Chapter 24: More than Business
24. MORE THAN BUSINESS
Mr. Alfonsi’s secretary handles more than business!
The series of pictures left no room for questioning. Shots of Red and I in Tokyo, strolling through the town’s markets, kissing in his office and embracing one another in front of his parents’ home, mocks me. But it isn’t the pictures that have my blood running in fury, it’s the commencing line.
The bachelor’s new publicity stunt? Rags to riches… Billionaire, Red Alfonsi targets another innocent victim!
I slam the paper down on the counter. All at once, my senses lighten up and I feel Red crowd in behind me. He snags the paper from in front of me and throws it to the side, turning me in his arms he cups my face in his brawny hands. “Don’t.” He commands his eyes shutter in betrayal. “Don’t run from me,” he finalises. I find myself slowly shaking my head, another target? Publicity stunt… I couldn’t care less about the mocking of my economic status but is this really just a stunt. I’d known all along that this was too good to be true.
I attempt to shake out of Red’s hold, but his grip simply tightens, brutally. Reaching up, his hand clamps onto my skull and draws my eyes to his. “Let go of me,” I comment, succinctly.
“Don’t try to get away from me, Julia.” Red’s jaw clicks, without warning he slams his mouth against mine, punishingly. “I’m going to legal at the office to deal with this shit. Don’t leave the house.” He orders. Releasing my body, Red rounds the benchtop and swipes up his belongings before swiftly exiting the apartment.
At once, Robin and Marisa are at my side. Both of them scan the article before turning back to me and giving me a comforting embrace. “You can’t possibly believe this shit, Jules. I used to edit crap like this!” Robin grunts out, throwing the offending scraps of paper into the bin.
“I’ve seen the way he looks at you, babe.” Marisa says, “if anything, this will hinder him more than you, do you really think he’d pull a hoax like this.” Grabbing my hand, she looks at me directly, “use your brain, Julia. I know deep down you don’t believe the bull in that stupid paper!”
Releasing a breath, the pounding in my head becomes too much. I wasn’t angry with the paper, or even the fact that my face was out to the public and not in good light at that. Loving Red is what hurt. The possibility of him only using me for a stunt, the possibility of him not even caring about me. That’s what hurt. I don’t trust him, and that knowledge made me sick. How can a woman not trust the man she loves…?
I push past my friends and rush into my room, locking the door behind my escape I continue to the adjoining bathroom. Bracing myself against the sink, I turn on the tap and slash my face with the icy cold water, looking into the mirror I see what Red had. The expression on his face had said it all, he felt betrayed. And, now he knows I don’t trust him... knows I’ll run. I’d hurt him. In those short seconds, I’d successfully showed Red my lack of faith in him.
Dropping my head, I groan. I know Red, he won’t hurt me. I may be a fling, but I was his fling, he wouldn’t use me for publicity. I have to trust him. Raising my head, I decide in that moment I won’t let go. I won’t abandon Red. Fuck staying in the house! Leaving the bathroom, I return to my bedroom and tug at my draws. Pulling on some black jeans and a tight, dark green long sleeve, I return to the open space.My friends watch me silently, cautiously, as I pull on my boots and grab my bag off the counter. Locating a hairband, I draw my hair up into a ponytail. Before I leave, I grab the paper out of the trash and find two key pieces of information, “Daryl, is it possible to find out about this man.” I place the paper in front of him and point at the small printed name at the bottom. He nods immediately. I then turn to the girls, “I trust him.”
Taking down the name of the publishing house, I decidedto go and greet the Daily Helmuth Press, personally. It doesn’t take long for me to locate the publishing house. I park out front and eye the entrance. My phone buzzes as I go to open the door, pausing I answer, “what’s up, Mar?”
Daryl answers instead, ’Jack Davis, is his pseudonym. You’re looking for a man named Herald Barnes. I’ll send you a file, but be careful Julia. He doesn’t add up; I don’t think he’s the one behind this. He definitely assisted, but he’s not smart enough nor capable of pulling this off.’ Reality hit’s me all at once, his name registers and I frown. I go to thank Daryl, but the man pipes up, ’yeah, yeah. I’m just doing my job, Jules.’ No one really knows what Daryl’s job is, somehow we’ve come to refer to him as a private detective, but that doesn’t seem to do the man justice.
“I owe you one,” I end the call and step out of my car.
Walking up to the entry, I slip through the large sliding doors and head directly for the receptionist. The lady sitting behind the desk gives me a double take, before standing up. “Ms. Williams,” she greets, I see sweat form across her forehead. Yes, well I can just imagine the vicious glare on my face.
“I’d like to speak with Mr. Barnes.” I get straight to the point.
She mumbles a response back, “ma’am if you’d like I can set up an appointment, he’s currently busy.”
My eyes flicker down to her name tag, placing my arm on the counter, I glare her down. “I’m sure he’s really busy, given circumstances. But, Susan… I highly suggest you let me see him, I’m sure you can imagine my morning has been anything but delightful.”
Susan shakes her head, “I can’t-
“Ah, Julia!” Susan is cut off by a loud greeting. I turn and find myself eyeing an awfully familiar face. The man walks towards us, after ushering his company away. “Just the person I knew I’d see today!” He grins a shit-eating grin.
I leave the receptionist desk and step up to the man, “you were in Tokyo…” I comment.
“It’s good to finally speak to you, without Red and with more clothes on,” He teases looking down at my attire… “Although, I think I preferred your attire-less state.”
Slowly, things start to fit in place. “Herald Barnes,” I grind my molars together.
“My heart flutters! You recognise me, hon.” He winks. A shiver runs down my back.
Daryl’s earlier words ring through my ears. “Flattering. But, I’m more interested in knowing who’s helping you.” I scan his body, “you’re a bit too old to be chasing around snaps, no?”
Herald chuckles, “a little birdy told me; you like em’ old…” he flirts.
“Ah, Herald. Be a darlin’ and set me up with this little birdy you speak of,” the corner of my jaw inches up as his eyes flash. He knows he’s been found.
A more serious expression contorts the prior flirtatious one. “You should be setting up a meeting with the press, love. You’re sleeping with a rich liar; you couldn’t be in a better position. Let’s be honest, you don’t actually love the man... you love his paycheck.”
I grin, “you’re right, Mr. Barnes. I think the press would love to know about your past exploits, a conference is exactly what I should do.” I lie, I have no idea if the man has had any exploitations, but being one of the grimier types of journalists, I know he can’t be a saint. I eye him down and his poker face faults, it’s then something vital clicks. “You don’t know them, do you.” I mutter, cocking my head to the side.
He glares down at me, all traces of past humour gone. “Excuse me?”
“Oh no, Mr. Barnes. Don’t tell me this little birdy is a ghost!” I chuckle. Well, there’s no point in wasting time here, humouring the bastard in front of me. “Great chatting, hopefully, it never happens again.” I continue, turning on my heels and heading for the entrance with a solid plan forming in my head.
His loud, furious shout slows my pace, “he’s using you, Julia. Red Alfonsi is a bigger bastard than I am!” I continue forward, “he’ll fuck you up, hon!” I ignore his taunting commotion and stride to my vehicle. It’s clear Herald is simply a pawn; fear settles in the pit of my gut. Someone wants to hurt Red.
I decide it’s simply ridiculous and unrealistic to even attempt to take this on, I need help. Swiping my phone up from where I’d left it, I go to ring Daryl, but a message lights up the screen of my phone. instead
[Gone to Daryl’s, meet us there.]– Rob
Looking below the message, several missed calls glare up at me. I ignore the notification and head for Daryl’s. The guy lives in the city, about two minutes down from Red’s company. I park along the street and wait for the traffic to let up before I cross and wait in the middle of the road on the island for the other side too clear. The second it does, I’m across the road and riding the elevator up to Daryl’s studio apartment.
I don’t bother knocking, pushing in his passcode, I step through into his living space. I find Marisa, Robin and Daryl circled around three monitors. Stepping up to the group, I look over Daryl’s shoulder. “Herald is a bust, doesn’t even know who his own source is,” I grumble.
“Expected but annoying,” Daryl replies. “I was looking at the pictures, Jules. They were taken from security cameras inside Red’s office.”
I reel, “what? That’s impossible, Red’s got top of the line security.”
“Exactly.” Daryl looks up at me, “either someone who shouldn’t have access to security footage, has... or, someone has been bought?”
I frown, “so you’re telling me someone in the company is doing this?” Daryl nods. “Fuck!” Pulling out my phone, I try to call Red. The call goes straight to messages, panic erupts through my body and I find myself running out of the complex, unable to think straight my feet carry me to the company. I continue to ring Red, but each time I’m directed to his voicemail.
I stop across the road, looking up at the large building I pray he’s safe. Car’s blur past me, I anxiously try to cross the road, but each time a car ends up rushing across my path. Adrenaline pumps through my veins and I decide to test my luck. Running across the busy road, I manage to make it halfway— to the safety of the island in-between.
I go to step out again, but quickly draw my leg back as a black vehicle beeps at me. “Julia!” The loud shout draws my attention, my eyes snap up to the direction it came from and I smile as I see Red. “Don’t move,” he shouts.
I nod, and stay stationed. He moves closer and as he does I notice the covered figure behind him. My eyes widen, “turn around, Red!” I scream. But he seems oblivious to my distress, instead he attempts to stop the current of vehicles. I see the figure advance on Red and without thinking I move forward. Several horns blare at me, and I turn just in time to see a large truck hurtling towards me. My gaze flickers up too Red and find is pure fear and anguish crafting his features…