Copyright, February 2012. All rights reserved.©
The McGinty Agency was founded in Philadelphia by my Uncle Walter McGinty in 1966. The day I graduated from high school I walked into his office and told Uncle Walter that I wanted to be a private investigator. At first he said no. However not to be deterred went to the office every day and made my intentions clear. One day I came arrived disguised in a big afro wig, a butt hugging short dress and stiletto heels to show him how valuable I would be under cover. I looked pretty ridiculous. After he stopped laughing he relented with a warning, I was to keep my mouth shut and my eyes open because I didn’t know “jack shit”. He was a big watch and learn guy, so that’s exactly what I did.
I followed Uncle Walter everywhere and I listened to everything that came out of that man’s mouth. I admit I didn’t know much but after a fashion I learned the art and technique of the private investigator.
In 2008 Uncle Walter retired and left the business to me. I was so proud and I think he was too.
The Agency is a small two room office consisting of an outer room, Eleanor’s domain, and my office in the back. Eleanor has been with the Agency since the day it opened. Uncle Walter always said that she is the wonderful combination of little lady aggressive (she’s 5’1” and all of 110 soaking wet) and totally clueless. This makes her the perfect receptionist and guard dog at the door. I would be lost without her.
I forgot my manners let me introduce myself. My name is Valentine Agnes McGinty middle child of five born to Moira and James McGinty on November 10, 1978. Everyone I meet asks if I was born on Valentine’s Day. You do the math. My middle name comes from my mother’s youngest sister. She is a professional clown and if whispers at family gatherings are correct, a sampler of all things sexual regardless of age, race or sexual orientation. I will forever be plagued by my DNA.
I sauntered through the door that day somewhat full of myself. I had a date the night before that went far longer than I could have hoped. I left her apartment that morning with a smile on my face and an invitation for more if I chose. Eleanor noticed the look not to mention the fact that I had on the same clothes from yesterday. She shook her head but I saw the little smile at the corner of her lips. She understood all too well how rare and magical these liaisons are to me. She after all was the one to coin the phrase “freakish McGintys”.
We are a freakish looking lot. We are all fairly tall, I’m 5’10” with copper colored hair and eyes that are so light brown Eleanor calls them those “alien creepy beige eyes”. I have an ex-girlfriend that use to say I was so odd looking that it was sexy. Mostly though the ladies just think I’m odd looking and move along. Last night, however, as we were rocking and rolling in the dark my mad skills transported us to another dimension where looks are meaningless. I read that somewhere once, feel free to use that yourself.
On my way into my office I grabbed a cup of coffee from the pot. Once there I plopped in my chair and closed my eyes. Sipping the strong black brew I sat thinking of last night and smiled. I decided it was going to be a good day.
Just then the phone started ringing in the outer office and I heard Eleanor ask someone to hold. Never having mastered the nuance of the telephone system Eleanor yells that there is someone on line one. I have shown her more times than I can count the use of the intercom but to no avail.
“Hello, this is Val McGinty”. There was a slight hesitation.
“Ms. McGinty, my name is Madeline Ward”. She said this in an almost hypnotically soft and low voice. It actually gave me a chill.
“I would like to make an appointment to see you this afternoon if your schedule permits”
I wanted to ask her to read the phone book for me just so I could continue to hear that voice but ever the professional I said, “One moment Ms. Ward, let me check my schedule”.
I click on Outlook and saw that the only thing on my calendar was to pick up my dry cleaning.
“Ms. Ward, it looks like I can squeeze you in at 3:00 if that would be alright?
I hear her let out a small breath. “Thank you Ms. McGinty, I’ll see you at 3:00” and she hung up.
I sat for a few minutes trying to imagine Madeline Ward. Does the woman match the voice? As I sit and ponder Eleanor walked into the office with a scrunched face and recommended I go home to shower and change. Told you I would be lost without her. I literally ran out of the door.
Uncle Walter use to say, one of the best tool for a P.I. is the poker face. When meeting a new client let them try to figure you out and while they are, take that time to assess the person across the desk. He called it “racking”. Don’t ask me what that means, I still don’t know.
At 3:00 sharp I hear the outer door open and someone talking to Eleanor. Ms. Ward I presumed so I closed my eyes and took a deep breath and prepared to rack.
My door opened and in walked Eleanor followed by a very beautiful woman. I knew Eleanor was talking, an introduction perhaps, but I didn’t hear a thing. I managed to get to my feet but could only stare. The woman and Eleanor were both standing in front of my desk staring back with very confused looks.
Eleanor took control. She asked my guest to sit and while putting a file folder on my desk pinched the top of my hand…hard. Thankfully not only do I not scream like a little girl, I snap out of my smitten coma and actually spoke.
“Ms. Ward it’s a pleasure, please have a seat”
She looked up at me from the chair where she was already sitting and smiled a very charming smile. I on the other hand felt very foolish and blush a color that I’m sure was not at all flattering.
I sat down and opened the folder on my desk. It has her name, address, cell number, and of course method of payment. That’s Eleanor taking care of business. I wrote down the date at the top of the first blank page and looked up into her deep blue eyes and ask;
“What can I do for you Ms. Ward?”
“Ms. McGinty you were recommended to me because I need someone who has experience with women”.
I couldn’t help it I started laughing. I laughed so hard I was snorting. Ms. Ward looked mortified at first but eventually she was laughing too.
“I guess that didn’t come out quite the way I had intended” she admitted with a sheepish smile.
“Let me try that again. I am a lesbian and have a problem that will require someone who would be comfortable in that realm. That doesn’t sound right either”, she was getting flummoxed.
Ms. Ward if it helps I live in that ‘realm” so I think we are going to be ok”
With a deep breath she visibly relaxed and sat back in her chair. We sat watching each other for a monument. Did I say she was beautiful?
Her eyes are dark blue and expressive. Her shoulder length hair is a dark blonde with shimmering highlights and when she smiled her face softened, it transformed everything. That smitten coma was coming on again so I had to keep moving.
“Would you like to tell me about it Ms. Ward?”
“I have been in a relationship for almost five years. Her name is Susan. About eight months ago I learned that she had an affair with a friend of ours but it was over. We agreed to go to a couple’s counselor to see if there as anything to salvage. It came out that there had been others but Susan said she wanted to recommit to our relationship, to us. So we decided to change our lives, well actually for Susan to change hers. She quit her job and has been searching for…well herself. I support us while she is trying out a few things to see where her interests might be, what will make her happy.”…
As she is talking I am watching her hands. She has my business card in her left hand and is doing wonderful things with her right. She is slowly moving along the edges, back and forth with her index finger. At some point she holds the card by the diagonal corners with her finger tips and turns the card over and over. All I can think about is how I would give anything to have those hands on me. To have those fingers lightly caressing my skin.
I’m falling in love.
…”Last week she said in our counseling session that every time I call, text or ask where she going she feels suffocated and my lack of trust is going to damage the progress we are making with our relationship.”
Uncle Walter always said cheaters left to their own devices will cheat and cheaters on a short leash will take a little longer but they will find a way to cheat. It’s the nature of the beast. I believe he’s right but I didn’t have the heart to say it to her.
“Where do I come in Ms. Ward?” Time to cut to the chase.
She was looking at her hands and with my question she raised her eyes and I held her gaze. I couldn’t read what was in her eyes but slowly a smile touched her lips and she said with that soft low voice,
“You have very beautiful eyes Ms. McGinty”
I had to grip the arms of my chair to keep from jumping up and dancing around the room singing,
“Ha… Ha Eleanor – Not creepy, not creepy. She loves my eyes!
Instead I smiled back and said, “Thank you I don’t hear that very often”. That’s putting my loser status out there.
Again she lowers her eyes to her hands and said, “You should”
Did I say I’m falling in love? Well there it is again.
She continued, “Our Counselor suggested Susan leave for a week and us have no contact. This is to work on my trust issues and to give Susan confidence. She will know that she is free to live without the suffocating control I make her feel.”
WHAT A CROCK OF SHIT! I never heard such an asshole-ion thing in my life. I can hear Uncle Walter’s voice in my head, “she’s doin’ the counselor.” I mental shut him up but sit angry and waiting. We have reached the end.
“The plan is for Susan to leave tomorrow. We will have no contact until next Tuesday, Valentine’s Day. We’ve arranged to meet then at my favorite restaurant, Isabella’s.
I…ah… believe she is going to meet someone while she is away so …ah… I would like her followed. I need to know for sure.”
I couldn’t help asking, “Ms. Ward do you really want to know? What happens if she is seeing someone?” Question number one is a fair one. The second question is none of my business.
Her answer was firm and direct, “Yes”. No answer to my second question.
After we discussed my fee she stood and said, “She’s leaving tomorrow tonight at 7:00” and with that she left.
Eleanor walked in my office with a very serious look on her face. She knew the look on mine.
“Please don’t Val”, she said softly
“Jump in with your heart.”
I looked at the outer door and whispered, “It’s too late”
By 6:00 the next evening I’m sitting in my car down the block from Madeline Ward’s house. They live in a very posh section of town on Rittenhouse Square. The brownstone is well maintained as are all the homes on the street. The place screams money. My small one bedroom in the Fishtown section would make Madeline laugh. I try not to picture her in my apartment or in my bed, but I do.
At 7:00 on the dot Susan walked out the door with a small suitcase in hand and starts to walk. Shit burgers! Should I follow in my car? Should I get out and follow on foot? I make the call, jumping out of the car I lock up and started to follow.
She walks like a city dweller, fast and head down with determination. Her long stride tells me she is on a mission. I had no trouble keeping pace.
We headed east for about four blocks then turned left on Broad Street. Her quick left into the hotel was a surprise. So close to home is odd but the hotel itself is not a surprise at all. We were at the Ritz Carlton.
I followed her in and watched as she headed straight to the bank of elevators on the right. Well look at that, our little Susan is prepared. As she stepped into an elevator I noticed that she gets in alone, bingo! I stood and watched the numbers above the elevator count to the 15th floor and stop. I pressed the elevator down button and watched the numbers come back down. At least I knew the floor.
I pulled out my cell and called a good friend of mine, a Philly cop. If anyone can get me a room number fast it would be her.
Jane and I go way back to St Katherine’s grade school. She was a short feisty little thing and I was one of the ubiquitous odd looking McGintys in the neighborhood, we were friends from jump.
After two rings she answered, ‘Your car better be on fire!”
Laughing I ask, ‘Did I disturb?”
“I worked a double and we just got to sleep Val.” In a whisper she added, “She had a rough night last night”
“Sorry but I need…”
Just then Susan and an attractive brunette stepped out of the elevator. “Lookie… lookie… lookie Archway Cookie,” I recite one of Uncle Walter’s favorite expressions. I know whatever!
A sleepy Jane asks, “What?”
“Never mind Jane go back to sleep, I’ll call you tomorrow” and I hung up and watched Susan and the other woman walk through the lobby and settle on stools at the bar.
With a smile on my face I made my way over to the bar removing my coat as I walked. It was show time.
The Ritz Carlton bar is on the far wall of a vast lobby. Good news for me it is was slow week day night and there was a seat available next to Susan. I settled in and waited for the bartender to come to me. Susan’s back was to me because she is hanging all over the brunette. I have to say they had balls being so “open” here however it did not dim my desire to pummel them both with my bare hands.
The bartender made his way to me and I order my drink, a Sloe Gin Fizz. Yes it’s a sissy drink. That’s what Uncle Walter calls it, but it’s my working drink. Uncle Walter always said “order a soft drink and you’re made.” Anyway, the bartender laughed at my drink choice and heads off to see if he can find the sloe gin. During that exchange Susan’s friend said she had to make a call and walked away with her cell phone in hand. Susan turned to me and smiled.
This was my first good look at her close up. To my disappointment she is beautiful much like Madeline, however, where Madeline is blonde and blue, she is black and brown. God I hate her on so many levels.
With a 100 watt smile aimed at me she said, “Wow I haven’t had one of those since I was sixteen”
I smiled back with Oscar winning effort, “The Sloe Gin Fizz is just so me – tall, sweet, and unusual”.
“Well ok then”, said as she sipped her Kettle One martini, up with olives.
I continued, “Are you here in town on business?” She shakes her head and leaned in conspiratorially, here it comes.
Note to all: People just love to talk, and they oddly will tell very private things to total strangers so keep it to yourself. However this does makes my job much easier.
Susan actually winked at me when she said, “I’ve run away from home and brought a friend to keep me warm”, this followed by another wink. Swallowing the urge to puke I smiled and glanced at her friend who was returning;
“Your friend is very beautiful”
“And a great lay” she added as her friend put her arms around her and gives her a little kiss.
Winner-winner chicken dinner! This is another Uncle Walter special. I had what I needed. I also took the opportunity to check my cell phone and snap a little photo of our two love birds.
Susan again turns to me and introduces herself and her friend who’s name is Monica.
Monica stared at me like I was very out of place at the Ritz Carlton and purrs at Susan, “We need to go honey we’ll be late for our reservation.” As they are putting on their coats I say, “Have a great evening, going anywhere fun?”
Susan shares, “We are having dinner at a wonderful restaurant called Isabella’s, followed by some dancing in the sheets, “she adds with another wink. They both laugh. I must swallow hard…again.
We bid each other a nice evening and they were gone. I sat there kind of lost for a few minutes before I reached under my jacket and clicked off the recorder. Fully wired I captured the conversation and the proof Madeline would need.
The bartender returned and asks if I want another Sloe Gin. I declined, “Make it a Jamison, neat”. He approved of my drink choice this time. When he set the glass in front of me I drank deep wanting desperately to go knock on Madeline’s door and just hold her but ultimately chose to find comfort in the Irish whisky.
I arrived at the office a little past 10:00 the next morning hung over and in a foul mood. Eleanor went into action without a word. She followed me into my office with a cup of coffee, a large glass of water and three aspirin. While I swallowed the aspirin and the entire glass of water she stood watching. After I took my first sip of coffee she spoke, “I guess I don’t have to ask if you got what you needed last night.”
I just shook my head.
“Do you want me to call her and have her come in today?”
“Eleanor, I don’t know what to do. I want her to know what a piece of crap her girlfriend is but I don’t want to hurt her.
“She’s already been hurt Val, you’re not the one hurting her. Anyway, I have a feeling she may have already started to move on.”
I look at her with my blood shot eyes waiting for her to explain. She just turned and walked away.
Ever the efficient Eleanor makes an appointment with Madeline Ward for 4:00 that afternoon. That gives me time to drink plenty of coffee, write up my notes and prepare the client package.
At 4:00 sharp Madeline arrived. I walked into the outer office to greet her myself. We stood looking at each other and when she smiled I was lost…again.
“Can I get you some coffee Ms. Ward?” Eleanor offers.
“No thank you.” She responded still looking at me.
“Can I get you a cup? Val? VAL! “That got my attention. “No thanks Eleanor”
“Ms. Ward” I say and gesture to my office. She passes very close to me as she walked into my office. I could smell her subtle perfume and almost feel her heat. Feeling a little dizzy I walked to my desk and sat down.
We both sat and stared at the 8x11 envelope on my desk. She spoke first, “she’s cheating isn’t she?’
I let out the breath I had been holding, “yes she is.” It was as simple as that.
Madeline nodded once and stood. I handed her the envelope, “inside is a tape and transcript of the events of last evening as well as my notes and a picture of Susan and her…friend.
She handed me a check and walked to the door. I was already on my feet and got to the door just as she did. Our hands rested there, hers on the knob, and mine on hers.
“Are you ok?” I whispered very close to her ear.
“Yes I am. Thank you Ms. McGinty.” She said this never taking her eye off our hands.
I slowly pulled my hand away letting my fingertips lightly brush her skin. She walked out of my office and my life.
I arrived at the office very late today, near 5:30. I have been pretty busy this past week. I have three new insurance fraud cases and another lesbian cheater. Word is getting around …I have experience with women!
Anyway, Eleanor is not at her desk when I get there. When I walk into my office I am surprised to see Eleanor sitting behind my desk with a cup of tea reading a paperback. She calmly put the book down and we do the stare down.
“Ok what?” I ask losing the battle.
“Sit down Val.” This is a command not a request. I sit.
“It’s time to call her.” I began to protest but she held up her hand, “I’ve watched you mope around here for the last week. Enough Val! It’s tonight.”
“Eleanor she was a client! Besides that someone like her would never be interested in someone like me.”
Her reaction was unexpected, she laughed. “You are as dense as every other McGinty I ever met. That surprises me Val.”
I wait as she finished her tea and stands, “I watched the two of you look at each other. For heaven’s sakes Val you are smitten to the point of painful and our Ms. Ward hid it much better than you but she my friend is equally as taken with you.”
I want to believe her. I would give anything for it to be true.
Heading to the door she got her parting shot, “its Valentine’s Day my dear you know what to do. Go make me proud.” She put on her coat and she was gone.
I sat for a while letting Eleanor’s words roll around in my head. Standing, I grabbed my coat and headed out. I had a P.I. hunch so I left to follow it.
I have never been so scared in my life. Standing in front of Isabella’s in a freezing drizzle I feel like I’m on a cliff ready to jump. I had no idea if she was even here. Why would she be? Worse yet what if she was with Susan? Shit, what am I doing here? I’m Valentine McGinty and she’s the most beautiful women I ever met. I hear Eleanor’s voice, “Make me proud.”
“Ok, let’s do it,” I say to no one as I opened the door and entered the restaurant.
I was immediately hit by how dark and oppressively hot it was. The dark quickly gave way to a very lovely and romantic room ablaze with flickering candle light. The heat was actually a very cold and wet me reacting to the warmth.
Entry to the restaurant puts you into a nice cozy bar. On the far end is an archway through which can be seen candle lit tables. The place was full. Of course it’s full its Valentine’s Day. My stupid McGinty side wants to go to the bar, order a shot of Jamison, down it and run out the door. The side that Eleanor convinced to come here tonight walks to the archway and scans the room. The tables have a mish mosh of couples of all kinds, lover celebrating the day made for lovers.
The hostess comes up to me and asks if I have a reservation. I shake her off. “Looking for someone” is my response.
Then I see her. She was sitting alone at a table near the back and against the wall. Did I say she was beautiful? In candle light she takes my breath away. Walking to her table I hear Uncle Walter in my ear.
“You‘re a McGinty damn it don’t fuck this up.”
Madeline’s eyes are focused on her hand that is swirling red wine in the elegant glass in front her. I would have been happy to stand there forever watching but her gaze came up to meet mine.
I can’t read the look on her face but her slow smile and words help me out.
“I hoped you were going to come tonight Ms. McGinty”
“I think I would like you to call me Val.” I said as I sat in the chair opposite her.
“I would like that very much.”
“Madeline…I start but she cuts me off.
“I like how you say my name.” Her eyes are shining in the candle light.
I try to conjure up the words I want to say but looking at her makes it impossible so I focus on her hand still on the wine glass.
“I never could have hoped …never imagined…Madeline I know what I feel but how in God’s name could you …for me. This thing with Susan…it’s all too soon.” How articulate can I get?
“I have been falling out of love with Susan for a long time now. I tried so hard to make things work. When I commit …I commit…I’m a committer. This last go round was the end, for both of us.”
“Val look at me,” I obey.
“I came here tonight for you. It seemed the right place to start and I very much want to start something with you.”
Right about then the waiter came over and asked if I would like something to drink. I ask for a glass of wine and he is gone.
Madeline slips something out of her jacket pocket and slides it across the table. Seeing what it was I read the sentiment and reach over and put my hand over hers. With my other hand I take the little candy heart that says Be My Valentine and put it into my pocket.
Her eye brows are up in question and with all my heart I say, ‘Yes.”
We ordered dinner and spent the evening dancing the dance of new beginnings. When we left Isabella’s we stood in the cold under her umbrella enjoying just looking at one another. Not wanting the evening to end I asked if she would like to go somewhere and have a drink. Her smile was pure magic. “I have a better idea” she said in that soft low voice. She took my hand and we walked.
After a few blocks Madeline broke the silence and asked if I knew who Susan’s friend was from the Ritz. Uncle Walter was right; the lovely Monica was the Counselor after all. Go figure.
Back to the Special
Back to the Academy