“I’m usually not the sort of person who has flowers on her desk, but these, I might keep some around once in a while,” I said.
“Alright,” Mary said slowly, dismissively.
Without further ado I’d like to open the bidding on not blaming the husband.
“Um yeah, look, to be honest, I’m not really here about the flowers. I kind of said that to you know, get the conversation going? Maybe you don’t like, deal with certain people a lot, but that’s how it is usually,” Mary explained.
“Well Mrs. Owens, I actually have quite a bit of experience with self-entitled assholes and usually I like, you know, tend to end those conversations as soon as possible.”
My coffee cup had never been officially washed in soap and water for the entirety of the time it has lived in this office. I sometimes think that ancient coffee has permeated the pores of the ceramic so deeply that it acts as some sort of glue that keeps it from breaking when I slam it onto the desk to accentuate my point. Mary just stared at the cup with a fake, fallen smile on her face.
“Um, yeah, well now that you have that out of your system, lets discuss what I want you to do,” Mary said.
“Wait, wait, hold it right there. I have not even said I was going to take your case. In fact, after meeting you I doubt very highly that there’s anything you could say that would convince me to,” I said.
She mumbled something inaudible and was shaking her head in disgust as she fumbled with something in her designer bag. I kicked back in my strangely comfortable chair and dropped both feet firmly on my desk, the same desk where she slammed down a stack of fresh, bank banded greenbacks.
“What about now?” she asked.
“You have my attention,” I told her.
“Of course I do. Money is everything to you people,” she said.
I swallowed ‘you people’ as if it were two, whole, unchewed grapes that I had every intention of spitting back into her face.
“I mean, why else would you be in business? I’ve done a little research and private eyes aren’t cheap,” she said.
Okay, she can live.
“If you’re wondering why I chose you, believe it or not, you come highly recommended,” she said.
“Believe it or not? Look,” my feet came back to the ground as I was about to stand and let her have it once and for all but once again, her mouth got to the finish line first.
“Now before you go slamming your grimy mug on the desk again you have to admit you haven’t been very welcoming. Furthermore, I don’t understand how someone in your line of work could be so easily offended.”
In the race for life, my anger was only second due to the overwhelming desire to pay rent, but not by much. Utter disbelief that this stereotypical bitch really existed was a very close third.
“What do you say we get down to business, hmm?” she said.
“The man you’re going to be proving is cheating is Mason Owens. Of course he’s my husband,” she said.
“What makes you so sure but not sure enough that you need to hire me?” I asked.
“A woman knows, wouldn’t you agree? I’ll tell you right now Mason is not a stupid man, however, he is careless. I’m counting on his carelessness to be his undoing,” she said.
“Who did you say recommended me?” I asked.
“I didn’t. I didn’t say. But the fact that you are a woman may in fact pay dividends in this case. I’ll assume you can blend-in? You see I’m not quite the type of person who, I don’t know, stands out in a room shall we say?”
“So it was a woman?” I asked.
“You really like, have to get off that already. Think about it Philippine, if I wanted you to know, I would have told you by now. Let’s just say the person who recommended you wishes to remain anonymous,” she said.
“You know what I think Mrs. Owens? I think you’re full of shit. I don’t think there was any recommendation whatsoever. I think you did not want to hire a man because you’re afraid they would have laughed in your face if they haven’t already. I think I’m your last resort, your only place left to turn to prove your husband is cheating on you, which may or may not even be true. And for what? Why do you want this to be true so badly? Why ever would you want rain to fall in your perfectly little plastered, pasty-white life?”
“Consider the cash an advance,” she said through half of a smile.
“And you’ll be needing this as well,” she added while dropping a file folder on my desk.
She shouldered her purse, turned, and headed for the door.
“Good day Ms. Maximine, I expect I’ll be hearing from you.”
“Wait, there’s paperwork, I’m not sure what this is but it may not be enough, excuse me? Mary! Mrs. Owens!”
She raised her left hand and either offered me a backwards half-hearted parade wave, or a poorly constructed bird as she walked out the door.
One of the problems with making fresh coffee, is the lack of water in my office. Sure, I could get a water cooler but then there’s the water bottle guy who is always going to be bringing me too much water. Plus, how often does the company change guys? Unknown, access granted, random individuals aren’t welcome in my line of work.
Water is available from the building’s communal bathroom down the hall. I say bathroom because after the wall-hugging hike down the Alice in Wonderland hallway you come to a room with a toilet, a sink borne of plumbing antiquity, and a broken lock. The room is most definitely not in the least bit restful.
I still wasn’t sure about Mary or if I was going to take the case. On the other hand these sorts of cases are generally pretty easy. You tail a guy, snap some pics, maybe take a closer listen if necessary, simple stuff. He’s either up to no good or he’s not. The only thing close to camping that will take place is spending a few hours staked-out in the car. At least for the time-being, I didn’t want to be outside any more than I had to.
With my empty mineral-stained coffee pot, I strolled past a man who I pegged as being anything but a random visitor to this building. I would bet he spent more time grooming himself than every similar aged man within a two-block radius. Each of his hairs appeared to be sprayed and laid individually into place and his scent, though not overwhelming seemed as if it knew how to float around intelligently, how to find my senses at just the right moment.
He was sitting in my old precinct chair, legs effeminately crossed, perfectly comfortable and composed.
“Hello Ms. Maximine. My name is Mason, Mason Owens. I believe you’ve just met my wife Mary. Enchanting woman isn’t she?” he said, I believe sarcastically.
“Actually I thought she was kind of a bitch,” I said.
I had every intention of offering him a normal, socially acceptable greeting. Even to the point where I could feel myself looking for a place to set down the decanter so I could shake his hand. Mid neural synapse, unabashed truth took over regardless of consequence.
Mason Owens’ smile was made of trash. Stark raving white dumpsters filled with absolute garbage. Notably missing were any recognizable genuine human attributes that ought constitute such a treasured emotional response.
“And I have no doubt that if I were a woman you might feel the same about me, but as you can plainly see, I am not. No, instead I’m a man on a mission. You see Ms. Maximine there are two things I would like to know. One is how much is she paying you, and two, what will she do when she finds out,” he said.
“I’m sorry but what she wants to pay me, and for that matter, what she hired me for is none of your damn business,” I said.
“Of course it is. Please don’t be ridiculous Ms. Maximine. We both know it’s my money anyways. She did little more to earn it other than to hold the sheets down with her bare back. Secondly, like any spoiled little girl, she throws a little accusatory temper tantrum every time she shakes her moneymaker and I’d rather be doing almost anything else rather than having one more broken chip from the bottom of the bag. So you see what she is paying you, I am paying you.”
He stood up and extended his hands, offering to take over the coffee making procedure. He poured the water into my Mr. Life Blood while I sprinkled new grounds over the old ones, filling the filter to capacity, wholly determined to get every last usable drip out of the beans.
“Considering who’s money we are speaking of, knowing, for peace of mind of course, that Mary’s and my relationship issues could be potentially amicably solved to be mutually beneficial, I am prepared to offer you the opportunity to double your pay. I promise, you’ll have no more to do than during any other routine case. In fact, you’ll most likely have less,” he said.
“Go on,” I said as I took a seat behind my desk.
“It’s very simple really, whatever she’s paying you with my money to follow me, double it. Picture if you will, the ease of your task if you happened to know exactly where I was, when I would get there, and what I was doing,” he said.
“I see, you go out and lead a fake life so I can let her know what a fine and upstanding husband and citizen you are. You know Mr. Owens, I wasn’t even going to take your wife’s case but now, after meeting you, after this, shit. The hell I won’t. Now you can just take your—”
“Just wait a minute! Clearly, you don’t understand,” he interrupted.
“Oh I understand. You’re afraid to get caught. Clearly, she’s right, isn’t she?”
“Maybe she is. Maybe she isn’t. You’ll find out if you just simply do your job. What you don’t understand is I don’t care if she finds out. I might even prefer that she does. Finding out from you might somehow give closure. God knows she’ll never leave by my word. Do you really think I’m going to grow old with her? Do you really think I want that painted whore to be the mother of my children? And for shit’s sake, do you really think she needs to hire a private detective to tell her if I’ve been cheating? And why you?” he asked.
“She said I came highly recommended,” I said.
“Yes, but did she tell you by who?” he asked.
“No, no she didn’t. In fact, she made it a point to not tell me, said I didn’t need to know,” I said.
“You have to ask yourself why. And then you have to ask yourself why not. As in, why not take this man’s money, why not pay my rent in advance for once? Maybe put a few bucks in the bank, buy yourself something nice, whatever,” he said.
Mason grabbed himself a mug from inside the credenza where Mr. Coffee lived. He spent a few seconds looking inside.
“Do you ever clean these?” he asked.
“No, ruins the flavor,” I said.
Mason took the pot out before it was done brewing and poured some into the dirty mug.
“What you have to understand Ms. Maximine is yes, there may have been a few marital discrepancies. And if Mary were to find out, let’s just say it might not be the worst thing for me. Not that I really want to see her go, deep down we had something at one point. But dead, that most definitely would be the worst thing for me. Her dead, me dead, and now that you’re involved, you dead, would be the worst thing for everybody,” he said.
“Wait, dead? Who’s talking about dead? And I am most definitely not involved,” I stated defensively.
“Oh, you are definitely involved Ms. Maximine, most definitely. You see whoever recommended you to her in all likelihood also wants to know something and using her to use you to find the answers they seek is just the sort of thing these people excel at,” he said.
“Correct me if I’m wrong but if the people you’re thinking of are the same people I’m thinking of, don’t they have their own people for this sort of thing?”
“You’d recognize the Grim Reaper on your doorstep, so instead, send an angel to do the dirty work,” he said. “My card Ms. Maximine, the number on the back is my personal service, they’ll be able to get a hold of me anytime day or night. Mary is at her weekly spa treatment as we speak, uptown on Rosemount just past the lake. She’s not hard to find, she drives a black Jag convertible. If you don’t trust me, why not see where she goes next. You can bill me,” he said.
He took two steps to the window, looked up and out.
“Be careful Ms. Maximine, someone is always bound to be watching the watcher in this game. Maybe this time, that’s you.”