“We have a serious problem,” Mr. Bennett said.
Miles sat back in his chair listening to the rain pattering on the patio outside the office window. The phone on his father’s desk remained prominently positioned between them though it was no longer hosting a call. Miles could see his own realizations from the call reflected his father’s stare— Julian Harper had somehow managed to duplicate nearly all the legal forms and policy notifications built into the Bennett’s software. For Harper & Son, it was a blessing just short of a miracle considering the young woman Julian had chosen to discipline had walked out on them, but the facts could only mean someone on the Bennett’s side had given Julian proprietary information.
Protracting a tired exhale, Miles shook his head. “You don’t think Jennifer...”
“Her or Rachel,” Mr. Bennett said. He rested his hands on the desktop and looked to the family picture sitting on the front edge of his desk. “I don’t much like thought of it being either of them, but unless you’re going tell me you did it, it’s got to be one of them.”
Miles sat forward. A deep desire for another possibility burned within him though he could think of nothing more plausible than the betrayal his father suggested. Ignoring the unpleasantness of reality would only make matters worse. He said, “We need to get to the bottom of this.”
“I agree.” Mr. Bennett nodded, taking his eyes off the picture and refocusing on his son. “However I doubt more spanking will yield anything from either of them. I suppose it might be worthwhile to check the call history on their phones.”
Invading the privacy of his girlfriend and his sister felt a bit too sleazy to Miles. Without knowing the details, the call histories would only lead to guesses and suspicions. They already had enough of both. What they needed were facts.
“I don’t see that helping,” Miles said. “We need a smoking gun to get the truth out of them.”
Mr. Bennett blinked at Miles and then chuckled. “For a moment there I thought you said ‘smoking bun’ and I was going to point out we already have two sets in the living room.”
“Too true,” Miles said, barely containing his laughter, “but like you said, more spanking isn’t the answer.”
The phone rang. Mr. Bennett answered it after the second ring, leaving Miles to contemplate how best to trick Jennifer or Rachel into confessing. His father straightened in his chair and seemed to take an intense interest in his new conversation. From the parts he caught, Miles realized it had something to do with Michelle and school. He shook his head, wondering how every female in the household could manage to land in trouble on the same day. His mother was apparently the sole exception, but the day wasn’t over yet either.
Mr. Bennett hung the phone up. “You aren’t going to believe this,” he said.
Miles chuckled. “My darling little sister has gotten herself paddled at school?”
“Not quite yet,” Mr. Bennett said. “Michelle has apparently uncovered the smoking gun you we’re hoping for.”
Miles blinked surprise. “What?”
“You might have listened to her a few weeks back and we could have avoided some of this,” Mr. Bennett said.
“I’m missing something,” Miles said.
Mr. Bennett nodded. “Apparently Michelle came to you with a story about Jennifer at the DMV.”
Miles groaned remembering the incident. “Right. She was trying to stand up for Rachel and make Jennifer look bad.”
“That’s not exactly right,” Mr. Bennett said. “She was trying to help Jennifer, but her timing was bad due to the whole blowup with Rachel.”
“Help Jennifer?” Miles shook his head. “How?”
“Apparently,” Mr. Bennett said, “Jennifer got herself mixed up with some character at the DMV. Michelle figured out this guy has a thing for blackmailing attractive females who are in danger of losing their license.”
Miles recalled Rachel’s words to Jennifer when they’d first arrived home. It had sounded like bickering at the time, but even so he’d had the immediate impression Rachel knew something he didn’t.
Nodding at his father, Miles said, “Things are starting to add up. After Jennifer’s accident last October, the judge threatened her license if she was cited again for anything during the next year. Rachel must know something because she was taunting Jennifer about covering up an accident report earlier. I dismissed it as just more sniping, but it seems there is something there after all.”
Mr. Bennett leaned back from his desk. “If Rachel is aware of the incident we can probably get the details from her, but it seems we already have the answer to our other question. Jennifer probably isn’t selling off company secrets. All she’s hiding is the way this Brody character has been blackmailing her into accepting punishment from him to keep her license. It probably explains why she’s falling behind in her work too.”
“Brody?” Miles asked. He recalled the traffic officer when he picked up Jennifer downtown. The man had given him the creeps at the time and the way he leered at Jennifer was enough to make Miles want to slug the bastard, but he had restrained himself on account of the uniform. “I met that bastard this morning when I picked up Jennifer.” He shook his head feeling stupid and blind for not seeing the truth straight away. “I knew something was up between them, but I couldn’t figure what it was. So, he the one who spanked her today and not Raven’s Gym?”
Mr. Bennett said, “It would appear that way. I called Raven’s Gym earlier and while they confirmed Jennifer dropped off their update this morning, they denied punishing her. I thought they were just keeping it quiet for her, but obviously in light of this new information, they were probably telling the truth.”
“So how do we proceed?” Miles asked, looking to his father for leadership.
“We talk to Rachel,” Mr. Bennett said. “She’ll happily divulge whatever she knows about Jennifer’s situation and from there we can probably get Jennifer to spill what she knows about Rachel. If my guess is correct, they both know enough to hang the other.”
Miles nodded in agreement though he wasn’t certain Jennifer would know anything about Rachel selling out. It just seemed the sort of thing she would have happily shared with him, but then he hadn’t expected her to hide anything from him. “I’ll talk to Rachel then.”
Rachel and Jennifer were standing on either side of the fireplace when Miles walked into the living room. The flickering fire light gave their naked skin an orange glow, while their shadows danced on the ceiling. Rachel still had the modesty provided by a pair of panties. Jennifer was completely naked and looking like she’d just sucked on a rotten egg, the lasting effect of a mouth soaping. They were both staring at him with their hands resting on top of their heads. It was clear neither of them wanted to be seen by him.
“Rachel,” he said, looking at his sister, “come with me. We have something to discuss.”
He escorted Rachel from the room and led her upstairs to his old bedroom. Once inside he closed the door, ensuring them privacy. Rachel stood beside his old bed, her arms nervously wrapped in front of her naked breasts. Miles took note of her discomfort and grabbed a pillow, giving it to her. She took it gratefully and hugged it to her chest.
“Don’t tell Dad,” Miles said, with a curt nod at the pillow.
Rachel’s lips curled upward in something resembling a smile. “The thought never crossed my mind. Does he even know we’re up here?”
Miles nodded. “We know about the accident.”
Rachel raised an eyebrow. “Accident?”
“Now really isn’t a good time to play games with me,” Miles said. “Jennifer was in an accident and she’s been doing her best to keep it a secret, no doubt in part because she’s trying to avoid losing her license.”
Rachel shrugged. “Okay. So what’s it got to do with me?”
Miles stared at his sister hoping she would figure out that talking to him was a better option than playing silly games. She appeared oblivious. He held his hand out and said, “Fine, give it to me.”
Rachel blinked at him. “What?”
“Give me the pillow,” he said. “If you aren’t going to cooperate with me, there is no point in me being nice.”
“Wait,” Rachel said, squeezing the pillow tighter.
“I’m not playing around,” Miles said. “I want to know what you know about Jennifer’s accident and you can either start talking or you can give me back the pillow and we’ll take a trip out front and try to jog your memory with a few exercises in the driveway.”
Rachel gaped at him.
He said, “Make up your mind or I’ll make it up for you.”
“She rear ended Julian in the parking lot of Harper & Son,” Rachel said.
“Julian?” Miles asked attempting to blink away the stunning development. “Are you certain?”
“He told me himself and he even showed me some pictures from the accident,” she said. “I bet she was driving at least 30mph.”
Thinking back over the past two months, Miles couldn’t figure out how he would have missed seeing damage like that on Jennifer’s car. “Why didn’t I ever see the damage?”
Rachel shrugged. “Julian said he felt sorry for her and offered to pay for the damage even though it was clearly her fault. He even told her if she took a driving class down at the DMV he wouldn’t report it. I’m guessing she took it since she apparently hasn’t lost her license or has she?”
Miles shook his head. “How did you find out about this?”
“I ran into Julian at the college shortly after it happened. He hadn’t fixed his car yet and when I asked, he explained,” Rachel said.
“You should have told me,” Miles said.
Rachel scoffed at him. “Really? And what was going to make you listen to me? I told you and Dad all about Jennifer and neither of you paid any attention. I wasn’t about to waste my breath over something else I couldn’t prove.”
“You’re sure Julian paid for the damage?” Miles asked.
Rachel huffed. “Why don’t you just ask him yourself. All I know is what he told me. If you think it’s a lie, confront the source, but sooner or later you better open your eyes and see Jennifer for the bitch she is.”
Miles sighed and shook his. “Alright. You better head back down to the living room. And if you don’t mind, send Jennifer up here.”
Rachel nodded. “Alright,” she said and stood up walking to the door. She paused and handed him back the pillow before turning the knob and walking out.
A few minutes later, Jennifer arrived, looking relieved for the relative privacy of his room. Miles didn’t want her to feel relieved. “Stand straight and put your hands back on your head,” he said.
“Come on Miles,” she said. “My arms are tired and it’s just us.”
“Hands,” he said, pointing at her head.
She huffed at him, but raised her hands back up on her head. “Happy?”
“Not even close,” he said. “So not only have you been hiding another accident from me, but it turns out you hit none other than Julian Harper. I shouldn’t be surprised considering we discovered earlier Julian is in possession of proprietary information from our company, but I was really hoping you weren’t involved.”
“What?” Jennifer blinked at him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Just like you don’t know who Brody is?” Miles asked.
“I told you he was some guy from my high school days,” she said.
“Right,” he said, nodding his head. “You just forgot to mention that he also happens to be blackmailing you for your license.”
“What would give you that idea?” she asked.
“My nosy little sister who I should have listened to weeks ago,” Miles said.
“Well she’s full of shit,” Jennifer said.
“She has pictures,” Miles said.
Jennifer scowled. “Let’s see them.”
“As soon as she gets home we’ll have a nice long look,” Miles said. “Right now, you need to start telling me the truth because if you don’t, I’m going to be making you miserable the rest of the afternoon.”
She rolled her eyes. “As if I’m not already?” Jennifer said, “I’ve been telling you the truth anyway. It’s not going to change no matter how much you want it to.”
“Fine,” Miles said. He grabbed hold of her elbow and dragged her along behind him, heading out his bedroom door and back down the stair to the living room. Jennifer followed without much protest, but when he paused to look into her eyes he could see she was worried about her immediate future.
“Wait in front of the fireplace,” he said.
Jennifer slowly walked to the fireplace. Rachel stood off to the right side watching. They scowled at each other as Jennifer took her place. Miles left the room and returned a few minutes later with a wooden stool from the dinning room and a clipboard with a pen from his father’s office. He dropped the stool in front of the fireplace next to Jennifer.
“Sit down, “ He said, pointing at the hard seat of the stool.
“I think I’d rather stand,” Jennifer said.
“I don’t think I care,” Miles said, pointing at the seat of the stool. “Sit the fuck down and don’t make me say it again.”
Jennifer stared him in the eye for a long quiet moment filled with only the sound of the crackling fire behind her. She must have read the determination burning in him because she climbed onto the stool without further protest. He handed her the clipboard and pen which she took with raised eyebrows.
Miles said, “You are going to sit here and write, ‘Big, small or otherwise, I will not tell any lies.’ 500 times. You are not going to squirm or make any fuss, you are simply going to write your lines and when you’re all done you can look forward to writing apologies to all of the clients you’ve failed over that last two months and after that, you will write a very long and thorough apology to Rachel.”
“What am I,” Jennifer asked, glaring at Miles, “a fucking five years old?”
“Throw me one more bit of attitude and I swear I’ll stick a bar of soap in your mouth for the entire time your writing too,” Miles said.
Jennifer rolled her eyes and said, “Geez.”
Miles turned on his heel and took a step in the direction of the kitchen.
“Alright, alright,” Jennifer said. “I’ll write your damn lines, but do you think I could sit at table or something?”
Miles turned back to her. “You’ll write right where you are and on that clipboard. Now are you going to behave yourself or should I go get the soap?”
Jennifer frowned at the clipboard. “I’ll behave,” she said.
“I don’t think I quite believe that yet, but we’ll see,” Mile said. “Now anytime you feel like telling me the truth about what you’ve been doing with Julian and Brody over these last several weeks, just start talking. Otherwise, keep quiet and write your lines. Understood?”
“Yes,” Jennifer said with as much attitude as she dared.
Miles paced the floor in front of her and Rachel. “I am so disappointed in you right now,” he said. “A man, an uneducated slob of an excuse for a man, threatens to take your license away if you don’t let him spank you and you don’t even bother to tell me about it. How can I possibly trust anything you say after this?”
Jennifer paused in her writing and looked at Miles, chewing on her lower lip. “It’s not like that.”
Miles snapped his fingers. “Did I tell you to stop writing?”
Jennifer shook her head.
“Then why aren’t you writing. Can’t you write and listen at the same time. Is that too difficult for you? Am I expecting too much out of you? Let me tell you, I’ve got half a mind to drop you on Julian’s doorstep and let him do whatever he wants with you.”
“Miles,” she said, her voice pleading for sympathy.
“Are you ready to tell me the truth?” he asked.
Jennifer stared at him, tears welling in her eyes.
“I didn’t think so,” he said. He snapped his fingers and pointed at the clipboard in her hand. “Write.”
Jennifer raised the pen to the clipboard and resumed her lines. Tears spilled out of her eyes and she sniffled. She shifted her weight on the stool clearly being made uncomfortable by the warmth of the fire on her backside. She looked up at Miles.
“Okay,” she said. “I was in an accident with Julian and that jackass Brody has been blackmailing for his own sick purposes and I let him because I didn’t want you to find out about the accident, not to mention I didn’t want to lose my license. But that’s it. I haven’t given Julian anything except cash to fix his car.”
Miles shook his head. “We know he’s been getting the information from you. If you aren’t going to tell the whole truth don’t bother with any of it. Just keep on writing until the message sinks in.”
“I am telling you the whole truth,” Jennifer said. “Brody whipped the hell out of me this morning and just for his own pleasure. I let him because if I didn’t he would revoke my license and it’s just a few more days until he has to submit the final recommendation on my license. By this time next week it will all be over.”
“And what about your deal with Julian?” Miles asked.
Jennifer said, “The only deal I had with him is to pay him cash in weekly installments for the damage to his car. I swear there is nothing else. If someone has been feeding him information maybe you should ask Rachel. She used to date him. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if she had him set me up for the accident just to be able to use me to cover her own tracks.”
Miles stopped his pacing and stared directly at Jennifer. “What did you say?”
Jennifer pointed at Rachel. “I said she probably set the whole damn thing up to cover her own tracks.”
Miles stopped staring at Jennifer and turned his attention to Rachel. She wasn’t saying anything. She wasn’t even moving, but there was a glint in her eyes, reflecting the firelight. It flickered like pride and guilt waging a war for dominance. Miles looked away and then turned back to Jennifer.
He said, “Write your lines and keep your mouth shut. I’ll be back in a little while to check on your progress.” He left the room for his father office. Things were definitely more complicated than they had thought and if he had it right, there was more than enough guilt to go around between Rachel and Jennifer.