“Sit down, Mr. COB III. And when I say sit, I mean sit: don’t move, don’t talk, don’t look at me, capiche?” I’m impressed by the man’s fluid moves as he reaches the chair in record time, the kind of moves that tell me he spends most of his time on the dance floor. A white-gloved hand dusts the seat of the chair, the back, the legs, and underneath the seat. He sits his tookus down and slowly crosses one expertly creased pant leg over the other. After that, he reaches down and brushes pixie dust off the ivory spats covering his shoes. I wanna cry with happiness when he straightens up and sits still. At least the man’s respectful.
Ok, my turn buster. I open my desk drawer. But I’m not looking for anything, see. Still, I reach in and scramble the pens and bullets lying around. I do this for a few seconds making sure I have Mr. COB III’s attention. I do. His face twitches with aggravation. I quickly plan my next move. SLAM! The drawer shuts with such force Mr. COB III practically jumps out of the chair. Good. I want him on the edge, see. He’s got major explaining to do. “Empty your pockets, Mr. COB III. I hope you included your birth certificate, or this appointment is over.”
His eyes are a pale mixture of yellow and green slime. Not attractive. Worse, he’s staring at me bug-eyed. “What? Is that really n-n-necessary, Miss B-B-Barlowe.” He sniffs, and the tilt of his nose rises up high, so high it wouldn’t take much to shoot it down.
I reach into my shoulder holster. He tenses. The man’s eyes widen like he suspects he’s about to become a victim. The laugh’s on him. I pull out my wallet. “Look, Mr. COB III, I’m only gonna tell you this one more time: empty your pockets! NOW!” The dangerous glare of my eyes finally reaches the control center of his brain. He empties his pockets in record time. Then makes like he’s gone stiff, you know, the kind of stiff that says, I’m dead, send for the coroner. “That’s better.” I rifle through the following items: birth certificate, monogrammed hanky with the initials, CB, embroidered in what looks like 18 carat gold thread, a pair of diamond-studded cufflinks, a fine leather black wallet, designer eye-glasses, car keys, matches, cigarettes and a button, smooth, the color of melt-in-my-mouth cocoa. I hold up the matches. “Not a lighter man I take it?”
“N-n-no. Hate the things. I-I kept b-b-burning the t-tip of my nose. I’m far-sighted, you see.”
“Maybe wearing your glasses would help.”
“No. I have m-more control lighting a muh-muh-muh-muh-muh-muh-match.”
I can’t explain what happens next. A dollop of empathy touches my heart. Ouch. Might as well dip my finger in acid. I mentally shake the feeling off. But what I can’t shake is the thought that Mr. COB III must be the tookus of all jokes with that speech impediment. Can’t buy his way out of that humiliation. I do something I rarely do with clients. I smile briefly. To help him relax. Then I look over his things. But in the back of my mind, I’m wondering why he had such an awful time saying “match.” The hanky has a spot of red in the upper right hand corner. I sniff at it. Lipstick. I know the brand. When I look at the man, he’s busy staring at the crease in his pant leg. “So, why did you call me last night, Mr. COB III?”
“As I t-t-told you on the phone, I simply would like to know why my wife h-h-hired you.”
“Why don’t you ask her?”
“She’s . . . she’s out of t-t-town.”
“I tried. She d-d-doesn’t pick up.”
“You mean she won’t take your calls. So, where is she?”
“Um . . . well I-I’m n-n-not sure to t-t-tell you the truth. We’ve b-b-been having a few troubles lately. N-n-nothing serious, of course.”
“Of course.” I stare hard at him. He stares hard at me. Interesting. Time to hit a nerve. Mr. COB III, what makes you think she hired me?”
“Well, again, as I said b-b-before on the phone, I f-f-found your card in m-my wife’s wastebasket.” He taps his foot impatiently.
I pull out my wastebasket. “Mr. COB III, what’s the first thing you see in this metal trash receptacle?”
“Uh . . . a small p-p-pizza b-b-box.”
“Who do you suppose ate the pizza that was in the box?” A long silence. He’s thinking this is a trick question.
“Uh . . . you d-d-did?”
“No. My secretary did, capiche?”
“Oh. I g-g-guess when I saw your c-c-card I automatically assumed—”
“You’re lying, Mr. COB III. You know what I think?”
His eyes widen in fear, as if I’m a dentist holding a chainsaw in front of his mouth. Then he shakes his head.
“Do you wanna know what I think?”
He has that trapped-in-a-steamer-trunk look now. He hesitantly nods his head. “B-b-but I can assure you, I’m n-not lying.”
“Did you happen to bring the card with you?”
A furrow knots his forehead, you know the kind, the kind that says no-I-didn’t-bring-the-card-with-me, but-I’ll-stall-a-little-and-make-her-think-I-had, followed closely by the checking of all pockets. I wait patiently as he goes through the standard progression of the search. First, there’s inside the coat pocket. Next, there’s the shirt pocket. Then, there’s the two back pants pockets, and finally, the coup de grace, the two front pants pockets. Confused? Take a pill. As for me, I’m more than bored by this time. I struggle to suppress a yawn. “No card, Mr. COB III?”
“I’m sorry. I thought I had brought it w-with me, b-b-but . . .”
Patience is a virtue they say. In my case, a just-this-very-minute acquired one. “Ok, Mr. COB III. Let’s lay our ‘cards’ on the table, shall we? You didn’t call me to find out why your wife hired me. How do I know that? Because you already knew she’d hired me. In my business, it’s almost a given, and let me repeat, ALMOST a given that a spouse knows when their significant other has hired a private dick, see. It starts like this: one spouse, let’s call her, Fabel Schmoe, thinks hubby, let’s call him Joe, is cheating. That starts Fabel on the road to investigation. She checks hubby’s pockets, cellphone, credit cards, cars, whatever. When that doesn’t pan out, the simple questions start, like, “Sweetie, what did you do today?” Maybe Fabel likes the answer, maybe she doesn’t. If she’s smart, she doesn’t. Then the questions become more probing, like, “Honey, I tried to call you all day yesterday. You never picked up. Where were you?” I guarantee she won’t like the answer, but, she might pretend to. Why? Simple. She’s already decided to call me. But what Fabel doesn’t know, is that Joe is a pretty smart cookie himself. He figures out ahead of time wifey won’t like his answer. So, Joe can go two ways with this: he can drop Ms. Hot Potato like a hockey puck, or, he can continue to mash her and keep a close eye on wifey’s comings and goings. That means he checks her cellphone, credit cards, etc . . . capische? So, why did you really call me? And I want a straight answer this time.”
The man’s face has the look of somebody who opens a present and finds it empty. “I d-d-don’t understand the point you’re trying to m-m-make here. I’m not ch-cheating on Roxy! And she’s not ch-cheating on m-m-me . . . is she?”
“The point I was trying to make, badly as it turns out Mr. COB III, is that when it comes to marital relationships, it’s very rare that one spouse doesn’t know what the other is doing. So, you didn’t find my card in the trash. You searched her things.”
He slumps back in his chair, and starts to feverishly rub his forehead. That’s the look Custer might have had if he’d survived the massacre. Time for Mr. COB III to hoist the white flag. He does. “Ok, yes. B-b-by coming here, I was hoping you would eventually t-t-tell me, or, if you wouldn’t t-t-ell me, that I might then be able to p-p-ersuade you, if the price was right, of course, to t-t-tell me if m-m-my wife is cheating on me with Reggie.”
“Reggie?” For just a second there, I’m afraid there’s a triplet lurking behind door number 3.
“Reginald Othello Binghorton II. My identical twin brother. He’s younger. By ten minutes.”
“Last time I saw your twin, his body looked like a war zone.” Mr. COB III is flabbergasted. I don’t see many clients react that way in my line of work. Mostly because they tend to be manipulators.
“You met Reggie? How? Why?” The “why” ended on a whine.
Put his questions on ignore. I hate whiners. “So, how did your brother sustain his injuries, Mr. COB III?”
He clears his throat trying to get back on the train. “He was sideswiped b-b-b-y an automobile. But why—”
“Yes. At least that’s w-what he t-t-t-told me. What did he t-tell you?”
“A lot, and you won’t like any of it. But I can’t talk about it. Client confidentiality.”
“Client confid—you m-m-mean, Reggie h-h-h-ired you? Why? That doesn’t make any sense.”
For the first time since he sat down, Mr. COB III looks visibly upset.
“It does if you want protection, see.”
Mr. COB III becomes indignant. I see a lot of clients react that way in my line of work. Mostly because they have an inflated sense of self.
“Protection from whom? That’s utterly ridiculous.”
No stutter. Hmm . . . I eye him with growing suspicion. I’m not sure why. “Mr. COB III, when’s the last time you saw Roxy?”
He frowns like he just discovered the moon is not made out of cheese. “N-n-not too long ago.”
“A day, a week, a month . . . more than that?”
“A couple of weeks, maybe. I’ve lost track of time. Been away on b-b-business. When I returned home, she was guh-guh-gone.”
“I see. So, a few days ago you didn’t parachute out of a plane with your wife in tow?”
“What utter nonsense is that? I d-d-don’t even like to fly, Miss B-B-Barlowe. I travel by ship or trains.” He stares at me like I just landed a plane in the middle of his forehead. Don’t blame him. None of this is making any sense to me, either.
“When’s the last time you saw Mr. ROB III?”
“My brother? About the t-t-time I got back. Reggie always needs a hand out. Smart he isn’t.”
“And you haven’t heard from him since then?”
“One last thing. Do you have a picture of Roxy with you?”
“Yes. I b-b-buh-lieve I do.” He brings out the wallet and opens it up to a pic of a dame I recognize from our brief acquaintance. She’s lost in a time warp judging by her fashion sense. “B-b-b-beautiful, isn’t she?”
I sniff the air. Something smells rotten and it isn’t coming from Vera’s portable cooking apparatus she keeps in a desk drawer. The scent of lies, lies and more darn lies permeates my breathing space. It’s time to move on from this case. I got other birds to kill. I shove the contents from his pockets to his side of the desk. “You can leave now, Mr COB III. We’re done here. Stop by my secretary’s desk and leave a $1000 consultation fee.”
“B-b-but you haven’t t-t-told me what I want to know.”
“Ok. How about this? If I see you, or your brother, or Roxy walk into this office again, I’m going to take out my Glock and fire a warning shot into the floor. I will then count to three. That means you need to be out the door before I reach three. If you aren’t, the next shot will find tookus skin . . . yours, capiche?”
The formerly stuttering, mild-mannered gentleman slams out of his chair shouting, “WHAT? HOW DARE YOU SPEAK TO ME LIKE THAT?” He’s blowing enough steam to power a boat up and down the Mississippi for weeks. “HOW DARE YOU! I WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS KIND OF SHODDY TREATMENT. I INTEND TO LEAVE THIS OFFICE AND HEAD STRAIGHT TO THE POLICE STATION TO INFORM THEM OF YOUR THREATS! YOU, MADAM, ARE A PSYCHO.”
Sometime during his grand speech, I’ve taken out my new glock. Time to fire. I do. Straight into the floor. Before I start counting, he dashes out of my office like a mug whose tookus is on fire. Graceful though. Those dance lessons paid off pretty good!
Well, I don't know about you but I'm all confused! Identical twins + one cheating spouse + more lies than I can keep track of + Mamie suddenly dropping the entire case = wtf am I reading here? What is this author trying to do to me? Is it worse than shingles which continues to linger on and on to the point I can't write? Will Mamie solve her cases faster than I'm recovering from shingles? Will I hire Mamie to excise my shingles with a platinum bullet and a golden smile? And will it be as painless as shooting bullets into a floor?
Stay tuned. In the next episode of Mamie Barlowe, we meet Mamie's Aunt Flo. What part does this fuddly duddly spicy adorable character play in this whatchmacallit piece of fiction funsy? And just where is Mother Barlowe? Up to no good if you ask me! And will Mamie ever have a come to papa meeting with Chill Tornado? And what deviously, fiendishly but not very clever plans does an impulse control challenged freak like Sable Mink have for Mamie Barlowe? (FYI, The answer to the last three questions will not be in the next episode)