*It came out of nowhere. One minute they were talking shop, when Phil, on his second gin and tonic, blurted it out: his marriage was ending.

Fifteen fragile years with his wife had finally collapsed under the weight of a greeting card she happened upon in the trunk of Phil’s Silver Chevy Malibu, in which his mistress wrote of their “blissful” five years together.

As Phil held his head in shame, Marcus, quiet for a few seconds, brought his tumbler of scotch to his lips for a sip. “Christ, man. I’m really sorry, Phil.”

No he wasn’t. Marcus couldn’t relate. In his mind, the only thing he and Phil had in common other than being Los Angeles real estate attorneys in their early 40s, was the professional mentor they shared, who suggested they get to know one another. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be sitting at a table across from this sniffling fool in the practically empty bar of the Marina Del Rey Ritz Carlton on a Monday night. Their mentor couldn’t have known Phil would make their first meeting an Oprah moment.

In any case, the more information a solemn, tearful Phil shared of his cheating, the angrier Marcus became: What kind of man does this?

That is, who gets caught at cheating, but an amateur?

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Phil did just stupid shit. Like: there isn’t a single reason in the entire universe for your side piece to be calling your landline at home. Ever.

You don’t take your girlfriend to your wife’s favorite place. You don’t come home with strange make-up and fragrances on your clothes.

And leaving love letters around? That they even exist the minute after you’ve read them is unconscionable.

Then again, as the two men stood waiting for hotel valets to bring their cars around, Marcus knew he couldn’t fault Phil’s ways. To be clear, in the shadow of Marcus’s lean 6’2 frame, most philanderers were amateurs. Marcus was king of the cheaters.

He had lineage on his side. His daddy was a cheater and HIS daddy, Marcus’s grandfather, cheated, too. So did HIS father. It was in the DNA.

When Marcus was a boy, the youngest of three siblings, he despised his father breaking his mother’s heart—-until high school, when Marcus’s varsity basketball prowess afforded him the choice of some of his school’s finest girls. Why settle for one when he could have, say, three?

The handsome young man acquired a new “understanding” for both his dad’s behavior and his own. “Man is not monogamous by nature,” he reasoned.

Indeed, by college, Marcus had developed a philandering doctrine: since his cheating had been a conscious decision, he’d no longer make excuses or feel guilt. Own the behavior, he told himself. Get better at it.

To that end, Marcus reasoned that not getting caught—-covering one’s tracks about where one was, etc.—-was but one archaic component of womanizing. More important is on whom you choose to cheat. Which is one of the reasons Marcus married Mara.

They’d known one another since their college days, where they met. Pretty but painfully shy, early 40-something Mara was a certified nerd who loved science, numbers, fantasy and sci-fi. Her family’s strong religious background and a strict, demanding father defined her choice of garb, which amounted to contemporary Quaker.

At some point in their nearly 20 year marriage Marcus tried to get her to dress hipper, but hip requires instincts in that area, and Mara’s were all about her long, arduous hours as a biomedical engineer. Unable to have children, Mara incessantly doted on the young son and daughter of Dani, her only sibling and divorced sister, three years older.

All of which, over the years, made it easy for Marcus to do his thing with a pool of Internet dates, old college flames found on Facebook, and women he’d chat up everywhere, from the supermarket to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

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One of Marcus’s major tenets of cheating was to “date” women with as much to lose as he–those trapped in marriages that had long exceeded their expiration date; women from close knit families and/or with kids who’d never understand her indiscretions; women in jobs/careers requiring more than a dollop of dignity.

In other words, women with a need for secrecy and an immovable unwillingness to rock any boats, including Marcus’s pirate ship of a double life, which, for him, made such a woman “safe” to deal with.

That’s why Marcus was so wary of “Elaine.” Unlike his usual encounters, she was single; at least that’s what she wrote in a missive delivered to a dusty Yahoo account for which he’d signed up years ago–about the time Elaine insisted they first met, in college.

Like most serial cheaters, Marcus couldn’t always recall the names of all the women with whom he’d communicated or slept—-more than once he aggressively pursued women online only to remember he’d slept with them years earlier. Thus, he had to take Elaine’s word when she said they’d met. And he was willing to because of who Elaine was.

For one, out the gate, the girl was nasty. Her first email to him was accompanied by a photo attachment of a curvy sexy woman in a crotchless fishnet body suit, wearing black velvet gloves on her hands, one of which was holding her private parts. That photo was a high school yearbook pic compared to the photos that followed in days to come.

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Subsequent emails usually featured a photo or two, sometimes completely dressed—tight skirts, stiletto pumps, etc.–other times nude, all of them featuring a graphic, lurid element of perversion. Freak of the week? This woman was freak of the year.

She never showed her face. Whenever the photo didn’t cut off the head outright, Elaine found an arty fashion in which to conceal her face. Veils. Hats. This made Marcus think he was the victim of a scammer equipped with a surplus of stock pics—-until one day he requested Elaine take a photo in certain articles of “clothing” and strike specific poses. Within an hour he received what he requested.

Elaine was a world class tease. She refused to text or grant a single phone conversation, which drove Marcus, a control freak, crazy. But her emails came almost daily.

Sometimes there was but a single line inquiring how his day was going; other times there’d be an impassioned soliloquy depicting some of the most vile sex ever.
For two days she humbly addressed him as Mr. Craftsman. When he finally asked why, she replied, “Because you are a tool.”

The communication and photos went on for almost six months. Then, nothing. Marcus wrote, asking if everything was okay. No response. It was difficult for him to work, play the role of Mara’s half-assed husband and do his wholesale cheating, all while pondering what happened to Elaine. He was hooked.

One Monday morning two weeks after the silence, Marcus turned on his MacBook Pro laptop. That Yahoo account indicated a single email. His heart stopped. It was Elaine. All caps: THIS THURSDAY, SIX PM, BONAVENTURE HOTEL. ASK FOR INSTRUCTIONS AT THE DESK IN YOUR NAME. That was it.

Marcus read those words everyday that week, sometimes more than once, in search of clues inside the words. As fate would have it, Mara was flying out Tuesday evening for Denver, attending a four day event called Women In Science. Perfect. Marcus could be out all night Thursday. And he would be.

Who the hell is Elaine? Just what is Marcus getting himself into? Please, no nuclear wars until we find out tomorrow! Be there or be square….

The Twisted was created by Steven Ivory, a veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]