Love is for Suckers
by Robert Petyo
If nothing else, ten years as a P.I. taught me one thing: Love is for suckers.
Now sex, that's a different issue. That's a biological urge that can be satisfied in a myriad of ways, some legal, some illegal, and some immoral, but long-term romantic relationships, the mutual respect that some people refer to as "love," is bullshit, plain and simple. I had documented enough failed relationships, including my own, to fill an encyclopedia.
Of course, all this was before I met Melissa.
It was just another cheating husband job, a referral from Frank Higgins, another local P.I. who farmed out jobs when he was swamped. I hated taking work from Higgins. He was a slimeball who personified all the worst cliches of our business. He was a cheat, a "peeper." He was screwing his secretary. He was constantly crossing the line. But he was successful. His expensive sports car and big house attested to that.
.So I tolerated him and took the job. I followed the target, a guy called Phyllerman, to the E-Z Rest Motel nestled in the woods off Route 27. He was an owlish man with flimsy glasses, a broad skull and a bad hairpiece. I got pictures of him going into a unit alone. A few minutes later, a woman knocked on the door. She was a looker with long legs and a tight skirt that strangled her stride. Obviously she could have any Adonis she wanted, and just as obviously she was attracted to Henry Phyllerman's money because it certainly wasn't his looks.
.The door opened, and she disappeared inside.
.Like I said, love is for suckers.
.Because they had arrived separately, I had to hang around and hope to get a picture of them together as they left. I had backed my Dodge Stratus under a tree across the lot so that I was facing the front door, a narrow wooden strip that looked about to tumble from its hinges. The lot was small, just the row I was in and the row against the motel, but there was a sprinkling of enough cars that I didn't think I was too conspicuous. Phyllerman's BMW was parked right by the door. The woman had one of the new Beetles a few slots away. The weather was beginning to chill as afternoon drifted away, and after pissing in my metal jar, I began to think they might stay there all night.
.Then I saw Melissa.
.I didn't know her name at the time. In fact, at first I didn't even recognize her as a woman. I saw this tall thin person wearing slacks and a short-sleeved business shirt with a small bow tie come out the door of the motel office. The hair was very short and straight but I recognized the stride as that of a woman. She headed straight for me, and something about her deliberate purpose held me rigid. She started pumping her arms like a sprinter as she drew closer, and she was almost upon me before I reacted.
.I use a tiny Sony digital camera, small enough to slip into a pocket, so that wasn't a problem. The jar of piss was. I reached over and dropped it between the passenger's door and the seat.
.She came to the driver's side window and made a cranking motion with her hand. I responded with a lazy "What's up?" shrug of my shoulders and added a yawn for effect. Her brown eyes hardened with anger that did not detract in the slightest from the beauty of her tiny face. She poked her thumb downward like an emperor at the coliseum. I turned the key to click on the battery and lowered the window halfway.
."Can I help you?" she asked slowly and loudly as if speaking to a retarded person.
."What do you mean?"
."Can I help you?" she repeated.
."I'm just resting."
."How about resting somewhere else?" She came closer and placed a slender wrist on the edge of the window. The mixture of mannish figure and delicate features was alluring.
.I looked around the lot. "Who am I bothering?"
."And you are?"
."Ahhh." I nodded like I finally understood a complex math problem. "But I'm not taking up any vital parking spots." I swept my arm along the windshield. As I did I noticed the front door of the motel opening, but I resisted the urge to stare. "You're certainly not overbooked." My peripheral vision told me it was Phyllerman, but I couldn't tell if he was alone.
."This is private property."
.She leaned farther forward, the front of her shirt buckling so that I caught a whisper of creamy skin beneath. My eyes widened for an instant and I caught a breath as the scent of freshly watered roses caressed me. I now had very little interest in Phyllerman, who had started his car.
."Look, Mr. Whatever-Your-Name-Is--"
."Kirk Fischer." I raised my hand toward the window for a handshake.
.She ignored it and focused on my eyes. I found myself locked on the black dots of her pupils, deep unmoving pools. I began to sweat and was unable to speak. Believe me, I'm not often speechless.
.She said, "You and I both know what you're doing here, so let's drop the games."
.I wanted to protest, but her eyes still held me in hardened cement.
."My customers don't appreciate private eyes hanging around here taking pictures. And I don't appreciate it, either. Understand? Hit the road or I'll call the police."
."And tell them what?"
."That you're harassing my customers."
.On principle alone, I should have stayed. I didn't like being rousted. But I had my pictures. The target had already left. Arguing with her would be pointless. I tapped my skull, doffing an imaginary cap. "Have a nice day, Ma'am." I cranked the key to start the engine.
.As the engine roared to life, she stepped back as if from an electric shock. She slapped her hands up and down, knocking away filth.
.I started to roll slowly forward, but braked almost immediately. "One more thing. Would you have dinner with me tonight?"
.Franchello's was a restaurant about a mile off the main highway on a winding lane that eventually led to the Ninth Street Bridge. It was small but carefully manicured to resemble a medieval castle. Turrets flanked the front door, and a creek peppered with rocks encircled the building. My tastes ran more toward Applebee's and Fridays, but I had been to Franchello's a few times when trying to impress clients. It was the only upscale place I knew.
.I had agonized for thirty minutes before selecting a shirt and tie to go with one of my blue coats. Melissa met me there, having refused my offer of a ride. I waited in the parking lot and felt a joyous constriction in my chest when I saw her. A noisy station wagon full of teenagers and a sleek red Ferrari sports car pulled in behind her, but I barely noticed them. Melissa was all I saw. She had a leather jacket and wore a mid length skirt with a slit on one side to her knee. Gold hoop earrings were just the right size to accent but not overwhelm her high cheekbones.
.I tried not to tremble as we entered and were seated. I tried to keep my voice from squeaking through the nerve wracking small talk. I had been here before, I said. The chicken marsala was excellent, I said. Everything I uttered was stupid and mindless. I was a grown man for God's sakes. I'd been with many women, and none turned me into a babbling idiot. When we received our drinks, a wine she had chosen, I gulped half a glass to calm myself. I started to talk about work, something I was more comfortable with.
.She said, "I could never get involved in the kind of things you do."
."That's too bad, because I'd really like to get involved with you."
.That stopped her for an instant and her eyes flickered downward. What a stupid thing to say. Had half a glass of wine hit me that quickly? "I'm serious," she said.
."So am I."
."You spy on people."
."It's a living."
."Don't you ever feel dirty?"
."Of course not."
."You know what people do at your place. People use your motel all the time for illicit flings. Cheating wives. Cheating husbands. Hookers, too. Do you ever feel dirty?"
."It's not the same thing."
."Sure it is." I took another sip of wine. "You work in the gutter just like I do. The E-Z Rest ain't the Ritz."
.She leaned back as if I'd slapped her. She stared at her glass, still brimming. Her face darkened. "Maybe you're right."
.The waiter arrived breaking the tension with our salads.
."I didn't invite you to dinner to argue," I said as we started picking at our food.
."Why did you invite me?"
.I sat forward and slid my left hand across the table. She stared at it like it was a rattlesnake. "I'm lonely. You're a beautiful woman. I felt like a date."
."Were you ever married?" She inched her fingers forward and allowed me to touch her hand.
.It was like all the heat of the sun exploded through her fingertips. "Never,' I said, licking my dry lips.
."Why not? You're a good-looking guy."
."Awww, you're making me blush."
."I can see that."
.I started to pull my hand away, but she snagged it. "How about you?" I asked. "Ever married?"
."What do you mean? I'm still married."
.I yanked my hand away and stabbed for my wine glass. It toppled, spraying what little wine was left onto the tablecloth. She grabbed a napkin and blotted at the stain.
."Why so shocked? I thought you knew."
."How would I know?" I pointed at her hand working at the stain. "No ring."
."You're a P.I., right?" She dropped the napkin and held her hand up, slender fingers poking toward the ceiling. She wore no jewelry at all, but the pale indentation of a wedding band was clear on her ring finger. "I thought you'd notice."
."Why don't you wear it?"
."I don't wear it at work. I just forgot to put it back on."
."If you're married," I tapped the table, "Why go out with me?"
.I sat back and looked around the restaurant, viewing the patrons and the waitstaff in a different light, wondering if they were staring at me, pointing out the guy who had been hoping to screw a married woman. It was still innocent, though, at that point -- we were just having dinner.
.Still, I knew what I wanted when I first saw her.
."Where is your husband?"
."Home. We really don't keep tabs on each other. I spend long hours at the motel."
."You don't have a close relationship?"
."You really haven't been married, have you?" She chuckled. "I should say not. Tyrone's a drunk. A mean drunk."
."Does he hit you?"
."No. Never. But there's all sorts of mean."
."Then why stay with him?"
.She shrugged. "Money. He's a drunk, but he's a rich drunk."
."But you run that motel. You're self-sufficient."
.She smiled. "You noticed it yourself. Not too much business there. We lose money on the E-Z Rest. Have for a few years. But my father ran the place before me, and I just can't give it up. And Tyrone's money keeps me going."
."Isn't there anything you can do?"
."Unless he drops dead and leaves me all his money, I'm stuck with him."
.A heavy silence settled between us with those words. She looked like she wanted to say more. I know I did. But neither of us spoke.
.I forked a chunk of lettuce into my mouth. As I chewed I scanned the restaurant again. There was a familiar face at a table against the back wall. Too familiar.
Frank Higgins sat alone, his eyes dipped into the massive menu. As I stared, he looked up. An instant before our stares met in the air, I looked down and fumbled for more wine.
.I started to pour a glass then stopped. "I'm getting out of here."
."What do you mean?"
.I pulled out my wallet and tugged out some bills. "Let me go first. Wait about five minutes, then pay for the food and leave."
."What are you talking about?"
."Just do it." I tossed some bills on the table and stood. "Leave and go back to the motel. Straight to the motel. I'll explain everything to you there."
.I glanced toward Higgins' table. He was still looking at the menu, but he was watching us. I knew the procedure. I had done it many times myself. Feign studying a magazine while studying your target. I impulsively leaned toward Melissa as if to kiss her but stopped myself. I patted her arm and said, "I'll see you later. Please do what I told you."
.I strode out, not looking at Higgins.
.It clicked then. Higgins had often bragged about his red sports car. A red sports car like the one that had pulled into the parking lot behind Melissa. He was tailing her. Maybe Tyrone was not as disinterested as Melissa thought.
.In the parking lot I found the Ferrari, parked all by itself, isolated from others and their wild swinging doors. I selected a spot about fifty feet away, behind the bumper of a SUV. I had a clear view of the restaurant door and of Higgins' car.
.Melissa came out five minutes later, just as I told her. She moved slowly though, confused, but she went to her car and left. A minute later Higgins was on his way to his car. I sprang up just as he had unlocked the doors with his remote.
.He dropped into a defensive crouch, and in the darkness it took a few seconds for him to realize who I was. "Kirk. Jesus, you scared the shit out of me."
."Where you going, Frank?"
."No, you're not." I stepped closer.
."Don't try to snow me, Kirk. I saw you with that Cuthbert woman."
."That's none of your business."
.He tapped the chest pocket of his coat. "It is exactly my business."
.I had his lapels before he could react. I swung him to the right, slamming him against the Ferrari. His head and shoulders draped back over the roof. A quick knee in the groin stopped any resistance he could offer. I patted the coat and found the camera. He fell to his knees, moaning, trying to speak.
."You got no business now, Frank."
.As I walked back to my car I noticed that Frank's camera was the exact same model I had. Small world.
.When I woke up, morning light was just starting to poke through the corners of the drapes covering the floor-to-ceiling window. Melissa stirred beside me, the bed sheet twisted in a provocative way around her slender figure. I sat straight up. "What time is it?"
."Morning," she mumbled, rolling onto her side toward me and wiping her eyes.
."I have an appointment." I threw back the sheet and swung my legs over the side of the bed.
."No." Her fingers stroked my back. "Stay."
.The sincere passion in her voice stirred me, and I actually shivered from her touch. "No. I have to go." I reached for my pants heaped on the floor. "I have an appointment with a client."
."Oh, yeah, right." I pulled my pants on and sat unmoving.
."I'm sorry if I kept you from doing your job yesterday."
."No problem. I've done all that I have to do."
.She traced intricate patterns on my back. "What time is your appointment?"
."Eight o'clock." It was seven now.
."We still have time." She sprawled sideways on the bed, the sheet now crumpled down to her waist. Her tiny breasts touched the edge of the mattress.
."What about your husband?"
."What about him?"
."He's having you tailed."
."I know that. I've seen the guy. Maybe it's best that he finds out."
."But the money--"
.She rolled onto her side. "I guess I'll just have to figure something out."
."Why's your husband having you tailed?"
."I guess he thinks I'm having an affair."
. She smiled. "Are we?"
."I just met you. You were already being tailed. Why? Have you been having an affair?"
.She bounded on the bed, working to a sitting position, pulling the sheet to cover her. "You think I lure men to my hotel for one-night stands?"
."Do you? Answer me. Are you having an affair?"
."What difference does it make?"
.I pulled on my coat and shoved my tie into the pocket. What difference did it make? That was the attitude that soured me to the scumbags I worked for and against. Guys like Higgins. And Phyllerman. No one really cared. It never made any difference. It was never about love. It was always about money, and convenience, and sex.
."I have to go," I said.
."Will you be back?"
."I don't know."
.I had to hustle, fighting rush-hour traffic, to make it back into the city and get to my office to pick up my report. I was ten minutes late, and Mrs. Phyllerman was not in a good mood. She had spilled some of her coffee and kept dabbing at her blouse with a napkin.
."I'm paying you good money," she said. "I don't expect to be kept waiting."
."Relax, the meter's not running. In fact, the meter's been turned off."
."What's that supposed to mean?"
."My investigation is over, and inconclusive."
."I found no evidence that your husband is having an affair."
.I shrugged. "I can't manufacture what isn't there."
."You're a fool."
.I smiled. "I've been called a lot worse."
."How about the phone calls? The letter?"
.I held up a hand. "Drop it. I'm not the man for you. I did my best and came up empty. If you still want to pursue it, I can refer you to a colleague of mine. He's pretty good. Maybe he'll succeed where I didn't."
."I know he's cheating on me. You can't have missed it."
.I stood and tapped my skull. "Have a good day, Ma'am."
.Maybe I was naive, but I always wanted to think I was a little better than the scum I spied on. They were cheats; not me. They deserved the heartache I caused them. That's what I had thought. But as I headed back toward Route 27, I wondered if I had a future in motel management.
Copyright (c) 2009 byRobert Petyo.
Robert Petyo lives in northeastern Pennsylvania and has placed crime fiction in Hardboiled, P.I. Magazine, Blue Murder, Plots With Guns and Mouthfull of Bullets, among others. His "The Truth About Lang Tri" appeared in the April 2008 issue of The Thrilling Detective Web Site. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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