The Tom Ricketts Detective Agency was borne out of necessity. Prior to its opening, Ricketts had been a cop. For the bulk of his police career, he’d had free reign to conduct himself as he saw fit. His commanding officers were unconcerned about his excessive drinking and womanizing. All they wanted was results and they didn’t care how he achieved them.
Everything changed when a new–by the book– Chief of Police was installed. For awhile, Ricketts managed to sidestep issues and stay under the radar. However, as time passed, his problems mounted. Ricketts’s superiors, fearful of losing their pensions, abandoned him one by one. When Ricketts lost his last ally, he was forced to resign–a year shy of qualifying for his own pension.
Agency business–the first five years– was so bad, I came close to exhausting my savings. In an effort to stay afloat, I had to downsize my office twice and fire my secretary. The only office space I could afford was in a neighborhood so rundown squalor would have been an upgrade. In order to reach my door, prospective clients had to run a gauntlet of ne’er-do-wells. As a result, I spent most days–drink in hand– alone in my shabby office.
For the previous six months or so, my office and home were one in the same. Although I had a decent, fully paid for Tudor house, I had quit visiting it. Its walls were covered with photos from my police days and I could no longer bring myself to look at images of my younger, physically fit, jet black haired self–which was incongruent with the potbellied, gray haired man who stared back at me in the mirror.
Late one afternoon, I was startled out of a morose mood by the sound of someone opening my outer office door. When I got up to investigate, I was surprised to see a thirtyish, sobbing blonde woman sitting next to my former secretary’s desk. The moment I saw her, my police training kicked in and I went into close observation mode.
As I watched her, I felt my gorge rise. I was about to alert her to my presence and chastise her for carrying on when she unexpectedly stopped and locked her eyes on mine. My return gaze–in which I noticed her exquisite features and dazzling emerald green eyes– changed my mind. I no longer cared. I had to have her.
A moment after we made eye contact, my blonde visitor started to rise from her chair. With a wave of my hand, I indicated for her to stay seated–as I walked over and sat behind the desk. But before I could ask her anything, she said–as she wiped her face dry with a delicate handkerchief, “My name is Cheri Roberts…I really need your help.”
“The way I see it,” I said–while doing my best to hide my libidinous intent. “You look like you need a friend more than you need a detective.”
“Thank you for that…But I do need your professional services.”
“Certainly, Miss Roberts.”
“It’s Mrs. Roberts…At least it is for now…And please, call me Cheri.”
“Ok…Cheri it is…Please call me Tom…But before we…”
“I can’t pay for a while,” Cheri interjected–while doing her best to hold back from bursting into tears again. “My husband has tied up my finances.”
Upon hearing that no money was forthcoming enraged me. I rose to my feet and was about to tell her to leave but she stopped me by asking, “If I throw in a bonus, will you help me?”
“What do you have in mind?”
“I know what you want, you’re not hiding it well,” Cheri said between sniffles. “If you help me…After you’re done, I’ll pay your fee and sleep with you.”
For a moment, I considered Cheri’s offer. And as I did, I studied her mascara streaked face. I should have waited but I couldn’t control my urges. “You can pay me later but I want my bonus now.”
Cheri was taken aback by my counter offer. When she realized she had no other option, she agreed. The instant she did, however, warning bells went off in my head. Instead of heeding them, I ushered her to the couch in my private office.
After a hasty–and somewhat clumsy– lovemaking session, Cheri got down to business and told me her reason for coming. As she spoke, I payed attention and gave her the occasional encouragement to keep going. The bulk of what she told me wasn’t a surprise. Her attorney husband of ten years, one Jason Roberts, was cheating on her.
As a cop, I had heard numerous variations of Cheri’s story. One partner cheating on the other was the root cause for most domestic disturbance calls. And it wasn’t unusual to discover, as it was in Cheri’s case, that it had been going on for a long time. However, what she told me next made my blood boil–at both of them.
Less than an hour before their wedding, Cheri walked into the women’s restroom of the church and discovered Jason and her maid of honor having sex in one of the stalls. Instead of confronting them and calling the wedding off, Cheri didn’t say a word. She turned around and left.
As Cheri told me her bullshit reasons for marrying Jason anyway, two thoughts kept repeating in my mind and I had to fight the urge to reach out and smack her.
You’re a coward and a fool for not dumping him…You deserve every bit of this…
I thought I had my contempt under control and hidden. Cheri, however, read me correctly and my disgust emboldened her. She shot me a determined look and said, “I have been Jason’s willing victim for far too long…I want a divorce but I need irrefutable proof of his philandering to obtain one.”
“Do you have a photo of him with you?”
“Yes, it’s in my purse.”
After she handed it to me she asked, “How soon can you start?”
I didn’t bother to respond. I took the photo from her outstretched hand and headed for the door.
For the next three weeks, I trailed Jason in order to photograph and document his indiscretions. Truth be told, he was so blatant a blind man and his dog could have tracked him. I snapped away and added the evidence to my file.
By this point, I had obtained more than enough evidence to prove Cheri’s case for a divorce. I should have quit while I was ahead but I found myself unable to let go. Every time I looked at Jason’s photo and saw his matinee idol features, I could see why Cheri and so many women threw themselves at him and tolerated his behavior.
What kept me hooked was the arrogant–I can do whatever I want and get away with it– look on Jason’s face. It revulsed me and made me determined to bring him down a peg or two. Instead of contacting Cheri, I continued to keep track of his activities.
On a number of occasions, I tracked Jason to a hellhole of a bar that had the gall to be named The Shining Star Saloon. This place had the typical layout–a long bar on one wall, a handful of booths and the requisite pool table. However, it was so disgusting and unkempt, your nostrils were assaulted with a myriad of odors the moment you crossed the threshold.
At first, Jason’s connection to The Shining Star–and its nefarious clientele– seemed inexplicable. However, over time, I came to realize it was his source of defense clients and a hunting ground to find minions willing to do his bidding.
Early one evening, I once again found myself at The Shining Star. I had been sitting at the bar–nursing a beer for over an hour– while waiting for Jason to make his grand appearance. And when I say grand, I am not kidding. Every time he waltzed in, it was like an emperor had entered. Most of the customers either called out his name or rushed over to greet him.
On this particular night, however, I was so lost in thought I didn’t realize he’d arrived until a voice next to me asked for a beer. When I turned to look, I was surprised to see Jason a bar stool away. But before I could react, my attention was diverted to the television set mounted above the bar and a newscaster saying, “The body has been identified as Cheri Roberts…”
The news should have affected me but it didn’t–it wasn’t a luxury I could afford. In an instant, I knew Jason was a sociopath and either directly or indirectly involved in Cheri’s death. A quick glance–out of the corner of my eye– confirmed my suspicions. He had a huge grin on his face.
My new found awareness of Jason made me tense, but I wasn’t afraid. I was wary but certain nothing would happen with witnesses nearby. With the latter in mind, I turned and looked directly at him. In response, Jason moved to the empty stool next to me and whispered, “I know who you are and that you’ve had sex with my wife.”
Jason’s revelation caught me off guard and it was obvious he relished my confusion. He then cheerfully added–before rising and strutting towards the door, “I got rid of the bitch and they’re going to pin it on you.”
Although I wanted to follow him, I let him go. I knew nothing good would come from it. We would get into a physical altercation and I would get arrested. Instead, I made a silent vow.
I don’t care how long it takes…I’ll get the bastard…
A full decade has passed. And as much as I hate to admit it, Jason was right. They did pin it on me. At my trial, I didn’t stand a chance. Although I am innocent, my lawyer was unable to provide the jury reasonable doubt to explain the presence of my DNA in and on Cheri’s body.
For the first few years of my incarceration, I was bitter about everything. But over time, I found myself fixated on three main points. On the first, I can only surmise. It’s my best guess that Jason–through one of his shady clients– obtained the necessary electronic equipment to bug Cheri’s purse and to equip both of us with tracking devices.
The second point disturbs me to this day. It doesn’t matter what I do or how I try to distract myself, I can’t overcome the wicked irony of my life. I was a dirty cop who got away with breaking just about every law on the books only to get arrested for something I didn’t do.
With regret, I can’t tell you my third point nor can I finish my story. There’s quite a bit more but I no longer have the time. They’ve come for me. The warden is outside my cell.
Mark Kuglin primarily writes flash fiction and short stories but has a novella and a novel in the works. Additionally, he pens poetry and the occasional essay. Samples of his work can be found on his website - Mark Kuglin.