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
Paul sipped from the tall double Caesar, first removing a limp stalk of celery from the glass.
"So, this case is like your first one," he said, "discretion is the priority."
He handed a folder across the table to the waiting Mac.
"Don't open that here."
"Right," Mac's reply conveyed practiced reassurance, "so pictures of hubby, wife, cars, house, kids, but no third party in there?"
"Roger that," Paul grinned at the younger man, "with addresses but little else. As usual, he's suspicious but too busy to check into it. Much like the one you handled last fall if you remember?"
"Right," Mac spoke with recalled frustration, "the tree-climbing case! Hope the fuck I'm not gonna' havta' camp out to watch a couple f'ugglies go at it again."
Paul sipped again from the Caesar, enjoying the salty-fresh flavor of the clamato mixed with the Gimli vodka.
"If you're lucky, you'll be able to use the same tree."
Despite a reasonable attempt, Paul was unable to hide the satisfaction taken from the notion of Mac hanging in a giant elm.
"Well," Mac's voice was dead pan, "as long as the pictures show it goin' in, right?"
Paul laughed aloud.
"You're nothing if not graphic," he said, "but remember the more we can show the less anybody will have to say about it. As with the last one, in this case the husband wants to avoid a divorce."
Mac shook his head in apparent disgust.
"I don't get that myself," he shared real confusion, "why the fuck don't these clowns just cut their losses? Getta' fuckin’ divorce! Payin' all that money to catch the wife cheatin'? It makes no sense to me."
Paul nodded, though not in agreement. If he were fortunate, the young investigator might one day discover the value of working things out with his wife. Though he doubted the fellow would be granted the opportunity. Mainly due to what seemed near relentless demand from an ever-wandering eye.
By now, Paul had privately surveilled Mac in more extra-marital entanglements than cases he so far hired the young fellow to investigate.
"Successful marriages take a lot of compromise," he said, "and believe me; you're married now, one day soon, you're sure to find out all about it."
Mac shook his head before replying.
"Lemme' tell ya," an edge was clear in his voice, "my ol' lady ever took a walk on the wild side an' I found about it, she'd be out the fuckin' door. No questions asked."
Paul grinned at Mac, with one eyebrow raised.
"To each his own," he said, "but a man is a long time finding a wife, even longer a good one, and everyone makes all kinds of mistakes. When you get a little older, you might come to appreciate that a little more."
Mac looked back, frowning.
Paul again laughed aloud, this time shaking his head.
"I'm also pretty sure," he said, "that if we looked with any interest at the husbands in both these cases, we'd likely find each of them keeping a bit of fluff, or maybe more than that, of their own, on the side."
It was Mac's turn to laugh aloud.
"That's no excuse," he protested, "just because a man needs a release don't giv' 'is wife permission! Jeezass Christ, watsa world comin' too, eh?"
Paul took a sip from the sweating glass, savoring the tabasco's heat as it enhanced the marriage of the vodka to the clamato.
"Like the song says," he paraphrased with a voice granted only by experience, "no one knows what goes on behind closed doors."
Mac again shook his head in reply.
"I get that," he said, "but in my house, the only one gettin' behind that door is me! If I was interested in sharing her, I wouldna' fuckin' married her!"
Paul nodded, before again sipping from the tall glass. The afternoon sun warmed the patio as the cold drink refreshed him. With feigned concern, he considered the young man seated across from him.
"But some people are, Mac."
He smiled across the table at the fellow. Twenty-five years of domestic abuse calls changed what a man thought about married life.
"Did that not occur to you?"
Mac first said nothing in reply. The older fellow's remark surprised him. In fact, the idea had been neither apparent nor considered. The notion cast not only the work, but his marriage, in different light. For a moment, Mac wondered if it were both.
"Not for a minute!"
He spoke factually.
"In most of our cases," Paul spoke in a lowered voice, after first looking about to make sure no one might overhear, "whether insurance, collision, or divorce our version of the facts is provided as a tool for use by those with money to pay for it. Poor folks don't hire us to check up on one another."
The older man continued after another slow sip from the still sweating glass.
"You haven't been at this long enough," he said, "to be introduced to the business on the other side of it. Soon enough you'll see how that works. It will change your mind about more than a few things. Of that I'm sure."
"I doubt anything this business will teach me is gonna' change my mind about marriage."
Paul nodded in reply.
"Though knowing why the fuck people put themselves' through such misery over a piece of tail," Mac said, with disgust plain, "might come in handy!"
"Time will tell," Paul said, "but a man can't help being affected by heartache when he's exposed to it continually. Soon enough, you’ll understand. Unfortunately, there’s no way to prepare yourself for it."
Mac perked up at the hint of more work.
"What should I be getting' ready for?"
Greed was plain in the private investigator’s voice.
"For one thing," Paul said, "I'd like you to start meeting directly with a new adjuster at MPIC."
Paul sipped from the waiting drink before continuing.
Mac sat with ill-feigned patience.
"In fact, if you're available I'd like to schedule a meeting for the two of you first thing next week," Paul's voice conveyed the serious nature of his request, "would ten a.m. Monday work for your calendar?"
Mac's eyebrows rose. His surprise was real.
"Sure thing," he said, "I mean, I can move stuff around. Which office?"
"The north end branch," Paul replied while searching the briefcase at his side.
"Is that the one on Dufferin?"
"That's right," Paul spoke while handing a business card to Mac, "a block away from the City Bread bakery."
Mac took the card. The adjuster's name in black ink stared up at him. Next to the MPIC office address with phone number was spelled Cathy Langer, Claims Adjuster. With any luck, she might prove attractive.
He said nothing of this to Paul.
"We'll be discussing these two files," Paul now passed a pair of folders over the table to Mac, "so you'll want to look at them before the meeting."
Mac stuffed the thick files into a briefcase now open on his lap.
"Here's an invoice for the last two weeks," Mac said, "it looks like we're finally wrapped on the gardening guy. I'll turn in the report next week, I'm just waitin' fer' a chance to develop the last of the pics."
Paul took the invoice without either comment or review. He removed an envelope from the case on his lap after placing the itemized list into one of its many pockets.
"Here's payment for your last invoice."
"Thanks," Mac spoke while tearing open the envelope to review the cheque inside.
After checking the amount, a smile of satisfaction spread like melting butter across the younger man's lips. The rate increase, earlier promised, was there confirmed. Mac's financial circumstances, almost despite him it often seemed, were again improved.
"So that divorce case," Paul said, "I'd like you to start right away. This afternoon is best if you can squeeze it into your schedule. It comes with full-time hours available, pre-paid so don't worry about logging as many as you need. You'll again be watching the wife, so it could take a while."
Mac nodded, grinning to the tall man across the table.
"Ain't it funny how it's never the wives bothering to check up on these rich clowns?"
Paul snorted in response before replying.
"Don't kid yourself," he said, "plenty of the wives do, you just haven't worked for one of them yet. Believe me; it's much worse when the shoe is on the other foot! When a wife hires us, a court appearance in service of a nasty divorce is almost a sure thing."
"No shit, eh?" Mac's reply betrayed a nascent cynicism, "why am I not surprised?"
Paul tilted his head with a grimace.
"It's not fun," he said, "that I can say with certainty. There is absolutely no wrath to compete with that of a woman scorned. One day, I'm almost sure you'll be as disappointed as I was to discover most men haven't yet figured that out."
Mac frowned, considering the words of the older man.
"Somehow," he said, "I don't find that hard to believe. Not at all."
Paul nodded, sipping again from the rapidly diminishing drink.
"The facts of life, my boy," Paul spoke with detached good humor a moment later, "are often simple, but most times harsh."
Mac only nodded. The pompous superiority of the older fellow pricked at his youthful ego's yet sensitive inexperience. Despite being married longer than Mac was alive, the man earned no right to hand out marital advice, as far as he was concerned. Paul's preaching was as unwelcome, as it was unappreciated.
For the first time however, Mac considered his marriage in the light cast by his work. If investigated himself, the private investigator knew he could only receive a most unfavorable report.
"Ain't that the truth?" Mac's reply conveyed a growing awareness, "When did people get so carried away with their fuckin'? Was it always like this or is it just another part of the revolution?"
The question he posed, though naïve, was sincere.
"As far as I know," Paul said, "it's always been this way."
He paused before continuing, considering his next words while sipping from the dwindling Caesar.
"But remember, I've been looking at it one way for a long time," he said, "after a while, it’s even harder to avoid making judgements, because we’re always on the same side. Either way, so long as he presents only the facts, what a man believes shouldn't make much difference."
Paul stared off into space after speaking; seeming to forget, for a moment, he was not alone.
Mac said nothing in reply. He wondered how Toni might react to news of his routine infidelities. Would she drag him into divorce court or leverage his behavior to save their marriage?
Mac grew increasingly unnerved the longer he thought about it.
"Anyway," Paul spoke with resignation, "it's a living."
"And a good one too, apparently," he said, "thanks again for the raise, Paul."
Paul nodded as he replaced the near empty glass onto the table.
"Well earned, my boy," he spoke with a smile on his broad face, "well earned. Most happy to give it too, as it means there's more coming. We're on the grow Mac, at least, until the no-fault legislation comes along to spoil the party, so we'd best enjoy it."
Mac grinned; relieved enough at news there would be more work on the way to overlook the unwanted paternal familiarity. His opinion of Paul McAllister continued, with increasing speed, to diminish.
Like many of his law enforcement colleagues, the fellow hid, poorly, the ingrained attitude of a died-in-the-wool racist. The routine incidents of abuse endured by dark-skinned relatives at the hands of the police were countless. Either here by city cops or handed out by Mounties while growing up next to a Reservation, the song remained the same.
For Aboriginal or Metis people, life in Canada meant a policeman could be many things, but most of all, those wearing the badge were near certain to be no friend. Mac also knew that for many on the national police force, when it came to people of the first nations, the only good one was a dead one.
A harsh lesson, Mac learned it early. Though spared much abuse because of light colored hair matched by pale skin, he would not forget. To the fair-headed Metis boy, of only one thing could there be no doubt.
It was a white man's world.
"Sounds good enough to me, boss," he replied.
Mac made no attempt to hide the intent of his jailhouse greeting; near certain the ex-cop would ignore it rather than risk a confrontation.
Paul barely nodded in response, raising his glass to finish the blood red Caesar.
The rising afternoon sun beat down as the older man signaled the waitress. Despite a languorous heat, the two men must soon return to their nefarious work, in service to certain profit at the price of unknown misery.
In each case, the anguish created by their efforts would eventually prove someone else's worry. On the streets below meanwhile, those under watch lived in casual disregard of these men, whose livelihood depended upon their concealed surveillance.