“My man Shakespeare said
there’s a special Providence in the
fall of a sparrow,” I said to Colleen, over the faux-wooden partition,
as I cupped
my hands over the receiver. “Everything’s connected.”
Pierce, my landlady, muffled something over the
phone. She’d “lost”
her kid again.
Colleen and I were waxing philosophic about that, among other things,
“Sounding profound isn’t being
right,” Colleen said from
behind her monitor. She’d
for a computer virus for over an hour, frowning at the screen like an
antivirus hadn’t found
it. Nothing was
working. She didn’t
tell me what she was doing to find
it, and I wasn’t sure why she needed a computer for my seven clients
anyway, but I didn’t ask.
Knowledge is often clutter.
Just before Mrs. Pierce called,
Colleen had said that she
was divorced from her husband not because of cause and effect, but
was a dumb jerk and she was tired of it.
“That’s cause and effect,” I
“No, it’s not.
not tired of it, he’d still be a jerk.”
She called the computer a sonuvabitch.
“It’s all will.
He’s willfully a
jerk and I willfully left him. There’s
no innate connection there. The
link is the action I willfully took.”
“Foster, are you listening to
me?” Mrs. Pierce said. Though
in her thirties, her voice had an
older, elementary teacher’s tone.
uncupped my hands from the phone and said that I was, in fact,
There came a knock on my office
door. Colleen and I
stared at the door for a
moment — at the thick, backward black letters that said BRADLEY FOSTER,
INVESTIGATIONS from the hallway — as if no one had ever knocked upon it
before. A shapely
silhouette stood behind the smoked
glass. Mrs. Pierce
hadn’t abated. I
told her that she’d either have to pay me
to find her kid, or hang up, because I had an appointment at the door.
She hung up.
call back soon.
Colleen let in a
professionally-packaged Mrs. Nickleby, and
then closed my door, gave me a look, and waged her virus war. The red light on my
speakerphone meant she
hadn’t flicked on her phone to listen in.
The light turned green when she played Big Brother.
Despite the Dickensian name,
Mrs. Sasha Nickleby was a fit,
middle-aged, red-haired knockout.
looked my age, about ten years younger than her forty-five, and exuded
contained sensuality in her tan skirt, red blouse and heels. She was sinewy, but sexy,
probably jogged and
did Pilates, and was the kind of woman guys would say was a wildcat in
bed. But they
wouldn’t say it too loudly
because she’d kick their ass. They’d
like it, too, but that wouldn’t diminish the ass-kicking.
She was about to kick her
husband’s ass, but he wasn’t going
to like it. He’d
been trying to screw
her in the divorce, saying she’d cheated on him.
He’d actually cheated on her, and she’d had
the pictures to prove it. Except
shown them to him to get him to play nice, and he’d hit her and tossed
of his house — and kept the pictures.
copies. And she
hadn’t backed them up to
a CD or a flashdrive.
I had glanced at them, of
course, when I found them. Someone
had stood at David Nickleby’s bay
window and taken the pics while he and his young legal assistant rolled
on his living room floor, trampling documents.
The blonde was full-breasted and gorgeous. In one picture, she was
straddling him with a
memo on his law office’s letterhead sweat-stuck to her left breast. A small,
yellow Post-It clung to her stomach, just above her thin outie.
Mrs. Nickleby had asked me to
shoot the pics, but I’d
declined. I hadn’t
been as desperate at
the time. Or, I
hadn’t realized I
was. I’d probably
take the job now. When
I’d asked why she hadn’t hired the
picture-taker for the reclamation, all she’d said was she hadn’t liked
preferred method of payment.
“I was the broke and discarded
woman of a rich man,” she’d
pouted. I’d left
slid the clasped manila envelope over to her.
The crags and craters on my desk stopped it
before it slid all the way to her, ruining the effect.
She leaned over and grasped it, and slowly
pulled out the pics. Her
red blouse was
one of those loose-collared ones women wear when they want you to see a
freckled cleavage; it clashed wonderfully with her tanned skin, and the
package reeked of power.
She slipped the photos back
into the envelope.
“How’d you get these?”
She licked her lips once and sat still, her back
I’d broken into her husband’s
house by hoisting myself up on
a side-yard fence, crossing the deck to his bedroom window, and
air conditioner, which I carefully replaced and wiped off after I’d
in. For almost
three hours I’d picked
through hundreds of papers and folders that littered his living room
like confetti in Times Square, but finally I’d found the photos, on his
counter, near the toaster. I'd carefully wiped
every hard surface with my handkerchief, put the pics in a manila folder I’d
with me, folded into a small square in my back pocket, and walked out
“It’s better that you not know
because of the circumstances
surrounding their acquisition, I’m going to have to ask for double our
agreement. And, for
both our benefit,
it’s better if you pay me in cash.”
She sat back on the red plastic
client chair for several
moments, thinking it over. I’d
extremely unethical, but I was a few months behind on my mother’s
facility, and Colleen wanted to be paid sooner rather than later. And Sasha Nickleby was
smart enough to know
I’d have to commit B & E to get the pics, so I didn’t feel that
badly. This pause
also gave me time to contemplate
the fact that she’d somehow leaned in to grab the envelope — and to
look-at-me cleavage — without actually moving her backside on the chair. Power, with little effort. And really great posture.
She knew I had her over a
barrel, so she agreed, finally,
and counted twenty hundred dollar bills taken from her bottomless, but
red Coach, looking at me the whole time, again leaning over to the lip
desk. She didn’t
ask me anymore about
the photos, and I forced myself to stop wondering where she, the poor,
discarded victim, had gotten two thousand dollars, cash.
Knowledge isn’t always power.
Colleen was still searching for
the virus when I led out our
“Thank you, Mr. Foster,” Mrs.
Nickleby said, shaking my hand
at the outer office door.
“You’re welcome. It
was a pleasure.”
“Yes,” she sighed.
“It was. You
have my number.”
I asked her to leave the door
open. Colleen and I watched
her sashay down the hallway.
“She’s out of your league,
Foster,” Colleen said as I shut
the door. “But,
then again, aren’t they
I pushed aside the large pile
of bills, and the much smaller
pile of checks, and sat on the edge of her desk.
Colleen had on the same style of professional
suit, with the same loose shirt, except her skirt was blue. Both wore blouses a bright
red, and they were
both redheads. She
had pale skin and,
like Sasha Nickleby, many freckles.
client had been bronzed; Colleen was a striking pale.
Neither seemed to mind that I noticed. Probably that was the plan.
“She left happy, right?
She got her pictures.
double for the B and E.
She paid cash
to avoid a paper trail. My
facility gets paid. You
get paid. Hell,
even I get paid. See?
Colleen held out her hand.
I put the hundreds in it.
counted them, swiftly, like a bank teller, and removed two expense
from the top drawer, one marked OFFICE and the other ELMORE HOUSE. She scribbled amounts in
each, and wrote out
four checks: Mother, office, her, me.
She was a few years younger than me, but much more
efficient and mature.
“The fact her husband’s an ass
isn’t connection,” she said,
jerking the mouse and clicking again.
just means he’s an ass. And
thing isn’t connection — it’s economics.”
I had a comment about how both
husbands were asses, and both
women redheads, but before I could get into it, the phone rang. I took it at my desk,
leaving my door open.
“I can’t find that damn kid
anywhere!” shrieked Mrs. Pierce.
“I charge three hundred a day,
plus expenses.” She
knew I was kidding, but she swore at me
anyway. I let her
vent for awhile. I
was often behind on rent.
Colleen ran into my office.
“I found it!”
I cupped the phone again.
“Where was it?”
“Damn thing was hiding in the
folder.” She sank
into the other plastic
client chair. I’d
never seen her splay
her legs before. “How
the hell am I
supposed to know to look for a virus that disabled the antivirus and
hid in the
I pondered that for a moment. I wanted to tell her that
maybe, because the
world was flawed, it had come with the antivirus itself, but another
brewed. An analogy.
“Mrs. Pierce,” I said into the
phone. “What was
the last thing you said to Brian
before you knew he was missing?”
“I told him to put the damn
basketball down and get in here
because I was gonna give him a bath.”
was five, she explained, though she knew I knew this, and he often ran
neighbors to avoid unpleasant things.
But she’d called them already.
And she’d called his friends, and now she didn’t
know what else to —
“Hiding virus is to anti-virus
software folder like hiding,
unwashed Brian is to bathtub,” I said.
Colleen watched me.
“Go look in
“Foster, that’s ridiculous,”
Mrs. Pierce said, but I heard
her thumping up the stairs. “He’s
nowhere near smart enough to —”
her open the door.
“Oh you little bastard.
Get over here —”
The kid squealed. I
“Everything’s connected,” I
said to Colleen.
“That’s not connection,” she
said. “It’s luck.”
When I quoted Shakespeare at
her again, she rolled her eyes
at me and left my office, ready to wage her next war.
E. Belanger’s sales include some short stories, to Big Pulp, to OnThePremises.com and to Space
and Time Magazine; a short piece about adopting his greyhound; and a
poem. He has been a Teacher of Secondary Education for the past 14
years. He waxes philosophic about mystery and crime novels, movies, and
lots of other things at www.stevenebelanger.blogspot.com/.
2014 Steven E. Belanger. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or
in any form or medium without express written permission of the author
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to Over My Dead Body! Online.