Butt-dialing the Billionaire: Chapter 45


I’m locked up in a large, sterile holding cell in the Manhattan Detention Complex, aka The Tombs. I’m stuck in here with five other guys who’ve been picked up for various offenses. None of them bother me or even try to talk to me. I can hold my own in groups like this.

Being a foreboding island is kind of my thing.

It’s where I should’ve stayed.

I lean my forehead on a cool metal bar, trying not to think about what I did. Trying not to think about Jada and how I messed it all up.

It was inevitable–excruciatingly inevitable—that this thing with her was going to crash and burn. It’s good that it’s over, and it’s good that it ended so badly; it’s cleaner and faster this way. There’s no sense in prolonging the death of something doomed.

I look up at the clock. I called Arnold to arrange to have him get me out. It’s been one very long hour. They even take your phones in here.

Not that I need a phone when I’ve got Jada in my brain.

I’ll stop thinking about her, though. It can be done. Five minutes here, ten minutes there. String together an hour, and then a day, and then a life.

My chest hurts. I can’t breathe.

It was nice being in the office group for the time that I was. It meant something, but that, too, was always doomed. Who did I think I was? Jack from upstate?

God, no. I was never him. I’ll never be him, the guy who wears whatever the hell he wants and helps out with cookie errands and tears his way through spreadsheets like they don’t scare him.

Though it was satisfying as hell to hit Bert. I’m not sorry about that, even though it’s going to lead to a world of trouble. I didn’t decide to hit him in any conscious way. It’s more that once I got the impulse to go at him, I didn’t stop myself.

The old me was back in the driver’s seat.

The timing was regretful. If I was any kind of a good man, a man who’d give a thought to anything but his own satisfaction, we might have made that last sales call, and they could’ve saved the company they love. But it turns out I’m not a man who gives a thought to anything but his own satisfaction, a fact that people everywhere from Milan to Dubai could’ve told the SportyGoCo crew.

My jaw goes hard as stone.

I’m sorry that SportyGoCo won’t survive. That was bad form. I’ve never claimed to be a savior, though.

And anyway, it’s done.

I probably won’t see them again. I certainly won’t see Jada.

I sigh and turn around, eyeing the other inmates. There’s a particularly pungent man in the corner, and I enjoy a moment of silent, shared annoyance about him with a chop shop driver who’s taking up most of the bench. Sitting in here with my fellow public enemies, I feel more like myself than I have in weeks. It’s as if I’ve returned to solid ground after months at sea.

It feels very bad in a good way.

Bloxburn will drive the final stake into the heart of SportyGoCo next week; there’s no getting around it now. They’ll pulverize the company once the people are gone. My parents wanted vengeance on the owners, and they wouldn’t have hired a second-rate firm to do the job. The destruction will be complete. They’ll probably lock up the intellectual property forever and find a way to tarnish the name. My parents were highly competent in the awfulness department.

I’ll have Soto see that the staffers all get good severance pay and that their health insurance is extended. If Jada and the others want to start something, they can have seed money. Wycliff has a venture capital arm that can handle it. One of the great things about being rich like me is that I can direct that it be done and not have to be personally involved with it.

Fall is a good time on the Mediterranean.

I bend forward, breathing hard, pain splitting my side.

The door opens. I expect to see Arnold.

Instead, I see blonde hair sprouting pencils, a purple skirt suit, bright hazel eyes piercing through the gloom. I breathe in, starting to stand, make it halfway up and sink down to the bench seat again, out of air.

For a second, I don’t believe what my eyes are telling me. No. Not Jada, with her hands on her hips and her chin held high.

“Jack!” she says, rushing toward me. And it’s her—not the bossy version, not the version showing me nothing but disdain for the way I acted—but the woman who’s been in my corner.

“No contact,” the guard reminds her.

“Are you okay?” She grips the bars, brow furrowed. Her overcoat is buttoned wrong and of course she has a smear of ink on her cheek.

“What are you doing here?” I ask, hardening my face, making my eyes go dead.

“Hello? Where else would I be? I came over as soon as they finished taking our statements. We missed the sales call, but it’s okay. The important thing is that we get you out. Lacey’s been contacting the DA. They’re being obstinate because it’s a Friday after business hours, but one of my friends is dating a man who is very influential in this city, and she thinks that he can maybe pull some strings—”

“Hold up,” I say. “No, no, no. I’ve got this. I’m fine.”

“You don’t look like you’re fine. You’re in jail, mister. But don’t worry—”

“You think I need your help?”

She looks surprised. “Well, yes. I mean…obviously.”

I lower my voice. “I’m a billionaire. It’s under control.”

“Jack, why are you being like this? It’s me. Jada.”

“And this is me,” I say. “I’m not Jack the delivery driver. I’m not office Jack in a stupid knit hat. I’m Jaxon Harcourt Eadsburg von Henningsly. I came to find the identity of the butt-dialer and I did it. I can manage to get sprung out of jail on my own.”

Jada blinks, lips moving soundlessly.

Don’t cry, I think. Don’t you fucking cry.

“No,” she says finally. “I don’t accept it. You’re doing something out of feeling bad, or I don’t know what, but I don’t accept it. Whatever this is, we’re in it together.”

Why is she making it hard? I straighten and look her head on. “All this togetherness. It’s a bit overrated, frankly.”

She looks shocked for a moment, staring at me. And then she smiles. Her smile is like the sun coming out.

It hurts. God, why does it hurt so much?

“Oh, Jack. Don’t act like you don’t care about anything. It’s too late—the jig is up. And I’m not mad at you. You had a lapse in judgment, but I get that your heart was in the right place. I mean, one could argue Bert deserved it. Maybe it wasn’t the best option punching him and all, but we all make mistakes and revert to old habits. It doesn’t change how I feel about you.”

Why is she prolonging this? I’d hoped to avoid a scene. “Do you not see what’s happening here? We’re done,” I bite out. I’ve gone someplace dark and far away. “I’m bored of this. Your feelings about me? No thanks.”

“Well…” She sucks in a breath, her jaw going tight the way it does every time she gets some wild new idea. “You can’t stop me from how I feel.”

I go back and sit on the bench next to my fellow detainee with the stolen car parts.

“I know you don’t mean it,” she says.

“You believe in a lot of things. Doesn’t make them real.” I give her my weariest sigh. “I’ll see that the Wycliff Group makes it right for everyone, but beyond that, we’re done here. That’s just how it is.”

“It’s not how it is,” she says. “This isn’t you.”

“It’s very me.”

“Come on. Let’s work this out.”

“Not likely,” I say. “After I get out of here, I’m relocating to Bahrain. The Bahrain International Circuit has some of the best night racing there is.” Something heavy lodges itself in my chest.

“You can’t just leave!”

I wave at the guard, forcing my hand to go loose and languid. “This one’s not welcome to visit anymore.”

Jada looks at me, horrified. The how-could-you glare. Good people angry and disgusted with me.

This feels familiar. I’m definitely home.

The guard pushes off the wall. “Let’s go. Time’s up.”

When she gets to the door, she turns.

I give her an academy-award-winning look of boredom. “Rhymes with frost maws.” She turns and heads out the door.

“Harsh, man,” the chop shop guy says.

“It’s no favor to hang a person slowly,” I say.

Arnold shows up at around seven. He’s got lawyers on the project of getting me out, but it’s not so easy, considering the judges have all gone home for the weekend. Apparently, even my expensive lawyers are having trouble with that one.

“The good news is that Charley has connections across the city,” he says. “It’s three in the morning in London—”

“No,” I say. “No way. We don’t need Charley. I won’t go begging to Charley, hat in hand. I’d rather spend the night in lockup.”

Arnold says, “He’d want to help you. Charley has always admired you.”

“I’ve always done my best to break him of that. Sometimes dreams do come true, you know.” I wipe an invisible speck off the suit jacket Jada helped me choose this morning. A lifetime ago.

“Jaxon, you were just getting a new lease on life. You were with that lovely girl, and working together on a project that was close to your heart with the work family of yours—”

“Quite the tale of tragedy, I know. As a matter of fact, Jada stopped by earlier. God knows why, but it won’t be happening again. Turns out the new lease on life had a few loopholes. Like the loophole that I didn’t want it.”

“What have you done?” he asks.

“What have I done? She doesn’t understand how I am.” How I’ve always been. How I have to be. “I set the record straight, and she walked away.” Even as I say it, I feel this twist in my gut. I wish I’d never come to America. Why did I come? The siren song of the butt-dialer, I suppose.

Arnold presses me for details. The guard is busy with other people and I’m bored, so I fill him in. Arnold and I have been talking more recently, relating more on a human level than an employer-employee level, and I’m not sure how to put that particular genie back in the bottle. He probably thinks I’ve changed or something. Jada’s not the only one who could do with a better grasp on the reality of the situation, I suppose.

“That girl believes in you,” he says. “She does—I saw it. She’s smitten with you, and if you forgive me for speaking bluntly, you need to pull your head out of your ass.”

I blink. “This new tough love bit. Not a fan.” Turning away from him, I go back and sit down. “I don’t want to stay the weekend. Let’s get the lawyers believing in that one.”

As it turns out, I do end up staying for a good part of the weekend. It’s not until Sunday afternoon that Soto manages to place the right amount of money in the right hands to get me in front of a judge who releases me on my own recognizance.


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