THE RECALCITRANT P.I.
a Mac Armstrong mystery
Copyright © 2018 by T.F. Pruden
All rights reserved. No part of this manuscript may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without prior written permission of the author
Jack stood nude, outlined by late afternoon sunlight streaming through a wide hotel window through which he looked.
A cigarette burned between his lips. With cool nonchalance, he waved a hand to the woman across the parking lot three floors below. Only a moment later she climbed into a large sedan, soon pulling away to leave Jack smoking in air-conditioned solitude.
The mid-priced three-story hotel on Portage Avenue, with a parking lot carved from a steep slope rising out back, provided a reliable source of privacy to those needing it. Guest entrance was by side-street through the rear lot. Sheltered by concrete retaining walls also surrounded by mature trees, arrival or departure remained unseen by traffic on the busy street out front.
A veteran kitchen served standard fare to a dim-lit restaurant of enduring popularity among a well-healed crowd of certain age.
Since the early days of married life, Jack on occasion availed himself of the hotel's reputation for discretion.
His preference for either married or recently divorced paramours, left him often in need of comfortable accommodations, private but reasonably priced. Like the best of them, the old hotel cared little for the morality of its guests but much for profit, with their service the sole concern of management.
Despite the adulterous nature of his visit, Jack lounged in familiar comfort.
The woman now departed, was but the latest conquest added to what seemed an ever-extending list of visibly satisfied customers. Yet no matter the number, in Jack now grew a suspicion more uncomfortable as it decreased in deniability.
What first he accepted as lingering need for youthful thrills, now seemed nearer a compulsion than desire.
Jack crushed the butt into the ashtray on the bedside table, shaking his head in disgust. If he wasn't careful, such thoughts might lead to Dana discovering his latest indiscretion. As usual, there was little time for existential nonsense.
Covering the tracks next required his attention.
The terms demanded by an otherwise happy marriage, Jack considered exceptional. It was a deal under which he first expected to live with few complaints. Discovering a routine urge to go beyond even the relaxed boundaries asked by his wife confounded him.
In the everyday subterfuge of his roommate's work meanwhile, Jack found not reason for caution but a source of excitement. The satisfaction discovered in extra-marital escapades, was now further enhanced by thoughts of potential illicit surveillance.
Jack fought an urge of unknown origin. Though long used to fighting the desires of a passive/aggressive nature, want for an audience emerged anew. In his patient wife Jack first sourced his only relief, with her acceptance enabling the sexual experimentation earlier leaving him satisfied.
That increased deviance might lead him beyond the safe pastures of their marriage bed, was neither appropriate nor acceptable to his wife.
Aside from the eternally open-minded roommate, there seemed no one with whom he could even hint at the true nature driving many of his real interests. Even with the amoral but accepting Mac, it remained necessary for Jack to speak in generalities, not specifics, when it came to depravity.
He also lived in fear of what punishment lay in store for breaking his vows without the permission of his wife.
Jack smiled as thoughts of Dana again entered his mind. There remained no woman capable of satisfying him to the equal of his understanding wife.
The search to find another who might, while so far fruitless, yet continued at relentless pace.
While the more than flexible terms of his marriage provided Jack rare freedom, he surprised himself with resolve in their abuse. Despite the best of early intentions, it would not be long before he took many feet despite being allowed, with the considered grace provided by his wife’s wisdom, no more than an occasional inch.
The failure of Jack's faith either mirrored or reflected the less than apparent bounds of current societal morality, but so far, he could not decide which of the two it might be.
Jack instead, made hay while the sun of his youth continued to shine, albeit with certain investments made in hopes of assuring a comfortable nest for a wrinkled tomorrow. His older wife was the greatest of these, making acceptance of whatever punishment she on occasion deemed appropriate, either necessary or encouraged.
In most cases, he remained unsure about the source of its real motivation.
With a near content sigh, Jack grabbed socks from a chair next to the wardrobe. He also collected the boxer shorts waiting on the seat, taking them along to the bathroom. The dark slacks with silk shirt, he left where they hung neat upon the chair.
Jack doubted not for a single moment, the love reserved for his wife.
The two-toned brown khaki uniform, a safari shirt featuring his name embroidered on the chest with matching tailored pants, hung in a suit bag in the cabinet awaiting his planned return to work. As he ambled with glass-eyed satisfaction around the king-sized bed toward the waiting shower, Jack wondered again at the notion of a hidden watcher.
His clothes would be transported in the bag vacated by his uniform, for wear when clubbing later tonight. Even now meanwhile, his roommate likely watched unseen, as someone indulged tastes not dissimilar to those enjoyed by Jack, somewhere close.
The work performed by his roomie paid well enough but required a suspension of ethics since discovered unpalatable to Jack. Despite a sincere best effort, the longer Mac continued with it, the more Jack's respect for him dwindled.
Jack was plagued by growing discomfort at this development.
Much more than a roommate, Mac remained Jack's closest friend.
He thus continued to seek Mac's approval, while in secret harboring an uncomfortable but growing desire to be surveilled by the private investigator. Jack also seemed to grow less aware of the boundary where his secret desires intersected with reality as time, with increasing speed these days, seemed to race. The smoke Mac scored lately meanwhile, left him so disconnected from reality, on occasion it proved hard to tell the difference.
Jack shook his head, steadying himself by grasping the curtain rod as he entered the shower. His thoughts, like the occasional vertiginous episode, were likely just a symptom of being one, or perhaps more than that, over the line.
A hot rinse would clear them from his mind along with the lingering scent of the woman.
An evening at the St. Vital Centre branch store lay ahead. Jack needed to straighten up if he was to make it through another boring summer night of retail management. It was almost sure to be slow, but corporate rental agreements dictated store hours. His salaried position also improved the bottom line, when compared to using an hourly paid employee to fill a low producing shift.
Now a member of the regional management team, a significant part of Jack's compensation was tied to local store profit.
Few things motivated Jack like money. The business of retail pets while not glamorous, returned healthy profits in exchange for easily surmounted inconvenience. A man of practiced persuasion, within only months Jack’s skills led to rapid promotion up the ranks of the growing retail chain.
Now in charge of four stores across the city, his remuneration compared favorably with the corporate sales failure to which he earlier devoted greater energy.
To Jack at least, despite a steadily growing bank balance the business at which he toiled in anonymity lacked sufficient status. He hearkened still to walk the halls of accumulating wealth fueled by stock options, where the real power behind tomorrow's society, now under construction, arose in relative secrecy.
In earlier times, employed in the white-collar world while living within shouting distance of an unseen coast, more than once he was near enough for it to be glimpsed. Were he granted a moment's respite from learning the never-ending nuances of information technology; ethereal work requiring flawless perfection performed with too little guidance in his opinion, he might have touched it then.
Jack was not granted such an interlude.
Almost before he knew it, he was rendered a hapless victim of the downsizing wrought by leading-edge adoption of trickle-down economic theory. While the wheels of progress since ground on relentless, to Jack, they seemed ignorant most of his desires.