Caveat Emptor

A regretful loser, a person who makes poor and uninformed decisions, feeling like a complete and utter failure and the back-burner fear that you will be seen, judged, and labeled as all of the above. Step one onto the end of the return line at the department store. An admirable alternative such as giving whatever it was you wanted to return to someone raises questions as to why. Why don’t you like it, why doesn’t it fit, why doesn’t it work and why would you even buy it then? See step one. I would rather throw it away. What happens then when you buy a liar’s load of crap?

The shiny coating on his embossed and colorful business card bounced a ray of sun from my dirty office window onto the wall across from my desk. Richard was enamored with it and even the slightest movement of the card made the ray wiggle and shake. His compounding disappointment of multiple failed captures was potentially only eclipsed by its complete disappearance.

Owens Real Estate Holdings LLC., his name was written in cursive.

“Hello Mr. Owens? Philippine Maximine, yes, well, thank you, and yourself? Sure, sure, well, I won’t take too much of your time. Let’s just say I think based on our conversation yesterday that your concerns may yield some interesting validity. Yes, absolutely I think we should move ahead. Okay, great, I’ll touch base with you in a few days. Yes of course, feel free to contact me with anything you may think pertinent. Very good then, I look forward to working with you,” I hung up the phone.

Something about having to say goodbye on the phone felt necessary and forced. In person, a hug, a wave, or in certain circumstances a kiss says it all. Even certain phrases like ‘Okay well see ya later,’ or ‘Talk to you tomorrow’ have to be followed by a prerequisite goodbye where if I were to pin that tail to an in person meeting it would just feel palpably uncomfortable.

“Hello Mrs. Owens? This is Philippine Maximine. I’ve had a chance to go over the evidence and I feel like this should be a pretty routine case. If you could give me a call at the office, I just have to know more particularly what you are looking for along the lines of hard evidence, my fees, etcetera. My number is 744-5629,” I hung up the phone.

“Hello? Missy? Hi, yes this is Philippine Maximine. Remember me? Yes, great we are getting along famously as a matter of fact. Hmm yes, oh yes I agree, it is really great. Um, hey Missy, I’ve been thinking about it and you know, ‘Joining the club’ as Mr. Melton would say just feels like the right thing to do. Yeah, yeah, yes, that is really super extra great. I was wondering if you could help me set up a meeting with Mr. Meltone. As a volunteer I possess a highly particular skill set that may prove to be quite beneficial to the AAPT cause. Yes of course Wesley, is there another? Oh, well I wasn’t aware of that, or should I say him? Wesley and I have already met so…Sure, secretary, I’ll give her a call and set it up. Thank you, you’ve been, yeah, yeah, great to hear from you too, yeah great, great, bye now,” it was uncomfortable anyways.

At first glance the address didn’t ring a bell. It wasn’t until I was on my way that I knew where I was going and that’s how a simple office visit can become a metaphor for the rest of my life. It was the first place she stopped after the spa.

Through the glass doors I had three options. To the right, through another glass door, this one marked AAPT, I could see a similar reception desk to the uptown location that was happily staffed by a strikingly similar version of Missy. To the left, a law office level professional, solid wood office door also marked AAPT. Straight ahead, the multiple gates and doors of the world’s oldest looking elevator staye partially open as an official invitation to manic claustrophobia. Door two please.

Just inside, a typical secretarial desk and credenza staffed by a non-typical secretary answered at least one pressing question.

“Well hello Ms. Maximine, It’s so nice to see you again,” she said.

“Marnie Fankowski, you too, you too! I had no idea you worked here,” I said.

It had been weeks since I had spoken with Marnie. The death of a sibling is never easy, especially when the body is never found, and extra especially when investigating that death nearly gets you killed.

“Yeah, well this is it, welcome to my office. Can I get you a cup of coffee?” she asked.

“No thanks, I’m actually here for an appointment,” I said.

“Yes, I know, I was the one who scheduled you yesterday,” she said.

“I’m so sorry I didn’t recognize your voice over the phone,” I said.

“Oh that’s okay, people sound different on phones. Then you just hung up, so I assumed you had some kind of emergency or something. I hope everything is okay,” Marnie said.

“No, no, everything is great, thanks for asking,” I said.

She hung there for a second in midair, chin up, presumably waiting for an answer as to why I hung up. Leaving people to wonder why you do certain things keeps you in their thoughts.

“Say Marnie, did you recommend me to anyone recently?” I asked.

“As a matter of fact I did. I overheard Mr. Meltone speaking with um, well I heard him inquire as to maybe hiring a private investigator and I had no choice but to interrupt and let him know all about you. About everything that happened, everything you did for us, me and Gage that is, Ross too, I mean, going into the wilderness, finding those people, nearly not making it out yourself,” Marnie gushed.

“I’m just glad I could find you some answers. Thanks so much for the recommendation. Sometimes word of mouth is the best advertising,” I said.

“Oh for sure, for sure, no problem. I’m just going to let Mr. Meltone know you’re here,” she said.

“He’ll see you now,” Marnie said.

“Why Ms. Maximine it’s a pleasure to see you again. I understand you’re interested in joining the club, possibly volunteering,” Wesley said.

After a short pause while claiming the seat to which he motioned I threw him the first curve.

“What’s odd Mr. Meltone is I didn’t tell Marnie why I needed to meet with you,” I said.

“Wesley please, and well, I assumed of course. I mean why else would you want to meet with me?” he asked laughingly.

“Maybe joining the club, but volunteering is pretty specific, that wouldn’t be assumed. I’m guessing you spoke with Missy,” I said.

“Yes, that’s entirely possible, I office from both locations,” he said.

“Fair enough. You’re right though. You may not know it, but as it would happen, I am a private investigator. I’m sure that in your line of business, you know, working for your father, you could possibly use someone like me for, I don’t know, to help the animals somehow,” I said cryptically.

Wesley just sat there faking paying attention, both elbows on the desk pushing his fingertips into a tent.

“That’s one hell of a boat right there,” I said.

Behind Wesley on the bookshelf was a picture of him next to an obvious couple on the deck of a monster sailing yacht. It was obvious by other pictures in the office that the older man was his father, but the young girl he was wearing wreaked of interesting.

“Yes, yes it is,” he said.

He reached back, picked up the framed photo and handed it to me.

“It’s my father’s latest toy, Buffy,” Wesley said.

I focused for a moment on the picture while deciding exactly how to respond to that statement.

“There’s definitely a high degree of beauty there,” I said.

“Nice try, Ms. Maximine,” he said.

Wesley leaned forward and snatched the photo from my hands, giving me the same kind of look you get when you get caught lying about your age.

“The boat, the boat is named Buffy. It just so happens he named it after the girl, his girl, that girl,” he said.

“My, there’s quite a significant age difference is there not?” I asked.

“Yes, Ms. Maximine, there is indeed. What do you say we just get right down to it then shall we? The jig was up when you walked into this office. You of course know Marnie don’t you Ms. Maximine? And as you are a private dick, presumably worth half your salt, you didn’t happen in here by accident did you Ms. Maximine? So might I ask exactly what, or who you are looking for?” Wesley asked.

“Let’s just say that I wouldn’t be worth my salt if I were to breach my client’s trust by revealing too many details but…she interests me, Mr. Meltone, very much,” I said.

Previous to me walking into that office I had never heard of Buffy. Hell, I didn’t even know her last name, but I knew she played a role in this thing somehow, I could smell it. I just didn’t know how meaningful of a cog she was. A wise man said to me years ago, ‘The guys that put cogs in machines do it for a reason. Even a cog on a sign is for lookin’ at.’”

Wesley’s intercom buzzed like a messenger who loved to deliver bad news.

“Yes, what is it Ms. Fankowski?” Wesley asked into the box.

“Your father wanted me to let you know he was leaving now,” Marnie said.

“Very good, I’ll be right out,” he said.

He stood up and assembled the bottom buttons of his suit coat.

“Well, Ms. Maximine, I’m afraid I won’t be able to help you today but I think it’s safe to assume this meeting is adjourned,” Wesley said.

“Your father huh? Wow, I’d love to meet him,” I said.

I made a quick move out the door. Standing impatiently in front of Marnie’s desk was the man himself, Sir Alfred Meltone, millionaire philanthropist, recluse, and animal right’s activist among other things. Portly, gray haired, with thin stick legs he leaned on a cane to compensate for being top-heavy. Behind him was Buffy, also top-heavy in her own right but for different reasons. Absolutely every single aspect of The Muffy Rule was in play with Buffy. The man obviously had a type.

Although I had the opportunity to meet him before Wesley could catch me, I decided to hang back. That way, it would be much easier to tail them.

I skipped a formal goodbye with Wesley and caught the door just before they did. After a repulsive kiss between the two, they each entered different limousines. Once Sir Alfred was out of sight, Buffy hailed a taxi. What I doubt Buffy was capable of noticing was the limo followed her anyways. The driver had a hard-plastic face. A face that would never show fear, or anger, or love and happiness. I had known the type. What neither of them knew was I was following them both.

Had she worn clothes that provided a function beyond that of a lingerie store mannequin, she would have been able to walk the three blocks to her destination, Owens Real Estate Holdings, LLC.

I watched outside until they left together, Buffy and Mason. The limo waited as well, further down the block out of line of sight. Three more steps and he would have seen them. I put the pedal to the floor, even squeaked a tire. I slid to a stop in front of them, leaned over and flung the passenger door open.

“Hello Mr. Owens. If I was you, I would get in this car before you take another step. You too Buffy, now hurry, get in before he sees,” I said.

They both bent down and stared into the car.

“Now dammit!” I yelled.

Mason opened up the back door and they both slid inside.

“Duck, duck down,” I said.

“What’s this all about?” Mason asked.

“Someone’s always watching the watcher, sound familiar?” I asked.

The inside of my office smelled like some kind of spoiled food marinated in a bath of ammonia and feces. The corner of my desk was scratched into splinters. Every single piece of paper on my desk was now on the floor, some of them wet. Slowly, I pulled my pistol from the back of my belt.

“Oh no please you can’t! Not the poor kitty!” Buffy pleaded.

She grabbed my arm to stop me. I probably wouldn’t have done it, but it may have made me feel better to have the option for a minute. Unfortunately, we didn’t have that long, the bullet blew my old dirty window into a million pieces, passed by us all and wedged into the opposite wall of the hallway outside my office.

Richard, or Dick as I now call him, seized his opportunity to escape into the alleyway below. He bounced off the roof of a passing limousine headed full speed away from the scene, landed on his feet, and disappeared into the city.

“Well, at least I don’t have to return him,” I said.

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