The morning was spent in what I call my office getting ready for my meeting with Mrs. Corbitt. It was never easy showing pictures of one spouse being intimate with someone else. Even if they already know deep down they are being cheated on, when confronted with irrefutable evidence, it always hits them hard. Sometimes they get angry. Sometimes they cry. Sometimes they just sit motionlessly. But it hurts each and every time.
This time would be no different. I had gone through all of the photographs and printed out a dozen of the most damaging ones and copied the rest of them to a portable thumb drive to be given as well in case it was needed. Going above and beyond for documentation was my normal way of doing business. Give them all of what they need up front, and they tended to not need any additional time.
I checked the folder with the pictures one last time. The first one would be enough for the wife. Her husband was clearly kissing another woman quite passionately. No doubt about it. Gary was such an asshole and deserved everything he had coming to him. I was very happy knowing I would never have anything to do with him again. His future absence from my life was the one beneficial outcome of this endeavor. I put everything back into the folder and placed it in the upper right-hand drawer of my desk.
It was almost ten o’clock, so I didn’t want to get involved in anything else. Mrs. Corbitt would be here any minute. So I simply did some busy work to keep myself occupied.
Jane was in the office as I always wanted someone with me when meeting with most clients, especially female ones. I hated the fact it was required but it was always better to be safe than sorry. Jane was also a much better choice to help crying female clients than I could ever be.
“Jane,” I called out. “Can you come here for a minute?”
“Give me a second,” she yelled down. “I’m upstairs.”
My office is basically a converted garage on the back part of my property. It’s the same house I grew up in. I moved back in when my dad and fiancée were murdered and I have never left. My parents had bought a double lot in Mariemont just south of the exclusive Indian Hill area and built a house soon after being married. A few years later they built a functional free-standing garage on the side of the property. Due to the sloping nature of the plot, it was built down the hill a little ways away from the house. As a result, it never got much use other than storage of belongings no longer needed.
When my dad became a detective, he would bring murder casework home, often reviewing grizzly crime scene photos on the dining room table. After a few weeks of unpleasantness, my mom put her foot down to his behavior, not allowing similar materials in the house. As a result, they had the unused garage converted into a functional office for him to do whatever he wanted there. It even had its own driveway separate from the main house, so it looked completely independent from the house. Only a thin walkway that rose up the hill from the garage to the house gave an indication the two structures were connected in any way. Even after my mom had left us, my dad continued to use the garage as his home office area.
The first floor was basically two rooms used mainly for office type work. The first was a large room that was entered from the main door. There were a number of filing cabinets and an enormous table for reviewing prints with clients or having a larger client meeting when needed. There was also a desk for Jane with a phone and a standard printer for the office. Any open walls were lined with a number of my own prints. Otherwise, it was sparingly decorated. The office was used for both my photography business and private investigations, so it had to be multifunctional and a bit generic.
The second room in the back was slightly smaller and used for my office. I had a large desk originally belonging to my dad that I could never give up. Some of my fondest memories were from him sitting behind it toiling away at some random project. There were also two chairs facing the desk for clients. A table was over to the left and a couch on the right. It was decorated just like the front room. Sparingly with a few images on the walls.
The upstairs was very different. This is where all of the photography work was completed. Modern photography work is mostly done on computers. Post processing. Color correction. Image enhancing and cropping. Printing. It is all done using sophisticated software on high-end computer equipment.
On the far wall were two main workhorse computers each with two large monitors. Next to them were a few rack-mounted servers used for backups and hosting websites and email. To the left were stacks of framing and packing supplies used to send orders out by mail. On the wall to the right was all of my photography equipment as well as two photo printers and their supplies. One for large format and one for smaller prints. The printers were a splurge but were critical in getting required prints for both photographic and private investigative clients. I also pretended it was actually a cost savings in the long run even if the financials proved otherwise. The middle of the room was taken up by four large standing tables put together to make one large flexible workspace.
Clients are not allowed upstairs, and Jane and I act like it’s just a storage area. No one needed to know there was almost a hundred thousand dollars of equipment up there. We pretended all of the prints are done at outside labs. Since everyone thinks photographs come out of a camera already perfect anyway, it’s easy to keep up the illusion. It was a good place to work and allows me to keep the home and work life separate.
Jane came downstairs and into my office. “What’s up?”
“Can you wait down here?” I asked. “Mrs. Corbitt will be here any minute and I would like for you to greet her, then bring her into my office like usual. Your presence seems to soften the blow.”
“No problem. Just lost track of time.” Jane knew these meetings were not fun for anyone and never gave me any grief those days. She headed back out to her desk and waited.
About five minutes later, I heard a car pull into the driveway and someone get out of the vehicle. A moment later Mrs. Corbitt walked into the outer office. Jane greeted her, asked if she was all right and led her back into my office. Mrs. Corbitt was well dressed but very pale and looked as if she hadn’t eaten anything in weeks.
I stood and gestured to one of the chairs in front of my desk. “Please have a seat, Mrs. Corbitt. Can I get you anything to drink? Some coffee or water?”
“No thanks,” she replied wearily and sat in one of the chairs with Jane quietly taking the other one. “She already offered.” She sat there appearing not knowing what to say. Obviously, she had never been in this situation before. Most people hadn’t.
I reached into the desk drawer and pulled out the folder with the printed pictures and the thumb drive and set it down in the middle of my desk. It remained closed.
“I told you over the phone I had some news on your case. There is no good way to tell you this, but I was able to take a number of pictures of your husband meeting another woman at what I am assuming is her townhome. These are the pictures.” I put my hand slowly on the folder and looked at Mrs. Corbitt.
She sat there motionless for a minute. The only movement was the tears starting to form in her eyes. She finally spoke quietly. “I don’t want to see them. Do I have to?”
“Seeing the evidence or not is entirely up to you,” Jane took the lead. She reached out and grabbed her hand. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. You asked us to help you and that’s exactly what we accomplished. Take these to a good lawyer and he will know what proper actions to take next.” Jane was good.
We all sat there for a bit, letting Mrs. Corbitt regain her composure. I heard another car pull up somewhere outside. This instantly got me on edge and Jane could tell exactly what I was thinking. We hoped it wasn’t the husband following his wife. Jane excused herself and headed out to the front office, closing the door behind her.
“Is there anything else we can do for you, Mrs. Corbitt?” I said because I had to say something. She just stared at her feet, completely deflated.
After a moment Jane walked back into the office and shook her head from side to side very slightly. She sat back next to Mrs. Corbitt. After a moment Jane said, “I am sorry this is happening to you but this is something you need to deal with. Find a lawyer. One who will do what’s right for you. They will tell you what to do and can provide you with a lot more help and services than we ever could. Please, let me walk you out to your car.” She came across both firm and kind at the same time.
Mrs. Corbitt looked in shock but got up with some help from Jane. They both walked towards the door to the main office. Jane looked back over her shoulder and mouthed a new client to me as I handed her the folder with the pictures and thumb drive in it. Both of them walked outside. I waited a minute and followed them out to the main office.
In one of the chairs was a younger man in his mid to later twenties with recently cut black hair parted to one side. He was dressed in a clean and white button down dress shirt and dark brown pants with loafers. He had some sort of bag that was his version of a briefcase or computer bag on the chair beside him. He had a worried look on his face, stood up quickly and held his hand out when he saw me.
I took his hand and shook it. “What can I do for you today?” I asked simply.
“I need your help,” he said directly. “My fiancée is missing.”