A Leonard Dolman Story
by Steve Kaye
Steve Kaye may not sell many stories, but when
he does, it's a good one. This little gem, originally published
in the Fall 1990 issue of P.I.
Magazine, never quite got the recognition it deserved.
We're very pleased to reprint it, and even more pleased to announce
you haven't seen the last of Leonard in these pages...
.......Leonard Dolman waited lunch every afternoon until after the mail arrived. Usually it came early, about 1 p.m. But some days two or three times each month -- it arrived very late, often after three.
On these days the natural noonday pause in his work came and
went, so Dolman busied himself re-adding columns of figures,
or studying entries on some corporate tree drawn in his hand,
or simply checking for spelling errors in his own weekly reports.
.......Sometimes he would have
black and white photographs to look over. Balding men, wide-eyed
and flush, escorting expressive young women wearing inadequate
wardrobe. He would meticulously draw red circles around the faces
in these photographs with a flimsy compass. A child's toy, really,
the point blunted by a rubber cap to keep from marring the pictures.
.......These were not Dolman's
photographs. He did not take pictures such as these any more
-- not for nearly fourteen years. But he helped out younger operatives
when he could, especially when keeping his postal vigil.
.......Today, the mail carrier came and went in her usually brusque, mindless way at two-ten. The letter Dolman expected was in the pile scattered on the empty receptionist's desk a check for $2,500 and a neatly typed slip of a thank you note.
.......He took his bulky winter
coat, the check, and some photographs he had been reviewing for
Johnson, now discreetly covered in a folder, and squeezed out
of his dingy white cubicle. Phyllis was in her office, too, working
as usual through lunch.
......."They're not often
so prompt, are they?" she said, taking the check and making
a tight notation in her red ledgers.
.......Johnson's desk was near
the front door. Dolman didn't want to leave the photographs --
this particularly revealing set would facilitate a client's upcoming
divorce trial, might even make the trial unnecessary -- in full
view of anyone passing into the office. He was about to ask Phyllis
to hold the file until Johnson returned when Jack McKeon stepped
out of his executive office.
.......McKeon, Dolman noticed
immediately, was wearing his mischievous little-boy-bad smile.
The kind of smile a five-year-old puts on when he's done the
worst thing he can think of and is getting away with it. Only
McKeon wasn't five any more and his smile had an edge
.......McKeon's face lit up at
the sight of Dolman, who could almost see the light bulb go on
over his boss's head.
......."Come into the office,
buddy. Got a case I want you to handle personally."
.......Dolman continued to work
into his stubborn coat. "Sorry, Jack. I have three working
......."This one's important."
.......McKeon grasped the coat
collar and held it for him. Dolman murmured a sheepish "Thank
you" as his arm finally found the proper opening and slid
in. But McKeon left his hand at the back of Dolman's neck, pushing
gently for the two of them to discreetly step away from Phyllis's
McKeon repeated, earnestly, "is very important."
......."What is it?"
......."A woman's husband
is ... Oh, don't start shaking your head at me. Once in fourteen
years I ask you to take a domestic ..."
corrected. "May, 1981."
.......McKeon sighed and removed
his hand. He meant the gesture as a rebuke, an aggrieved removal
of intimacy. Dolman, though, was grateful for the release.
......."What's your angle,
.......The conspiracy entered
McKeon's body again. "You should see this dame. My God,
Leonard, I'll leave Betty. I swear I will."
.......Dolman sighed. "Your
......."Tea and sympathy.
That's all. Just tea and sympathy. Standing in line waiting for
......."Uh-huh. And what
if he's not stepping out on her?"
......."I'll tell you, Len.
Either he's crazy or she is. If I had something like that at
home I'd never leave the house. But, you know ... some guys."
.......Dolman's shoulder twitched
involuntarily, a reminder of fourteen years ago. In that case,
a wife had been cheating on her husband, Dolman recalled, the
numbing originality of it all flooding his memory. She had been
seeing a car salesman. After being given the report the husband,
a Swede, went crazy and randomly started shooting off his Mauser
as he ranted for his wife to come out of a grocery store. Dolman's
shoulder got in the way and he spent two weeks in the hospital.
At the time the strangest thing to Dolman was his own confusion.
His only thought, as he lay bleeding in the parking lot, was
that he had never realized Swedes were so volatile.
.......Since then domestics were
out of bounds for him.
......."Damn it, Leonard.
We can't coddle you forever. Everyone takes his turn, you know.
You've missed quite a number of yours."
.......Dolman's stoic expression
did not change.
......."Please, Len. Just
go through the motions if that's all you can do."
.......With a forlorn nod Dolman
pushed into McKeon's office. As always he was struck by the difference
between this inner sanctum and the outer cubicles of the operatives.
Paneling, oil paintings -- some originals, even one by Matisse
-- thick drapes that, when drawn, gave the illusion of privacy.
Everything was designed to dispel the fears that one's most intimate
secrets were being recorded, repeated, and examined in detail.
The pretended warmth here contrasted starkly with the cold efficiency
of the outer offices, hiding the simple reality that no one really
.......He set his hat and the
photo file on McKeon's desk and introduced himself to the client.
It was clear why McKeon had gone off the deep end, Dolman told
himself. The woman was exceptionally beautiful. Tall, leggy,
hair a cascade of yellow and red. Her clothes were well tailored
but not overly expensive, discreet but not obviously so. She
was not out to prove her good looks to the world.
.......Her legs were crossed when he came in. As she uncrossed them to rise and shake his hand an electric static shot through the air. Despite himself, McKeon sighed heavily.
......."Our best operative,"
......."I appreciate your
stopping on your way out," she said, pointing to Dolman's
hat. "I'm Lorna Sheffield."
.......Her story was simple,
even common, she admitted. For months her husband had been distracted,
working late, tired. They had only been married a year so she
couldn't understand how in her words the magic had worn off so
quickly. She felt certain he had found someone else.
......."Have you found any
......."No smoking gun,
Leonard, I've asked," McKeon said, a little too cheerfully.
......."Nothing like lipstick,
if that's what you mean."
.......Dolman nodded. Yes. Like
......."I love him so much,
you see. But I have to know."
......."Could there be other
reasons for his behavior. His job ... what is it he does, Mrs.
.......McKeon answered. "An
accountant, Leonard. His own firm."
.......Dolman moved to the window
but did not pull back the drapes. The day was too bright, too
revealing. It had no place in this room.
......."I realize you get
people in here all the time who think they know something and
don't. You've got to protect yourself, too, I suppose. And you're
right, maybe there is another explanation for his behavior. I
just have to know. That's all."
......."We've no objection
to that, do we, Leonard?" McKeon said, coming up behind
Dolman. "We would very much like to help out this lovely
.......McKeon put a hand on Dolman's
shoulder again, squeezed slightly. Dolman turned back and saw
Mrs. Sheffield looking through Johnson's photographs. They were
fairly graphic, no room for misinterpretation.
......."You see," Mrs.
Sheffield said, shivering slightly, "it does happen."
.......Dolman asked for a photograph
of her husband and was given a recent Polaroid. The man in the
picture didn't look like much. Average kind of guy. Standard
looks, medium height, slightly receding hairline, extending waistline.
No different from a thousand other guys. A mirror image, in fact,
of Dolman, or so he thought.
.......He stared at the photograph
for a long time wanting to ask how this guy rated. How this guy
got a wife like Lorna Sheffield. He knew that to ask, though,
would start him down a long road in a car full of trouble. Sheffield
had ended up with her, and the rest had missed out. Some guys
win the lottery. Most don't. That was all.
.......McKeon gave a shrug when
Dolman looked up. He had already seen the picture of Sheffield,
had had his moment of incredulity. Now he wanted to see it in
......."We'll take it from
here, then, Lorna." McKeon helped the woman to her feet.
"May I call you Lorna? Good. I'll report to you myself with
anything we find."
.......At the door Lorna Sheffield
took Dolman's hand and said, "I just don't want to lose
my husband. I'll do whatever it takes to keep him."
.......Dolman started the job
that afternoon, unconvinced that he would find another woman
in Alan Sheffield's life. Lorna Sheffield gave a man every reason
to come home. In looks, at least. Maybe she was a rotten cook,
he told himself and smiled. Or a terrible nag.
.......At six-thirty Alan Sheffield
left his office. He walked out with a woman; both were bundled
against the cold. He walked her to a car, held the door, tipped
his hat. He said something the passing traffic obscured. It was
short. Good night, most probably. The woman got into the car
and drove out of the lot. Sheffield got into his car and drove
.......Dolman followed as Sheffield
drove the eight and one-half miles home. Directly home. He got
out and went into his house and shut off the porch light.
.......At nine-thirty Dolman,
from home, called Alan Sheffield and tried to interest the man
in aluminum siding. Sheffield was polite but said he preferred
the natural brick of his home. He hung up.
.......The next morning Dolman
followed Sheffield to the office, sat in his car until a patrolman
told him to move. It was the day for street sweeping. Sheffield
did not leave the office all day until he left to go home.
.......The following day a Thursday Alan Sheffield left his office at two o'clock. He carried a small leather sports bag as he hurried to his car. Dolman shook himself alert and followed, having a difficult time of it because Sheffield was uncharacteristically reckless in his driving.
.......Ten minutes later Sheffield
parked his car and ran into a Your Fitness health club. Dolman
got out of his car and casually walked along the long storefront
window. Inside he could see Sheffield hurriedly check in at the
reception counter and then disappear through a Plexiglas door.
.......An hour later Sheffield
came out of the club, hair still damp. He moved leisurely now
and drove sanely back to his office.
.......Alan Sheffield's big secret,
thought Dolman: he works out.
......."Come on, Leonard,
keep digging," McKeon urged over the phone that night. "It's
only been a couple of days."
......."I've got a feeling
about this guy."
.......McKeon snorted into the
receiver. "Sure, he's a lucky stiff, all right. And either
of us in his boots wouldn't mind being handcuffed to his bedpost.
But we're not him, are we?"
.......Dolman took a long, slow
......."No, we're not,"
McKeon said, answering his own question. "And he could be
a very clever little fellow, Leonard."
......."If you say so."
......."I do. Now keep digging.
There's gotta be dirt. There's always dirt."
.......On the following Tuesday,
when Alan Sheffield left his office at quarter to two, athletic
bag in hand, Dolman did not follow. Instead he rode the six floors
up in an elevator to Sheffield's office.
......."I'm sorry, Mr. Sheffield
isn't in right now," the secretary said. She was somewhat
plain, very young with bobbed black hair and brown eyes. Not
Sheffield's type, Dolman caught himself thinking.
"That is too bad. I understand he's an excellent accountant."
......."Perhaps you'd care
to talk to Ms. Wallingford."
.......The girl picked up the
phone and pushed a single button. "Ms. Wallingford, there's
a gentleman here wanting to talk to Mr. Sheffield about our services.
Yes. All right." Hanging up, the girl nodded toward a door
to her left. "Ms. Wallingford has some time if you're still
.......He thanked her and opened
the door. Ms. Wallingford got up from behind a desk crowded with
papers and file folders and held out a firm hand. She was a thoroughly
competent-looking woman, very business-like but pleasant. After
they had seated themselves she turned a glowing green computer
screen aside to give him her full attention.
.......Dolman recognized her
as the woman in the parking lot.
......."Actually I joined
a conversation with some people at a party," Dolman said,
in answer to her mildly suspicious question. "Mr. Sheffield's
name was mentioned. Are you his partner?"
......."Yes. We've had this
firm for nearly fifteen years. And, in addition to myself, we
have three associates. What kind of service were you interested
Dolman looked around the office and decided a lot of work went
on here. There were file cabinets, a small table, two chairs,
and a desk. No couch. "Fifteen years," he mused. "That's
longer than most marriages."
.......Ms. Wallingford laughed.
"Yes. Well, unlike a lot marriages, Alan and I respect one
.......Dolman feigned shock.
"Oh, dear. I hope you're not talking from experience."
......."No. I've never been
married. And Alan's honeymoon hasn't ended."
......."Just tied the knot,
.......Ms. Wallingford smiled
warmly. "Mr. ... Gravesly, was it?" Dolman nodded.
"We're always interested in new clients but we are a bit
over extended just now. Could you give me an idea of what kind
of work you'll be needing?"
.......He talked for a while, using one of his standard cover stories. Convincing, not too extravagant something to match his somewhat bland appearance.
.......As Ms. Wallingford walked
him out Dolman saw the door to Sheffield's office was open. The
room was even smaller than Ms. Wallingford's, and more crowded
with papers. He made his good-byes, promising to set an appointment
for later in the week.
.......At the health club the
receptionist gave him a quizzical, slightly bemused look. She
was young and wore a two-tone leotard under a skirt and vest
and long woolly socks. She took his hat and directed him to the
men's health counselor.
......."Can't tell you how
smart this decision is, Mr. Neff. A man your age needs to keep
.......The men's health counselor, a young and vacuous collection of muscles, guided Dolman past the sauna rooms to the whirlpools. He prattled on about the benefits of their program and the low cost when amortized over the length of his commitment. Of course one couldn't put a price on one's health. "Can you?" Dolman agreed it couldn't be done.
......."You've spoken to
your doctor about this, haven't you?" the counselor asked
with some concern. There were several middle-aged men in the
place, Dolman noticed, all of them overweight, red, and sweating.
......."Oh, yes. He's recommended
this for years. But I suppose it takes tragedy to waken us to
the facts of life."
.......Dolman had told the counselor
that a friend's massive coronary and subsequent death had prompted
this sudden interest in fitness.
.......After the whirlpools came the exercise rooms the only areas, the counselor informed, that were co-ed. Dolman looked for Alan Sheffield as he pretended to examine the equipment. A girl on a treadmill caught his eye as she jogged heavily in place. She wore glistening black bicycling pants and a cut-off t-shirt that barely covered her considerable chest. She saw him and smiled, straightening her shoulders to amplify the effect her running had on her anatomy. Dolman heard her giggle sweetly as he turned away.
.......He finally saw Alan Sheffield
in the far corner of the room exercising heavily. He was sweating
over leaded pulleys, heaving an impressive weight. Dolman thought
back to when he last exercised with any regularity but could
not remember a time.
......."He's really putting
his all in," Dolman said off-handedly.
......."Mr. Sheffield? Yes,
sir. A regular. Type of membership I'd recommend for you. Twice
a week minimum, but with plenty of expert supervision."
.......Dolman agreed that would
......."Training for the
Olympics, is he?"
......."Oh, no. Got himself
a very attractive wife. Showed me her picture. I guess he wants
to make sure he can keep up with her."
.......Before leaving the health
club Dolman took a membership application and said he would double
check with his doctor before starting any type of regimen.
......."Come in, Mr. Dolman."
.......Lorna Sheffield held open
the door of her home invitingly, a strange aroma preceding her.
Her hair was tied back in a severe ponytail and she wore a long
bib apron over a flounce-trimmed green frock. In one hand she
held a large wooden kitchen spoon stained with brown sauce which
.......Dolman handed over his
hat and coat, holding onto a file he had brought with him. Mrs.
Sheffield tried to keep her eyes from the folder but repeatedly
looked over her shoulder at it, as if the thing were alive and
might attack her.
......."Come into the kitchen,
if you would, Mr. Dolman."
.......The house was impressive,
well furnished and tastefully decorated. A woman's touch was
obvious, but not overpowering. Alan Sheffield had had a hand
in designing his home, too.
.......The kitchen appeared new
and clean. Pots hung over a chopping block island in the center
of the room. The stove was one of those electric ones that had
no burners, only a smoked glass top. There was a mess on the
stove right now; pots, pans, plates all strewn about and dirty.
.......Mrs. Sheffield stepped
up to the conflagration and shrugged with some embarrassment.
......."Afraid I'm not such
a good cook. I'm trying something new." She stirred for
a minute the lumpy contents of a pan then said, "I don't
think this is working."
.......She dropped her spoon.
Both hands fell to the counter as if to brace herself. Dolman
helped her over to a stool then found some glasses and a bottle
of bourbon. As he poured drinks he wondered why he was doing
it, then decided he needed it more than she did.
......."I'm going to need
this?" she asked, taking the glass.
.......He slid the report across
the chopping block to her. "If you plan on celebrating with
.......She looked up sharply.
......."I've followed your
husband for the last three weeks. The only secret he has from
you is the fact that he's working out at a health club. That's
probably why he's tired."
.......Lorna Sheffield paled
then slammed her glass against the counter.
......."Damn it, I hired
you to find out the truth!"
.......Dolman sat very quietly,
afraid to move.
......."I'm not some child,
you know. I can take the truth. I have a right to know."
She had gotten up from her stool and gone back to the stove.
The meal she was preparing had not improved so she tore off her
apron and threw it into the sink.
.......She came back to him,
very close, almost pleading.
......."I just want to know."
Her breathing was very heavy, very warm. "I can fight for
him. I do have a few weapons at my disposal." She stood
back a bit as if to give him an unmistakable view of her arsenal.
.......She seemed confused all
of a sudden, looking at him strangely. Dolman had the thought
that she was waiting for him to say something else; something
he hadn't finished saying.
.......Then it came to him, the
reason for her anger, for her confusion. Maybe, he thought, that's
all she wanted. A little implied dialog and a few sidelong glances
at her estimable figure. Maybe that was all she wanted out of
.......Perhaps she didn't really
think the little fellow was stepping out on her. Maybe, like
so many other fellows, he had just been caught up in the tide
of doing and got pulled under, figuring the rest of life would
somehow take care of itself.
.......So, he asked himself,
Lorna Sheffield felt what: Neglected? Unloved? Undesirable? Dolman
wanted to tell her how foolish her thoughts were but knew she
heard that kind of talk all the time.
......."Have you ever been
in love, Mr. Dolman."
.......He looked up at her amazed
at the sudden strange calm in her voice.
......."Come on. You can
tell me. I'm a woman."
.......Dolman swallowed what
was left in his glass.
......."Once," he said,
not fully taking her meaning. "A long time ago."
......."Was it very long
......."In my mind. Yes."
......."Was she beautiful?"
.......He smiled unconsciously.
......."And did she love
......."For a time. At least
that's what she said."
.......Lorna Sheffield poured
some more bourbon into his glass. He did not look at the glass
but took it in hand and brought it to his lips.
......."We had been together
for a year," he offered slowly. "A glorious year of
warmth and confusion." Another swallow. The glass settled
back onto the butcher block, empty. "She came to me one
morning, wrapped up for the snow and a bag in her hand. Our year
was up, she said. She'd only planned a year and it was over.
No other explanation. No one else, so she said. Just finished."
.......Somehow, his glass had
been refilled again with the innocent-looking clear amber liquid.
Dolman stared at it for a long time before he stood.
......."I'm sorry my report
... displeased you, Mrs. Sheffield. But I am certain your husband
is not having an affair of any kind. Good night."
.......In the hallway he found
his hat and coat but did not bother to put them on as he left.
.......At one-fifteen Leonard
Dolman's phone rang again. He picked it up on the tenth ring.
......."Where the hell have
you been?" McKeon screamed on the other end. "I've
been glued to my desk here all night waiting for you to get home!"
.......Dolman removed his hat
and coat, accidentally turning the sleeves of it inside out.
"Jack, I am in no mood."
......."What's the status
on the Sheffield case?" McKeon's breathing came heavily
over the phone. He began to wheeze some.
......."I gave her the final
report this afternoon."
......."You didn't say anything
untoward to her, did you, Leonard?" There was a phony nonchalance
to McKeon's voice that Dolman ignored. "Nothing other than
what was on the report?"
.......Dolman kicked off his
shoes and settled onto his bed. It had been a very long evening;
he had worn many miles off his ill-fitting shoes.
......."No, Jack. Only what
was on the report."
......."I thought we were
going to see her together when the time was right."
......."She didn't need
consoling, Jack. Alan Sheffield was faithful after all."
.......McKeon's wheezing had
become more pronounced. Dolman sat up, moving his feet to the
.......He asked, "What's
......."What did you tell
her this afternoon?" McKeon asked sharply.
......."If you're at your
damned desk you can read the report for yourself. I left you
......."I see it. I see
it. What does it say?"
......."Oh for Christ's
sake, Jack. It's in English."
......."I can't read it
right now, all right. Just tell me what it says."
......."Fine. It says Alan
Sheffield's a good boy. Works hard. Goes to the gym, trying to
build up a little for her. Guess he feels a bit inadequate. No
......."Yes! Now, damn it
......."She confronted him
tonight," McKeon said.
They could take away our license."
......."You're not going
to lose your license. Now tell me what happened?"
......."There was a shooting."
......."Oh, my God."
......."There's going to
be questions, Leonard. You're sure about the report?"
......."Yes. When did it
.......Over the phone Dolman
could hear a scuffing sound and then the click of a desk lamp.
McKeon had been sitting in the dark. "A couple of hours
ago. I got a call from ..."
......."The police will
still be there, then. I'll call you later, Jack."
.......A uniformed police officer
let Dolman through the cordon around the Sheffield home and pointed
at the front door. There could be found Detective Sergeant Feder,
the man heading the investigation.
.......On the front lawn Dolman
saw a body covered in a sheet made glaringly white under harsh
portable lamps. A handgun lay several feet away. The police photographer
had finished his work, as had the medical examiner. They were
all waiting for a body bag to arrive from the coroner's office.
.......Detective Sergeant Feder
invited Dolman in and nodded with understanding as he outlined
......."Got a copy of this
......."Not with me. I gave
one to Mrs. Sheffield earlier. It's probably around here somewhere."
......."We found some burned
papers and ashes in the fireplace. I'll wager that's your report."
.......The coroner had arrived
and was supervising the removal of the body from the front lawn.
......."I don't take domestics
any more, Sergeant. I don't like them."
......."Why this one, then?"
......."Favor to my boss."
Dolman stepped away from the window, not wanting to see the corpse.
"I've seen guys get upset when their wives investigate them,
but never this."
......."Thank God you're
here, Mr. Dolman."
.......Mrs. Sheffield came out
from the kitchen, her wrists in handcuffs. Two policewomen held
her by the arms as she tried to pull away.
.......Dolman turned sharply
to look out at the front lawn but already the body of Alan Sheffield
had been zipped up inside a black bag and loaded into an ambulance.
......."Tell them what a
philandering bastard my husband was," Lorna Sheffield pleaded.
.......Dolman went up to her.
She was so desperate, her body straining for ... something.
your husband loved you. He wasn't cheating on you." He shuddered
uncontrollably, not from anger or fear but from a deep bone chill.
.......She nodded at him then,
vigorously, as if everything she believed had just been proven.
"You see! I told you! Every woman he met! Can you blame
.......Dolman grabbed her shoulders
and shook her violently. "He loved you! Everything he did
was for you!"
.......Lorna Sheffield cried,
nodding weakly. "I know ... I know," she sobbed. "How
can a man be so cruel? How?"
.......The policewomen led her
out the door and to a waiting car. He watched her go, wanting
very much to have that drink she had poured for him earlier.
.......On the way to his car
he remembered what Jack McKeon had said to him two weeks ago.
He had said to keep digging because there was always dirt. Jack
had been right, he told himself. There had been dirt. Only Jack
had it under the wrong fingernails.
Originally published in P.I. Magazine,
© 1990, 2001 by Steve Kaye.
Steve Kaye has
been telling stories in one form or another for close to 40 years.
He just hasn't sold very many of them. Among his few professional
credits, he was - very briefly - series writer for the comic
book Sable and had a short short published in Alfred
Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.
He is an eclectic reader, enjoying not only
mysteries but also westerns, adventure pulps (modern and classic),
and science fiction. Favorites among authors are John LeCarre,
Rex Stout, H.A. DeRosso, Connie Willis, and Kay Hooper.
He also operates the sporadically updated
web site which presents classic Shadow stories in PDF format
with the original pulp graphics and covers.
Like what you've read? Head here
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Please direct further comments and inquiries to the fiction
tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking to a man
who likes to talk."