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Kaye McGann
Features Writer
5:57 PM 7th January 2021
fiction

It Takes All Sorts

Photo by Tamara Bellis
Photo by Tamara Bellis
In fiction, private detectives get a wide variety of cases. You’ve only to read the wonderful ‘alphabet’ series (Sue Grafton, in case you’re interested), to see what I mean. I’ve been doing this job getting on for twenty years, and I could count on one hand the number of cases which didn’t involve marital spying. Sometimes the client engages us having already done most of the work, and just needs the photographs and our testimony to prove it.

Take a case we had recently. The wife – let us call her Mrs. A. - had suspected for some time that her husband’s tales of working late, forgetting his charger, etc. etc., were all just so much baloney. This is what she did. She bought a packet of five pairs of socks from M&S. On one sock of each pair she put a stitch through the ankle in dark blue embroidery thread. Mr A. was like many men, not particularly observant of subtle things like one navy spot on otherwise grey socks.

Each day, Mrs. A. looked at her husband’s ankles, and noted down which side had the navy spot. Each time he was late home, she looked again. A pattern began to emerge. When he was late home with one of his excuses, the socks would often somehow have changed places. From this she deduced he was definitely playing away. Ingenious. That’s when she came to see us.

I should explain who I mean by us. Me, I’m Tom Boardman, and I have an assistant, Jenny Mc Nee. I took her on when my previous assistant, Edna, retired, and she’s been with me now for nearly four years. I think I can safely say I’ve trained her well. We’re both fairly ordinary-looking, so easily missed when we’re following someone. You don’t want to be flashy and draw attention to yourself.

Anyway, to get back to Mrs. A.. On the evenings he rang her to say he’d be ‘unexpectedly’ detained at the office, she’d ring us, and one of us would be strategically placed to follow him when he left. And it didn’t take more than a couple of occasions before we knew where he went, and who he met there: a Mrs. D. We were able to get timed shots of him arriving, the bedroom curtains being drawn, and then later him leaving. We got one picture of him and Mrs. D. in a clinch on her doorstep, with the house number clearly visible too. Bingo.

What the clients do with the information is not our business. Sometimes it leads to divorce, and sometimes to the adulterer breaking down and begging for forgiveness, as happened with Mr. A.. We’ve had some clients return to thank us for saving their marriage. Yeah, till next time, I always think. Excitement is addictive, and once an adulterer, always an adulterer. Not that I’m cynical….

We had one odd case – not involving socks – which was a bit different. The man we were following always did the same thing. He went to the cinema, sat down by himself, and promptly went to sleep. We thought we knew why, when we called at his house to give his wife the news, and to tell her she was wasting her money and our time. She was a loud unpleasant woman, smoking constantly, with a badly behaved brood of noisy children; we counted four. No wonder the poor man needed some peace and quiet. It’s a wonder he didn’t move into the cinema permanently.

Anyway, we had a case a while back which was a little different. The lady who engaged our services was a bit classier than most of our clients. We have a first-floor office over a dry-cleaner’s, visits by appointment only, and she’d phoned us to arrange to come. Talk about a cut-glass accent !

The day we first saw her, Jenny and I were both there, which is an unusual state of affairs. Normally, one or even both of us will be out on a job. This new client – let us call her Mrs. B, and ignore her double-barrelled surname – came in on a wave of expensive perfume. She had a very costly haircut (I’m trained to notice such things), and make-up. I’d put her at early forties, though looking younger. She shrugged off her cashmere camel coat and flung it onto the spare chair, then sat down facing my desk, without waiting to be asked. She plonked her leather bag on the table – Mulberry, posh but not showy.

“Is it all right to talk with HER here?” she said, nodding towards Jenny.

“Ms McNee is a junior partner,” I said, “and anything said in this room is completely confidential. Please tell us how we may be of assistance.”

I should have said, “How can we help?”, but she’d got my back up, with her air of effortless superiority, and I’d gone all pompous. I gave myself a mental kick.

“Well, you see, it’s my husband.”

I thought, but didn’t say, “It usually is, me duck. Why don’t you surprise us?” Instead, I said, Yes?”, and smiled encouragingly.

She was hesitating. This was very common for a first visit, when the client was wondering if she was doing the right thing after all. (Incidentally, male clients never hesitate – they’re more concerned with how much it will cost.)

Eventually Mrs. B. decided to go ahead – as we’d expected. “I think he’s seeing someone,” she said.

“Would you please tell us your grounds for thinking this?”

Again there was that hesitation, before she plunged on. “Our marriage has always felt to be lacking something. I’ve been utterly committed to being the sort of wife he wanted and needed. You probably realise who I am.”

I gave a small self-deprecating smile and a shrug to imply that of course I knew. Actually, at that point I’d no idea who she was, beyond her name.

“When we first met, Daddy wasn’t terribly keen on him. He thought Guy wasn’t really, well, one of us. But I was head over heels. Still am.”

Her eyes had filled with tears, and I felt I’d judged her too harshly, just because of my own prejudices. Sometimes people come across as arrogant when they’re trying to cover their nervousness and discomfort.

“I found out later his name wasn’t really Guy. He’d started life as Gary, and had changed it. One couldn’t really blame him. He’d had elocution lessons, too. He got where he is today because he saw he needed to re-invent himself. It’s paid off. He’s built up the business from scratch, and now supplies computer components internationally. He’s Chairman of the Rugby Club, and patron of a lot of local charities. We have a position in the town. There’s a lot at stake, really. Not just money, but status, social standing.

“My life is very ordinary. I go to coffee mornings, lunch with friends, go shopping. I host dinner parties I have to be immaculately turned out at all times. He gets furious if I ever slop around in jeans and a sweatshirt when he’s there. I used to ride, but he vetoed that. I do play a bit of tennis, though.”

Jenny moved her chair forward a bit. “Do you have any children, Mrs. B?”

A tear rolled down Mrs. B’s cheek, unchecked.

“No. I’d have liked to, but Guy was adamant they weren’t part of his life plan.” She paused. Then, ”I think I should tell you our sex-life is non-existent, and has been for a few years now. It was never very active anyway. When I first met him I’d already had a fair amount of experience, so I know this isn’t how it’s meant to be. There MUST be someone else. Whoever she is, I need to know. Suppose it’s someone in our circle of friends. She could have come to my house, been entertained by me. It could be someone I go shopping with. The humiliation of it! Can you help me?”

I left it to Jenny to speak.

“Mrs. B., have you thought ahead to what you’ll do if we do find out there is indeed someone?”

“Yes.”

“And have you reached any conclusion?”

“I’ve considered my options, but haven’t decided. It might depend who it is. I mean, I could ruin him, take half the business, stuff like that, but I don’t know if I’d feel able to actually do it. I do still love him. He’s always polite and considerate. And I can have anything I want – well, not a horse, as I’ve said. And what I wanted most of all – children. Oh, and I can’t have a dog or a cat. Other than that, I’m indulged.”

She lapsed into silence, and sat with her head bowed, the occasional tear landing on her clasped hands. There were no sobs. Jenny and I exchanged glances. Here was one unhappy woman.

I turned business-like, but gently.

“I’m very sorry, Mrs. B. I can see the problem. I’m going to give you a list of our charges, and I’d like you to go home and think carefully whether or not you do want to find out if there’s something going on. If you decide to go ahead, we require the full fortnightly amount specified up-front, which is non-refundable. Should we require more time than two weeks, each extra week will have to be paid in advance. If all that is agreeable to you, you’ll need to sign and return the attached contract to us. We in turn will undertake to give your case the full attention of one or other of us for the duration. I’m sorry if all this sounds cold and business-like, but it’s best to be clear.”

“I don’t need to take it away and think. I’ve done nothing BUT think for a few months now, and I’m sure.”

She got her bag from the desk and took out what looked like a gold pen, and also a wallet. She counted out our two weeks’ fee in fifties, then, after glancing rapidly over the contract, signed both copies. I signed as well, gave her one, and retained the other.

“We’ll be in touch as soon as we have any news.”

We all stood. She collected her things, and went out with her head high once again.

“You do know who her husband is, don’t you?” asked Jenny.

“Only what she told us.” I said.

“If you lived where I do, (the next town), you’d know. He’s reckoned to be the richest man in the area, and everyone bows and scrapes to him. He’s patron of lots of local charities. Goodness, it’ll be one hell of a scandal if it comes out he’s been carrying on.”

“Mm. We’ll know soon enough.”

It didn’t take as long as we’d expected. We had the information within days, and the proof soon after that. It remained for us to break the news to Mrs. B. I never look forward to these situations, but the clients have asked to know, after all.

She came to see us in response to my phone call. The only indication she was nervous was a slight tremor of her hands. Other than that, she seemed perfectly poised; unconcerned, even. I knew it was just a front, though. I’d arranged a time when Jenny could be there, too. I needed support!

Mrs. B. jumped straight in. “Have you found out who she is?” she said, even as she went to sit down.

Jenny and I looked at each other. “Well, sort of,” I said.
“I don’t understand. Have you or haven’t you?”

I left it up to Jenny.

“Mrs. B., your husband is indeed in a relationship with someone else, but it’s not a she. Your husband is in a homosexual relationship with _________.” She named our local and nationally prominent Member of Parliament, who incidentally is also a married man. (I don’t want to get sued, so you’ll just have to guess who I mean, and where all this happened).

Mrs. B. sat open-mouthed. “I don’t believe you,” she managed to say.

“We do have proof of this, Mrs. B. We wouldn’t be telling you this if it wasn’t true.” Jenny said gently.

Mrs. B. was shaking in earnest now. She seemed to have aged before our eyes. She managed to open her bag, and then her wallet. She thrust a thick bunch of notes onto the desk.

“None of this ever happened. Destroy your so-called evidence. Don’t ever, ever repeat these lies you’ve just told to anyone else, or I’ll ruin you.” She grasped her bag and stalked out.

“Well, that’s a first” Jenny said. “Phew! Do you think she knew?”

“If she did, she’s denied it to herself. What do you think she’ll do, now she’s had to confront it?”

Ask yourself, what would you have done, in her shoes? Jenny kept an eye on her local paper, and brings in copies for me to see from time to time. It is the photographs in the Social section which are interesting. There they are, Mr. and Mrs. B., being charitable and magnanimous, standing side by side, smiling condescendingly at the ‘little’ people, living a lie in full view. Sometimes, too, there are pictures of our prosperous M.P. with his J.P. wife. On two occasions all four have shared the same photograph, smiling at the camera. So we know what she did – turned a blind eye, and carried on with her empty but comfortable life.

I ask you again, what would you have done?