8 The Millionaire's Clever Third Wife

Senator Kirk Lander joined his family on the terrace of his palatial home in Napa Valley, California, just as the last clouds cleared to reveal an angry red sun.

Lander was angry, too. His vineyard had been totally destroyed by the torrential rain that came on top of the unbelievable thunderstorm early that morning. The storm had knocked out the power in the house, and the senator had had a hard time waking up Felipe. Felipe, originally from Mexico, was his live-in servant and handyman. He had a good time on New Year's Eve, and some more good time the following evening.

When Lander had finally shook him awake and sent him off to the garage to start the emergency power generator, Felipe's hard-working but happy life came to an explosive end. The generator blew up, depositing fragments of Felipe all over the interior of the garage and the exterior of the senator's expensive car.

Somehow, this made the senator wary of using his smartphone. He tried to call the police from the phone in the hall. But there was no signal: the land line phones weren't working. The senator decided to have a cup of coffee, and a good think.

However, he had barely taken his first sip when he was interrupted. The thunderstorm had woken up the entire household. The explosion in the garage, though tame in comparison, generated fresh excitement. And so they all came trooping into the huge, stone-floored kitchen, one by one.

It took a while, because the entire Lander family clan had assembled at the senator's house for the holidays, and most of them still hadn't left. The first person to enter was the senator's new son in law, Randy Trueman.

Randy Trueman, who was a captain in the Marines, had married the senator's eldest daughter just six months earlier. The senator wasn't entirely happy about this marriage. He had a low opinion of military men. He thought they lacked imagination. People who joined the military had to have weak imaginations by definition. It wasn't the right kind of job for anyone with a strong imagination.

But the senator recognized there were times when people like that could be useful, and this was one of them. He politely went through the ritual exchange of good mornings that sounded extremely stupid in view of what had just happened.

Then he sipped from his cup and waited while the Marine captain groped around in the semi-dark, unfamiliar kitchen and made himself a coffee. Eventually he said:

"Randolph. You got a military radio set of any kind? I mean, have you got one here?"

"No, sir," said Randy Trueman. It was very gratifying for the senator to hear a Marine captain call him sir. He said, a little pompously:

"There's a major emergency. We might need troops. Where are your troops?"

"Everyone's down in San Diego, sir. I'll give them a call right away."

"The phones aren't working."

"Have you tried the land line?"

"Of course I've tried the land line. And Felipe is dead. The generator exploded when he tried to start it up."


This was said by the senator's daughter. She had just entered the kitchen to find out what her husband was up to.

"Oh no," she said. "Poor Felipe. Have you made coffee?"

"Yes," said the senator grimly, and wondered where the hell was Maria. Maria was the senator's live-in maid: her duties included making coffee. Then the senator remembered he had generously and uncharacteristically given Maria a couple of extra days off to visit her family in Mexico.

I'm just too soft, thought the senator. I'm just too nice to people. And where the hell is Debbie? I ought to spank her ass.

Debbie was the senator's third wife. She was twenty years younger than him, and not too bright. This was good. The senator's first wife had been a college lecturer, and she had committed suicide by driving off a cliff. It was covered up as a standard accident. She had alcohol and tranquilizers in her blood. The senator made 'Don't drink and do drugs and drive' the motto of his next electoral campaign.

The senator's second wife had been his personal secretary for two years before he had married her. She had handled that very well, but the combined strain of marital and secretarial duties eventually put her in a mental hospital.

It wasn't easy being the wife of a hotshot, handsome, rich senator. There were serious risks attached. Staying ignorant of what really went on was beneficial. A low intelligence really helped.

Deborah Lander had graduated from university only after her wealthy parents had made a sizeable donation to the university's research fund. But as it turned out, she was the first to discover something important that day.

However, she was fond of staying in bed as long as possible every morning. And so long before she showed up, everyone else had assembled in the kitchen, and the coffee was being spiked with brandy.

The senator's daughter had been followed by his younger son. The senator had wisely refrained from producing any more offspring after having three children with his first wife. He'd never really wanted any, but felt obliged to have a couple because of his political career. The third child, his younger son, had come about by accident. His first wife was already on tranquilizers, and she began forgetting to take her other pills.

Bernard Lander, the senator's third child and second son, was fifteen and it was clear that he was growing into a carbon copy of his father. He was tall for his age and sleek and strong. His blue eyes had the same impatient glitter, and his mouth was set in a straight line. It did not smile often.

But it smiled as he entered the kitchen that morning. It amused him to see Randolph Trueman, captain in the Marine Corps, wearing green pyjamas decorated with jolly red-nosed goblins. It did not occur to Bernard that his sister had bought those pyjamas as a Christmas present mainly to improve her own mood when she looked at her husband in the morning.

It did not occur to Bernard that his brother-in-law had been forced to wear those pyjamas much against his will. In spite of his intelligence, he was too young to know about the devious, hidden paths of marriage that lead men to do strange things.

The person that entered the kitchen next was the senator's eldest child and son, Adam Lander. Adam Lander had inherited his looks from his mother. He had jet-black hair and moody dark eyes. But he still got a lot of genes from his father, and he was a ruthless son of a bitch when he felt it was necessary. He seemed to feel that way quite often.

He was still single, which was becoming a slight concern for the senator. He had two children out of wedlock, which caused the senator even more concern, along with pride. He was president of a hedge fund that made immense profits on the assumption things would be steadily getting worse.

Adam said:

"What the fuck was that? Did the propane tank explode?"

"No, that was the generator. It blew up when Felipe tried to get it going. It killed him. We'll have to get the cleaning company send someone up once the phones are working."

"The land line isn't working?"


"Fuck. You shouldn't have let Felipe fool around with the generator. Too complicated for a guy like him."

"It blew up."

"It would. I would, if someone like Felipe put his hands on me. Hey, can I have some coffee? Stop hogging the machine, Karen."

His sister gave him an icy glare and moved away from the counter. Then she looked at her father, the senator, and said:

"Well, what do we do now?"

There was a short silence as the senator weighed various options and dismissed them instantly. How dependent everything was on electrical power! Without electricity, almost nothing was possible.

The senator's experience in politics told him the silence was stretching for too long. So he said, to buy time:

"What do we do now? That's a very good question. I -"

"Have you seen the cube?"

Everyone turned to look at Debbie Lander.

She was standing in the kitchen entrance, dressed in her night clothes - a long robe of creamy silk over a lacy black chemise. Her short blond hair stood up every which way from her head, and her big green eyes gleamed with excitement.


"What cube are you talking about?"

"Did you say 'cute' or 'cube'?"

Debbie Lander giggled.

"It's a cute cube, all right. It glows! It's right next to the fountain at the back. Kirk! The fountain isn't working. You must get it fixed today. The Hartfields are coming tomorrow. But right now, come and look at the cube. The sun's come up, too. It's so much nicer out at the back than in here. Can I have a coffee?"

She was provided with a coffee, and everyone except for the senator trooped out onto the back terrace to look at the mysterious glowing cube.

The senator waited until he was sure no one was turning back. Then he filled his cup with neat brandy and swallowed it and put more brandy in his next cup of coffee. That Felipe business was a real bummer. He had known the man for years. Ah well.

Armed with his spiked coffee, he went to join his family on the terrace in the back. When he saw the desolation caused by the storm and the rain, he felt blood rush to his head. What the fuck! First Felipe, and now this! The vineyards that stretched on the gentle slopes surrounding the house grounds, the vineyards he'd sunk millions of dollars into - they were completely destroyed.

He was an American citizen, and could never become a baron or a count or a duke. But he had planned to introduce a Chateau Lander wine in a couple of years' time. He had even secretly spent some time designing the coat of arms that would appear on the label.

Now all that was fucked, fucked, fucked. What had he done to deserve this?

Debbie had left the group on the terrace and walked up to the cube, oblivious of the water and the mud. She stopped and looked at it for a while and reached out and touched it. She turned round and shouted:

"Hey! Come on here! There's writing on this cube."


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