I’d been determined to leave her in the dust. But Karma stepped in, took careful aim, and whacked me a good one upside the head. Go figure.
Of course, Karma doesn’t win them all. Oh, no, not by a long shot. Not when a guy’s got a point to prove, and is dead set on revenge. And sure as Bob’s your uncle, I was going to get even.
I had it all figured out. I’d analyzed it step by step, looked at it from every side and inside out, and I could find no flaws. It was perfect.
The two of us in the office couldn’t look more different. Harry Carrold – He’s never quite forgiven his parents for that one, and I don’t blame him. Who names their kid “Harold Carrold,” for Pete’s sake? – is a mess. His blond hair obviously has no close personal relationship with a comb, and is sticking out wildly as usual. His seersucker suit, a little too long for his 5’7” frame, is beyond rumpled. He looks like he’s been sleeping on the leather sofa in the reception area. In fact, he well may have been, since he does more often than he likes to admit. Then there’s me. I’m Marty Tremaine, and it’s my name (followed by “Investigations”) etched on the frosted glass window of the outer door. If you were describing the two of us, you might say that I’m Esquire’s “after” to Harry’s “before.” I’m tall and pretty trim, dressed in a crisp summer-weight poplin suit, Egyptian cotton shirt and Italian leather loafers. I look pretty sharp, if I do say so myself.
Despite our physical differences, Harry and I are lifelong friends. We grew up next door to each other in Walton, Connecticut, and the fast friendship we formed in the tree house perched in the big oak tree behind Harry’s house carried us through school, into adulthood and out to California. When I sold my family’s accounting firm and opened Tremaine Investigations, no one was surprised when Harry quit his programming job, got a PI license and went in with me. Neither one of us had liked our jobs much – after I inherited the business from Dad, I couldn’t sell it fast enough. Besides, I have always seen myself as something a bit more interesting than a bean counter. “Private eye” fits my self-image nicely. I am never happier than when in the office behind my scarred wooden desk. The desk was my dad’s, and his dad’s before him. It’s the one thing -- other than the money, of course – that I took when I sold the firm. I love this desk. Hell, I love this office. I often spin my chair around to gaze out the dirty arched window behind me, and imagine myself to be Mickey Spillane. Only better looking, of course.
Harry’s wife left him several years ago, saying she was tired of being married to a Goodwill model. They had no children and she made as much as he did, so Harry has no financial commitments to anyone other than himself. My situation has been a bit more complicated. My wife Vera and I parted just after I sold the business, and we spent months embroiled in a bitter divorce. I know that, all along, Vera had her eye on the proceeds.
Jerry and Linda, our two children, were left trust funds by their grandfather, and are well taken care of, so it all came down to a battle between Vera and me. I swore that if I had anything to say about it, she wasn’t going to get one red cent After all, I’d found her in my bed with the pool boy. Seriously? The pool boy? It was such a fucking cliché, not to mention beyond tacky. I was determined that all Vera would get out of the divorce was the house, the pool boy, and little else.
Of course, my best intentions had come to naught. In the end, I had very little to say about it. Vera hired Mary Jo Montgomery as her lawyer. Behind that sweet smile and Southern girl drawl, Mary Jo is a shark. Before I even knew she was circling, she’d frozen my assets. Thanks to Mary Jo’s quick thinking and my hubris, Vera cleaned me out. What few crumbs were left behind went to Mary Jo. All except for the PI business, which Vera magnanimously left for me. Not that it was worth anything.
I am not reduced to eating dog food, not by a long shot. Harry and have done well thanks to Tremaine Investigations, if not from actually sleuthing. We quickly discovered that we had little patience for skulking around in the shadows and digging up dirt. But between my understanding of things financial, and Harry’s facility with computer data, we are very adept at ferreting out the hidden assets of a soon-to-be ex-husband of a client. Too bad I didn’t do better at hiding my own, but in a way, there’s a certain symmetry to it, don’t you think? Before turning in our report to the client, we easily relieve the poor schmuck of a portion of what he was only going to lose to his wife in the end anyway, leaving no trace of our handiwork behind.
So, yeah, I’m doing just fine financially, thank you very much. But that isn’t the fucking point. I. want. revenge. It’s that simple. If that mercenary bitch thinks she can just rip my life to shreds and scatter the bits and pieces from hell to breakfast, she has another think coming.
Harry gets up from the client chair in front of my desk and starts pacing nervously. Beyond the office door, we can hear end-of-the-workday sounds. Our receptionist Steve “Don’t-ever-call-me-Stephanie” McGuire has packed up for the day, and joined the Friday exodus in the hallway. The secretaries’ heels click-click toward the elevator, their voices excited as they chat about their evening plans. The ding-ding of the arriving elevator and the whoosh-whoosh of its doors as it opens, swallows the waiting workers, and closes again tells Harry the hallway is empty, and he is free to speak without fear of being overheard.
He turns to look at me. “You can’t just waltz in there and help yourself, like it was some kind of fucking Vegas buffet.” Harry is usually up for just about anything, but this time, he thinks I’m off my trolley.
I lift my eyes from racing form on my desk and look at Harry, raising my left eyebrow. I can’t resist; the eyebrow thing drives Harry crazy. Probably because he can’t do it.
“Sure I can. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I’ve been waiting too long for this opportunity and now it’s here. I’m sure as hell not going to let it just slide by. If you’re not with me, then stand the hell back. Your choice.”
And the rest, as they say…
This is how it all went down.
It’s a quiet Thursday afternoon. Shit, they’re all pretty damn quiet. I’m sitting behind my desk reading the newspaper when Steve opens the door separating the reception area from my office and slips in stealthily.
“Marty,” she says in a stage whisper. “Marty.”
I spin my chair around to meet her wide eyes. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost. What’s up?”
Steve comes closer to the desk and whispers, “You’re not going to be happy.”
"For Pete’s sake, Steve. Stop talking like you’re in a soap opera or something, and tell me what's going on. Why do I think I’m not going to like this?”
“Oh, you won’t like it; trust me on that. You’ll never guess who’s outside.”
“Another bill collector? The IRS? Or, unlikely as it seems, maybe an actual client? And, geez, stop that whispering.”
“Well, it’s a client, all right. But…”
“Why didn’t you say so in the first place?” I leap to my feet, and head toward the door, smoothing my hair as I go. “Go tell Harry to get in here.”
“Marty, wait.” Steve’s urgent whisper comes too late.
As I pull open the door, I turn on my best PI charm and say, “Hello. I’m…” And then I see her. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Vera uncrosses her long legs – damn, she’s always had fine legs, I think – and rises. As she walks toward me, she says in that low throaty voice of hers, “I know who you are, Marty.” But the small smile hovering around her lips as she speaks fades quickly. “As for what I am doing here… Well, I need your help.”
I burst out laughing. “You’ve got to be kidding. You really think I’d be willing to help you?”
I turn to Steve, who has come out of my office and is standing there wringing her hands, looking like a worried mother.
“Stephanie, show this lady where the elevator is. I think she’s lost.”
I turn and stride back into my office, slamming the door behind me. Yeah, always wanted to do that. But before I get halfway to my desk, the door opens and Vera comes in and closes the door gently behind her.
I open my mouth and am about to let loose with a few choice words when she says, “I’ll pay.”
I clamp my jaw shut and just stare at her for a long moment.
“Oh for heaven’s sake, Marty. Get a grip. I said I’ll pay.” She walks around one of the client chairs in front of the desk and sits down, crossing those legs again.
My eyes drop as her skirt rides up a bit, but I’m not really into it. I’m still caught by the idea that she’d pay for my services. So, okay, I’ll see what she has to say. A germ of an idea is taking root in my brain. Hey, mama didn’t raise no fools.
Just then, Harry comes in, disbelief written all over his face. “Vera.” He shifts his eyes to me and raises his eyebrows questioningly. I gesture toward the other client chair, then walk around and take a seat behind my desk.
“So what is it, Vera? What’s so important that you would come here asking for our help?”
To be concluded in Part 2
This is the first of a two-part story written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory.