Friday, February 22, 2013

Master Class: Trailing a Husband

            Conor always pictured himself reuniting estranged families and finding missing family heirlooms. He thought he was going to be the guy people went to when all else failed. He thought he was smarter than the police—more focused. Maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t. But the he’d never find out working cases like this. This job, like most of them lately was to find out if someone was cheating. Sometimes it was a spouse. Sometimes an insurance company or a boss. Dishonest men paid Conor’s rent.
            She was in pain by the time she came to Conor’s office, convinced Hubby was cheating. He was spending more and more time at the office. He had lost weight—started hitting the gym. He even started dressing in the latest styles. She was convinced it was a mid-life fling.
            So far the trail was cold. Hubby’s late nights really were at the office. If Hubby was meeting with a girl, Conor hadn’t figured out when. It was beginning to look like Conor was trailing the only guy in town with nothing to hide.
            Then on Friday, Hubby’s routine changed. Conor watched him board a cross-town bus at lunchtime. He felt like a safe cracker who—partly by luck—had sussed out the first digit in a lengthy, arduous combination. Maybe this was it. Maybe Hubby was on his way to a nooner.
            Conor followed the bus to a crumbling office building on the desperate side of town. Hubby boarded the elevator and hit number six. Conor took the stairs and beat the ancient elevator. He waited in the stairwell until he heard the elevator doors slide open and footsteps pass. He opened the door as Hubby disappeared into the only occupied office on this floor. The door was stenciled with the name Sylvia O’Brien, Private Investigator.
            “Dammit,” Conor whispered reading the name. He moved closer to the door to listen to the conversation from inside.
            “On top of everything,” Hubby’s voice floated through the closed door. “I think I’m being followed. First Delores is cheating on me and now I’m being followed. I even took a bus to get here to shake the guy. I don’t know. Maybe I’m paranoid.”
            “First of all Mr. Landon,” said the detective with well-practiced patience. “We don’t know she’s cheating on you. I haven’t found a shred of evidence to suggest it.”
            “But all the hours at the gym, the nice dinners, the new hair... why is she trying so hard?”
            “I don’t know Mr. Landon. I think maybe it’s time to stop talking to me and start talking to your wife.”
            “Just because you haven’t proved it yet, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. And I know someone’s following me. I bet he’s right outside this door!”
            Before Conor could move, Landon had swung the door open and pushed him up against the wall.
            “See! I knew I was being followed. Why the hell are you following me?”
            “Mr. Landon, calm down. We’ll get to the bottom...”
            Sylvia’s voiced trailed off as she came into the hallway. She was just as beautiful as Conor remembered. She had pulled her soft blond curls into a bun and wrapped her perfect curves in a no-nonsense gray suit. But she was still the same woman he remembered.
            “Conor? What the hell are you doing here?”
            “You know this guy?” Landon gripped Conor tighter.
            “Know him? I used to be married to him. Let him go please Mr. Landon. He’s harmless.”
            Landon released his grip and Conor tried to pull himself back together.
            “Why don’t we have a seat in my office and sort this all out?” Sylvia said, taking charge of the situation.
            Inside the closed door, Sylvia gestured for the men to sit.
            “Well?” she said looking at Conor. “You’re on my turf now Conor. What are you doing here?"
            “Landon’s not paranoid. I was following him.”
            “Why? What gives you the right?”
            “Mr. Landon, Conor is a private investigator like me. We used to be in business together.”
            “Someone hired you to follow me?” Landon looked outraged.
            “Why not? You obviously hired my wife...”
            “Ex-wife,” Sylvia corrected.
            “Whatever. You hired Sylvia to follow someone else.”
            “That’s different. I just want to save my marriage.”
            “So does your wife Mr. Landon.”
            “What the hell do you know about it?”
            “She hired me. Delores thinks your having an affair. Sylvia was right. She’s a bitch, but she’s right. It’s time for you and Delores to talk to each other instead of us.”
            Landon stood up and walked towards the door.
            “I guess I’d better go home.”
            “That’s a good idea Mr. Landon. I’ll send you your bill,” Sylvia said.
            He nodded absently and left.
            Sylvia reached into the bottom drawer of her desk and pulled out a bottle of bourbon and poured some into two paper cups and handed one to Conor.
            “Well, I never figured we’d be working cases together again Conor.”
            “Me neither,” he took a long slow swallow of the bourbon. “I hate cases like this though.”
            “Same here. Although that one worked out okay, didn’t it?”
            “I guess. Maybe we could work together again.”
            Sylvia choked on the bourbon.
            “Are you nuts? Our business crumbled.”
            “Sure, our P.I. business.”
            “What else would do?”
            “Well, we just saved a marriage, didn’t we?”
            “I suppose.”
            Conor raised his glass in a toast.
            “I can see it now, O’Brien and O’Brien, Marriage Counselors.”
            I’m linking up this week with Master Class over at Sinistral Scribblings (or that was the plan before I realize I was working with last week's prompt!). Our prompt for this week was to use this quote from Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, “He felt like a safe cracker who—partly by luck—had sussed out the first digit in a lengthy, arduous combination.” We were not to use it to begin or end the story.