The Prince and the Puppet Affair Sample

 

Chapter 1 – Rêve Noir

The offices on this floor were the last stop for people who had reached the end of the line.

There was the doctor who would tell you not to bother making any holiday plans. The accountant with bad news about those guaranteed investments. The PI who might be able to help, if only he wasn’t in a monogamous relationship with Jack Daniels.

The corridor stank of pine cleaner, dry rot, and years of quiet desperation. In both directions it stretched away from me, barely illuminated by the cheap, low-wattage bulbs in their wall sconces. The red runner carpet underfoot had seen better days, the threadbare corpse of its once opulent life struggling to pad my footfalls as I approached my destination.

The door before me was dark wood enclosing a frosted glass panel. Slightly worn gold-leaf lettering on the glass read “Chandler Investigations.” A round, faceted-glass knob was set in a brass face plate with a hole underneath it for a skeleton key.

Under my trench coat, my bare legs felt a slightly cool breeze. The faint smell of ammonia, probably from a leaking compressor in the basement,
told me that this was what passed for air conditioning in this dump.

For some reason I don’t remember the door opening, or the reception area inside. The next thing I saw was the inner office.

Sam Spade would have felt comfortable there. A cluttered, cheap wooden desk sat in front of a grimy window that looked out onto the street. Outside, a neon sign intermittently flashed its lonely message of “H__EL” to an uncaring world. I wondered how far down life had to have dragged you when you were willing to take a room there. If you needed a flop house, there were better ones elsewhere for the same money. At least this place didn’t have a rat problem. The cockroaches ate them.

Battered filing cabinets lined one wall of the office. The door was closed, the golden lettering spelling out “Veronica Chandler, Private Investigator” in reversed letters on the frosted glass. A stained old couch, still comfortable-looking, but long since due for a one-way ride to the dump, faced the filing cabinets from across the room.

I was sitting at the desk, in a slat-backed wooden chair with no padding. A mostly empty bottle of cheap whiskey sat on the desk in front of me. The bottle cap was nowhere to be seen, probably having wandered off in disgust. Beside it, a well-used Colt 1911 handgun acted as a paperweight, anchoring the scattered mess on the desk against the efforts of the labouring fan in the window. It was doing its Sisyphean best to circulate slightly less warm and humid air into the room from the naked city outside. There was no air conditioning in here. I figured that the duct was probably clogged with rat bones.

The glass I held in my hand was half full of amber rotgut. I toyed with it casually, thinking of how disappointed my father would be if he could see that I wasn’t drinking a good wine.

My vision of the world matched my mood. Everything looked grainy, and painted in colourless shades of grey like a black and white film. That didn’t worry me as much as the thought of me drinking scotch before breakfast. I didn’t even like scotch. Had it really come down to this?

A blurred shadow appeared through the window on the office door, and whoever it was tapped on the glass. I was too busy brooding to react. Maybe they’d take the hint, and leave me to searching what passed for the remains of my soul.

No such luck. The door opened, and David entered. A silver ribbon around his neck kept his black bow tie in place. His black swimmer’s briefs hid very little, and accentuated the rest. Just the way I liked them. My secretary’s dark hair was artistically mussed, and the look in his eyes was smouldering, awaiting only a gesture from me to erupt into the flames of passion, as he had so many times before.

“Ms. Chandler, there’s a man here to see you. Would you like me to show him in?” His voice was silky, reminding me of his warm hand working its way down the smooth skin of my belly.

“A client?” I couldn’t bring myself to care, and another hit from the glass burned a caustic trail down my already scarred throat.

“I hope so. You’ll want to see him anyway – he’s a knockout.”

That got my attention. The man who followed David into my office was indeed a sweet papa with a classy chassis. His leather trousers were so tight they squeaked when he walked. An open leather vest and copper’s cap completed his ensemble. His chest was, if anything, even better than David’s, with just the right amount of hair and muscle. A dame could get lost exploring that chest. Maybe I should take the last of the office petty cash and invest in a pith helmet.

“Are you the gumshoe?” He said with a voice like sweet wine cut with honey, “I desperately need your help.”

I played it cool, though parts of me were warming up.

“They all do.”

“Please, you don’t understand.” His voice held the desperation of a man who might do himself an injury if his hopes were dashed. That would be such a waste. “The mob’s after me. If I don’t have a threesome by noon I’m a dead man.” He ripped off his vest, revealing that perfect chest in all its glory.

What the hell, they don’t call us private dicks for nothing. I’ve always been a glory hound.

“Fifty bucks a day plus expenses,” I said, casual and smooth. “If you can last that long.”

The two men licked their lips as I rose, my wooden chair creaking, and the steel casters scraping on the scuffed wooden floor.

I headed for the couch, hips swaying out from behind the desk. A shrug of my shoulders made the trench coat fall away, revealing nothing but
my own glory for them to seek. The first man reached for me and,
as I sank back onto the cushions, something gouged my bare leg.

My eyes snapped open. For a moment I was confused as to why my thigh hurt. Yoko Geri was lying on my lap, his black-furred face looking up
at me. His green eyes were fixed on mine, and again he flexed the claws that were resting on my jean-clad leg.

I had been dozing in my comfy chair before Yoko decided that I should be awake. He kneaded me again, and I was forcibly brought the rest of the way back to consciousness by the sensation of being tattooed with a wire brush.

I disengaged his talons from my flesh, then scratched the side of his neck. My offering of affection pleased him. Rewarding the predator who was trying to excavate my femoral artery did nothing to cure my suspicion that all cat owners are insane.

Like most humans belonging to cats, I’d picked up the habit of talking to him. The day he answered back would be the day I would know it was time to give up, and get myself a nice holiday in a psychiatric ward.

“Holy crap, where did that dream come from? Either I need to get laid more, or I need better meds.” He tilted his head, and I moved my scratching to his throat. “Maybe both. Next thing you know, I’ll be reading romance novels in bed.” I stroked his ears, and his eyes closed in bliss. “Again.”

The deep rumble of his purring expressed his appreciation of my wise choice. Whether I was insane was of no interest to him, as long as he received regular food and affection. I stopped petting Yoko, and he bunted my hand to remind me of my duty.

“Come on, sidekick, let’s get some lunch.”

In the cat universe, food trumps everything else.

My phone rang as I was scraping a lump of wet cat food off the spoon, and into Yoko’s bowl. Being in the kitchen or the bathroom almost guarantees that my phone will ring. The phone, of course, will be elsewhere. This time, it was on the coffee table in the living room.

I scooped the glop off with one finger, put the can and spoon on the counter, and managed to get to the phone before the caller gave up.

“Chandler Investigations.”

“How’s my favourite daughter?”

“I’m good, Dad. Wait, you have a favourite?”

“You know I love Kali, but you’ll always be my Princess,” he said.

I sighed. I could hear him capitalize Princess. My father has some unshakable delusions about girls. This had better not lead to him buying me anything pink. Again.

“So, what’s up?”

“Your mother and I are going away for a holiday.”

“You mean an actual holiday? Not just puttering around the house, and worrying about the restaurant on your time off? That’s fantastic! Where? When?”

“I can tell that you’re heart-broken to be rid of us, but it’s only for three weeks. We’re going to Northern Ireland.”

“Wow, any room for stowaways?”

“Why, do you think your cat would like to come?”

I’ll ignore that. This seems kind of sudden for a major trip. Why right now?”

“Your mother is competing in the World Police and Fire Games. She’s forcing me to go as her cheering section.”

“You’re kidding! When did that happen?”

“It’s a last minute thing. One of the guys on the Calgary team broke his arm while chasing a bad guy over a fence, so they asked her to fill in.”

“Which event?”

“Pistol shooting, as well as some kind of martial art thing.”

“She is so going to kick ass. You are so going to record every moment for us. When do you leave?”

“Tomorrow. The games start on August first, and we want a day or two to acclimate.”

“You weren’t kidding about last minute. Do you need a ride?”

“Yes, please. Unless you are busy.”

“At the moment I’m between cases. What time?”

“The flight leaves at nine, so we need to be there around seven.”

Given a choice, I like to pretend that there’s only one seven o’clock per day: the one right after supper. The things we do for our parents.

“All right, I can do that. Have you let Kali know?”

“Not yet.”

“I’ll call her. We’ll see you at six A.M.”

I had never thought of my mother as an international athlete. I wondered what kind of “martial arts thing” she’d be doing. I pictured her in a Mad Max arena, dressed in a Princess Leia bikini, with moves like River Tamm from Serenity. What can I say? I’m a product of my time. At least, at 44, Mum has the figure for it.

I called Kali, my sister-by-choice, and let her know that the parental units were going off to have fun without us. She lives a few minutes up the road from their place, so she said she’d meet me there in the morning. She sounded perky about it. She’s a morning person but I love her anyway. We’d met six years previously in high school when I thumped some girls who were bullying her.

Yoko’s bowl was empty, and he was subtly hinting that I’d forgotten to fill it in the first place. I went back into the kitchen to give him another spoonful. As the food hit the bowl, the phone rang.

See? You thought I was exaggerating, didn’t you?

“Chandler Investigations.”

“I, um…” The woman’s voice was small, suggesting someone who completely missed the line when assertiveness was handed out.

I waited patiently, leaning with my back against the kitchen counter while Yoko devoured the second helpless blob of Chicken Feast. Eventually the woman continued.

“I think my husband is having an affair.”

“I’d be glad to look into that for you,” I said. “If you wish, we can meet at my office this afternoon.”

“Okay.”

“What’s your name?”

“Alyssa Blakeway.”

“All right, Ms. Blakeway, do you have my address?”

“No, um, I got your number from the telephone book.”

I don’t list my office address for a good reason. It’s also my apartment. Drop-ins are not welcome.

“I’m at 2246, Twenty-second Street North West, Suite 404. Would two o’clock be convenient?”

“Yes. Thank you.”

“Please bring any relevant documentation about your husband, his job, hobbies, or other activities. Also bring a recent photograph of him. My fee is $60 an hour plus expenses with a thousand dollar retainer.”

“Okay.” She paused, clearly unsure that we were done.

“Excellent,” I hinted. “I’ll see you then.”

“Okay.” She hung up.

“Congratulations,” I said to the predator who was now washing his face while sitting by my feet. “It looks like you get to eat next month.”

Things weren’t really that bad. Unlike fictional investigators, whose entire lives seem to be lived hand-to-mouth, I was comfortably solvent. My parents had started an investment portfolio for me when I was nine that was doing well. I even had enough income from my business to add
to it.

True, the first couple of months as a PI had been lean, but things had picked up with my first two cases. They were bizarre, involving, I kid you not, a mysterious dwarf (or pair of dwarfs, a matter that had never been completely settled) named Beleth, and people doing dressage while dressed as horses.

After that, things had settled down. For the past eight months I’d been living on a steady mixture of erring spouses, insurance fraud, runaway kids, and a silver tea service.

It was the tea service that was responsible for my dream-filled, late-morning nap.

When Kendra and Darrel moved into a basement suite together, Kendra’s grandmother gave her the family’s antique tea service as a housewarming gift. There was no room in the basement for the silver, so they’d packed it carefully in a cardboard box, and stored it in the garage along with the rest of their surplus belongings. Unfortunately, they didn’t think to put their names on the box.

When the upstairs guy moved, his buddies loaded all the boxes into the truck with a profound lack of due care and attention. I understand that a premature and unregulated ration of domestic beer may have been involved.

There were two reasons for my lost sleep. Firstly, Kendra’s grandmother was coming for a visit. The tea service was expected to be on display. Tomorrow.

The second reason was that, although the landlord had been able to give me the upstairs tenant’s name, he didn’t have a forwarding address, or any idea who his friends or family were. Still, how many Michael Li’s could there be? After all, Li is only the most common Chinese family name. Michael is only the most common boy’s name in North America.

There were two silver linings to the case, if you’ll pardon the expression. One was that Michael had mentioned that he had a new job, but was staying in Alberta. The other was that for some reason he hated cell phones. He was a land line kind of person, and Kendra hadn’t missed the tea service for two months. By now he would have a new phone.

I spent nine hours calling every M. Li, Mike Li, Micky Li, and Michael Li I could find, starting in Calgary, and working my way outward. To my everlasting joy, I found him in Red Deer, 90 minutes north of Calgary, instead of in Indian Cabins, 13 hours north. He checked his basement while I stayed on the line, and there was the box, still unopened. He was apologetic about the mix up. Kendra was panicking about needing the tea service right away, and Michael said he was going to be up late anyway, so I drove to Red Deer that night to get it.

In person, Michael was not only polite and charming, but also really hot. Unfortunately, his girl friend came home just as I was getting around to asking personal questions such as relationship status. Not every case involves derring-do, sex, or sleep. If they do, I prefer them in that order.

After a nice lunch of prosciutto with fresh basil, sliced tomato, and smoked Gouda on ciabatta, I did my usual pre-client clean up of the apartment. That’s the one drawback to using your living room as an office: all socks, underwear, books, and cat toys have to be out of sight.

The up side is that my commute time is manageable, and renting one place is cheaper than renting two.

At 1:45 I exchanged my usual flannel pyjama house wear for something more professional, brushed my hair into a pony tail, and sat down to wait.

The intercom buzzer sounded at exactly 2:00. My laptop showed the image of the person at the building’s front door. The woman certainly looked more like a nervous client than a burglar, so I buzzed her in.

The security system was new. My building didn’t have one when I had moved in, but after the previously mentioned dwarf had appeared without warning at my front door, I decided that it needed one. There was no chance of convincing the building owners to spend money on a professional system, so I went to a friend of a friend, Keith Barager-Bonsell, who owed me. His solution was cheap, elegant, and didn’t require the owner’s permission.

I explained the idea to the other tenants, and took up a collection. Keith turned the $350 into a web camera, a wireless router and a used laptop computer. Nice Mrs. Schauwecker, in apartment 201, let us mount the camera on her balcony with a homemade weather shield. The laptop and router sat in a corner of her living room, out of her way, beaming the pictures to the rest of the building. Any tenant could see who was at the door just by logging on to the web server. Everybody was happy with the added security. Our building manager pretended not to know about it in case the owners asked.

My final preparation before the arrival of Mrs. Blakeway was sticking the tastefully small “Chandler Investigations” magnetic sign on my front door.

I was open for business.

Mrs. Blakeway was about a century out of date.

Brown hair in a side French braid bun made her look far more severe than necessary. Her green blouse had double frills across the front, and pearl buttons up to the high neck. The full skirt went down to her ankles and she clutched a smallish handbag before her like a shield. I wondered if she was also wearing button-up boots and silk stockings, but decided that they might be too kinky for her. All she needed was brass goggles to complete her Steampunk look. Underneath her worries, and lack of self-confidence she was probably pretty.

“Mrs. Blakeway?” I said, extending my hand. She smiled nervously. Her handshake was moist, but moderately firm. “I’m Veronica Chandler. Please come in.”

When I turned from the door, I found her gazing out my balcony window. She was already remarkable among my clients in that she had not yet
mentioned that she expected me to be older. Nineteen year old private investigators get that a lot.

I headed for the kitchen. “Can I get you anything?”

She shook her head as she stared out at nothing in particular. Sad to say, that’s a good description of the view from my apartment. The most interesting thing at the moment was the small park across the street where people were playing catch. I suppose that the abandoned Mystery Bicycle, chained to the lamp post out front since before I’d moved in a year ago, also counted as local colour.

I brought two bottles of water back with me, just in case she changed her mind. By then she was looking at my investigator’s course certificate and provincial PI license on the wall bracketing my 1941 Maltese Falcon poster.

I invited her to sit on the couch. She sat primly; she was wound way too tightly. I took my place in my comfy chair, and opened my computer on my lap. I had to prompt her to say anything.

“You mentioned on the phone that you are concerned about your husband.”

 “I…,” she said tentatively. “He’s been out late at night. He says he’s working, but…” She stalled. I gave her another nudge.

“You suspect that he may be seeing someone?”

“Maybe it’s nothing. I don’t know. He seems more distant lately, like he’s lost interest.”

Her hands were in her lap, nervously trying to macrame her fingers together. She sniffed delicately, and I saw tell-tale glistening in her eyes. I pushed the box of tissues closer to her, and she took one to dab her nose. That was all it took for the waterworks to start. She was not one of those people who can cry prettily.

I took the moment to enter what little she’d said so far in the case file. Most PIs use a paper notebook. I have one of those too, for use in the field. The problem is that, as a child of the computer age, my handwriting is on the far side of awful. If I keep my notes on the computer it’s actually possible for me to read them later.

When Alyssa stopped sniffling, she pulled a large and rumpled manilla envelope from her purse. I wondered how she’d managed it. Maybe the
purse was larger on the inside than on the outside.

“I wrote down everything that I could think of,” she said as she passed me the packet. Inside were hand-written notes in a precise hand. They covered when her suspicions started, background, and his schedule. There was also a photograph of her husband. The dossier was impressively thorough. Most people in such an emotional situation don’t have that kind of focus. The elegant handwriting did nothing to dispel her Edwardian vibe.

I finished entering the details into the contract template, and sent it to my printer. She jumped at the sound of the machine in the corner whirring to life.

Although I encouraged her to read it carefully, she barely glanced at the contract before signing it.

“I’ll start tomorrow,” I said. “If you have that retainer?”

She pulled another envelope from her Gallifreyan purse. The good news about carrying that much cash is that the new, plastic $100 bills seem to stack better than the old paper ones. A thousand dollars barely takes up any room at all.

There’s probably an economic moral in there somewhere.

I showed her out a few minutes later, removed the sign from my door to keep the superintendent happy, got a cup of coffee from the kitchen, and went back to my chair to review the file.

From his picture, Collin Blakeway looked to be about 45 although her notes put him at 36. He had a pointed nose, thin lips, and small eyes. It would be a miracle if this guy was having an affair, unless he had a really great personality. Given the circumstances that seemed unlikely. Looks are often deceiving, but his photo gave me the impression of someone who was cruel and self-absorbed. Her nervousness also pointed in that direction. Somebody had her badly spooked, and to my mind he was the prime suspect.

I wondered why she’d married him, and it made me sad to think of the obvious answer: He’d asked her. Her low self-esteem had caused her to grab the first offer she got in case there wasn’t a second one. According to the file they’d been married for six years.

His life seemed to be fairly boring. The notes said that he spent most of his time either at home, or at his office. Curiously, she also listed skiing, snowboarding, and hiking as his hobbies, although she also noted that he hadn’t done any of them in over five years.

It looked like his life had changed significantly since their marriage. Although it wasn’t strictly my business, I was curious as to what had caused the alterations.

This might be a more interesting job than it appeared on the surface.

Chapter 2 – Social Life

According to his file, once Collin Blakeway was home he never went back out to “work,” so there was no point to starting surveillance until the next day.

That was good, because I had plans for the evening. I had to get up early to take Mum and Dad to the airport, but with any luck I’d be in bed before it got to be too late. Whether I’d be sleeping or not depended on a number of things.

My evening plans involved an interesting pair of jeans that I’d seen in the baking goods aisle earlier that week.

All right, it wasn’t the jeans that were interesting so much as what was inside them. The wearer had strong legs, a great butt, and a really nice set of shoulders. His back was slender but muscular without being gross. Yum.

Just to frustrate me, it seemed like every time I tried to see his face he turned the other way. He was moving down the aisle slowly, examining almost everything as if he was a tourist trying to take in all the sights that an unfamiliar country had to offer.

It took me a while to manoeuvre into a position where I could see what he looked like. It was well worth the effort. He was about my age, and very definitely attractive. I’d go so far as to call him cute. From the selection of nuke-and-eat items in his cart I could tell that he was single. The strange thing was that he was in the baking aisle. From his furrowed brow, it was obvious that he was not clear about what these mysterious products were.

He stepped back, and stared at the sugar for a long time, like he expected the packages to tell him some great secret. As I pulled my cart up beside him, he automatically took a step to one side to make room. He didn’t really notice me. I walked in front of him, and took a package of ginger that I didn’t need off the rack.

That got his attention. I smiled at him. He smiled back.

“Hi. Looking for something in particular?”

He frowned.

“Do you know anything about baking?”

Some men can have fragile egos, so I tried to be modest. Telling him that I’m a chef might scare him away. “A little,” I said. He looked uncomfortable, like he was about to ask me something deeply personal. When he spoke, his volume was much lower than it had been, as he voiced his secret shame.

“What kind of sugar do you use in a cake?”

“It depends. What kind of cake?”

“My sister is making a birthday cake for her friend. She sent me to buy some sugar, but I don’t know what kind to get.”

“For the cake, or for the icing?”

“Um, I don’t know. The cake, I guess.”

If she was making a cake from scratch, his sister probably would have known to ask specifically for icing or brown sugar if that’s what she wanted. I picked up a package of plain, white sugar.

“This should do.”

“Thanks.” He put it in his cart, and I continued smiling at him until he got the hint. “My name is Brian.”

“Veronica,” I said.

“So,” he said casually, “are you in university?”

I’m told that there are proprieties to be observed in dating. The guy shows interest by asking questions that he won’t remember the answers to. The girl shows interest by giggling, and tossing her hair. Both parties pretend that they don’t know exactly where the whole thing is going.

I’ve never mastered the hair toss, and I hate giggling.

“No, but I am free for dinner.” He looked shocked. “Come on, you were going to ask me out eventually. I think you’re attractive, so I thought I’d save some time.”

“Okay. Sure.” I could see his brain trying to adjust to a woman picking him up instead of the other way around. “Um, well, I am in university, and I have an exam tomorrow. I really should study tonight. How about tomorrow night?”

Darn, I’d already made arrangements for a girls’ night with Kali. Maybe the delay would make me seem more appealing. You know, that whole hard to get thing. However that works.

“I’m tied up. Are you free on Thursday?”

“After seven. I have a late class.”

“Great. Do you know Nick’s Steak House?”

“Sure.”

“Shall we say 7:45?”

“Sure. I’ll make the reservation.” I hoped that he was a better conversationalist once his brain had caught up with current events.

I pulled out my phone, typed in “Brian”, and handed it to him. He looked at it for a moment before my outstretched palm suggested to him that he should hand me his phone in return. We each typed our phone numbers, and handed the phones back.

“I’ll see you on Thursday,” I said, as I pushed my cart down the aisle.

At the end of the aisle I turned and glanced back. He was still checking me out. Excellent. My chest is too small, but I’ve been told that I have a world-class butt. I gave him another smile, then disappeared around the corner.

This just might be interesting.

Nick’s is less than a fifteen minute walk from my place. The weather was nice, so I left my car at home. I arrived at the restaurant with a good five minutes to spare, waiting for my date between the inner and outer doors.

Brian showed up at exactly 7:45. Being on time for appointments shows respect. I liked that. It gained him immediate brownie points.

“Hey,” he said as he opened the door. “Have you been waiting long?”

“Only a minute or two.”

He gave his name to the hostess, which let me know that his last name was White. We only had to wait a minute or so before we were seated.

We spent the next while with the usual small talk about what looked good on the menu, and what we’d tried before. I’d been looking forward to a steak all day, preferably with a big baked potato smothered in sour cream, chives, and bacon bits. He decided to have the same. He got another brownie point for ordering his steak medium rare. My professional opinion as a chef is that, if steaks were meant to be well done, the process would be called cremation instead of grilling.

He asked if I wanted wine with dinner, and seemed pleasantly surprised when I ordered beer instead. Big Rock Brewery is an excellent reason for living in Calgary.

I begin my interrogation before he could start on me.

“Tell me everything about Brian White.”

“Hmm. I’m nineteen, in my first year taking Kinesiology at the U of C. My goal is to be an MMA fighter for a couple of years to build a reputation, and then become a coach.”

No wonder he was in excellent shape.

“That’s different. Which martial arts have you studied?”

“Tae Kwon Do, Wushu, boxing, and wrestling. I’ve been taking lessons in one form or another since I was fourteen. Did you mean different good
or different bad?”

“Different good. It’s nice to see someone who has a plan, rather than just doing general studies until they figure out what they want to be when they grow up. Do you live near here?”

“Just over on 25th Ave. My sister and I rent a house together. She’s in second year women’s studies.”

A live-in sister might be a problem. We’d have to see. Oh well, adapt and overcome. If all else failed I could always take him back to my place. In the meantime, having a plan for his life earned him more brownie points.

Eventually, he slipped past my questioning.

“Enough about me. Who is Veronica…?”

“Chandler. I’m a private investigator.”

He didn’t even blink. More brownie points.

“Really? I thought PIs were all fifty year old guys with an alcohol problem.”

“Only if you habitually wear a trench coat and fedora.” My mind flashed back to my dream for an instant. Down girl. “I decided to buck the trend. I took the investigator’s course while I was still in high school, and the licensing exam as soon as I turned eighteen.”

“Don’t you have to have been a cop or something first?”

“In some other provinces, but not in Alberta. I did do an internship with the Calgary Police, but I was never a sworn member.”

I told him, in general terms, about some of my cases. In common with doctors, lawyers, and other professionals, I was careful not to mention anything that could identify anybody involved. There were still some good stories.

One case that I didn’t mention was my first one. If he was going to run away, I preferred it not to be because he thought I was crazy or a liar.

We were getting along really well. Brian had a wicked sense of humour, and we made each other laugh.

Nick’s main dining room in built on two levels, and there was a party of about 20 people on the upper level of the restaurant. Apart from noting their existence, I didn’t pay them much attention until the singing started. It was not your usual drunken, off-key, unsynchronized chorus.

It was one man, and he must have been classically trained. He sang Old Man River, and his deep tones effortlessly filled the restaurant.

We stopped talking. So did the rest of the diners. I think that even the cooks in the back paused to listen. When the unknown singer finished, everybody applauded.

“That was impressive. You didn’t arrange that, did you?” I asked my date.

“I wish I had.”

Another brownie point: We both opted for a dessert of cheese cake. I wondered if he was trying to impress me with how compatible we were, or whether it was his honest choice. It probably didn’t matter that much.

When we had both gotten to the last bites, our eyes met. He slowly nibbled his cheesecake from the fork. I licked mine off with the tip of my tongue. By that point in the evening, that was as subtle as I was willing to be.

He refused to let me pay my share, which lost him a brownie point. Now and then I had detected a whiff of unattractive machismo in his attitude. It could be that he had been brought up by traditional parents, but was still trainable.

Still, he was way ahead on points when we went outside.

“May I walk you home?” He asked. I’d already made my decision.

“How about if I walk you home? It’s closer. As long as your sister doesn’t mind.”

“Remember that birthday cake? Tonight is the party. She won’t be home for hours.”

It was only ten minutes from the restaurant to his place. We held hands as we walked, which was brownie-point neutral. I was feeling like I wanted his arms around me, and he was trying to be a gentleman.

I’d have to do something about that.

There’s an old movie called Conan the Destroyer. My favourite part is when the girly-girl princess asks Grace Jones’ character how to let a man know that she’s interested in him. Grace’s answer is “grab him! And take him!”

I have medical problem that sounds funny and isn’t. My hormones can spiral out of control on a moment’s notice. When they do, Grace Jones is the spokeswoman for their moderate wing.

Brian barely had time to get the front door open before I attacked him. Some guys freak out if a woman is sexually aggressive. I figured that it was better to know if he was like that sooner rather than later.

He didn’t have time to freak out before he was on his back on the living room carpet, watching me pull my sweater over my head as I straddled
his hips.

After two months of trying to be a good girl, taking my meds, and keeping my libido under control, it felt good to just let her out to let her do her own thing.

Three hours later, both his and her things were exhausted. I was lying on my back on the carpet, amazed and a bit worried about whether he’d think I was a slut, whether I thought I was a slut, and how bad the rug burns were that I could feel on my knees, elbows, shoulders, and butt. Not to mention my heels. I rolled toward him to snuggle. I’d just rest for a minute, and then find my clothes.

I woke to the sound of the front door closing, followed by a painful blast of light as the overhead living room fixture came on. I rose up on my elbows, blinking a few times in the sudden illumination.

Between the clothes that were scattered everywhere, and two very naked people, the living room was a mess. A bowl of chocolates that must have been on the coffee table was all over the floor. I’d wondered what the squishy lumps were. My purse was open, and the contents spilled out, the result of Brian telling me that he didn’t have any condoms on hand. Four of my emergency stash were lying around us, the open ends tied closed. For some reason, I’ve always found used condoms creepy. In the light from the overhead fluorescent bulb, they
looked like we were surrounded by dead slugs whose necks had been wrung.

Brian’s sister was standing by the front door, looking at us in disgust. At me in particular.

Just in case you were wondering, situations like this can always get worse.

Brian woke up, and saw his sister. He yelped, and grabbed the first piece of clothing he could find to cover himself. Unfortunately, it was my underwear.

I’d worn a thong.

“Uh, hi sis. Um, you’re home early.” He frantically reached for another piece of clothing. This time it was his shirt.

I just sat up, hugged my knees, and crossed my ankles. There was no way to maintain dignity while sitting naked in a stranger’s living room surrounded by used condoms, and melted chocolates squashed into the carpet. I tried to be suave and look comfortable with the situation.

I’m not that good an actor.

“It’s not that early,” she said, still staring at me.

“Oh, sorry. I guess we, uh, got carried away.”

Her brown eyes just stared. Brian decided that introductions were in order.

“Uh, Veronica, this is –”

“Hello, Judy,” I said. “Sorry about the mess.”

“Veronica,” she acknowledged coldly, then turned back to her brother. “I didn’t know you had company.”

“You two know each other?”

“We were in school together,” I said, leaving out the details.

“Sorry, sis. I didn’t have time to put the sign out.” Brian seemed oblivious to the tension between Judy and me. I noticed that he’d also just made this awkwardness my fault. Thanks, Brian.

I should have stayed quiet, but my curiosity got the better of me.

“Sign?”

“If one of us has someone over, we put a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door.”

“I see.”

Judy angrily kicked off her shoes.

“I’m going to bed.” She stomped off down the hall, and I winced as I heard a door slam.

“Well,” I said with as much dignity as I could under the circumstances, “that was awkward.”

“She’ll get over it.” Wonderful. Now he was dismissing his sister’s feelings.

I tugged my thong out from under Brian’s clutching hands, and started getting dressed. There was a minute of embarrassed silence. Somehow, getting dressed in f