Registry by Dale T. Phillips

“I guess you’re Alex,” the woman said, glancing down at the image on her mobile phone and back up to the man’s face.

“That’s right. And you must be Cory.”

“Yes.” She smiled and glanced around. “Are we staying here?”

“We have a table reserved. Unless you’d rather go somewhere else.”

“It’s a little noisy, but here is fine,” she shrugged. “It looks nice.”

“These days, all the popular places are noisy,” he said. “But the food is really good. It has a four-point-five on Yelp. The Chicken Marengo is to die for.”

“Okay then.”
Soon they were seated in the dining room but had no time to take in the view before a pony-tailed waiter with a trim beard and an earring appeared and handed them thick leather-bound menus. He also set down a basket of rolls, the bread wrapped in a crisp white cloth. He introduced himself and offered to take their drink order.

Alex looked at Cory and she smiled, a hesitant sort of thing, as if seeking approval for something slightly naughty. “A glass of the house Chardonnay, please.”

“Very good. And you, sir?”

“I’ll have the Cabernet.”

“I’ll go get those and be right back.”

They looked at each other and Alex grinned. “So. Alone at last.”

“I have a confession,” said Cory. “This is my first time using a dating service.”

“You look great. It should be easy for you to find someone.”

“Not everyone is willing to take it slow these days.”

“I hear you,” Alex said, leaning forward slightly. “Believe it or not, there’s pressure on the guys, too. That’s why I’m still single. Waiting for the right one.”

“So your profile said you’re into finance. What is that, exactly?”

“My father’s firm. Does mergers and acquisitions. High-level money deals. It’s a lot of pressure.”

“Do you like it?”

Alex shrugged. “It’s okay. Hard to bail on the family business, so I kind of have to like it, if you know what I mean. But it doesn’t leave much time for getting out and meeting nice people.”

“The people you work with aren’t nice?”

“Only if you like the Gordon Gecko type. All they think about is money, and how to get more of it.”

“And here we go,” said the waiter as he set down the glasses of wine with a flourish. “Shall I give you a few minutes?”

“Yes. We haven’t even looked,” said Alex, a touch of annoyance in his voice.

“No problem. I’ll be back when you’re ready.”

Alex shook his head at the departing waiter. “He seems a cheerful sort.” He held up his wine glass. “Cheers. To new beginnings.”

Cory clinked her glass to his in the toast and took a sip. “That’s good.”

Alex grinned. “Are you sure a first-grade teacher should be drinking wine?”

She laughed, hand over her mouth. “If you knew what we went through, you’d be surprised I’m not into the tequila shots by now.”

He chuckled. “Kids are tough, huh?”

“Other people’s kids are. Especially when they’re not taught to behave at home. I don’t know what’s wrong with some parents. The kids think they can do exactly what they want, and these little tykes even sass me when I gently and politely tell them they can’t do something which might hurt someone else.”

“Not a lot of money in teaching, for putting up with all that.”

“Some things are more important.”

“True,” Alex said, sipping his wine. “Our firm does a lot of charity work. My way of giving back. It’s important to me. I even coach a Little League team. Kids will listen, you know, you just have to keep a firm hand.”

“Maybe I should have you come into the classroom.”

He smiled. “So, let’s take a look at what’s on offer. Though I already know I’m getting the Chicken Marengo.”

“Creature of habit, are you?”

“No, I can be adventurous. But I know that dish will knock my socks off, and I’m in the mood for it. You’d like the shrimp risotto with asparagus. It gets high marks.”

“Okay, I’ll try it, if you say so.” Cory closed her menu and set it down.

Alex smiled and sipped his wine, looking at her over the glass.

The waiter suddenly appeared like a summoned genie popping in. “All set to order?”

They did so, and there was a lag in the conversation before the next topic.

“So, what do you like to do for fun?” Alex took out a roll and pulled it apart in preparation for buttering. “When you’re not teaching?”

“I like picnics,” said Cory. “Just sitting someplace scenic, talking and enjoying the surroundings. How about you?”

“I have a friend who has a sailboat. He lets me take it out sometimes. It’s great to be skimming along the waves, riding with the wind.”

“That does sound like fun.”

“Maybe I could take you out sometime.”

“I’d like that.”

“No bread for you?”

“I don’t want to fill up. And here comes the salad.”

The salads were served, and there was another pause as the two ate without talking. Alex took a sip of wine. “Ever want to be anything more than a teacher? Move up to superintendent, anything like that?”

“I don’t know. That’s a lot of responsibility.”

“Schools need good people to run them. You can do a lot of good.”

“True. But it’s not where my heart lies.”

“I guess you’ll have to follow your heart, then.”

“How about you? What are your plans for advancement?”

Alex shrugged. “I’ll probably take over the firm one day, when dad retires.”

“Is that what you want?”

“I’d rather buy my own sailboat and spend a lot of time on the water. Maybe sail around the world, like Joshua Slocum.”

“Ah, the man who wrote the book on it.”

“Top marks, teacher. Most people today have never heard of him.”

“I read a lot.”

“Did you always want to be a teacher?”

“Guess I did.”

Alex pulled apart another roll.

Cory put her fork down. “It’s so expensive here. Things were a lot cheaper back in Iowa.”

“Have you been here long?”

“Couple of years. How about you?”

“Transplant, like you. Came here from California.”

“So your father started a firm here?”

Alex paused to take a sip of wine. “Started it back there, opened a new office here, closer to the New York markets and a better time zone.”

They made small talk until the entrees arrived. Cory tried her dish and declared it superb. They chatted amiably as they progressed through the meal, and Alex ordered a second glass of wine, while Cory declined.

The waiter came to take away their dinner plates and offered them a dessert menu. Cory turned that down as well, saying she was too full to consider anything else. Alex talked her into a coffee, at least. They chatted for a while, lingering over the coffee.

The waiter set down the folder with the bill inside, and Cory casually picked it up and tucked some money inside.

“What are you doing?” Alex looked puzzled.

“Paying my share.”

“It’s my treat. I insist.”

Cory laughed. “Don’t be so old fashioned. It’s not fair for you to pay for everything, and I can afford dinner, even on a teacher’s salary.”

“It sounds like you don’t want to see me again.”

“That’s not it at all. Oh, don’t look so cross. It means we don’t owe each other anything, so we can choose to meet again, with no obligation.” She handed the folder over and smiled. He appeared reluctant to give in, his mouth in a tight line.

Soon they got up and left the restaurant. On the sidewalk outside, Cory gave Alex a quick hug. “I had a nice time.” She moved towards one of the cabs waiting by the curb.

“I can take you home,” he said.

“No need. Call me, though. We can do this again some time.”

He frowned as she got in the cab and it pulled away.

***

Half an hour later, Cory opened her door to see Alex standing there.

She shook her head. “What are you doing?”

He smiled. “I just thought I’d drop by to make sure you got home okay.”

“How did you find out where I live?”

“The Internet.”

She pulled her robe tighter around her. “Well, I’m okay. Goodnight.”

“Aren’t you going to invite me in?”

“No.”

“Why not? You said you had a good time.”

“I did, but this is not appropriate.”

“Look, I won’t stay long,” Alex said. “I just wanted you to know I think you’re special. You’re not like anyone else.”

“Thank you. But you’d better go.”

“I will, but just let me make a phone call first. Mine ran out of juice.”

Cory frowned and paused, but stood back to let him in.

“Nice place,” he said.

“Thank you. The phone’s in there.”

“Surprised you still have a landline. Lots of people are getting rid of them.”

She said nothing, and he picked up a framed photograph.

“Who’s this?”

“My sister. You going to make that call?”

“Okay, okay. What’s the rush?”

“It’s late, and I’m tired.”

“Early to bed, early to rise, huh? I get it. Shame you won’t offer me a nightcap, though.”

“There’s nothing to drink.”

“Not even a glass of water?”

“Is that what you’d like?”

“Sure.”

She went to the kitchen area and took out a glass, then filled it from the faucet.

He was close behind when he spoke. “Not even bottled?”

“You startled me.”

“You don’t have to be afraid, you know.”

She crossed her arms. “I’m not afraid, but I am getting annoyed.”

“I’m just trying to be nice.”

“Well, it’s time for you to go. I need to go to bed.”

He took the glass and set it on the counter. “So do I. With you.”

“You really need to go. Now.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Get out. Do I have to call the police?”

“We’ve got a mutual attraction, don’t try to deny it.” He moved closer and gripped her shoulders.

“Let go of me.”

“Look, we can make this fun.”

“Or what?”

“You know you want it. You invited me in.”

“And now I want you to let go of me, get out now, and leave me alone. For good.”

“Aren’t you the little tease? Join a dating service, meet someone nice, form an attraction, and then tell him he’s not good enough?”

Cory shrieked and struck upward with the palm of her hand under Alex’s nose. He cried out as he released her and staggered backward. His hand went to his injured area, coming away with blood.

“You bitch. You broke my nose.”

“I told you to let go of me.”

“You hurt me. Now I’m going to hurt you.”

Two women suddenly appeared, tasers aimed at Alex. “Hands up.”

Shocked and uncomprehending, he complied. One woman yanked his hands behind him and snapped on a pair of plastic restraints. Then she led him to a chair and pushed him into it. Cory went to a cupboard and brought out a bottle of tequila. She took out a small glass and poured a generous measure and set the glass on the table before Alex. The woman behind Alex freed one of his hands and cuffed the other to the chair.

“You wanted a nightcap, so have one,” said Cory.

“Thought you didn’t have anything to drink,” he said.

“I lied, just like how you lied to force yourself in here when I didn’t want you.”

“You’d better let me go,” he said. “Or you’ll be in a lot of trouble.”

“You’re the one that’s in trouble, George,” the woman behind Alex said. He stiffened but forced a grin.

“It’s a game, right? Throw a scare into me?”

“Drink up.”

“And if I don’t?”

The woman showed him a set of pliers with extra-wide jaws. “I use this in an area you will not like.”

“You’re bluffing.”

The woman applied the pliers and squeezed the handle, evoking a scream from Alex.

“What are you doing? Get it off!”

“You going to drink?”

“Yes, you crazy bitch, fine. I’ll drink.”

He reached out with a shaking hand and took the glass. He downed it in a few gulps.

Cory refilled the glass, and the woman spoke. “Again.”

“You trying to get me drunk?”

“Drink.”

“Who are you people, anyway?” He took the glass and drank it down, taking pauses now between each swallow.

“People who track people like you.”

“Like me?”

“Predators. Oh, look, George, your glass is full. Drink it down.”

“My name is Alex.” He was pouting, but he took the glass and drank.

“That’s what you call yourself now. But before, you were George.”

“I’m not that person anymore.”

“The only thing that’s changed is the name. Not how you prey on women.”

“Is that what this is about?”

“What?”

“She was lying.”

“Who was, George?”

“That woman. Why I had to leave.”

“The glass is full, George.”

“I can’t drink anymore. I’ll get sick.”

“That’s too bad. This is going to hurt.” The plier jaws clacked, as if hungry.

“I’m drinking, don’t do it.”

“So that woman, George. What did she lie about?”

“What I did to her.”

“It’s pretty plain what you did.”

“She led me on. She wanted it.”

“Like Cory here tonight?”

He was silent, watching Cory pour out another measure.

“That’s not her real name, is it?”

“No, George, like you, she’s free to change it. But she’s not running from a court record, like you.”

Alex/George was feeling the effects of the tequila. As soon as he would finish the glass, it was refilled. He had lost count of how much he had consumed.

“So I made a mistake. I’m sorry.”

“But that wasn’t the first time, was it, George? There was that other girl, the one when you were seventeen.”

“Those records were sealed.”

“Sure, you were underage, and your daddy had money. But word eventually gets out about stuff like that. Especially when the girl you attacked commits suicide.”

He smacked the glass down on the table. “So this is about revenge?”

“Oh, no, this is about prevention.”

“What?”

“Making sure you don’t do this again. Third strike, George. You don’t get a fourth.”

“So what are you going to do to me?”

“You’re going to have a nasty car accident, because you were dead drunk.”

“Ah.”

“Count yourself lucky. The alternative is to feed you into a woodchipper, a little at a time, and your disappearance will be just another mystery.”

“You’re crazy.”

“Wonder why we’re like that? Maybe because sometimes we just want to meet someone nice, and psychos like you take advantage of us. And when you do, you usually get away with it. So, one woman started a special registry. When you moved here, you made the watch list. When you joined the dating service using a fake name, you were flagged for treatment.”

“You set me up.”

“We didn’t make you assault anybody. But we are stopping you from any further assaults.”

“You won’t get away with this. I know people. Important people.”

“You’ve used up all your people collateral, George. And yes, we will get away with it. We have, hundreds of times. Now don’t you wish you’d made different life choices?”


Alex/George started to cry, spending his last few minutes of life in serious regret.


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Copyright Dale T. Phillips 2019

Dale has published six novels, over seventy short stories, ten books of story collections, poetry, and non-fiction. He took writing seminars from Stephen King in college, has appeared on stage, television, and in an independent feature film, and competed on Jeopardy!. Dale also co-wrote and acted in a short political satire film. He's a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

Dale is a repeat author with Tell-Tale Press. His work is also available in the Mystery and Crime Library.

Comments

  1. A nice unassuming buildup that had me wishing things would work out between the two . . . Good dialogue. Great ending. Thanks.

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