A text from Will popped up as I waited for my caffeine.
Any new sexy pictures, you wild trendsetter?
Fuck off. You’d never have the balls to pull out a camera, I wrote back, then stuffed my phone in my bag. I’d call Will later about the meeting and update him on the Sara situation.
With a smile on my face and my drink finally in hand, I stepped away from the counter and took off the lid to add cream. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around.
“I think you dropped this.” A shorter man with thinning blond hair stood behind me, holding out a black leather wallet.
I shook my head. “Not mine, mate. Sorry.” I nodded toward security near the escalator to the luggage carousel. “Maybe try one of them.” I started to turn and he gripped my arm, stopping me.
“Pretty sure,” I said with a shrug, taking out my own wallet and showing it to him. “Good luck finding the owner, though, yeah? Good man.”
He was already taking a step back and I watched as he walked quickly away, headed toward the baggage claim. Having already lost enough time today, I placed the lid back on my cup and bent to reach for my bag near my feet.
It was gone.
“What kind of bag was it again, sir?” A bored airport employee looked up at me from behind the counter. According to the tag pinned to her too-tight chambray shirt, her name was Elana June. She blew a bubble while she waited for me to respond.
I glanced up at the monitor suspended on the wall behind her, at the image of my own back flickering on the screen, certain I had to be on some sort of hidden camera show.
“Sir?” she said again, sounding, if possible, even more bored than before.
I ran a hand through my hair, reminding myself that reaching out and strangling her would not help the situation. “An Hermès messenger bag. Gray and tan.”
“Can you identify all the valuables inside?”
I swallowed down the taste of bile. “My files. My laptop. My phone. Fuck. Everything.”
I considered all the client information I’d just lost, all the passwords that would have to be changed immediately. How much time this was all going to take and how many problems this could cause. And I didn’t even have my f**king phone to call Will.
She slid a form and a ballpoint pen attached to a chain across the desk. “You look like you need a minute. Just fill this out and check the appropriate boxes.”
I picked up the pen and filled in my name and address, checking the spaces for laptop, mobile phone, and personal items. I looked at the time and wondered if there was a box for sanity, because I was pretty sure I was close to losing that, too. I’d just about finished when I came across a choice that made me feel like I might throw up my spleen.
Camera. I hadn’t brought my camera with me, but I had packed my SD card, intent on wiping it clean as soon as I had the opportunity.
There just really weren’t enough f**ks in the world for this one.
I looked down at the shitty counter, at the way the laminate was pulling away from the metal edge. There was a crack running along the surface and it seemed like the most ironic metaphor ever.
“My SD card,” I said to nobody in particular.
I swallowed. Twice. “Yeah. The card, with all the images.” I swore and pushed away from the counter, remembering what Sara had let me do last night, how she had trusted me.
An older woman with dark hair pulled back into a bun stepped up to the desk. “Mr. Stella?” she asked.
I took a moment from my breakdown to nod and she continued.
“We looked at the footage. Looks like there were two of them. One distracted you while his partner took the bag. He was down the escalator and almost out of the terminal before you even realized it was missing.”
I wondered if it was possible for the floor to open up and swallow me. I kind of hoped it was.
Having done everything I could at the airport, I took a car to the hotel. With no time to replace my phone before the meeting, I called directory assistance and had them ring the office. Will wasn’t there, but his assistant assured me she’d change my account passwords herself and explain everything to Will as soon as possible. After promising her a dozen roses and a raise from her boss, I hung up and sat on the bed, glaring at the phone as I tried to decide what I would tell Sara.
Realizing there was no easy way to do this, I dialed directory assistance again and had them ring Sara’s office.
George answered and I closed my eyes. I liked the guy well enough, but I was in no mood to deal with him today.
He paused just long enough for it to become awkward before saying, “And good afternoon to you too, Mr. Stella. One moment, please.”
I heard the click as I was connected and waited for her to pick up.
Three rings later, she answered. “This is Sara Dillon,” she said, and I felt warmth coat the inside of my chest.
“Yeah. I’m calling from my hotel. You all right? Sound a little stressed.”
“I could do without the giant stack of pricing research on my desk today. I should have come into work before lunch, but I can’t say I regret my lazy morning.”
She paused and I closed my eyes, remembering her face when she came for the last time.
“Good. Long,” I said, standing and walking as far as the phone cord would allow. I looked out the window, down to where people scurried about on the sidewalks below, completely lost in their own little worlds. “I miss you.”
I heard her stand and a door close before she sat again. “Me, too.”
“Did you get any sleep after I left?”
She hummed and I tried to picture what she was doing, what she was wearing. I decided she was wearing a skirt, nothing under, and had on her black knee-high boots.
Bad move, Max. You’re across the country and ready to go now.
“You’re gone for the week?” she asked.
“Yeah. I get back Friday afternoon. Spend the night with me?”
I took a deep breath, reminding myself I didn’t have any reason to be worried. Most likely the thief would wipe my phone and laptop and just sell them. “So, my bag was stolen at the airport.”
“What?” she gasped. “That’s awful. Who does that?”
“Which bag was it? Your clothes?”
“No, my carry-on.” I took a deep breath. “My laptop, my phone. I’ve already had the passwords changed for anything work related, but Sara . . . the SD card I used last night was in there and I haven’t cleared all of it yet. My phone, too.”
“Okay,” she said on an exhale. “Okay.” I heard the sound of leather creaking and could imagine her standing from her desk chair again and pacing the room. “I’m assuming the thief wasn’t caught.”
“No . . . Just a couple of shithead kids from what I gather.”
A few beats of silence filled the line and I remembered why I sucked at phone calls. I wanted to see her, to read her expression and gauge whether she looked worried or relieved.
“Well, odds are that they were just out for a quick buck, right?” she said finally. “They’ll probably pawn the laptop and phone and toss the SD drive. For all we know they’ve cleared the laptop and the card’s already sitting in the trash somewhere.”
I pressed my forehead to the window and exhaled, my breath forming a cloud of condensation on the glass. “Christ, I love you. I was very f**king stressed-out about how you’d take this news.”
“Just come back so we can get some new pictures, okay?”
The art show Saturday night and the conference on Sunday were complete insanity. I met several people in person I’d spoken with on the phone for months, and had agreed to a few meetings in New York later on to hammer out possible investments. The pace of the weekend allowed me to keep my mind off the fact that I had no pictures of na**d Sara for distraction.
Monday I woke to a sky full of fog and croissant-and-coffee room service. As strange as it was to admit, I quite relished the forced unplugging I had to endure now that I’d lost my bag. I’d be able to pick up a new phone that morning and could make do without a laptop for the rest of the week, but aside from missing my photos, it had been nice to disengage a little from the constant work calls.
And then I noticed that, beside the bed, the light on my room phone was blinking red. Had I missed a call?
Checking the side of it, I realized the ringer had been turned off. I lifted the receiver and hit the voice mail button.
Will’s no-nonsense voice snapped through the line: “Max. Check the Post then call me ASAP. We have fires to put out back home.”
Monday came crashing in with another summer storm and a sky so greenish blue it felt like the ocean was filling up the air. I ran beneath my umbrella to the subway station and barely made my 7:32 train.
For once, there was a seat open and I dropped into it, wrapping up my umbrella and closing my eyes to think about everything I had to get done today. Some pricing research, a wall of meetings before lunch, and then a meeting with my staff.
When I looked up and glanced at the paper the lady next to me was reading, every one of those plans fell away.
Staring at me from the middle of Page Six was a picture of Max next to the headline, MAD MAX’S MANY MISTRESSES.
“What?” I shot out involuntarily, leaning forward and not even caring that I was one hundred percent into the personal space of the girl reading the paper.
“Can I see this?” I asked forcefully, and the woman handed the paper over like she thought I might be nuts.
Max Stella loves art and beautiful women. It’s no surprise to any of us that his (worst-kept) secret is his penchant for combining hobbies: photographing himself with his flavors of the week. Caught only a week ago with a stunning blonde in a bar, new pictures have leaked of Max devouring an equally delicious brunette. While most of the shots were, let’s just say, very too NSFW to reprint here, one face shot clearly identifies the venture capitalist’s “getting the business” partner as the Spanish starlet Maria de la Cruz, only days ago as the time stamp has it.
Come on, Max. Can’t we just see a sex tape and get it over with?
As I finished reading the story for probably the tenth time, the train pulled up to a stop and I shot up, stumbling from the subway car and wandering in a daze out to the street.
After walking the last dozen blocks to our building, I wasn’t even a little surprised to find Chloe standing inside my office, waiting for me.
With shaking hands, I held up the paper. “I need you to explain what I’m seeing here. Is this just gossip? Who is this woman?”
She stepped closer, handing me her phone. She had the browser open to Celebritini, which apparently had broken the story. At the top of the page was a picture I’d seen weeks ago, on the rooftop with Max. It was a picture of my hip, with his hand spread across my skin.
Beside the picture of my obviously na**d body was a picture of a woman’s face. She had dark hair and I would have no way of knowing what color her eyes were because her head was thrown back, eyes closed. At the bottom of the photo was a hint of hair of the man whose face was pressed against her neck.
She was very obviously having an orgasm.
“This photo was on his phone.” I scanned the story that outlined just how many women Max had pictures of. “Apparently there were a lot of pictures of other women.”
Chloe reached for the pair of scissors on my desk. “I’ll be back later; seems I have an appendage to remove.”
She paused, taking a deep breath. “Well, at least that will save me from prison.”
Chloe flopped down on my couch. “He said we should try to be circumspect. That we didn’t know the entire story. That there is a lot of bullshit in the press. He reminded me I thought he was sleeping with everyone in the office before we hooked up.”
I pointed to the picture of his Spanish Starlet. “This story says this was the most recent of his photos leaked and that there were many others. And the one of me, the other one, was taken earlier this summer. So he’s been with her since then.”
She didn’t respond. I stared at the wall, considered putting my fist through it, and then almost laughed at the image. Max could put a fist through a wall. I wouldn’t even leave a mark, and would probably end up with a broken hand.
“I’m tired of feeling like an idiot.”
“This is exactly why I didn’t want to get involved with anyone. Because I want to see the best in someone, and am totally shattered when I’m wrong.”
Chloe still didn’t say anything, just watched me from across the room. Max didn’t even have a phone or a laptop. I couldn’t call to find out anything.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I picked up my phone and powered it off.
“What do we have on the calendar today?” I hit the spacebar on my computer to wake up the screen, and glanced through my appointments. I looked up at my friend.
She reached over and turned off my monitor. “Nothing pressing. George! Cancel everything and then get your stuff. We’re getting day-drunk.”