The client is sitting across from him; his insecurity and anxiety overwhelming the office like a noxious gas. This is the kind of shit that grates on his nerves. He knows that he should be more understanding, show some empathy. The pathetic man was suspicious; certain that his wife was cheating on him, so the (alleged) cuckold had hired a PI.
The very acronym made him nauseous. PI. It conjured various images in people’s minds. It varied from the classic notion of a film noir character – the suave Humphrey Bogart type, to the more honest and realistic: greasy shysters trying to con people out of their money. Will was not certain which category he fell into.
The client, Herman, hired him a week ago. It was a simple job. The type of chore that sounds exciting to people who have read too much Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett, but it was in actuality mind-numbingly boring. It mostly involved sitting on your ass, watching and waiting. The emphasis was, is, and will always be on the waiting.
Waiting for the wife outside a salon. Waiting for the wife outside a restaurant that he could never afford while her and her friends slung back mimosas. Waiting for her outside of the department store while she spent her husband’s money.
Fucking waiting and wasting away.
That’s what most people didn’t understand. The job sounds exciting and glamorous, but it was dull, greasy, and boring. The bread and butter of being a private investigator was, is, and will always be following a cheating spouse. This means sitting in a car for hours on end. Drinking an endless amount of caffeine to stay awake (and pissing in the empty cups). Waiting for the money shot.
The money shot is proof of a transgression – infidelity. More importantly, it means that he gets to go home. He doesn’t like to leave his house if he doesn’t have to.
After days of following the spouse, he got lucky. He followed her to a house in an exclusive (a euphemism for exorbitantly expensive) neighborhood. An older man, probably in his late forties, greeted her at the door. Will gave it five minutes, then grabbed his camera and carefully approached the house.
Exiting the car, he quietly pressed the car door closed. He walked to the house, crossing by the cars parked in the driveway. Looking for windows without the blinds drawn, he made his way to the backyard.
The gate was locked. Sighing inwardly, he placed his camera on the ledge and hefted himself over to the other side. Slowly lowering himself to the ground, he swiftly approached a bay window. The blinds were open. He crouched below the window, careful to remain out of sight.
He could hear music. The prick was actually playing Marvin Gaye. What. A. Dick. He had nothing against the music of Marvin Gaye. What he loathed was the fact that the douchebag was playing it because it was part of his hook-up playbook.
He saw the man saunter into the living room like he was the cock of the walk. Smiling, the douche took a seat on the couch. Moments later, the woman entered the frame. Sitting on his lap, she began to grind against the man’s crotch. He began to take pictures, conscious of the time factor. He couldn’t be certain that one of the two wouldn’t see him.
He clenched his jaw. He didn’t have the money shot, not yet. He knew that the client could remain comfortably shrouded in his denial of the affair unless he saw her face in the act. As if the women could read his mind and was anxious to accommodate his wishes, she abruptly stood up, turned, and began to slowly drop her dress.
Mindful to avoid her gaze, he quickly snapped off a few shots, then ducked back below the window. He promptly reviewed the captured images. Money shot. He had snagged a picture of the unfaithful spouse half naked – her face clearly recognizable, at least to her husband.
He slowly raised his head above the window. The two lovers were oblivious to their voyeur’s gaze. The man had his eyes closed in ecstasy as the woman was on her knees, sucking on his dick. He took this opportune moment to vacate the premises.
Making his way back to the car, he silently congratulated himself on a job well done. He planned on contacting the client in the morning.
He called Herman at nine am. It was his belief that maintaining usual business hours illustrated his level of professionalism. He didn’t want clients to think that he was sitting on his ass, not earning his money. Herman had paid him the retainer, but the work he had put in on the job had exceeded that. He wasn’t worried about the money. Herman (despite his wimpy name) was actually a vicious and well-paid defense attorney.
Shockingly, Herman answered on the first ring, as if he were anxiously awaiting this call. Later, he would remember this for the troubling factor that it was.
“Herman, are you able to stop by the office today?”
“Do you have pictures? Is the bitch cheating?” Herman grumbled into the phone.
As a rule, he didn’t give clients bad news over the phone. It was better to do it face to face, for two reasons. Firstly, he felt it was unprofessional. Doctors didn’t give patients bad news over the phone and neither did he. Secondly, he needed the client to be anxiously anticipating the outcome of the investigation. Preferably, the client would be so devastated by the evidence that they wouldn’t look too carefully at the bill.
“I’d rather discuss the matter in person at my office,” he answered, pleased with his professional tone.
“I fucking knew it! That little whore!” Herman spat.
“Herman, just relax. Take a few deep breaths, maybe have a stiff drink. Then, once you’ve settled down, come to my office,” he sternly retorted.
“I’ll be there in an hour.”
Herman hung up.
He wasn’t worried. Herman was just a prick. Just some defense attorney that was used to being in control – he probably treated his clients the same way. All bark and no bite. When he got to the office, he would have ditched the tough guy persona.
Herman was late. Forty-five minutes late. He began to wonder if he should try calling him. The prospect of sitting on his ass at the office all day was an unwelcome prospect.
Herman stalked in without knocking. Prick.
“Herman, take a seat,” he said motioning to the chair in front of his desk.
Upon seeing Herman, he was disconcerted. The man who had a reputation as a bull dog in the courtroom, and had been a genuine prick over the phone, seemed oddly calm. Something wasn’t right.
“What is that? You don’t seem like a fisherman,” Herman remarked, gesturing at the wall.
He didn’t bother to look at it. Will knew what he was referring to.
The red herring. It was a gag. He had found it at a garage sale. It seemed fitting for the office. He thought it was funny.
“It’s a red herring,” he answered curtly, wanting to get this over with.
“So, you’re a fisherman.” It wasn’t a question, more of a statement.
“No. It’s a joke. You know, like in mysteries, there’s always a red herring.”
“Explain, Mr. Miller. I work for a living, don’t have time to read,” Herman lashed out.
“The red herring. It refers to something like a clue that’s supposed to distract the reader. It keeps the reader interested and engaged,” he said, gritting his teeth.
“I bet you thought that was clever,” Herman growled.
“Look, how about we just get this over with. I know how busy you are,” Will stated with a hint of malice.
Herman’s cheeks began to flush. He wasn’t used to being talked to like that, most likely. This fact filled him with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction.
“So, you’ve got pictures? For what I’m paying you, you had better have some pictures. Give me the fucking pictures,” Herman responded in kind.
He was gritting his teeth so hard that his jaw began to throb. He opened the desk drawer. He had printed out the pictures earlier, having deposited them inside a manila folder. He gently slid the folder across the desk.
Herman ripped open the folder. It was at this point that an odd transformation seemed to take place. He seemed resigned. As if having his suspicions confirmed had seemingly deflated him. His prestige, wealth, position, none of it protected him from the inalienable facts. Perhaps this is what heartbreak looked like. If that was possible for a prick like Herman.
“That should help smooth things along, if your wife tries to contest the divorce,” he offered.
“We’re not getting divorced,” Herman mumbled.
This was fucked. Cuckolded husbands like Herman did not take shit lying down. Men who were not intimidating physically (like Herman), always resorted to the legal realm to flex their muscles.
“Well, you’ve got what you wanted. We’ll settle up and have you on your way.”
“What I wanted?” Herman queried quietly.
Will saw where this was going. “I apologize,” he offered diplomatically, “I misspoke, I mean that you have the pictures that you asked for.”
“We’re not getting divorced,” Herman reiterated.
“Okay. It’s your business.”
“I handled it.”
“I’m sorry?” he asked, his adrenaline beginning to pump through his veins.
At this point, Herman pulled out the gun that he had been concealing within his suit jacket. Herman, blank-faced, pointed the gun at him. This was not the first time that a weapon had been pointed at him. What was concerning was that his hand was devoid of tremors. He was pointing it at him as if he was committed to killing him. Guys like Herman typically avoided violence.
“Herman, put the gun down,” he calmly stated.
“You know what you are?” his client quietly asked.
Trapped sitting behind his desk, there was very little that he could do in this situation. Herman blocked the only available exit. This wasn’t the movies. There was no John Woo type bullshit that could get him out of this. Forget about trying to grab the gun. That was bullshit dreamed up in Hollywood. If he went for the gun, he would either end up getting shot by Herman, or shoot himself in the ensuing tussle. It took a minimal amount of pressure to squeeze a trigger. It took a fraction of a second for a bullet to fire. The only available option was dialogue – negotiation.
“You’re a leech,” Herman answered for him. “You subsist on the misery of others. No, you’re worse; you’re a fucking cancer.”
Despite the enormity of the situation, he could not help but reflect on the fact that lawyers also made their bread and butter off of suffering and conflict. The pot calling the kettle black.
“Just take off, Herman. You’ve done nothing yet. Just leave, there’s no need to involve the police. Take off. We’re done here.”
“I handled it,” Herman repeated like a mantra.
Will knew it was coming. Herman made eye contact with him.
He pulled the trigger.
He’d been shot before. Years ago. That was different. That was war.
The impact drove him from the chair onto the floor. He felt the blood pooling under his body. He limply dragged his body towards the wall to prop himself against it. The principles of his training came back to him. He ripped open his shirt to look at the wound, finding it in his gut, slightly above his hip. He gasped as he fingered the exit wound. Hastily, he put pressure on the mess of the blood, trying to staunch the flow.
He began to feel calm. He was clearly going into shock. He slid down the wall, landing flat on his back, staring at the ceiling. Herman entered his field of vision. Fuck.
Herman examined the human wreckage like Will was some sort of science experiment. Dispassionately. As if he were disinterested and unmoved by the dying before him. As for Will, he became oddly euphoric as he waited for his executioner to finish what he had started.
Herman raised the gun once again, but not at Will. Instead, he planted it firmly on his jaw, the gun pressed against his neck, and swiftly pulled the trigger. The body that used to be Herman fell onto him. Darkness overtook him.
When he regained consciousness in the hospital, he would reflect on his shallow and callous character. Was it simply shock? Or had he lost what remained of his humanity? As the corpse that had formerly been Herman landed onto him, his last conscious thought had been, Fuck, I didn’t even get paid.