To Catch a Thief
By Insane Englishwoman
Disclaimers: - Mine all mine. No half-inching them. Normally they’d look like a couple of ladies we all know and love but since it’s written in first person and while, yes, I am arrogant, I’m not so arrogant that I’ll picture myself as that warrior, they don’t look like them this time, but feel free to picture them that way if you want. They are at the heart of this as always though - because without them and that show I would still be writing only for myself without the courage to let others see.
Some reference to, but not depiction of, domestic violence, some swearing, and yes, of course it’s women in romantic relationships, you need to ask? If you don’t like or know you shouldn’t – well – hit the back button.
The email (which I’ve finally wrestled back from spam city) is as always email@example.com
I moved further into the shadows and asked myself for the five million, three hundred thousand and twenty-first time why on earth I had ever thought that becoming a private investigator was a glamorous career choice. Personally I was inclined to blame it on my father’s addiction to Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum movies. Just as I blamed my name on his love of bad ‘60’s cowboy shows. Though right now I really could have done with one of those hats they always seemed to wear, not that it would have matched my outfit, which tended towards scruffy street urchin, but it might have helped protect me from this god-awful drizzle. Which would definitely have improved my mood.
The tree I’d sought shelter beneath was proving extremely ineffective in holding the storm at bay. Drips from the branches above seemed to be radar controlled and guided directly down the back of my battered leather jacket, its collar proving no better a barrier now than it had before I raised it. I couldn’t move elsewhere, this was the only place that was dark enough to hide away from the street lights and which offered a view of both doors of the motel cabin. I was cold, wet, very fed up and not looking forward to sleeping in my car for a third night.
I hated this sort of job.
Thankfully there weren’t that many of this sort of job. England’s generous divorce laws and general indifference to the custom of pre-nuptial agreements meant that very few spouses needed to dig for dirt on their partners in order to break free. In fact I was having trouble figuring out why Gordon Philpot was prepared to pay my fees – which I’d trebled as soon as I heard the nature of the job – when his American-born wife appeared to be quite happy to grant him a divorce without any strings attached. Especially as there didn’t seem to be any sign of infidelity; no affair, not even as much as a casual boyfriend dropping by. Mrs Philpot hadn’t left the cabin the entire time I’d been watching. The friend she had staying with her had popped out twice for food, on one occasion taking a toddler with her. I’d recognised the child from the pictures Philpot that had given me as their two year old daughter.
Not my place to question the man picking up the tab though, after all he was paying enough for every two days I worked to cover both the mortgage on my flat and the rent on my office for a month.
I stopped paying attention to the rain and readied my camera as a car pulled up in front of Mrs Philpot’s cabin, relaxing almost immediately as the driver stepped from the vehicle. Female. A rather cute, blonde female at that, with a very nice...’Hang on’ Recognition interrupted my detour into lechery. ‘I know her. She works for Aardvark. Goddammit! At least now I knew – or could offer a good guess - why he hired me. He was obviously cheating on her, she’d hired the best – and the woman I’d just seen going into the cabin was definitely one of the better operatives of the city’s premier detective agency. ‘He’s scared so he’s retaliating and just hoping she’s as bad as him. It’s gonna get messy. I really hate this. I should have turned it down but no, I had to get greedy. Shit!’
I was still berating myself when the woman I knew only as ‘Mrs Philpot’s friend – she wasn’t listed on the motel’s register which I’d been left alone with for the extortionate sum of forty pounds – appeared in front of me.
“It’s awful out here, we thought you might like to come in and dry off.”
“So much for the great detective. How long have you known I was here?”
“Since you arrived, the day before yesterday. Sorry.”
She didn’t look sorry. In fact she looked as though she was having a hard time not laughing. What could I say? “Thanks. I am pretty fed up.” Ducking under the umbrella she was holding I followed her into the cabin.
It was blessedly warm and dry and I could smell food, which only served to remind me that I hadn’t eaten all day. My stomach decided to announce this fact to the world. Mrs Philpot’s friend – I really must learn her name, I couldn’t keep calling her that – laughed. “Is that thing dangerous?”
“Sorry, been a long day.”
“Would you like some pizza?”
“Are you serious? Oh God. Yes please. I’m starving of the hunger.”
“Here you go…” She handed me a paper plate with a couple of slices of pizza. “I’m sorry I don’t know what to call you.”
“Thanks, oh peppers and olives, my favourite toppings. My name’s Ty.”
“Ty? Is that short for something? Tyrene? Tyrelle?” She was smiling. “I don’t think I can think of any more names right now.”
“Nope. Just Ty, Spelt tee why. My last name is Harding but with a ‘g’ on it.” I waited for her to ask, people never got it. I was surprised when her expression showed that she had.
“Bronco Layne! Oh you poor woman.”
“I’m impressed. Very few people get it. My father was a huge fan of the show when he was a boy.”
“I get it. And I sympathise. All my friends call me CB and pronounce it CeeBee. I doubt that any of them know my full name. It wouldn’t mean anything to them even if they did. I’m willing to bet that it will to you.”
“My full name is Cheyenne Bodie Condor.”
“You have my deepest condolences. I promise not to serenade you with ‘Cheyenne, Chey-ay-enne’ if you swear never to sing ‘Bronco, Bronco Layne’.” We grinned at each other.
The moment was broken by Mrs Philpot. “If you two have quite finished bonding over cowboy references…”
“Erm, sorry Mrs Philpot, thanks for getting me in from the rain but can I ask why? You must know your husband hired me to spy on you, so being kind to me seems a little, well, odd, to say the least.”
“Please, call me Sandra. And I have to confess that I would have left you out there but CB persuaded me to let her invite you in. She thought you might be amenable to at least listening to us. Perhaps we could discuss…”
“Sandra, I really don’t think you should be talking about this to the enemy, no matter how poor her skills as a detective. For all we know Ms Harding could be taping this conversation and rush to your husband with details.” The other detective interrupted us.
“Hey! That’s not a nice thing to call me or to imply. And I don’t believe you introduced yourself. Not polite, not at all polite. But then I suppose being the best operative at the best agency doesn’t guarantee you’ll have the best manners.” I was hurt. “I may not be a very good private detective but I have some standards.”
She flushed. “My name is Michaela Drummond.”
“Michaela. So, do people call you Mickey?”
“My friends call me Kayla. You may call me Ms Drummond. And I hold by everything I said. We have no reason to trust you.”
I really didn’t like her. She might have been a beautiful woman, blonde, with a body to die for and exactly my type but she was a bitch. I made up my mind to talk only to Sandra and CB.
Sandra was speaking again. “Please Kayla, let me handle this, we need all the help we can get and looking at Ty I’m sure she’ll consider it. Please.” Kayla didn’t say anything, preferring to glare at me, but she nodded. Sandra indicated a table and four chairs to one side of the room. “Shall we sit?”
I took my first good look at the room. It was a suite of rooms really. The cabin shared some of the qualities of the TARDIS, it seemed far larger inside than it had from outside. The room we were in seemed to be a combination sitting, dining and television room. Through the door on the left, opposite the entrance I could see a shower room and through the half-open door directly in front of me I could just make our a bedroom with two queen-sized beds.
As we sat I decided it was my turn to suggest caution. “Sandra, while I may dislike Ms Drummond and deplore her manners and methods, I do have to agree with one thing she said. I have been hired by your husband and although I may not be the best detective in the world I am loyal to the one picking up the tab. So I’m happy to discuss anything you like but I need to warn you that I won’t betray my employer’s confidences and I can’t guarantee not to reveal that anything you tell me that might help my client.”
“Thank you for your honesty. But are you sure who your employer is? Do you know who’s picking up your tab?” I must have looked as confused as I felt because she continued. “Have you been paid any money at all? Did you ask for a retainer or an up-front amount?”
“Well – no, now you mention it. I didn’t think it was necessary. Your husband is a wealthy and respected businessman. It would damage his interests if he tried to cheat me.” All three of them laughed. I wondered why. “Ok. So I’m naïve but why wouldn’t he pay me?”
“He won’t pay you because he can’t pay you. It isn’t his money, it’s mine. He doesn’t have a penny of his own. His business is in hock. He doesn’t even own his own car.”
Apart from that one word I was speechless. To say I was gobsmacked would be such an understatement as to be doing a grave disservice to the word ‘understatement’. Talk about a bombshell.
“Let me explain. I’ll trust you with everything, it’s up to you what you do then but I hope you’ll agree to help us. That it won’t harm your code of honour.” Kayla snorted her derision as Sandra used the word honour. I ignored her.
“I want a divorce. I offered my husband a reasonable sum as settlement, it would be enough for him to clear his debts and rescue his business. It wouldn’t go beyond that but I felt that having his company free and clear would be enough. He has the potential to earn a very comfortable living from it. He refused and threatened me, which is why I left our house and moved into this motel. Incidentally, the house is mine too, bought by me and in my name. I included it in my offer.
“He’s a violent man. I lost our first child through a miscarriage when he punched me in the stomach. That was my third trip to the hospital because of his actions. He thought the baby wasn’t his; he accused me of cheating on him with a business partner. He later apologised and said he’d ‘miscounted the days’.
“It was in hospital that I met CB. The threats he was making caused me to hire a firm of detectives – I wanted to find something, anything, I could use to keep him away Unfortunately we discovered more than we bargained for but without getting the proof we need to use the information. I believe he thinks we have more than we actually do and so he hired you.”
I broke the silence I’d been keeping to mutter, “I knew none of this. He told me you were cheating on him and planned to destroy his business. He wanted me to bring him proof of your infidelity. That was all I was hired for. I was getting ready to tell him that you weren’t. I haven’t seen any man come near the place the whole time I’ve been here.”
Kayla laughed. “I told you she was useless.”
I noticed that CB was trying not to laugh and Sandra was looking astounded. “A man? Oh dear, you have been left in the dark, haven’t you. I thought the only reason for hiring you was…well… you know.”
“No, I don’t believe I do. Why don’t…” I stopped and looked at them. Only then did I notice how close CB and Sandra were sitting. Well inside each other’s personal space. “Oh no, how bloody stupid…” I leaned forward and banged my head on the table several times. “Of all the stupid, blind, idiotic…. I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry. I can’t believe that I could be that dozy. Why the hell didn’t he tell me he thought you were cheating with a woman?”
“I don’t think he hired you to find proof of my infidelity, I think he hired you simply to find me. How did you by the way?”
“Old fashioned foot-work. I knew you had a kid, there aren’t that many truly child-friendly places in this town so I started by checking the hotels near parks and playgrounds. I got lucky. This was the second one I checked and I happened to see you standing outside your cabin. I must have been really fortunate because you were only there for a moment or two and I haven’t seen you so much as standing by a window since.”
Kayla interrupted, “We need to get out of here.” She turned to me, “How fast do we have to move? How long ago did you report her whereabouts?”
“Her whereabouts? Whereabouts. What do you do? Sleep with The Detective’s Handbook or something? Whereabouts!” I forgot my intention to ignore her in my eagerness to poke fun. “Now who’s not thinking? I was hired to find cheating not to find her. If he wanted me to find her he should have been honest. I didn’t see the need to report back until I had some evidence to show him. He doesn’t know I found her, yet.”
“So if we leave now he’ll be too late to catch her.” Kayla rose from her chair.
I stood and leaned towards her. I was angry again. “I haven’t told him where she is. I don’t have to tell him where she is. I haven’t been hired to tell him where she is. I’m not going to bloody well tell him where she is.” She at least had the grace to look chagrined. In fact she might even be slightly embarrassed. She was blushing. She was cute when she blushed. I didn’t want to be thinking things like that but I couldn’t help it. In spite of being a nasty, untrusting, rude, arrogant bitch she was cute.
Kayla sat again, glaring at me. I glared back. CB laughed. “Do you two want to get a room or something?”
Kayla produced another glare but at CB this time. “I’m not going to dignify that comment with an answer.”
“My client hasn’t paid me. He lied to me. He hired me under false pretences. I’m not doing the job I thought I was doing. I rather think I’m no longer employed, which is gutting because I’ve wasted four days I could have been earning a fee and I can’t afford my rent this month without it. So, since I don’t seem to be in a conflict of interest bind any more and I’m here eating your pizza and looking hopefully at your coffee machine.” I grinned at Sandra. “Why don’t you fill me in on what this case is really about?”
CB walked over to the coffee maker as Sandra settled back.
“Where to start?”
“How about the beginning? How did you wind up married?”
Return to the Invitational