Little Holes
by Mike MacLean


...... She is perfect. Tall, only inches shorter than him. Lean, but not skinny. Her breasts are firm, jutting against the silk blouse; her hips are full. Her eyes are blue and her hair, of course, is blonde. She only wears black. Like I said, perfect. I picked her out myself.

...... They meet the first time at the little coffee shop on Fourth Street. It's seven o'clock in the evening and they play jazz in the shop. All coffee shops play jazz. She asks if she can butt ahead in line. He turns to give a sour look, but then gets a view of her. He steps aside. She thanks him. Her fingertips brush across his chest as she passes. I can tell by the gleam in his eyes, he's not thinking about the Ten Commandments.

...... I'm in a corner at an wrought iron table, an untouched iced tea sitting in front of me. I don't wear a suit like he does. I'm in jeans and a plain t-shirt. I don' t have a briefcase. I have a duffle bag. The bag looks cheap-in fact, it has a hole in it. Peeking out from that hole is a video camera. The camera is rolling.

****

...... I go outside to the parking lot and wait for her in my car. The night is restless and dark. A summer storm sweeps from the desert, caking my windshield with dust.

...... The car is an old Nova and the stereo never plays jazz. It plays country. Hank Williams. His voice is a lonely, whining wind, blowing through empty train cars and broken shutters. I don't like it, but I find it familiar. When she raps on my window, I keep her waiting a few seconds. I close my eyes and listen to the twang of the guitar. I' m thinking of Okalahoma and rusted trucks on cinder blocks.

...... "I did everything you told me," says the girl.

...... "I know you did." I've rolled my window down, and now I' m looking up at her. A street lamp gleams above her head, giving her a halo. Her hair swirls in the wind.

...... "Did you watch the tape?"

...... "Sure," I say. "You did very well. Academy award stuff."

...... "We could've had him. I don't care if he's a Jesus freak or not. You saw the way he looked at me. It would've been easy."

...... I shake my head. "Too soon. Besides, if he went with you tonight, you'd be out of a job."

...... I hand her a hundred dollar bill. She smiles. Then she slips the wire out of her handbag. I put it in the back seat, next to the camera.

...... Her heels click against the concrete as she walks away. Before slipping into her little Honda, she glances back at me, looking over a shoulder. She' s practiced that pose a thousand times. No doubt perfected it in her Advanced Theatre class back at the community college.

...... "Hey," she yells over the storm. "You shouldn't listen to that music so much. It might depress you."

****

...... The subject's name is Robert J. Malcolm, of The Malcolm and Fisher Foundation. It's always Robert- never Rob, never Bob, and absolutely never Bobby. Not even to his wife.

...... Mrs. Malcolm meets with me in a park across from the state capital building. It's past noon and even under the shade of the cotton wood trees her face glistens with sweat. She' s asked me to call her Linda, but I still call her Mrs. Malcolm. She is not at all like the blonde girl at the coffee shop. Her body and her eyes are soft. Her skin is brown. But the brown was earned gardening under the desert sun, not lounging in a tanning booth. She is someone else's perfect, but not her husband's. She catches me looking at her, and for a moment our eyes hold.......

...... "What have you found?" she asks.

...... I think of the way Malcolm leered at the blonde girl. "Nothing so far."

...... "So he's not..."

...... "I can't say for certain."

...... She eyes her sandals. She wears cargo shorts like me. A t-shirt like me. With her husband's money, she could buy designer fragrances. Instead, her skin smells of Ivory soap. A simple silver chain with a crucifix hangs around her neck. "Part of me hopes you never catch him."

...... "But you think he's cheated on you. And you think he'll do it again. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here."

...... Linda Malcolm nods. "I believe in turning the other cheek. But if Robert has done this to me, I'm leaving him."

...... "Why wait? This is a no-fault state, Mrs. Malcolm. No matter what the circumstances, your alimony check will be the same."

...... "It's not about alimony," she says. "It's about retribution. If Robert has sinned, I want him to pay for it. And to make him pay I need evidence."

...... It all begins to make sense. The Malcolm and Fisher Foundation is a Christian charity organization, yet the word "non-profit" isn't on any of its brochures. The foundation' s contributors believe in God and America and the sanctity of marriage. The Billy Graham crowd. A messy divorce for Mr. Malcolm would be professional suicide. No more contributions from rich old right-wingers. No more BMWs. No more weekends in wine country.

...... "There are other things we can try," I say.

...... "You still want to hire someone, don't you? Some young girl to tempt him."

...... "Just baiting the hook. If he's a good fish, he'll swim away."

...... Linda Malcolm peers up from her shoes, looking into my eyes. "No. I won't trap him like that. I was with him before the Foundation, before the money. And I've never betrayed him. I'm not going to start now."

...... "So you just want me to watch?"

...... "Yes," she says. "Just watch. Promise me that's all you'll do."

...... "Trust me," I tell her.

****

...... We wait for Robert Malcolm at the coffee shop, the blonde girl at one table, me at another. I don't expect him to show up. I' d trailed him for three weeks prior to hiring the girl. Not once did he get his cappuccino fix two nights in a row. But I'm ready for him if he does. A baseball cap is pulled down to my eyebrows and I' ve traded my jeans and t-shirt for khakis and a polo. Instead of a duffle bag, I've got a grocery sack. Instead of iced tea, I've got black coffee. I still don't sip a drop. Can't afford a piss break if the drama gets going.

...... To my surprise, Malcolm shows. He's hoping to see the girl again. I shift the sack so it's facing the "Order Here" line, then I turn my chair around to gaze out the window. Even if I don't catch him, the camera will.

...... The blonde spots Malcolm in line too. I hear the click of her high heels on the floor as she moves in for the kill.

****

...... The hotel Malcolm chooses is not a cheap one. The lobby is all brass and Italian marble; the grounds look like putting greens. Even the parking lot is spotless.

...... I'm behind the wheel of my Nova, parked alongside a Lexus and a Mercedes, waiting for the night security guard to kick me off the premises. Looking up at the rooms, I see only drawn curtains. My watch says it's 10:30. She' s up there by now. The wire is tucked in her handbag and the handbag is sitting on the nightstand. Recording. My guess is, they're not reading the Bible together.

...... I think back to a few hours before. One at a time, I had laid out eight bills on the dash, looking at the blonde girl in the seat beside me.

...... "An advance," I told her.

...... The girl bit her lip, eyed the money like it was a snake.

...... "You're an actress," I said. "Think of this as a movie."

...... "Yeah, like Debbie Does Dallas," she replied bitterly. But she took the money.

****

...... It' s over. So now I can drink. I sit on the curb outside the liquor store, not even trying to hide the bottle from public view. Hank Williams is playing in my head and I'm tilting the bottle back, thinking of my father. This was his pastime-country music and Kentucky Bourbon.

...... After a while, a bum wanders towards the curb. He asks for change. I give him a quarter and three nickels, feeling the heat of his dirty skin as the coins pass hands. Then he asks for a tug on the bottle. I show him the ice pick. The bum decides to leave me alone.

...... The ice pick is just part of the job. If I plan to follow a car at night, I punch a little hole into one of its taillights. In the evening, light bleeds out- white against the glowing red. This makes the car easier to spot if it merges onto the freeway, becoming one with a sea of nighttime commuters. Maybe it's a dirty trick. But that' s what I do. I jab little holes into people's lives. They never know I was there, not until the hole cracks wide open. By then, I'm long gone.

...... The weight of the cell phone tugs down on my pocket. It's in there with Mr. Malcolm's business card, his home number scrawled on the back. When I've had enough to drink, I fish the phone out and dial.

...... Linda Malcolm picks up on the third ring. Her voice drips with sleep. "Hello?"

...... "I've got something you need to hear," I tell her. Then I bring the wire recorder up to the phone and press play.

****

...... She meets me at her hotel suite, red faced and tired. Through the open door, I see that the place is nothing compared to Mr. Malcolm' s getaway spot. Yet it's still more than I could ever afford. Plush carpeting, oak furniture, embroidered pillows. Too bad Mrs. Malcolm is in no mood to enjoy it.

...... Her eyes are puffy from crying and her body stands slack, as if all the will has been drained from it. She wears a robe and nothing else.

...... "Sorry about how I'm dressed," she says. "I just took a shower. Thought it would make me feel better."

...... I nod and brush past her into the suite. Most of the place is taken up by the bedroom, with a small adjoining breakfast nook. I walk over to the nook's little oak table and set my duffle bag down. Then I dig out a micro-cassette.

...... "I want to hear it again," she says. She crosses into the bedroom and peers out the window into the night sky.

...... "That's why you asked me to come?"

...... "I want to hear it again," she repeats.

...... "No you don't," I tell her. "Does he know you're here?"

...... "No. I just took off. Like you told me. Didn't even leave him a note."

...... Suddenly, she sinks to the bed, face cradled in her hands. A silk sash keeps the robe from falling open, but the sash isn't very tight. The robe's neckline dips low, showing off warm flesh beneath the cool fabric. "I can' t believe he's done this to me."

...... "You knew," I say, and I'm walking towards her, towards the bed. "Or else you wouldn't have hired me."

...... She begins to sob again. I touch her shoulder as gently as I can-being gentle doesn't come easy. Then I'm heading for the door. I walk slow, waiting for her words to follow.

...... "Please," she says. Her voice is a whisper. "Please, don't go."

****

...... Again, Malcolm enters the little coffee shop on Fourth Street. This time it's dawn and he's not looking for the blonde girl. He' s looking for me.

...... He finds my spot in the corner and sets a leather satchel on the table. It sits next to my duffle bag. It' s the same bag with the hole in it, the same one I brought to Linda Malcolm's hotel suite.

...... "You the guy?" asks Malcolm. He takes the seat across from me, resting a hand on the satchel.

...... Inside are my thirty pieces of silver.

...... I can hear the shop's espresso machine going, smell the coffee brewing. "I'm the guy."

...... "You look familiar. Like somebody I knew in high school."

...... "I've been following you for a month."

...... This gets a chuckle from him. He sits back, getting comfortable in his chair. His suit is ruffled and his hair is mussed, but he looks relaxed. "When you called last night and played that tape, I wanted to take your head off. But then I realized, you did me a favor."

...... "Do you want to see it?" I ask. I push the bag towards him.

...... Malcolm takes the bag and pulls out the camera. He hits play and peers into the viewfinder, closing one eye tight like a sharpshooter. As the tape rolls, a cooked grin brakes across his lips. "It looked like the two of you had yourselves a time."

...... "Do we have a deal?" I ask.

...... "Are you kidding me? This is gold. She'll never leave me now. We've committed the same crime."

...... "You sound pretty sure of yourself."

...... "I know how her mind works. Linda's a good Christian, with good Christian guilt. Besides, thanks to you, I'm the one with the evidence. If we divorce because of my infidelity, the foundation goes up in smoke. But if she' s the cheater, I become a martyr. My contributors will love me more than ever."

...... Malcolm sits back in his chair. He takes another gander through the camera's viewfinder. His grin turns into a full-fledged smile-his teeth clean and bleach white.

...... "I just thought of something," he says. "You're a private dick. Get it? A private dick."

...... "Ha ha," I say. "Now give me the fucking satchel."

...... I walk out counting the money. Hank Williams is waiting for me in the tape deck.

......Copyright (c) 2003 by Mike MacLean.


......

"Little Holes" marks Mike MacLean's first appearance on The Thrilling Detective Web Site, and we hope it won't be his last.

His previous stories have been seen in Plots with Guns, Judas E-zine, I Hero, Gang Related, and Phoenix Magazine. A high school teacher by day, Mike lives with his fiancée in Arizona where he was born and raised. When not working or writing, Mike practices martial arts and reads Elmore Leonard novels. Currently, he is busy hammering out a novel of his own. You can write Mike at maclean7@msn.com or visit his web site.

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