UNITED STATES—Alfonso should have been pleased with the pay-off from the guy who dinged the Bentley. It was tax free, but he was still grumbling that it couldn’t have been more.

“You could have gotten more out of him.”

Now with seven years alongside Alfonso, Danielle understood, but it still made no sense to Danielle. That was how it was when you grew up on a Christmas tree farm and then became a stripper in Miami and become the trophy wife to the king of T-shirts, Alfonso Betz.

“I’m sorry Alfonso…”

“You got burned… A guy like that was nervous, he would have dropped five grand to get out of trouble with you.”

“It worked out well. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure if he’d show up after giving me the wrong address to his body shop.”

“He was out to ditch you…”

“He made an honest mistake,” said Danielle.

“He did not, he gave you the wrong address.”

“I can tell when somebody is telling the truth,” she said. “It was an honest mistake.”
“You are so gullible,” Alfonso said with the panache one might associate with profanity.

“Can’t you tell, he really wanted to make it a hit and run, but he sounds like a numbskull who sabotaged himself. You do that too sometimes.” He made her feel stupid all over again like some guys when she was a stripper and she let them knowing that showing her body wasn’t the equivalent of putting it up for sale. And she ended up getting a good catch, Alfonso, a legend in his profession who was in town for a T-shirt expo.

Alfonso was the guy who went global, seeking the images of controversial leaders worldwide, and then producing in the same Taiwanese sweatshop, satirical shirts for the opposition and heroic T-shirts for the leaders’ faithful, endowing there images with the kind of reverence Leni Riefenstahl reserved for her adored Fuhrer, well that rich smart slob Alfonso fell head over heels.

Danielle was still distraught over what he’d said tonight. By now Alfonso was barking on the phone, trying to nickel and dime some art dealer on a Hockney: “You can do better than that!”

Danielle had had it with Alfonso’s cheapness, and therefore teased around the corners of her mind the lurking unformed notion that something had to give.

“Candi,” he said. Alfonso still called her Candi, the first part of her stage name, Candi Kane. “There’s something I want to tell you…”

“Let it rest, Alfonso. It can wait,” she said. “Whatever it is it can wait. It’s been a trying day.”

“Candi, life isn’t easy. How do you think I got to be King of T-shirts, just dancing onstage in front of a bunch of drunk guys. I bust my brains and my ass.”

“Maybe you did, Alfonso,” said Danielle, “but dancing made me the Queen of T-shirts, didn’t it?” She got him.

“Listen, I’ve been suspicious of you for a long time. And I hired Paul Conrad to follow you. He sent me pictures of you hugging a guy on Olympic Boulevard in front of a body shop. I think you staged the whole thing.”

“He felt terrible after crashing into me. Absolutely terrible and there was no hug.”
“What’s this, then?”

Alfonso swiveled the image on the phone.

“That’s comforting somebody who’s in shock with a hand on their arm. That’s what that is. Alfonso, you’re pathologically jealous.”

“That does it , Candi. I’m calling Marsha Owens in the morning.” Marsha was his legal counsel who did the dirty work. “I’m filing for divorce.”

Alfonso was always threatening–then he’d sleep and wake up fresh the next day, like the thought had never crossed his mind. But today was different somehow.

“I’m going out to walk the dogs,” he said gruffly and left. A gust of chill December air seeped through the wide double doors. This apprehension she felt was enough to put Danielle into action. The dark, the last of the sunset over the filigree of palm trees and golding turquoise, her mentality clouded by thoughts of driving a lethal weapon–a Bentley southward on Alpine Drive.

Danielle looked at the band of gold that circled the time. The Cartier Panther had come at a cost.