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She came through my door in the early afternoon wearing a thin, summer print that flowed over her body like water. She was young and on the petite side, a bit smaller than I normally favor them, but her hair was long and the dress hinted at enough flesh to convince me that I wouldn’t be picking any bones out of my teeth when I went for my dinner.
She was pretty, too, but her pained expression reminded me of a mouthful of bad scotch and her attempt at a smile vanished faster than a jackrabbit on hump night. A small purse dangled from one arm and in the other she clutched a sheath of papers so tightly they might have been the Dead Sea Scrolls.
I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry at the sight in front of me, but it had been a slow month and I couldn’t afford to be picky about a potential client. I stood up and gave her my best smile, the one I usually reserve for the cops. “Welcome to the Conrad Detective Agency,” I said, extending my hand.
She reached for it and the sheath of papers slipped from her arms and splashed onto the floor in front of my desk. She groaned and bent down to pick them up, giving me a glimpse of cinnamon skin that was definitely choice. She gathered up the papers into her arms and stood, catching sight of my battered old Smith-Corona.
“Oh,” she said, staring at it. Her gaze shifted to me. “Are you a writer?”
My cheeks felt a little hot. “Yes,” I admitted. I quickly added, “When I’m not solving cases, that is.”
Her eyes went back to the anachronism on my file cabinet. It held a blank sheet of paper in it, kept there for those moments when inspiration struck. Like all blank sheets, it looked lonely. I’m not sure what I expected, maybe for her to ask me what I wrote about. That’s what people usually asked, if they asked at all. But she surprised me. She set the papers down and said:
“Writers are such sick fucks, aren’t they?”
The words came out in a rush, as though she’d been holding them back through sheer force of will and now expelled them onto my desk, the way a bulimic might toss up a slice of pizza. But if she meant to shock, she must have been disappointed in my reaction, or lack of one. The truth was, I couldn’t argue with her statement.
“What I mean is,” she went on, “writers write these stories. And then you read them and before you know it, you’re sucked in. And pretty soon, unless you’re very careful, you don’t know what time it is, or what day it is, or where you are, or even who you are. All you know is that you’ve got to read that next line, and that next page. You’ve got to know how it ends.” She shook her head. “Now what kind of a person can make you do that?”
“A truly sick fuck,” I agreed, laughing. “And, unfortunately, there’s not enough of them to go around. Or haven’t you checked out the Best-Seller lists lately?” I leaned forward. “But when you find one that you can’t stop reading, doesn’t that make you the sick fuck?”
“I guess so,” she laughed, the blush coarsening her delicate features. “But it’s still the writer’s fault.”
“Touché.” I gestured to the jumble of papers she clutched. “Now then, what can I do for you, Mrs. –“ She hesitated a moment, perhaps wondering how I knew she was married, when the rock she sported on her left hand had to be worth at least a couple years rent on my office.
“Vawdrey,” she said finally, “Claire Vawdrey.”
“Now then, Mrs. Vaw—“
“Claire,” I repeated, motioning for her to sit down. “What can I do for you?”
She sat, the cotton fabric of her dress embracing her like a lover. “Mr. Conrad, I need your help.” She kept her eyes averted, which was fine with me because I couldn’t help staring at her squirming breasts. Finally, she thrust the papers at me and said, “Perhaps it would be simpler if you just looked at these first.”
I picked up the pages and ruffled through them without looking at the contents. They weren’t numbered but a casual guess put them around fifty. The lines were double-spaced and the uniformity of the lettering told me they’d been inputted on a computer or word-processor and then printed out on a laser printer, using a standard font. Probably Times New Roman, from the look of it.
I flipped back to page one and read about halfway down the page before skipping to the next page. I read most of that page and then skipped forward again, three or four pages this time. After a few more minutes of skimming, I put the folder down. Her gaze was expectant.
“Not bad,” I admitted, “if you like that sort of thing. The descriptions are vivid, the sentence structure varied and easy to follow; offhand, I’d say whoever wrote this has the makings of a very sick fuck indeed. Of course, like most everything in the genre, it tends to get repetitive. There are only so many ways you can say ‘fuck’ and ‘suck’ and ‘come’.” Her eyes held steady on my face. “Why don’t you tell me what’s bothering you, Claire?”
“Well, Mr. Conrad –“
“Joe.” I held up the papers. “After reading this, I think canlı bahis we can dispense with the formalities, don’t you?”
“Joe.” Her blush returned. “What’s bothering me is what’s on those pages.”
She took a deep breath and I expected another torrent of words, but again she surprised me. “I suppose you’ve already guessed that I am the woman being written about.”
I nodded. The descriptions were not only vivid, but judging from the way her body bunched and trembled beneath her dress, extremely accurate.
“Isn’t that reason enough?”
“Not necessarily. I know a number of women who, while they might not care for the graphic nature of the material, would love to be admired the way this author clearly admires you.”
“That’s just it, don’t you see? I don’t know who the author is! And even if I did, I’m not interested in this kind of admiration.” She put up her hand. “And before you ask, the answer is no, I haven’t done any of the things this person has written about me.”
“What does your husband think about this? Or does he know?”
“Yes, he knows. I have no secrets from him. He is just as perplexed as I am. In fact…” Her voice trailed off.
“This is going to sound crazy, but at first I thought he was writing them and I pretty much accused him of it. He swore it wasn’t him and we got into a terrible argument, the first real fight we’ve had in over a year of marriage. He became so angry that I backed off, but I still thought he’d written them. I mean, the pages came out of our printer, for God’s sake, so who else could it be?”
“Wait a minute.” I held up my hand, stopping her. “The pages came out where?”
“Our printer. We have an office upstairs with a PC and a laser printer.”
“So whoever did this used your printer to print out these pages?”
“But it wasn’t your husband?”
“No, it wasn’t.”
I suddenly felt like Alice, trying desperately to crawl my way out of a rabbit hole. “How can you be so sure?”
“Well, as I said, I thought it was him, too. But he was so adamant! And I wanted to believe him, truly I did. I mean, over and above everything else, if my husband were lying to me, if he had written these pages about me, it would be so out of character for the man I know – the man I met and fell in love with – it would mean I really didn’t know him at all. And that’s kind of a scary thought, isn’t it?”
I nodded again, but mentally I shook my head. In my experience, people were always capable of surprising you, especially those closest to you. But something told me that wasn’t what she’d come in to hear.
“So one night I decided to find out. After we’d both gone to bed, I made sure he was asleep and then I crept out of bed and went upstairs to his study. His computer was off and there were no papers on his desk. I checked to make sure the house was locked and then I spent the night sitting up in our bedroom reading. My husband never woke up; in fact he hardly moved the entire night, he was so deep in sleep. But in the morning, when I went into his office, there were several new pages about me lying in his printer.”
“Is that when they usually show up? In the mornings?”
“Was his computer turned on?”
“No, it wasn’t. Is that important?”
I shook my head. “Not necessarily.” I pondered the possibility of remote access. “Claire, does your computer have a modem, Internet access, email, all that sort of thing?”
“Why, yes. Doesn’t everybody?”
I stared off past her for a moment. Without question, it was possible for someone to remotely program her husband’s computer to turn on at a certain time, say the middle of the night, and receive an email containing the new pages. Someone with decent PC knowledge could probably program it to print out the pages as well. The question was why?
Was it some pervert’s idea of a love letter?
I decided to go back to basics. I brought my attention back to Claire, who was staring at her lap. The swell of her breasts caught my eye and perhaps because of the subject matter at hand, her nipples were quite prominent. One of the pages I’d read described how sensitive they were and how she loved to have them pinched and pulled during sex. I wondered, did her husband know that?
“Claire, how long had you been married before these pages started showing up?” The question seemed to startle her out of some reverie and it was a moment before she answered.
“About six months, I think.”
“Can you think of anyone – an old boyfriend, a past lover, maybe even a spurned one – that might have reason to write these and then somehow send them to you, maybe to try and win you back or at least cause some problems with your marriage?”
She thought for a few moments and then shook her head. “No,” she said. “There’s no one.” When I said nothing, she continued, “Look, Mr. Con— Joe, I wasn’t a virgin when I met my husband, but I hadn’t slept around a lot, either. Believe me, if there were bahis siteleri someone that I’d been with in the past who desired me like this, I’d know about it.”
“A stranger, then? Or a co-worker? An acquaintance who might harbor some secret fantasies about you?”
“No. At least, I don’t think so. God, this is so frustrating!” Her mouth twisted around the words, as though each one were a slice of lemon.
“Claire, if this stuff bothers you so much,” I held up the sheath of papers, “why not just throw them out? Why read them at all?”
She leaned forward then, her nipples resting on my desk like fingers on a windowpane. “I’ve tried, but I can’t!” She stared at me intently. “I read the first pages I got with a mixture of surprise and disgust. I couldn’t believe that someone would actually write things like that, much less write them about me. Well, since then I’ve discovered that there are a whole lot of people writing things just like this. Did you know there are sites on the Internet that have pages and pages of this stuff on them?”
She shook her head. “Maybe I’ve led a sheltered life, but I’d always thought pornography was dirty pictures or movies. I’d never read anything like this before. And to have it be about me! Not some made-up, fantasy girl, but me!”
“And that intrigued you? Made you want to read more?”
She looked away suddenly, as though deciding she’d said too much. When she spoke again, she wouldn’t look at me. “Maybe. I don’t know. All I do know is that each time I told myself that I wouldn’t pay any more attention to it and then the next set of pages would show up and I’d find myself reading them, unable to stop, needing to find out what was next, how it all would end. I still do. I have to find out who’s doing this!”
She looked at me then, smiling ruefully. “I guess you could say this sick fuck, whoever he is, has gotten me hooked.”
“Which brings us back to square one.”
She shook her head. “I told you it couldn’t possibly be my husband.”
I smiled at her. “You know, a very famous detective once said, ‘When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth’.”
I stared at her a few moments, thinking, deciding. I stood up. “Claire, I’ll tell you what I think. I think you need to go home and have a long talk with your husband. Something tells me that the two of you have a few…issues to work out.”
Claire got to her feet. “Oh, no. Mr. Conrad!” She reached over and grabbed my hand. “I can’t do that. I just can’t! He got so angry when I accused him of writing those pages; I thought he was going to leave me. Please, Mr. Conrad! Joe. I need your help.”
My instincts were telling me not to take this case. On the surface it seemed simple enough; find the perv, identify him and let Claire decide what she wanted to do about it. But experience had taught me that cases were rarely as simple as they first appeared. Like people, they had a nasty habit of shape shifting as they went along, changing in unexpected and often frightening ways.
Besides, if my suspicions were correct, Claire already had a pretty good idea who’d been writing these letters to her. That she wouldn’t admit to it didn’t surprise or bother me. Detectives rank right alongside cops and priests in that people rarely tell us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help them God. The real question, as always, was why.
But, like I said, it had been a slow month and it was her money. I agreed to help her and we made our arrangements. She left a few minutes later, a little lighter in the pocketbook but smiling as though she hadn’t a care in the world. A few seconds after that, my secretary Max opened the adjoining door and poked her head through.
“So, do we have a client?” she asked. I waved the cash at her. “Oh, goodie!” she squealed, bouncing her way into the room. “Now I won’t have to give the landlord a blowjob when he comes by next week.” She snatched the money out of my hands and started rubbing it over her face. I couldn’t help but grin as I watched her.
“I thought you liked giving the landlord a blowjob.”
“I do, silly.” She slapped me playfully with the cash. “But you don’t want him to know that, do you?” I nodded in understanding. Everyone should have a secretary like mine. “Besides,” she added, “if he knew I enjoyed sucking him off, it would take away half his fun. Landlords like that feeling of power, you know?”
“Now then, boss.” She stood next to me, the warmth of her hip like a balm on my shoulder. “What’s the job?”
I pointed to the pages strewn on my desk. “Our young lady friend has an anonymous admirer she’s not completely comfortable with. She wants us to find out who the author is.” Max leaned over to take a closer look, her breasts sweeping the wood like a pair of helium-filled dust rags.
“Oh, are these love letters? I am such a sucker for romance.” She read about a quarter of the way down the first page and then stopped, licking her lips. She bahis şirketleri glanced at me and then finished the page, quickly going on to the next. “Holy shit! Who wrote this, the bastard step-child of Larry Flynt and Bob Guccione?”
“Interesting stuff, isn’t it?”
“Interesting? Wrong by half, boss-man.” She flipped through a few more of the pages. “More like lewd and lasfuckingcivious to me.” She turned to me suddenly, the warmth of her hip replaced by the heat in her eyes. “Wait a minute.” Her twins were pointing at me, loaded and ready. “You wouldn’t be looking to take part of our fee in trade, would you?”
“Now, Maxie, it’s not like that. She’s just a client.”
“You read these, huh?”
“You can borrow them if you wa–.”
“Oh, no you don’t, Mr. Writer Detective Man.” She leaned over me, her hand reaching down to cup my balls. “You know the first rule of writing.” Her breath scorched my face.
“Show, don’t tell.” Her tongue plunged into my mouth.
The following evening found me sitting in the darkness of the upstairs office at Claire’s house. I wasn’t sure just what I expected to find but going to the source of the problem seemed like a good place to start.
At her insistence, she’d waited until her husband was in bed asleep before letting me in. She explained that he knew nothing about her visit to me and she was afraid he’d think the whole thing foolish and a waste of money. She told me she’d ‘handle’ it if her husband woke and found me there. Before I had a chance to ask her what handling it meant, I was following her upstairs to the office where she left me, making me promise to come wake her if anything happened.
I made myself comfortable on a spare couch while my eyes adjusted to the darkness. The night dragged on and the moon rose, dousing the room with its ghostly light. I thought about the letters Claire had dumped on my desk. They were love letters of a sort, written with a passion and intensity that made the words jump off the page at you. Strangely enough, it made me wonder about my own writing and the level of commitment and emotion I brought to it.
Just who – or what – did we become when we wrote? Was it some sort of compulsion that made us write down what were often our darkest and most intimate thoughts for others to read? I’d written stories ever since I was a young boy and it had never occurred to me to wonder why I did it. For me, writing had always been as natural, and as necessary, as breathing.
In this case, however, the writing focused exclusively on Claire, describing her in situations and performing acts that she said she’d never done. Were they strictly fantasies or were they something more?
Were they an invitation?
Lost in thought I was startled by a sound from the desk. The computer had been booted and the monitor cast a pale glow while waiting for the operating system to engage. Sitting on the other side of the desk, caught squarely in the unintentional spotlight, sat Claire’s husband. I smiled grimly, feeling the kind of rush you only get when proven right about something.
He paid no attention to me; instead he stared at the monitor, waiting patiently for the word processing program to open up. I realized suddenly that I was caught, with no way out of the room without him seeing me. I could sit there until he noticed me or hope that he became so absorbed in his writing I might be able to slip out unseen. I didn’t like either of those options.
I got up and walked over to the desk. I’ll be the first one to admit that I wasn’t sure what I was going to say. The situation was awkward, to say the least, and nothing came to mind that wouldn’t sound completely lame. But before I could extend my hand and say anything, he turned and looked right at me. The words died in my throat. The look he gave me, not angry, not surprised, not anything but indifferent, sent a chill through me, as though someone had just walked on my grave.
After a few moments he turned back to the computer screen. Without looking, his fingers found the keyboard and he began typing. I stared at him, unsure of what to do. For some reason, the only thing running through my mind was Claire’s admonition about writers. We were sick fucks, without question, and this one apparently had no time for the social graces, even with a stranger suddenly appearing in his study in the small hours of the night. Unable to think of anything else, I backed quietly out of the room, shutting the door behind me.
I tiptoed down the hall to Claire’s bedroom, thinking again how little we really know about other people, even those we think we know the best. As I’d suspected, her husband had been the one writing the erotic stories about her. So what if he didn’t want to own up to it? Secrets in relationships were a dime a dozen and I’d wager that 9 out of 10 marriages had more secrets than the Catholic Church had buried in the Vatican.
At that moment, however, the why didn’t matter. That was a domestic issue, one for Claire to work out with her husband. For me, all that mattered was that I had proof, proof I was now about to show her. It sounded almost like a game of Clue; the husband, in the office, using the computer. Case closed.
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