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Niagara Falls
Thursday, March 30, 2023
Writers’ Circle: The Gift Beth’s betrayal

Hermine Steinberg

NOTL Writers’ Circle

In the previous installments of The Gift, I shared the story of five friends who encountered a magical spirit. She gave them an enchanted tea that could transform the women to the idealized version of themselves at half their age. They were given three days to decide whether they would accept the gift. This is Beth’s story.

It was 4 p.m. on Monday. The sun would fade into the horizon in less than an hour and with it, Beth’s opportunity to transform. But she had no interest in starting her life over, again.

Beth had been hiding so many secrets, she was exhausted from trying to keep all the stories straight. She desperately wanted to tell Jack about the most recent and incredible one of all, but knew that would lead to their whole life unravelling, as one thread would slowly but surely pull apart the entire fabric of their lives.

Moving to this town had been the perfect opportunity to start over. She loved being Beth Vernon for the past three years. Riding the newcomer wave made it easy to fit in. Retirees wanting a simpler life in a picturesque setting, rich in culture, came from all over the world.

She met Jack a few months after moving into her quaint cottage with a lake view. He was kind, attentive, and full of energy. Beth told him the story she had polished for all her new friends. She was a widow from Toronto who worked in the hospitality industry. Her parents had passed and she never had the good fortune to have any children. Her husband had planned wisely, leaving her well provided for, which enabled her to retire early and travel the world.

Everyone saw Beth as an attractive, worldly and charming woman. No one would ever suspect that Beth had actually grown up on the streets of Vancouver where she sold drugs and sex to survive. After a short but successful career as a porn star by the name of Crystal Flare, she established a lucrative escort service targeting executives visiting the west coast. At one point, she had over 40 “companions’’ working for her and a client list that numbered in the thousands. That is, until she was arrested and served almost seven years in prison.

Crystal had been wise enough to build a nest egg that she hid in a Swiss bank account. Five million dollars was waiting for her. Crystal left the country and believed she had left her old life behind as well. Until Roger, one of her old clients, walked into the Michelin three-star restaurant in the south of France that she now owned with her husband of five years. Roger threatened to destroy her new life and humiliate her husband. Instead she lured him to a seedy hotel near the port where she drugged him and then dropped his limp body into the sea. He was found weeks later by a fisherman but Crystal, who was then known as Gisele, was never suspected.

When Gisele’s husband suddenly died from a heart attack, the entire community rallied around her. Everyone except their 25 years old maitre’d whom Gisele caught in the kitchen supply room with her husband, pants around his ankles. She could have forgiven him if it was only sex. But they were in love.

Not being able to continue the business without her partner, she sold the restaurant for an unprecedented price. Gisele also sold their country house and apartment in Paris after she collected on his life insurance. All she wanted now was to find a place where she could lead a quiet life.

The memory triggered by her enchanted tea was the day she married Jack. As Beth, she finally felt content, safe and couldn’t imagine giving up her carefully designed life for anything in the world.

When the crimson sun melted into the horizon, Beth pulled out the crystal decanter of Remy Martin Louis XIII Cognac. The $40,000 bottle was filched from the wine vault of the restaurant before she handed over the keys to the new owners. Beth brought it with her to celebrate when she finally found her safe harbour.

She then went to her bedroom dresser where she had hidden the velvet pouch of tea. Beth opened the drawer and reached into the back corner. But it was gone. She frantically threw the entire contents on her bed. Out dropped an envelope with her name boldly printed in red on the front.

It was from Jack. “Don’t bother trying to find me,” was the first line. Jack had targeted her from the beginning. Beth was the perfect mark … obviously hiding something. His friend was able to trace her entire history with just her fingerprints and photo. People in her past lives were all too willing to talk.

And Jack’s expertise as a hacker allowed him to track her every move, read every text and email, hear almost every conversation through her phone and computer. He not only knew all her aliases, bank accounts and passwords, but all about the enchanted tea, which he wrote, “was an unexpected and astonishing bonus.”

The shock of Jack’s betrayal left Beth catatonic. She sat motionless on the edge of her bed until her housekeeper found her days later. The ink on the letter had disappeared the night she read it. When the ambulance arrived, she was taken directly to the local psychiatric hospital.

A young man who claimed to be Jack’s son arrived a few weeks later to sell the house. He told people his father had moved in with him. The proceeds would be put into a trust to take care of Beth. After grabbing the bottle of cognac from Beth’s desk, he climbed into his cobalt blue Porche Speedster.

Jack looked into the mirror and smiled. “Hey, Peter Pan, build faith, extract trust, add a little pixie dust…and dreams can come true.” He laughed out loud and drove away.

To be continued …

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