The next two days went by without anybody trying to bust my balls. Thursday rolled around and I was scheduled to meet up with Claudette Martin to finish with the details and her remaining payment to me. With her cold, business-only attitude, I was pretty confident the remaining payment would be monetary with no additional tip.
My job for her wasn’t initiated for an unfaithful husband, but from a need to find out which of her employees was embezzling funds from her business. That was a simple job, and one that didn’t come with the perk of fucking my client’s brains out. But when my investigations also confirmed some suspicions she’d kept to herself about the husband being involved with another woman – among many going back a few years – it dramatically changed the complexion of my duties to Ms. Martin. And, no, I still hadn’t fucked her brains out. Nor did I expect to.
Claudette had informed me that she remained busy during the day and requested that I come by her office late that evening, even entrusting me with a code to access the side employee entrance of the eight-story office building. She told me her office was on the eighth floor, with no further directions given before she hung up the phone with me.
I guess she intended for me to further demonstrate my investigative skills by finding her office. Once I was in the building it was apparent that the test included finding my way through a dark building to get to her office, the only available lighting being the obligatory Exit signs lit here and there. Working against the flow of the pointed Exit signs I did manage to locate the elevator lobby.
The building was probably one of those that automatically turns dark at night – energy savings, of course. The downside to that can be a system that also shuts down the elevators. Trudging up eight flights of stairs – provided I could even find them in the dim light – wasn’t a really attractive idea. I took a chance and poked at an elevator button and was rewarded with the whooshing sound indicating that the system was in operation.
Since my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, the bright light of the elevator interior temporarily blinded me as the doors opened to allow me entrance. I punched the button for the eighth floor and rode the elevator up to a steady hum. When the doors opened at my chosen floor, I was again forced to wander into unfamiliar darkness.
As a whole, empty buildings can be disorienting even if you’re an employee who knows his way around during the day. Not having the luxury of visiting the floor during the day kept me totally unfamiliar with the layout. I probably couldn’t find a light switch without injuring myself.
I was certain I wasn’t walking into some sort of trap, but that doesn’t mean I had to drop my guard entirely. The empty offices appeared a little spooky, what with the stuff inside them all cast in dark shadows from what little outside light filtered through the windows. There’s nothing that spikes the heart rate like seeing a shadowy figure gazing at you from a corner, even if it turns out to be nothing more than a coat rack or the like.
I’d hate to make the front page of a newspaper as a man who shot and killed a hat rack in cold blood – even if it was in self-defense.
Claudette promised me she would be here this evening, but it was foolish to just wander around looking for her. I took a deep breath and held it. In that moment of quiet I could make out the sound of a female voice in the distance to my right. I’m a private investigator. It was time to investigate.
I turned and slowly headed in that direction. Within a dozen steps I could make out a glow at what appeared to be the end of the hallway. As I got nearer to the light the female voice became clearer, and the speech pattern suggested a conversation was taking place, although it seemed a bit one-sided.
I walked slowly and quietly down the hallway towards the light. My attempt at stealth was to avoid walking upon something I shouldn’t, or not to scare the hell out of that person by surprising them. I thought it best to play things safe.
“And that’s the part you fail to understand,” I could hear the female voice say. I recognized it as my client’s voice. As I neared the half-open door of a softly illuminated office, she added, “There isn’t anything left of ‘us’.”
I waited for a moment to hear a reply, but none came from any other voice. Instead, I heard Claudette say, “You should have thought about that long before you started fucking around.”
Was she talking to her cheating husband, or was I walking in on a business deal gone bad?
“I don’t think that I would feel nearly as bad if it were actually someone superior to me,” she said. “But this was someone who couldn’t win a dog show even if she was the only entry.”
Definitely a lover’s quarrel, and a remark I couldn’t help but chuckle over. I didn’t think my stifled laugh was all that loud, but I heard Claudette say, “Hold on a minute... I think someone’s here.”
Nice bit of stealth there, Justin.
“Who’s out there?” she called.
I stepped up and peeked my head into the opening of the doorway.
“Just me,” I said. “Just keeping our appointment.”