[Editor’s note: Originally published March 19, 2009; archived here with minor updates. The reader should note that: The human events here are 100% true, just rearranged some to protect the guilty; There are many inside jokes here you may not get – trust us, they’re hilarious; There is a modest bit more background at Private Nut: Reloaded]
I knew it was going to be a long week.
The landlord was bitching about the feminists protesting outside, Detective Simon was doodling around about some missing cashews, my guy Billy got zapped in some powerlines trying to spy on a tanning salon (off duty, honest), and I was still sore from dance lessons. On top of all that, I wasn’t sure if Tony the Dance Machine had bought my story. Y’see, he wasn’t just a teacher, he was a client. A former client, I hoped. I’d let his mark talk me into having her trail go cold. We even fabricated the last set of spy photos. It was a foolish thing to do, bad for business and all that. But one of these days business won’t be enough for me. I know that. So that was one trail I hoped wouldn’t go cold for me. My thoughts drifted down that path for a long while before I looked up.
I don’t know how long she was standing there. I was about to ask, but then it struck me – she was standing there. I mean, standing, inside my office. Sure, I got a good deal on the oak tree, and business was good so we took an office with extra head room – but I’m a squirrel. Even on my tippy-tail I can’t reach the shortest bird-feeders (don’t think we’re not working on that). I don’t get many human clients that fit into the same spaces as me.
I was still sizing her up, and down, and liking the proportions, when she spoke up.
“A friend of mine told me to come here, said you could help.” I listened for any desperation in her tone. I didn’t hear any, so that was a relief. Maybe today would be better than yesterday.
Returning the favor of skipping introductions, I replied with a question. “Your friend… size seven shoe?”
“Usually, yes. But… how did you…?” I pointed to the dent in the wall behind me and she got it right away. She couldn’t resist a little smirk as she said, “Yep, that’s my girl.” Today being an improvement was looking less likely, but I held out hope. Call me an optimist – I never assume a nut is rotten until I crack it open.
“Ok, so who can we help you find, or lose?” I gotta work on my presumption, it puts people off. But I’m usually right.
“Actually, it’s not for me. I have this friend, see…” She said it convincingly enough. Not that it mattered, so long as her check cleared, or her nuts were fresh.
“Ok, your friend. Does she know you’re here?”
“Well, not exactly.” she said sheepishly. She looked at me expectantly, wanting my ok. And she was super cute biting her lip like that. But these doing-a-friend-a-favor-for-her-own-good deals can get messy… I decided this dame would be getting rate card number three. It woulda been number four, but I could smell vegetarian chili and stale Miller Lite and thought ‘service industry, lunch shift’. Ok, rate card number two. I nodded for her to continue.
“I, well, we…, we decided that this friend needs to meet somebody.”
“Hold it right there, sugar britches!” I instinctively flinched, but for some reason nothing got thrown at me. Must have heard it all a million times, I figured. I continued, “This isn’t a dating service. I don’t deal in happily-ever-after. I work more in broken hearts than lonely hearts. You get that, babycakes?”
“I know what you do,” she said, still not aiming anything at me. I suppose she got my M.O. from her other gal pal, with the eyes and the boots and the… hmm, I’ll think about that later. “They say you’re the… well, not quite the best. But they say you’ve been at this for a long time and know a lot of people.”
“I’ve met some people along the way. If you want to call them that.” I wasn’t being particular about species this time. I meant that the sort of character I follow around is usually the sort that humanity would be more human without.
She was unfazed, “They also say that you… could be convinced to… work a little outside the lines.” I sensed a conflict-of-interest. I also sensed the chance to write new lines on that rate card. I kept quiet, letting her spell it out.
“Here’s what I want to do,” she said. “You open up your files, of the people you’ve followed, and let’s see what personalities we can find.” I thought it over, for about two seconds. I’d already been paid for (most of) that work, the clients had what they came for, and the file cabinets were getting rusty. I really needed to find a place for them besides the root cellar. Oak tree roots draw a lot of water.
“All right. I’ll do it. And we can start right now.” I pulled the cord to let Grace know to cancel the afternoon appointments. Grace was the German shepherd next door, and the cord went to the gate to let her out. We’d be left alone. I checked one more time, “Are you sure this isn’t for you?
“No, really, I’m good.” Her smile got so big I didn’t think her little frame could hold it up. I let it go, trying not to think about the poor sucker next in line. Or maybe he really was lucky. I stole a glance at the old gold band that stews without dignity in my change jar and figured I should be the last tree-rat to judge.
I had already pulled some of the files, the ones I thought would be most promising. These were the easy jobs, petty problems for otherwise happy well-adjusted people. “Here’s a decent guy – steady job, usual hobbies, he just owed the wrong person some money.”
She didn’t even look at the folder. “I don’t think so. Keep reading.”
“This guy had a little more trouble. Banker. One kid. Humorist. But his ex-wife-to-be was concerned about what he was looking at online.” Her ears perked up a bit, slipping out from under her silky hair. “You wouldn’t want to see his browser cache, unless you’re into unnatural acts between koala bears and bass players…”
She interrupted, “Not what I’m looking for at all.” I thought there was a glimmer of recognition in those eyes, but couldn’t be sure.
“Good, because I just remembered he remarried some time ago. Lucky guy.” I went right to the next file, unsure where this was going. “Next up, a really curious case. We followed this guy for weeks. Another 9 to 5 job, engineer of some sort. We had a hard time keeping up with him – they don’t let rodents in the gyms around here, and he’s got these dogs that don’t like us around. Anyway, we just couldn’t get any dirt on this guy! Sure, he encrypts all of his internet traffic, has odd single women at his house sometimes, and puts bird feeders where we can’t get at them, but… the women always walk out with a slightly discouraged look on their faces, and the internet traffic couldn’t possibly _all_ be from the ‘Barely Legal Triple Stacked Gizz Swapping Redheads in Chains’ collection.” I pondered that one for a minute. We never even knew who hired us for that job.
“He sounds creepy,” she said firmly.
“That’s what we thought, too.” I was sure the guy scared people everywhere he went. “I’ll keep reading, but just to be sure, you are only looking for guys, right?”
“Yeah, most nights.” She said it deadpan. We stared straight at each other for a pregnant second. Heh…. pregnant… haha. I looked away again and reached for more files.
I didn’t like where this was going. I wasn’t in tune with what this chick wanted. Not that I claim to understand dames, but I never bought into that whole ‘nice guys finish last’ malarkey. So I figured I’d speed things up. I pulled a stack of folders from the ‘bottom drawer’. These were guys we told stories about. When I felt down about myself, I’d pull one of these files and realize I was a prince among rodentia. Yeah, these losers were the lowest of the low. After a few of these, she’d be able to narrow it down for me.
“I’ll cut to the chase with this next one. Without the inconvenience of having a job, he had time to get caught in a hi-speed chase down a local highway, cheat on his girl with his supposed ex, and get arrested for dealing fake smack.” There was more, but I stopped to let that all sink in.
She didn’t miss a beat. “Really??” She sat up straight, her focus intense upon the new stack of files.
“Um, yeah, really. Should I keep going?” My voice got a little tinny. Not like a chipmunk, of course, that’s just silly.
“Oh, please!” Her enthusiasm was puzzling, and a little worrisome.
“Oh-kay…. here’s another fellow…. a real class act. The whole time he was with our client, he had regular action with his out-of-state ex. He liked to play asphyxiation games, even in public. And when all that wasn’t enough, we found him cheating with _her_ ex.” I stopped there, again expecting it to shock her at least a little.
But she was right there with me. “He sounds interesting, but a little one-dimensional. I’m hoping for someone a little more well-rounded.”
Wow. This was getting out of hand. But I could show her out-of-hand. I went right to the bottom of the pile. I didn’t even have to look at the paper. I’d retold the story over a hundred double bourbons. “We snapped this guy hiding in the bushes outside his lady’s place.” She was already looking at the photo, which clearly showed his pants around his ankles. “A time before that he’d announced himself, screaming at her windows at 3 in the morning. They’d been together for months, in which time he’d never met her friends, and he barely let her out of the house.” She kept looking at the file, taking in the story as quick as I could tell it. “Finally he got some other chick pregnant then ran away out of state.”
“Perfect!” she exclaimed. She put the folder down, on her side of the desk, facing her. It clearly was not going back in the pile.
I put the other files aside and got out my invoice pad. She was already up and headed out. “Hang on there, sweet cheeks!” I called, being complimentary.
“Oh, say… I don’t get paid until the day after tomorrow. I was hoping I could roll my tab until then.” She paused just long enough to know that I heard, and that I knew I didn’t have a choice in the matter. Then she was gone. I added the invoice to the ‘ain’t gonna see it’ stack. As I heard the distinct sound of an orphan minivan motoring away, I knew I wouldn’t see her again.
I mean, my luck couldn’t be that bad, could it?