Laura and Simon were an unusual pair of private detectives. They were divorced last year after ten years of marriage but neither could bear to sell the detective agency they co-owned, nor was one willing to concede sole ownership to the other. So they continued to see each other day after day, night after night at “Marcus and Marcus Detectives.” Laura even used her former last name professionally though in her personal life, she’d reverted back to Rodriguez.
Unlike television or cinematic private detectives, their cases were far less glamorous or dangerous. Mostly one spouse hiring them to see if the other spouse was having an affair.
“Usual drill, Simon. I pose as a hooker to see if ‘Mr. Sleezebag’ will give me a tumble. You stand by with the camera and I’ll record the dialogue.”
They were sitting in their car outside an office building near downtown. She was in the driver’s seat, which she preferred, and he was sitting next to her checking the camera.
“Got it, but for the record, his name is Chester Albright.”
“Or ‘all dumb’ for cheating on his poor wife.”
“We don’t know if he is yet, Laura. We’ve been tailing this guy for weeks and so far, nothing. Either his ‘poor wife’ is wrong, or Albright somehow knows we’re on his tail.”
“Just do your job, Si and one way or another, we’ll have the proof.”
“I still say Isabel Albright is paranoid, but we’ve been paid in advance so why not? Good thing we’re not the cops or we’d probably get sued for entrapment or something.”
“We’re not and we won’t.” Laura got out of the car but left the driver’s door open as she struck a pose. “How do I look?”
“Like a hooker, a pretty hot one at that. How much for a blowjob?”
“You couldn’t afford me, Si. When you see me and Albright hook up, drive to the motel fast and get in position.”
“You’re the one who’ll be getting in a position, maybe more than one.” He was leering at her now. Sex wasn’t the problem in their relationship. Their chemistry was great. But both of them had to be in charge all the time, and neither one knew how to share anything except, fortunately, the business, and up until recently, each other’s bodies.
She shut the door and blew him a kiss through the windshield. As she walked away wiggling her ass provocatively, he could feel the beginnings of an erection.
“Down, boy. Down.” He chuckled to himself, opened the passenger door and, putting the camera on the seat he’d just vacated, got out and walked around to the driver’s side. She’d left the keys in the ignition so all he had to do once he got in was fire up the engine and drive to the nearby motel they were going to use for their ruse. All she had to do was string Albright along, which for her, should be a snap, at least if he was really the cheating type.
Chester Albright was forty-five years old, married for twenty years to Isabel Albright, nee’ Williams, three kids, Brandon 17, Anne, 14, and Donna, 12. Recovering alcoholic for the past twelve years. No relapses anyone knew about. Worked as a senior accountant for Fredrick and Stein, an upscale financial firm, or at least upscale for this town. Ms. Albright had hired Marcus and Marcus because for the past six months, her husband had been out late once a week like clockwork with no reasonable explanation. Several times after his late night returns, she thought she smelled perfume on his clothing, not her’s, something like lilacs.
In the nearly twenty days and nights Laura and Simon had been shadowing Albright, neither had he stayed out late beyond his weekly AA meetings nor done anything even remotely suspicious. To Laura, that was suspicious all by itself. Simon tended to give Albright the benefit of the doubt since cheating husbands usually didn’t go weeks without seeing their back alley honey. To Laura, that meant that he didn’t have a regular lover and more than likely was being “serviced” by hookers. Hence the role she was about to play.
There. Albright was exiting the building. He was an hour late getting off work, but that in and of itself wasn’t unusual.
“Hey, buddy. Know where a girl can have a good time?” Laura struck her best flirtatious pose and grinned devilishly. Most men would go weak at the knees even at the beginning stages of her seduction.
“I beg your pardon?” He seemed genuinely surprised.
“Oh, c’mon. I bet you know how to treat a lady.” She was very aware that right now, she was acting nothing like a lady.
“Young woman, I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else.” He started to walk around her but she moved to block his way.
“I know a place real close and I’m running a special tonight for good looking, distinguished gentlemen.”
He actually wasn’t all that handsome, but he had a friendly face, the face of a man who’d stop by the side of the road to change a flat tire for a stranger, the face of someone who dressed up as Santa Claus and entertained kids at the local Children’s Hospital each year at Christmas (which he actually did).
“I’m sorry. You definitely have the wrong man.” He quickly circumvented Laura and headed for the parking garage.
If she pushed it any further, he’d figure out she wasn’t a hooker. “Your loss, Buddy,” she yelled after him. Laura actually felt insulted. She was sure he would try to give her the business, maybe even if he weren’t cheating on his wife.
As Albright disappeared into the garage next to his office building, Laura got back in the car, passenger’s side this time. She almost sat on the camera before Simon grabbed it and put it in the backseat.
“God damn, son of a bitch, fucking lowlife, how dare he turn me down.”
“Easy, Laura. It’s nothing personal. Frankly, I’d have let you pick me up.”
She huffed. “You’re too easy, Si. Besides, you’ve tasted the goods.”
They waited a few minutes until they saw his car pulling out of the garage.
“Hey, look. That’s not the direction he turns when he’s heading home. Quick. After him.” Laura regretted not driving, but it was too late to change seats. She thought Simon wasn’t an aggressive enough driver, but he maintained that driving like a maniac (which Laura tended to do) wasn’t the best way to keep someone from realizing they were being followed.
Simon hurriedly started the car, hit the gas, and pulled out.
“Faster, you schmuck. You’ll lose him.”
“I’m not going to lose him, Laura. Have a little faith. This isn’t my first rodeo.”
She opened her mouth to make a snappy retort then realized that nagging Simon wouldn’t make him drive faster. Besides, Albright drove like her grandmother, so they probably could have been jogging and still kept up with him.
“He’s never gone this way before, Laura. Maybe you stirred something in the guy after all and he decided to see his honey.”
“All I can say is she’d better be drop dead gorgeous and screw like an oversexed mink.”
“This isn’t about you, Laura.”
“Everything’s about me, Si.”
“At least you admit it now.”
“Just drive the fucking car.”
“Can’t get fucking off your mind, can you?”
“You’ll never know, not anymore.”
“Quiet. You’re distracting me.”
She pretended to pout and wasn’t really insulted. Simon probably thought they were arguing again, but she always considered it playful bantering. Another one of their many miscommunications. Now she was starting to get mad at herself. Laura sometimes wished she wasn’t so pushy and wished he wouldn’t be so quiet when he pushed back.
“There. He’s turning in there.”
“I’m not blind, Laura.”
Albright had turned into the parking lot of a small, rundown, one story business complex. There was a laundromat, a Dollar Store, a Drug Store, a number of vacant properties, and one place without a sign but with the lights on.
Simon stopped at a discrete distance but within direct line of sight of where Albright had parked and was now getting out of his car.
“He’s going in that place. Not very private for a hook up. I can see maybe a dozen people through the window.”
“I’m going in for a closer look.”
“Good, I’ll come with you.”
“Nope, Laura. He’s already seen you and in that outfit, you’ll attract too much attention, male attention anyway.”
“Yeah, yeah. Just don’t blow it.”
“More sex talk, Laura the Hooker?” He grinned at her as he opened the door.
“Shut up and find out what’s going on, but don’t let him know he’s being followed.” She reached into the back seat. “Here’s the camera.”
“Too conspicuous, kind of like you. If I need photos, I’ll use my cell.” He stepped out of the car and closed the door behind him still leaving her holding the Nikon.
“Bastard,” she muttered to herself, but then she smiled. “Be careful, Si.”
Simon walked across the street and casually strolled down the sidewalk in front of the various businesses. People doing laundry, shoving quarters into aging washers and driers like they were slot machines. People leaving the Dollar Store with products worth what they paid for them. Typical Drug Store crowd, filling prescriptions, picking up shampoo, and whatever else they patronized the place for.
Empty store fronts, one, two, three. and then here we are. Simon was momentarily showcased by the headlights of a car that had just pulled up. As the driver killed the lights and engine, he glanced inside the building. It looked like a classroom. Albright was up front writing something on a white board. Maybe twelve to fourteen young men and women were sitting at school desks a little too small for adults taking notes.
The driver of the car that had just arrived almost ran into Simon. “Oh, excuse me. Sorry, I’m late.”
She wasn’t what Laura would have considered drop dead gorgeous and he couldn’t immediately tell her screwing habits, but she was beautiful. Maybe twenty years old, brunette, stood out because everyone else in class was dressed pretty casually, but her summer dress fit her hourglass frame like it was painted on. Sort of “the girl next door” meets “co-eds I’d like to nail.”
“That’s okay. Say, what’s going on in there?” He hoped his question would just sound like idle curiosity.
“Oh, I’m taking an accounting class. Mr. Albright just started a new session. He’s a great guy. It’s practically free. Gotta run. I’m late.”
She breezed past him and went inside.
Simon went back to the car. Of course, Laura had switched to the driver’s seat so he walked around to the other side.
“Pull into the parking lot but stay away from those cars up front. I want to see what happens.”
“Probably nothing, Si. The whole world can see inside that room. What’s he doing?”
“Teaching beginning accounting to a bunch of kids, pretty much pro bono according to the girl I talked to.”
“Girl, my comely ass. She’s a looker. Think Albright’s drilling her on the side? Say, what’s that smell? Perfume?”
“Yeah. She practically ran me over she was in such a hurry.”
“I could see. Didn’t look like you minded much.”
“I’ll never tell, you horny bastard. What is that perfume? Smells like…”
“Lilacs,” they both said at the same time.
“So he is screwing her.”
“I didn’t screw her and I smell like lilacs. Be patient.”
“When have I ever been patient?”
“You’ve got a point.”
Marcus and Marcus spent the next hour-and-a-half watching Chester Albright teach accounting to a bunch of college age kids.
“I don’t get it. Why’s he doing this and why doesn’t he just tell his wife what he’s been up to?”
“Because Doofus, he’s screwing that good looking brunette on the side, just like I said.”
“Maybe, Laura. Let’s see.”
About halfway through class, all the students were working on something and Albright reached into his briefcase and pulled out a sandwich. Small wonder since he was late for dinner.
Near the end of the meeting, Albright walked over to each of the students appearing to check their workbooks or notes or something. When he got to “pretty brunette,” she smiled up at him, it was probably dazzling but they were too far away to tell, and she put her hand on his forearm. He looked nervous as he moved his arm away.
“I wish I could hear what they’re saying.”
“Sorry, Honey. I didn’t have time to bug the room.”
Then the students packed up their notebooks and pens and one by one, started to filter out. Good looking brunette was the last to leave. Even from across the parking lot, Laura and Simon could tell she had it bad for Albright, but even with the two of them alone, he still kept his distance.
Finally, she waved at him and walked out the door. She got in her car and left. Albright spent another fifteen minutes erasing the white board, straightening desks, and taking out the garbage. Then he shut the lights, locked the place up and got into his car. It was after ten.
“Now we’ll see. Follow him. Bet he meets up with brunette bimbette.”
“Twenty bucks says he goes straight home, Laura.”
“You’re on, sucker.”
She fired up the engine and gunned it a couple of times.
“Careful, Danica Patrick. We want to follow him, not beat him home.”
“If he is going home, slow poke.”
Albright turned right out of the parking lot and Laura followed him.
“Fuck. I owe you twenty. I never would have called it.”
“I would and I did. Pay up.”
“Tomorrow. I don’t carry cash when I’m dressed like a slut.”
“Tomorrow, we find out about that storefront and what Albright’s up to.”
Twelve hours later, Simon had the answer.
“I don’t believe it. I mean you’re kidding, right?”
“Read ’em and weep and I want my twenty.” He shoved the photocopies of the lease agreement onto her lap. She was in the driver’s seat again, dressed more professionally (and not the oldest profession) and waiting for him outside the office of a local property management company.
She picked up the papers and started reading. “Crap. He’s really leasing the place as a classroom. But why?”
“The clerk was chatty. Apparently so is Albright. He’s offering inexpensive accounting classes to kids who are in recovery.”
“Recovering. Seems the class also meets at Albright’s weekly AA group. Clerk said he wanted to give these kids a break, help them build a future.”
“Why doesn’t he just tell his wife?”
“That, I don’t know, but I do know we’re taking Isabel Albright’s money when, in my opinion, we don’t need to.”
“Aw, but it’s such as cherry deal. We could milk it a little while longer you know.”
“Business ethics, my dear.” Simon knew she was just kidding. Laura was all mouth (and a lovely mouth at that). She’d never dream of cheating a client.
“How am I going to pay up on that twenty, then?” She was so cute when she pretended to pout.
“I don’t know. I suppose there’s something you could do worth twenty dollars,” he leered at her.
“It’s worth a lot more than that and not on the clock, you letch.”
“No job for tonight. I get off at five. How about you?”
“We got divorced for a reason, Si.”
“That’s what the legal papers say. I say that when we’re together, we should never fight. We’ve got better things to do tonight.” He started singing the lyrics and she put her index finger to his lips.
“Don’t give up your day job, Si.”
“I won’t. I like the company where I work too much.”
They didn’t fight that night. They were too busy doing something else.
I’ve joined in on the Friday Fiction Challenge hosted by Simply Marquessa. The idea is to write a short story based on a selected song lyric. The lyric for Friday, October 20th is “When we’re together, we never fight…we’ve got better things to do tonight…” More details are at She Wants to Dance With Me.
During the 1980s, I watched a couple of television series that depicted the adventures of a man and woman private detective team. One was Remington Steele starring Stephanie Zimbalist and Pierce Brosnan (long before he played James Bond) and the other was Moonlighting with Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis (before he became a movie action hero).
There was always plenty of bickering between each duo, lots of sexual tension, but no hooking up, at least as I recall. I thought it would be fun, given the prompt, to tell a story about the adventures of a divorced couple who still worked together (and still had a lot of sexual tension) as detectives.
Oh, Laura is named after Stephanie Zimbalist’s character “Laura Holt” and Simon is named after another 1980s detective show, this one showcasing two brothers who were private investigators, Simon and Simon starring Jameson Parker and Gerald McRaney.