......I watched my client's wife through the open French doors leading from their bedroom to the back patio, surprised at my reaction to her half-clothed figure, and I knew that it would be another long, hard night.
......"Anything?" my client asked the following morning.
......I shook my head.
......"Why is that?" he asked. "Does she know I'm having her watched? Does she suspect?"
......"I couldn't tell you," I said. I'd watched Lamar Cartwright's wife for five consecutive nights and had never seen her entertain company of either sex. "I just know she's spent her evenings alone."
......Cartwright tried to pace my office, but couldn't quite manage six good steps from one side of the room to the other.
......"I can continue watching her," I suggested. Cartwright's retainer had already disappeared from my bank account and I suspected he was good for another thousand.
......"What good will it do?" Cartwright wanted to know. He stopped pacing and stared at me without blinking.
......I shrugged. Of all the surveillance jobs I'd picked up over the years, this had been one of the easiest. Angela Cartwright spent her weekdays at a charity resale shop, and her evenings at home alone. Cartwright spent his weekdays at the president's ranch and often did not return home before midnight.
......"I'll be home this weekend," Cartwright finally said. When my client reached into the inside breast pocket of his suit jacket to retrieve his wallet, I saw the handle of a 9mm Glock sticking out of a shoulder holster. His dark suit had been so well tailored that I hadn't noticed the gun or the gun bulge when he'd first hired me to watch his wife. Cartwright peeled ten crisp, sequentially numbered hundreds from his wallet and fanned them across my desk. "Resume work on Monday."
......I told him I would, then stood and saw him out of the building into the hot Texas sun.
......Millie caught me on my way back to my office. "You had lunch?"
......Millard Wayne Trout--"Millie" because his family still called his grandfather "Millard"--operated Millie's Tattoos and Piercings. My office was in the room behind Millie's and across the hall from an empty office that had once housed a finance company too legitimate for the neighborhood. Across the hall from Millie's and in front of the empty office was Big Mac's Bail Bonds.
......"Not yet," I said. "I need to run past the bank first, though. I'll bring something back."
......I returned to my office, retrieved the fan of hundreds, and drove to the bank. I deposited most of Cartwright's retainer, keeping a hundred in cash, and then stopped for chilidogs and fries on my return to the office.
......I cleared a spot on my desk, and Millie joined me. After finishing my first dog, I told Millie about the Cartwrights.
......"Shit, Moe Ron, you live the life, don't you?" Millie said after I finished. "Getting paid to watch a good-looking woman like that."
......I had the kind of weekend that reminds me of my place in the universe. After lunch with Millie, I closed my office and returned home. I spent the afternoon mowing and trimming my lawn and ate dinner alone in front of the television. On Sunday, Millie brought over a case of Lone Star and a 50-piece order of hot wings. We spent the afternoon watching football and listening to the helicopters pass over the house, letting us know the president had returned to his ranch in Crawford.
......Monday morning, I resumed my activities on behalf of Lamar Cartwright. My client's wife had spent her entire day at the resale shop, leaving for a few minutes shortly before noon to pick up a two-piece fried chicken meal and a large iced tea. At the end of the workday, she closed the shop and drove home, with me not far behind.
......The Cartwrights lived among the gently rolling hills of Woodway, a suburb west of Waco, not far from the Carleen Bright Arboretum. The homes in Woodway were built on large wooded lots and it wasn't hard to find a place at the end of each day where I could watch the Cartwrights' house without anyone watching me.
......By the time I'd confirmed her Toyota's position in the front drive and had worked my way around back to my surveillance position, my client's wife had already traded her work clothes for jeans and a T-shirt.
......My client had never mentioned his wife's age. Forty was certainly in her rearview mirror, but the years had been kind. Only an extra pound or two had settled around her hips. Auburn hair lightly threaded with silver fell in loose curls to her shoulders, and she kept flipping it out of her eyes.
......For the next few hours, I watched her move through the house, preparing dinner and eating it alone while standing at the kitchen counter. She watched television in the family room--some cartoon movie about fish--and then prepared for bed.
......She disappeared into the master bath and reappeared twenty minutes later wearing thin cotton pajamas. She shut down the house, switching off all the lights until just the lamp on her nightstand glowed in the dark. Then she lay in bed reading a paperback for half an hour before she finally closed the book and switched off the lamp.
......I glanced at my watch. If he maintained his usual schedule, my client wouldn't be home from the ranch for nearly two hours.
......"You were out here last week, too."
......Startled, I looked up. Angela Cartwright stood above me, a .32 revolver trained on the middle of my chest. I hadn't seen her leave her bed or her house. I certainly hadn't heard her approach. I didn't say anything.
......"You want to tell me who you are?"
......"Morris Ronald Boyette," I said. I reached into my shirt pocket for one of my embossed business cards, and then held it out to her. When she didn't take the card from my outstretched hand, I drew my arm back.
......She indicated the binoculars on the ground beside me. "Why are you watching me?"
......"It's just a job."
......"Someone hired you to watch me?"
......She motioned with the gun. "Stand up."
......I pushed myself to my feet, and then walked down the hill to the Cartwright's patio.
......"Inside," she said. "The doors aren't locked."
......I pulled open the French doors leading to their bedroom and stepped inside. Angela made me sit on the bed. She switched on the light and then leaned against the dresser. She still held the .32.
......She wore no make-up, having washed it off during her evening shower, and I could see the tiny lines at the corners of her eyes and the slight sag of her jowls. She wet her pale lips with the tip of her tongue and looked me over.
......"My husband hire you, Mr. Boyette?"
......"I can't say."
......"You're not the first, you know," she said. "My husband's had me watched before."
......"He's a jealous man."
......"Do you give him reason to be?"
......She laughed so hard her breasts shook the thin material of her pajama top. After a moment, she lowered the revolver.
......"It's nearly midnight, Mr. Boyette," she said. She waved the revolver toward the French doors. "Maybe you'd better get back outside."
......I stood and stepped toward the doors.
......She stopped me. "There's no reason to sit in the woods, Mr. Boyette," she said. "Tomorrow, why don't you just come inside? You can see for yourself that I'm alone."
......I backed out the doors, then turned and hiked up the hill. I retrieved my binoculars and returned to my car.
......The next morning, I drove past the resale shop, saw Angela Cartwright's Toyota parked in the lot, and then drove downtown to my office.
......Millie stopped me in the hall. "There were two men here to see you."
......"What'd they want?"
......"Didn't say. Said they'd be back, though."
......"What'd they look like?"
......"Dark suits, ties, mirrored sunglasses."
......"Didn't say," Millie said. "I didn't ask."
......I opened my office, saw nothing out of place, and dropped into my chair. I punched the button on my answering machine and listed to three prerecorded sales messages before I heard the voice of a potential client.
......I returned the call and made an appointment to visit Carmen Sanchez during her coffee break later that morning. I drove to Texas State Technical College and listened to the sad story of an abusive boyfriend who wouldn't support himself. I suggested a few possible solutions, and Carmen gave me a retainer.
......After our meeting, I swung around to the other side of the campus to look at Air Force One. TSTC is on the site of a former Air Force base and has the only runway in the area long enough to accommodate the big jet when the president visits his ranch in Crawford.
......Angela Cartwright's Toyota already sat in the driveway by the time I drove past her home that evening. I parked around the corner and walked to the house. Perspiration soaked my armpits before I reached the house. Angela had the front door open before I stepped onto the porch. She wore tight-fitting jeans and a form-fitting white blouse. She held a sweating Corona in each hand and I took one from her as I stepped inside. A lime wedge protruded from the opening, and I pushed it into the bottle before taking a drink.
......"Isn't this better than sitting in the woods?"
I told her it was.
......She led me to the family room and we watched a movie on pay-per-view. Then Angela excused herself to prepare for bed.
......I switched off the television and listened to the shower, imagining the water cascading over Angela's body. Then I looked around. The house had all the warmth of a hotel room, temporary housing for unsettled people. There were no family pictures on the walls, no obviously personal touches in the decoration or arrangement of things, and none of the books on the bookshelves had the cracked spines that come from attentive reading.
......When Angela stepped out of the shower, toweling herself dry with a large blue towel, she found me standing in her bedroom staring through the open bathroom door at her. She didn't bother covering herself.
......"You married, Mr. Boyette?"
......"Once," I said. "Not now."
......I nodded. "Yeah."
......"You're lucky," Angela said. She dropped the towel at her feet. "For some of us, divorce is not an option."
......I didn't look away.
......"My husband is a jealous man. He hires people to watch me when he's not home."
......She stepped toward me. "Do you like watching me, Mr. Boyette?"
......I swallowed hard.
......"You sat out there for a week," she said. "You never saw this, did you?"
......"Because I didn't want you to."
......"And now I want you."
......She reached out and unbuttoned my shirt, pulling the tail free from the waistband of my jeans. She pushed my shirt off my shoulders and I let it fall to the floor.
......"Must I do this alone?"
......"No." I pulled her to me and covered her mouth with mine. Our tongues met and I tasted peppermint toothpaste, Corona, and lime.
......When we finally separated, Angela threw back the covers on the bed and we tumbled onto the cool sheet. After pushing me onto my back and straddling my hips, she leaned forward and whispered in my ear. "Do you have any protection?"
......"That's too bad," she said. "Neither do I."
......My client's wife shifted position again and lay on her side beside me. I looked at her and, for the first time, noticed her .32 on the nightstand next to the bed.
......She used one finger to draw random designs in my chest hair. "Be prepared tomorrow."
......I didn't bother watching the resale shop the next day. Millie left the tattoo parlor in the good hands of Alice Frizell and we drove to Carmen Sanchez's home two blocks off of LaSalle. I pounded on the front door while Millie stood behind me.
......Carmen's boyfriend jerked the door open. He stood a good six inches shorter than me. "What you want, vato?"
......I put one hand in the middle of his chest and pushed him into the house where none of the neighbors could see what was about to happen. Millie followed me.
......"Time to move on," I said. "You're being evicted."
......Carmen's boyfriend looked from me to Millie and back. Then he swung a roundhouse punch toward my face. I caught his fist in my hand, and his eyes widened in surprise.
......"A little guy like you could get hurt real bad," I said. I squeezed his fist. "So here's the deal. I let go of your hand. You pack your stuff and move out."
......"I'll come back when you're gone."
......I looked at Millie and laughed. "He says he'll come back."
......Then I looked the little guy in the eyes. "You ever come back here, you ever bother Carmen again for any reason, we'll feed your sorry ass to some feral hogs over in Valley Mills."
......It took a few more minutes, and two broken fingers, to convince Carmen's boyfriend of our sincerity. Then we stopped for burgers and fries at a little place on the Circle.
......Angela met me at the door again that evening, another Corona and lime in hand. We didn't bother watching any movies and went directly to the bedroom.
......"Protection," she reminded me.
......I reached into my pocket, found the condoms, and tore one of the square foil packets open. I tossed the empty wrapper on the floor.
......Afterward, as we lay in bed together, Angela asked, "Isn't doing so much better than watching?"
......Later, I carefully collected the used condoms and condom wrappers and wrapped them in a wad of tissue to take with me.
......Thursday, my client arrived home early. I heard his car in the drive and I scrambled out of Angela's bed, pulling on my clothes as I stumbled across the rear patio and up the hill to my usual vantage point. I settled into position with my back against a tree and focused my binoculars on the French doors.
......Cartwright stepped into the bedroom and peeled off his jacket, revealing the shoulder holster strapped on over his wilted white shirt. Angela sat up in bed, the sheet pooling around her waist.
......Even though the French doors stood open and the murmur of their conversation drifted up the hill, I couldn't make out what they said.
......Cartwright walked toward the bed, and then stopped and bent over. When he straightened up, he had a small foil packet in his hand.
......My client shouted something at his wife, his face red with anger. She responded. I couldn't hear what either of them said.
......Cartwright pulled the Glock from his shoulder holster, pointed it at Angela, and walked toward her. She didn't have time to reach for the .32 on her nightstand. He squeezed the trigger. The back of Angela's head painted the headboard and the wall behind it.
......Cartwright walked to the open French doors and looked up the hill to where I sat. He pulled a cell phone from his jacket pocket, dialed, and pressed the phone to his ear. Then he closed the doors and pulled the curtains closed.
......Two men in dark suits were waiting in my office when I arrived the following morning.
......"Mr. Boyette." The taller one nodded. The shorter one admired a framed photograph I'd hung on my wall, a picture of the Alico building after the tornado of 1953 had leveled most of downtown Waco.
......I returned the nod. "Gentlemen."
......"Your services are no longer required." The taller one slipped a thin white envelope from his inside jacket pocket and laid it on my desk. He tapped it once with his middle finger. "This should cover your expenses."
......I glanced at the envelope.
......"We understand each other?"
......I swallowed hard. Then I nodded.
......After they exited my office, I dropped into the chair behind my desk and stared at the envelope for nearly twenty minutes. I finally opened it and found two $5,000 cashier's checks.
......After lunch, I drove past the Cartwrights' house and saw a Realtor's sign in the front yard. I drove directly to the Realtor's office, where I found a young woman with a bottle-blonde mullet and crooked teeth.
......"The listing's brand new," she said. "I'm surprised you knew anything about it. You live in the neighborhood?"
......"Just driving past," I said. "Think I could look inside?"
......"Absolutely," she said. "It has a lockbox, so we can go right away."
......She drove a Dodge Dakota that had seen better days, and I followed her to the house. She took the house keys from the lockbox and opened the front door. I pushed past her into an empty living room.
......"Three bedrooms, two baths, living, dining, family room, and kitchen," she read from the listing as she trailed me into the master bedroom. "The owner relocated. Oh, and it says here that he's a motivated seller. Will take any reasonable offer."
......I smelled fresh paint and noticed that the bedroom carpet had been replaced.
......"It says here the roof is only two years old and the water heater was replaced six months ago."
......I stared at the blank white wall. The spot that had been decorated with bits of Angela less than six hours earlier didn't appear any different than the rest of the wall.
......"Would you like to see the other rooms?" the agent asked.
......"I've seen enough."
......"That's all I needed to see," I said. "I couldn't live with the ghost." Angela had asked if I had protection and I'd brought the wrong kind.
......"Ghost? What ghost?"
......I turned and retraced my steps to the front door. The agent followed me out.
......"Can I show you anything else?" She locked the door and then secured the house keys inside the lockbox. "Surely this isn't the only house you're interested in."
......"I'll call you if I want to see anything else," I said. I turned and walked away.
......"Wait," she called after me. "Let me give you my card!"
......I climbed into my car and drove away.
......That night, I stood at the sliding glass door looking out into my back yard, listening to the helicopters pass overhead as the president returned to Air Force One on his way back to Washington. After a few minutes I wondered who might be watching me, and I pulled the drapes closed.
Copyright (c) 2007 by Michael Bracken.
Michael Bracken is the author of 11 books, including All White Girls, Bad Girls, Deadly Campaign, Tequila Sunrise, and Yesterday in Blood and Bone. A prolific writer, nearly 800 of his short stories have appeared in literary, small press, and commercial publications worldwide. He is also the editor of Fedora, Fedora II, Fedora III, Hardbroiled and several other crime fiction anthologies. Stories from Brackens anthologies have been short-listed for the Anthony, Derringer, Edgar, and Shamus awards. For more on Michael, visit his official web site, CrimeFictionwriter.com.
.. Like what you've read?
Head here for more Thrilling Detective Fiction!
Please direct further comments and inquiries to the fiction editor, or check out this page.
"And I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk."
| Table of Contents | Detectives A-L M-Z | Film | Radio | Television | Comics | FAQs |
| Trivia | Authors | Hall of Fame | Mystery Links | Bibliography | Glossary | Search |
...... | What's New: On The Site | On the Street | Non-Fiction | Fiction | Staff | The P.I. Poll |
You just did...