weakness for young women overwhelms all else that is good.”
I could offer up nothing verbally, for my Battle Buddy.’ Just a nod or two to ensure her I was engaged upon her every word.
“You and I both know that I need more than that to make a serious relationship worth my while because, at the end of the day, it’s all about me.”
I sat there waiting for her to break down with tears, or to cry out in anger. She did nothing of the sort; soldier girl took a sip of her toddy and calmly settled herself deeper into her seat, once again. If you looked closely enough, you could see the rage on her face, yet she still managed a smirk as she rolled back the tears from her eyes.
A woman like Stella did not dare shed a tear over something like this at least not in public. Any other woman would have cried her eyes out. Not Stella! Her mind was fixed on the bigger picture. I could tell that a changing of the guard was at hand. Bart, Malicia, and their cohorts were going to pay, and they were going to pay big time. In my eyes, this is where her situation became more intriguing. It was my turn to push the envelope. I had learned this skill from the brutal relationship taskmaster herself, Stella-Ann Kelly.
I leaned forward with my eyes posted at attention, never blinking once. I raised my hand and made a motion for her to continue with her story, but only with the truth. We were facing off, whether we realized it or not. We had finally come to that place where, through rhetoric, the answers to many, many puzzling questions about Stella and Bart would finally reveal its hidden truth. Up until this point, I had never known what the ax to grind was between her, Bart and Malicia.
This was a giant enigmatic puzzle and I couldn’t wait to hear it. With that said, I relaxed a bit in my chair and prepared my mind for the information that it was about to receive. I had to hear the information that, she for so long had been withholding.
Stella obliged me in her own not-so-subtle manner. Oh, she was graceful as usual, but her calmness…well, it was unsettling. I knew that my friend needed to have her say before the court of public opinion and that opinion began and ended with me. Her demeanor changed slowly as did her words as she began to speak.
Of course, Stella went into detail with her story, starting at the very beginning.
She began to tell me how she masterminded the pushing of the envelope. Too this very day…I am in awe of that girl’s brazenness. It is as if Mr. Bart was her diving board into that dark abyss, she calls her psyche.
“Darling, it began two weeks ago, on a Monday night at. I went in to have a friendly chat with our little friend, Malicia. I had her pegged from the word go. That is one of the reasons I ignored her stupid ass after the first time I laid eyes on her; I knew this bitch would be nothing but a constant thorn in my side.’
“Furthermore, I realized that she was from the streets and had the savvy that goes with it. She was so damned smart, she outwitted herself! She was a means to an end for me, but she and I both bought our lessons. It was just a question of what we would learn from them, and how we would deal with it in the end?”
“Now, as for myself, I can’t say that I acted without any malice…well…at first. At that time, my objective was parallel to my own intent. I wanted answers, and I wanted them fast. So, I devised a little plan of deception that infamous night in the VIP room.”
“Or So I Thought!”
“Those two didn’t realize it, but they had awakened a sleeping giant. Trust me; you know what I do for my government secretly. It the end, I would say they got off easy, but not before learning and feeling the wrath of a true woman scorned”…
I needed retribution for what they did to me emotionally. In other words, I was out for none other than…HEADS ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK!” Her mindset was shifting into full speed ahead with every word of her narration.
By this time, I no longer recognized the beautiful brassy Southern belle that sat before me. She had become this dark avenging agent provocateur of revenge, who resurfaced with an agenda in hand. It didn’t matter that she had been on hiatus; her secret cloak and dagger image would surface just long enough to avenge her ego.
You see, Stella’s identity has always been a secret (she belonged to those Langley types, literally), but the way she moved in and out of certain circles left those around us, to draw only one conclusion…she was what was known as a “sleeper”. She only surfaces every now and again, as her country needs her.
The one thing that can be said for assets of her caliber: They are great at what they do, but their personal lives are seriously dysfunctional. It is, unfortunately, a common attribute within her tight-lipped community. No way! I am not equipped like Stella-Ann, for that bullshit.
By now her focus was in the distance where she was reliving the trauma of that night. All I can say is that I could feel the depths of my friend’s pain. Nothing else could have brought her out of the “spy closet” so easily. The only thing worth blowing her cover, in her mind, would be the salvation of her huge ego.
She felt that she had something to prove to everyone around her, including the elusive Mr. Flynn, but more about him later.
“Well,” she stated calmly,
“I finally did it” …
“I found both of that heffa and son-of-a-bitch out for the scoundrels they truly were. Neither one of them is worth the fucking ground they walk on but, worse than that, they underestimated me terribly.” Stella had a bad habit of tapping hard surfaces when she was upset. Her fingers, nearly, penetrated the rod-iron patio table.
“How?” I inquired diligently. She stared at me and gave me a terrible frown.
“Do not play with me today…you know how!” I recanted as I pushed that fucking envelope!
“After that first encounter in the VIP room with that bitch, I knew she would be trouble for me and the last thing I needed was some scanty-assed bitch like that tampering with my agenda.”
“I knew, however, that she would be the tool that I would use to put Bart to the test, as well.’
“Sure, it was risky business, but I was going for all the gold in that pot at the end of my rainbow.”
Stella signaled for the waitress to take another drink order. She still seemed calm in a rather spy novel manner, and that made me uneasy.
This simply meant that she was a quietly ticking bomb, and great peril was at hand. I didn’t know if I wanted to stay or if I wanted to go but, as with any woman, I was curious. I wanted to know what had happened at the Barnyard that night before, and Stella was taking her own sweet time telling me.
The waitress finally arrived at our table and asked us if we needed anything. Stella looked up at her and froze: The waitress, unfortunately, was Asian. Didn’t help my Battle Buddy’s mood…too say the least. She was a sweet girl, but she was the last thing that Stella needed to see.
I intervened before Stella could say anything and she beamed those dark eyes on me like a death ray. If she could have drawn blood right then, she would have. I shook my head at her, letting her know that this was not the time for her to assert her revenge on the world. She needed to stay focused on the two people who had hurt her. I basically reminded her to keep her eye on the ball. She didn’t like it, but she calmed down and regained her focus.
“Okay,” she said in a very authoritative voice…
“Go ahead and order a good strong drink for yourself and you know what I’ll have.” I frowned and looked at her as if I were baffled.
“I really don’t know what to order for you today, because this person in front of me is not Stella…so, order your own drink, goddammit!”
Of course, I trembled just a tad. Stella looked at me with those piercing eyes and simply smirked.
“I’ll have a double scotch neat, top shelf, (McCallan 18)” she told the waitress without breaking our eye contact.
Shit! I knew that it was on then. She drank scotch often, but a fucking double. Yeah, something big had happened and the story was about to be told by this woman scorned, this bitch with a chip weighing so heavily on her shoulder.
After we had finished ordering, she rushed the waitress off and, once again, beamed those eyes over at me with nothing less than evil in them. Oh, I knew that this girl’s anger wasn’t directed at me, I was simply collateral damage at this point. I did nothing about it, I simply chose to make myself comfortable and listen. Once she realized that I had focused all my attention toward her, she settled down and went on with her story.
“Now, about that envelope that I pushed.”
“You see, I had become terribly smitten with Bart, but before I could invest any more of my true self in this relationship, I had to know. You know what I mean; I needed to know if I could trust him.”
“Trust, as I’m sure you know, is a mighty tricky word,” she told me.
“I stared at her for a second or two, and then set the bait out in front of her.
“Why did you care if you could trust him or not, especially knowing that the two of you would never be a real couple?” I asked innocently. My face was frocked with discernment and judgement, of which…I regretted terribly.
“What was it that really tweaked your fancy, soldier girl?” The only, sometimes, to get a straight answer from Stella is with pure provocation.
“What in the hell did I say that for?
She gave me another one of those stares of pure unadulterated disdain that made my heart literally skip a beat. For a moment I felt as though I was in danger, but I knew better than to allow fear to keep me from baiting my best friend. Stella was in deep trouble emotionally and needed me to help her see things clearly. She leaned forward and slammed her drink on the table…
“You fucking bitch,” she hissed. I took that one on the chin, so to speak.
“I’m telling you to leave well enough alone when it comes to my life at the firm. Bart knows a little bit about whom I am and who I work for, yet it wasn’t enough to stop him.” She stopped right there and once again looked away. She wasn’t a million miles away this time; she was delving into the scenes that had played out the night before.
“Yes, goddammit, yes!” she said through clenched teeth. “I pushed that fucking envelope!”
“I needed to know if that son of a bitch was the stand-up guy he proclaimed to be. I needed to know if the difference between Bart being an ordinary man and an extraordinary one could be determined by a simple skirt tail.”
“I pushed women at him throughout our relationship on purpose,” she confided in me while laughing sardonically. “I was looking for the extraordinary, to answer your question. It was all about my ego, cloak and dagger included.”
You must hand it to her; she had left me without room for a retort after that proclamation. “Stella, why taunt with danger? What purpose has it served you in the past?” I asked in confusion.
“Baby girl,” she answered in a harshly masculine voice, “why in the hell are you asking for answers to these questions when you already know? I apologize if I put my men through a too rigorous obstacle course, but let me ask you a question: What is the difference between a woman and a lady?” By this time, we were sparring with one another, but with a bit of tongue and cheek.
I leaned back, because I knew that this was her attempt to both teach and scorn me at the same time. “What does this have to do with the price of tea in China, darling?”
I replied carefully. I knew that she had an answer, yet I still wanted to give her a hard time.
She made a strange face at me, and then responded, “I’ll tell you the difference, because it’s obvious that you don’t know. The difference is, Sister Girl, how she is treated!”
Dammit, you fucking bitch, I thought to myself! She had once again put me in my place, for I had moved to far out of the boundaries which she had just set. She didn’t leave me a moment to respond but continued with the telling of her story her way. “You see, my dearest, I needed to know how he would treat me under pressure and when I wasn’t around. What better way to find out your man’s attention span than to place him in the lion’s den, so to speak?
I placed him where my people would keep a close eye on him and if he made a move without me, they wouldn’t hesitate to inform me of his indiscretions.
Furthermore, I needed to place Bart in harm’s way, so to speak. I knew that deep down he felt that he was untouchable, but he didn’t realize who he was dealing with. So, yes, I pushed that fucking envelope as far as I fucking could!
“Now, once I had done this, I figured that the time had come for me to stir the pot just a little. The best way to trap a lioness is through her cubs, the old saying goes. I know you’re wondering where I’m going with this, but just listen and pay attention and you’ll see.”
“One thing a woman must, always, remember to do when she is dating any man is to constantly put him to the test. She must never, ever let up, nor should she ever take anything for granted. I call this ‘Relationship Boot Camp’, so to speak.’
We both animated as hell, as we continued to mentally and verbally spar.
“Now, not any woman can do this; it requires a certain degree of craftiness, cunningness and, most of all, the tact to achieve your final goal. A task not for the…shall we say…faint at heart. You must make sure that you have earned your mate’s confidence. Once you have done that, you basically have carte blanche in the love department. That is when you go in for the kill.
Now, this task is not for the faint of heart; you must condition your mind and spirit to expect the absolute worst, a brutal task but extremely necessary. I know this all too well, for I myself am a brutal taskmaster.” Goddammitttt…just like that…the Mic Drop! Bitch. Love her ass to the moon and back, though!
Having finished her lesson for the day, Stella began to sink into her story emotionally. I think that was an indicator to me how intense the trauma was that she had experienced. I chose not to ask any questions, but to listen closely to what was said. Hell, I didn’t want to miss a thing. I nodded my head, signaling for her to carry on and she, in turn, accommodated my intensifying curiosity.
Stella paused in the telling of her tale to make sure that she had my full attention. I reassured her that I would not miss one sentence of what she had to say. I knew that the information being given to me by her Majesty was pertinent for my own relationship survival. It was at this point that the conversation took on a flavor of its own that was red hot and spicy.
“I had pressed Bart for days to go into Rooster’s with me, but he kept declining, thus strengthening my resolve. We were going by hook or crook. Girl, you know as well as I do, it was by crook. By that Friday night, I’d grown weary from asking him to take me. I had been on his case since Wednesday.
Now, you know as well as I do, this was not going to work for a woman like myself. He was going, because his first refusal was an indicator that something was amiss. My intuition was up and running at full tilt. I was going to get to the bottom of this and my ego jumped about ten paces ahead of me.
I was no longer myself, but a mere shell of a girl in love who was slowly turning into a woman scorned. Shortly after that realization came, my claws slowly began to grow, and my fangs started to form. Yes Girl, I was turning into a She-Wolf.
“Finally, the moment of truth stepped from behind the shadows to show its ugly face. Bart agreed to go and party at what he termed the hen house. We arrived and went in and, let me tell you, the tension was so thick you could have literally cut it with a knife. Bart was not himself; I was stunned at how uneasy he’d become in just a few minutes. I looked at him once he’d gotten comfortable and leaned over to initiate my first preemptive strike. ‘Dude, where’s our girl, Malicia? We can’t start this decadent venture without her.’ God, what the hell did I say that for? He ripped into me like a man gone mad.
“FUCK THAT BITCH AND THE FUCKING SHIP THAT SHE RODE IN ON!’ he roared.