Some time ago I read a story where the author used the idea of the television newscast and the idea stuck in my head. I can't remember the guy's name or that of the story so I apologise to that author if there is any similarity between his story and mine.
Wanderer jargon buster: TARDIS stands for Time and Relative Dimensions In Space and is the name of "Doctor Who's" Space and Time travel machine. The thing is a British police phone box on the outside, but can be as big as a cathedral inside. You've never heard of Doctor Who? Oh dear, you have led a sheltered life!
British petrol (gas) station attendants' are often known as "console operators" in the UK. Gives the poor bugger the idea when he applies for the job, that all he's got to do is look after switching the pumps on and off. Doesn't say anything about him running about like a blue-arsed-fly selling everything from sliced bread to condoms all bleeding night.
As usual I thank my LadyCibelle and Techsan for their patience, proof reading, editing skills and of course encouragement. I'd also like to add that we don't always see eye to eye, so I take full responsibility for the content and any cock-ups in this story.
Those of you who have to travel in the course of your employment will know what it's like when you find yourself entering yet another strange hotel room, in yet another town you don't really want to be in.
It could be I'm a bloody pessimist, tight or that I don't trust people; after a quick look around to familiarise myself with the room's layout, I put my travelling bag and briefcase down. Then the first thing I did was to check the seals on the mini-bar (assuming there is one, of course), there's no way I'm paying the hiked-up prices hotels charge for a miniature bottle out of one of those things, expense account or not. And I'm damned sure I'm not paying for something I haven't used myself either.
Next it's a quick check for cleanliness of the room, bed and towels. A flash foyer and efficient reception doesn't mean the rest of the in-house staff is up to scratch. After checking that the bed linen is what it should be, I take a quick look under the bed. This was a new check I'd instigated after reading about a guy in New York, who found a dead prostitute's body under his bed. I didn't expect to find any corpses and I won't go into what I've found under hotel room beds since I started checking there. Someone might read this and demand it back. Don't panic, though; I reformatted the hard drive and my daughter loves the iPod, even if I did have to buy new earphones.
Finally after I've made sure there's both hot and cold water running in the bathroom and that the telephone works, it's time to switch the TV on. Good to check the telephone first; because if the TV doesn't work, trying to shout insults down a dead phone can be frustrating.
Not that I watch the TV much, but its nice to have a little background sound sometimes, especially if the people in the next room are noisy or getting it on. Some of these cheap hotels have very thin walls and I'm afraid I don't "get off" on listening to a couple of lovers trying to wear the bed out in the next room. I don't know where some of these folks get their energy from?
Everything checked out fine in this particular establishment; well, it normally does anyway but, as I said, I'm a bit of a pessimist so I have to check. I was a pissed off pessimist actually, as I really didn't want to spend another night away from my lovely wife Florette.
Florette. Yeah, strange name; French. Florette's mother was French; apparently Florette's father was shot down during the war and Florette's mother's family hid him from the Germans and nursed him back to health before helping him to get to Spain. After the war, he went back and married the daughter of the house and took her back to England. The trouble with Florette's name is there isn't any way to shorten it, so she became Babe to me most of the time.
I'd left the TV on whilst I had my shower and changed. When I came out of the bathroom, the local news was just starting at half-six. So I switched the TV over to ITV as they started their national news at around that time.
Same old thing, politicians going on about some world crisis, and looking to have a war somewhere. Oh, they call it peacekeeping but, Christ, don't those buggers understand that our guys are getting shot at out there. Jesus, we all know that the plan is to keep the voters interested in a war somewhere, so they won't realise what a fuck-up the buggers are making of running things back home.
As I can't stand all their bullshit, I turned the volume down some and called Florette on my mobile. If I can help it, I don't pay the inflated prices they charge for hotel phone calls, and besides I had speed-dial on my mobile.
There was no answer from my home phone, so I called Florette's mobile and as usual it rang for sometime before she answered. I could just imagine her digging around in that handbag of hers trying to find it. I never could understand just how she could get all that junk in that bag. The damn thing was like a Tardis; when she pulled all the junk out of it, no one would ever believe it was all going to fit back inside.
"Hi, darling. Did you get there alright?" Florette finally answered.
"Yeah, fine, Babe. The traffic was bad on the motorway as usual, and I got hung up for a while. The hotel room's not bad. I've seen worse. Where are you, by the way? I called on the home phone first."
"I'm round at Jenny's. Couldn't see the point in dashing home to an empty house again. Why?"
"Oh, just curious, that's all."
I should have guessed Florette would be at Jenny's. The two of them are inseparable most of the time and have been ever since I met Florette at Jenny's wedding. Jenny's husband, Joseph, was my best mate Sheldon's younger brother. Although over the years Joe and I have grown closer, because of the girls' close friendship.
Florette said she was having dinner with Jenny and Joe and she might possibly stay over. As there wasn't much point in going home to an empty house, Florette had slept over at their place before when I'd been away, so it wasn't really a surprise for me.
After we'd said the normal sloppy stuff, and I'd told Florette I'd see her the following evening, we ended the call and I headed down to the restaurant for my evening meal.
There wasn't much on the menu that grabbed my attention so I went for my usual steak. That went back once because it wasn't cooked to my liking. Oh, I can be a right pain in the arse when I want to be, especially when I'm away without Florette. I'm so pissed off I'm looking for anything to vent my anger and frustration on.
My meal over, I adjourned to the bar. Hey, with luck there'd be some nice scenery in there that night. Well, on entering the bar I figured the evening could be interesting if nothing else. The first person I took note of, I put straight down as a hooker; she was sitting at the bar, sizing up everyone the moment they walked into the place.
Sitting at one of the tables were four women, a bit on the older side who looked like they were on girls' night out. A couple of rep types kept asking them to dance, which all of the women did in turn. But I think the guys were on a losing wicket. Those four were going home to their loving husbands still chaste, which they did do later when one of their husbands turned up to take them home. Well, I assumed it was a husband; if it wasn't, those four were capable of killing him to my mind. A three-way with one guy, yeah, but a five-way with one guy? They'd kill the bugger.
There were a few couples and foursomes sitting around, including one pair that looked like a honeymoon couple. Shit, I hoped they weren't in the room next door to mine. Two separate couples, whom I took to being on the lam; the age differences didn't look right to me. But then again, the girls might have just been escorts, for all I know. Oh, I don't speculate about escorts; some folks say they are all on the game. But I happen to know a couple of them who aren't. They're just a couple of nice kids trying to get through university without a bloody great debt hanging over their heads. Live and let live, I say.
There were just a couple of ladies on their own - besides the hooker, that is - and there were, of course, quite a few single and little groups of reps and workers who were away from home for the night. By watching them, I could tell some were on the prowl, while others were just having a quiet drink before they, like I would be doing, went to spend a lonely night in a strange bed.
I hadn't seen her in the restaurant but, shit, I - and just about everyone else - saw her when she walked into that bar. God, she glided into the place like she wasn't touching the floor. She stopped and looked around nervously, I think, as though she wasn't sure what to do next, then headed for the bar where she took a stool not far from the hooker who was by now in conversation with a rather rotund guy. I assume they were discussing business.
No sooner had the woman got to the bar than the first wolf arrived at her side. A bit premature I think, but this woman was one of those that make all happily married men - I'm assuming the men have a conscience here - wish they weren't happily married. She, I think, politely refused the wolf's offer of a drink; I would have loved to have overheard what she'd said to him; whatever it was, the wolf quickly retreated.
How to describe this woman who'd grabbed every guy's attention when she walked through that door? Well, she was not a young dolly bird or anything like it. I'd say she was about Florette's age: thirty-eight-ish. She had medium length auburn hair and was wearing that killer of all get ups: the LBD (little black dress, for those of you not familiar with the term). That dress showed off her figure to perfection and ended just below the knee. As she'd perched on the barstool the LBD had risen up just enough to cause every guy in the place to take a deep breath. The heeled shoes she was wearing were just high enough to add some shape to her calves. Damn it, the woman had presence.
If she had been younger, I would have taken her for another escort, like I thought the two other really good looking girls in the bar were. But there was something about this woman that said she wasn't. She had the air about her that told you she wasn't used to entering a bar on her own. Bugger, any guy who got his hooks into her would be bleeding daft to let her out on her own anywhere that the wolves might be about.
Having purchased her drink from the now beaming barman - where had that sullen face that served me gone - the woman looked around for a vacant table, to my displeasure choosing the one alongside mine. Why was I unhappy about that? Well, I happen to enjoy looking at good-looking women; don't we all? Sorry, all men; there could be some ladies reading this. Anyway with her sitting so close to me, I couldn't take in her beauty without making it obvious.
She hadn't been sitting there very long before another guy approached her and asked her if she would like to dance. She politely refused and he retreated only to be replaced by yet a third guy who wasn't going to give up so easily. When she refused his request for a dance with her, he offered to buy her a drink. Actually I think this guy had indulged a little too much in the sauce that evening, so he was totally incapable of realising his attentions were not welcome.
He sat himself down at her table and continued his ludicrous attempts at seduction. This was my cue to play the knight-errant. Well, not immediately; I had to let him raise the woman's anxiety level a little first. I'll point out that I had no intention of doing anything I shouldn't do that evening, being a married man and all. But enjoying this lady's company for a few drinks would take the edge off an otherwise boring and lonely evening.
My timing had to be just right though. There were other gentlemen besides me in that bar and I needed to get in fast to achieve my goal. When I noted the movement of another guy on the other side of the room, I turned in my seat and dived in.
"Look, squire, the young lady obviously isn't enjoying your company or your unwanted attentions. Now please go away before you upset her any more than you have already."
It took the guy a couple of moments to refocus his eyes on me; the drink does that to some folks. I could see that, even in his inebriated condition, he at least still had the sense to think about what a confrontation could lead to.
"What's it got to do with you?" he finally asked.
"The lady is a friend of mine and I don't like to see my friends getting upset. I, on the other hand, am pretty upset already so if you aren't going to go away under your own steam, I'll only be to glad to let off some steam myself and assist you."
I began to rise from my seat, but at that moment another guy - obviously a colleague of the drunk - appeared and persuaded him that they really needed to be somewhere else.
"I'm sorry about that," his friend said to me as he led him away, "he doesn't handle his drink too well."
"Don't apologise to me. It was the lady he was upsetting," I replied as they left, heading towards the bar's entrance.
Now standing I turned back to the lady. "Sorry about that. No manners, some people."
"Thank you. I never know what to say around drunk people. They don't take the hint very easily."
"My pleasure, ma'am. Now if you don't think I'm being too forward, may I offer to buy you a drink? But before you answer," I held up my ring finger to display my band of gold to her. "I'm a very happily married man and I intend to stay that way."
She smiled back at me. "Well, now, you do lay your cards on the table."
"I'd hate anyone to get the wrong idea. A little light conversation is all I ever look for, when I'm away from home."
"She must be some woman."
"Oh, she is: half-French, half-Scottish. The French half gives her looks and passion; the Scottish half is where her brains come from. She can make a pound stretch from here to kingdom come.
"I'll have a gin and tonic, if I may?" The lady said, moving along the sofa she was sitting on, and making it obvious where she wished me to sit when I returned with the drinks.
"Ian Cumberland, at your service." I said, as I sat beside her, holding my hand out to her as I did so. A little over the top, but who gives a damn?
"I'm pleased to meet you, Ian. I'm Stephanie Morris. My friends call me Annie."
"What brings you to this godforsaken town tonight, Annie?"
"God, it is a depressing place, isn't it. I live out in the country - well, in a little village anyway. And, if you must know, the bank manager."
I suddenly wondered what I'd walked into. Why would she be in town to see the bank manager? Annie must have been able to read the confusion on my face, so she went on.
"We - or rather, I now since I was recently widowed - run a small garage. No, damn it, it's just a filling station since my husband died. He ran the workshop and I ran the filling station part. Anyway it costs a lot of money to fill our tanks up and I have the most god awfully big overdraft. Our... My banks here in town and I have to come up to see the bank manager every six months or so, so he can look at the books. Really I think it's so he can charge me another seventy pounds for the interview, where he tries to make me feel like a child."
"Ah, I've met the sort, full of they're own importance."
"Do run a large overdraft?"
"No, I'm a security consultant. They like to play the, 'I'm a clever bugger game, ' but I like to point out the holes in their security. Cuts them down to size a bit. But if you're here, who's running your garage?"
"My children. Michelle is seventeen and she looks after most things whilst I'm away. Phillip will be on the console tonight, he's fifteen and insists on doing his share once he comes home from school. He wants to train as a mechanic and reopen the workshop when he finishes his education."
"Looks like you've got a couple of good kids there."
"Have you got any children?"
"Yes and talk about coincidences, I have a son of eighteen who's away at engineering college. His name's Jack, but he's known as Jacque at home; you know how the French pronounce it. It's spelt the English way but my wife's strong on her French heritage. And we have a daughter of fifteen, who's at boarding school."
"Oh, I wouldn't like my children to go away to school."
"It's not Florette's or my choice either. Marinette is a bit of a virtuoso on the cello. I'm not into all this classical stuff but we had to let her go where she could develop her skills to their best advantage. She claims she misses her brother and us but from reading the few letters we get, I think she's having a whale of a time there. Although she calls her mother all the time.
"Does your wife miss having the children at home?"
"I'm not sure. I suppose she does. But since we've had the house to ourselves, she kind-of gets a little wild around the house sometimes. It's a bit like it was when we were first married. I don't think I should go into details."
"No, I don't think you should either."
"Anyway Florette's into just about every charity there is around. She and her best friend, Jenny, are always on one committee or the other when they are not working. I get dragged off to one fund raising event after another."
For the next couple of hours, Annie and I talked about our lives and, I'll be honest, what I had thought was going to be a drag of an evening turned out to be good fun. Funny how we just clicked together and I could also understand how some guys could easily stray from the righteous path. I've got to say that I could feel there could have been some chemistry there.
I escorted Annie up to her room. Well, not exactly to her room. I got out of the lift on her floor and, having said good night, I watched her as she walked down the corridor to her room, went inside and closed the door. All right, if you insist, she did give me a little peck on the cheek and thanked me for a wonderful evening. But it was just a friendly peck.
I was surprised to find it was well-gone midnight when I got back to my own room. In less than a couple of minutes, I was in the land of dreams. What a bloody shame that you can't always remember your dreams? It must have had a good one; I awoke with a woody in the morning. Not unusual when I'm at home with Florette, but bloody unusual for me when I'm on the road.
I hadn't been sitting in the dining room for long eating my breakfast when I was pleasantly surprised by Annie joining me at my table. I'm buggered if I can remember what we talked about over our meal, but again it made a change from being alone. It was almost eight-thirty when we said our goodbyes and Annie dashed off to her room to get ready for her meeting.
I had no rush because I couldn't get into the place I was checking out until ten at the earliest. It was only going to be a cursory inspection anyway. I was in one of the other guy's territory and he'd given the place a once over a few weeks back. The idea was that no one there knew me from Adam and I was going to see if they'd closed the holes that my colleague had spotted.
Back in my room alone, I switched on the TV for some company whilst I read through my colleagues report again. He'd advised that brown overalls should make me invisible, as that was the colour the company issued to its workers. He also suggested what gate I could possibly slip in through. It was as I was struggling into the boiler suite that I heard the news at the end of the breakfast show and it grabbed my attention.
It was the name of my local town that caught me. I lived in a not too large town and to hear it mentioned on the national news was a surprise to me. Apparently there had been a serious fire at the one big hotel in town during the night. It was a sodding great big Victorian structure, far bigger than the town warranted nowadays, but as our town was at one time at the junction between two of the different railway company's areas, apparently folks used to stop overnight quite often back in the old days.
The screen suddenly changed from a picture of the reporter standing in front of the smouldering building to film of the night's events. What the bloody hell a TV film crew were doing in our hick town, I couldn't understand. But their presence there was to change my life.
The reporter was talking about how many fire crews had been in attendance, and the picture changed to film of the night's events. First pictures of the windows and roof with flames roaring through them and then to one of those giant cherry pickers the fire brigade use to rescue people with nowadays. As the camera zoomed in on the casualties being lowered to the ground, my heart seamed to stop beating. There was my Florette climbing out of the gondola dressed in what looked like little more than a hotel bathrobe, assisted by Sheldon who was dressed in the same garb.
Their faces were obscured by the plastic oxygen masks they were both wearing, but Florette was hanging on to that bloody little Tardis of hers and I'd know Sheldon anywhere. We'd been friends since our first day at primary school. Looked to me like we weren't friends any longer.
I'm not quite sure how I didn't throw the TV set out of the window, but somehow I managed to control myself. I picked up my mobile and called Jenny's house. I figured that's where Florette would be if she wasn't in hospital. Or at work, but I doubted she'd be there after the night that she'd obviously had.
As I'd guess, Jenny hadn't left for work either. I heard her say "shush" to silence the other voices in the room as she picked up the handset. Funny I could also hear the same news broadcast playing on her television in the background. Handy because they must have seen the same piece of film I did.
"Hello!" Jenny said, I think a little hesitantly.
"Hello, Jenny. Not going to work this morning?"
Jenny put her hand over the mouthpiece; I'd heard of noises that doing that makes. Then she came back on, now sounding very frightened.
"No, I'm not feeling very well today. What can I do for you, Ian?"
"Well, you can tell that bitch to get all of her crap out of my house before I get back this evening to start with. Tell her I'll be filing for a divorce today. And you'd better tell that brother-in-law of yours that he'd better start running the other way if he claps eyes on me in future."
"No bloody buts, Jenny. I've just been watching the same news program you have, so don't try giving me any bullshit. And I think you and Joe better stay away from me as well. You must have known all about what those two have been getting up to behind my back."
"Honestly, Ian, it's not what you think it is."
"Bollocks, Jenny. Two people naked except for bathrobes at four in the morning. What kind of a fucking idiot do you take me for? Now you make sure she's out of my fucking house before I get home tonight."
"I think you should speak to Florette, Ian."
"Bollocks," I said and hit the disconnect button.
As quickly as I could I went through my phone's address book and placed a second call.
"Saunders and Fields, good morning," an efficient voice answered.
"Hi, beautiful, It's Ian Cumberland. Is Derick in yet?"
"Um, yes, he's just come in. You want to speak to him? You know he hasn't had his morning coffee yet."
"Tell the bugger I'm going to put some money in his pocket. That'll make him take the call."
I heard the phone switch to hold and then the click as Derick came on the line.
"What time of day do you call this? I've only just walked in the ruddy door?"
"Time for you to earn some money, Ricky. Tell me what do you know about Florette and Sheldon?"
"I don't like the sound of that question, Ian. Why should I know something?"
"So you aren't aware that Sheldon's been porking Florette then?"
"Jesus, Ian, of course I didn't know. You're a friend of mine. Christ, we went to school together."
"So did Sheldon but that hasn't stopped him from shagging my fucking wife."
"Are you sure about this, Ian?"
"As sure as I can be. There was film of the pair of them being rescued from the Railway Hotel last night, slapped all over the telly this morning. All they had on were bathrobes."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm fucking sure! Florette climbing out of the bleeding rescue cage wasn't far short of a bloody porn film."
"Oh, sod. We'd better try and get our hands on a copy of that. I wonder it they will repeat it later so we can record it."
"Leave that to me, Ricky. You just get the divorce in gear."
"Aren't you being a bit hasty, Ian? Have you talked to Florette yet?"
"Look, Ricky, there's nothing to talk about. I spent last night sitting in a hotel bar talking to every man's dream of a woman. I had breakfast with her this morning as well."
"Um, Ian, should you be telling me this?"
"Listen, mate, I haven't finished yet. Look, this woman was what all those dirty dreams you have are made out of. She's a widow; well, she claimed to be. Thinking about it, I'd better cover my back there, just in case Florette and Sheldon are playing dirty."
"Don't worry about it, Ricky. The point is I slept on my own last night. I didn't do anything I should be ashamed of but, while I was, Florette and Sheldon were making whoopee in the Railway. So get that bleeding paperwork started."
"As you wish, Ian. I'll get Carole on it right away."
The call to Ricky was over. My next couple of calls were to the bank and credit card companies. Fuck the bitch! I cancelled everything; I'd run on my company credit card until I had time to sort things out. Florette could get her hands on the money in the current account but there wasn't much in there to worry about.
My next call was to the TV company. It took me a little time to get through to the person I wanted as she was still in the control room.
"Shirley, its Ian Cumberland."
Shirley is another old school friend, handy in a way, that she was one of the may-have-been's when I first hooked up with Florette. I know Shirley had a crush on me back then and I was hoping she still held a grudge against Florette for winning the race.
"Oh. So you saw it?"
"Yep, sure did, and I..."
"Already done, Ian. I've got a DVD in my handbag now. Two copies actually; one for you and one for your solicitor."
"Ah, you've anticipated my request."
"Damn it, Ian, if you hadn't seen it on the news, I intended sending the thing to you. But please be careful who you show it to. There's two files on the discs. One called 'broadcast' you can show to anyone as you could have grabbed it from any TV set. The other one is the rest of the film that the crew took during the night, if you show that around too much, it could get awkward for me. There's some more shots of the pair of them together, kind-a candid like. I'll be honest with you; it was seeing that candid stuff that got me out of my pram."
"Thanks, Shirley. Looks like I picked the wrong girl, all those years ago."
"Would be interesting to live our lives over again, wouldn't it, Ian. But I've been happy with the man I finished up with. But a girl can dream about what might have been. Look, I'm assuming you're going to use Ricky."
"Sure am. He's already on the case."
"Right. I'll drop these discs off at his house on my way home later. He doesn't live far from me. It'll give me a chance to catch up with Angela and the children at the same time. I hardly ever get to see her nowadays."
Well, except for a few more pleasantries, that was the end of that call. That only left me with one more thing to do: find out whether Stephanie Morris was who and what she claimed to be and cover my back in case she wasn't.
At the hotel reception desk, I asked to see the manager and introduced myself to him. The sight of my business card brought a smile to his face. The company I work for had supplied the hotel's video security system. He was just a little hesitant to let me take copies of the hard drives from the time I entered the hotel. But once I explained that there was a remote possibility that someone was trying to set me up, he acquiesced.
I retrieved the equipment I needed from my car and copied the previous twenty-four hours of recordings to DVD's. I knew that the hotel would do the same thing themselves at the end of the week so I would have verification that the recordings hadn't been tampered with. Yeah, that can happen.
My review - or rather test - of the client's security went off not too well for them. I slipped in the gate whilst a lorry was being checked in. The poor bloody security guy was on his own and couldn't watch the monitors and be outside checking the truck in. I just walked past on the other side of it.
Once inside the overalls without any logos on them meant that no one had any idea I shouldn't have been there. Ah, you can guess how it went, a typical company losing stock and money through petty pilfering because they are too tight to spend a little cash and employ enough security staff.
The job done as far as I was concerned, I started my drive back home. It was almost four o'clock when, approaching a motorway service station, I realised I hadn't eaten since breakfast. Not that I'm keen on motorway food, but god in heaven knew what was going to happen when I got home. If Florette was about, or even Sheldon, I could finish up cooling my heels in the slammer for the night! So I pulled in to eat something.
You know, I did see the National Express bus parked in the coach park. Being observant they call it. In my business, we learn to be observant. But, shit, if I was that good at it, how come I'd never seen any sign that Sheldon and Florette were getting it on.
Anyway I didn't think about that bus until Annie plopped her backside on the seat opposite me as I was eating my meal.
"Hi, stranger, we keep on running into each other it seems. On you way home now?"
"Oh, hello, Annie. What are you doing in here? Trying for food poisoning?"
"Yeah, a bit near the mark, isn't it. I think most of it looks like it was cooked yesterday. No, I would eat here by choice but the bus takes a half-hour break here. They change drivers or something. Any way what makes you stop here? I'd have thought you could wait to get home of that wife of yours."
Annie went quiet for a few moments, as if she was trying to take in what I'd just said.
"What do you mean, your ex-wife? What's happened?"
I gave Annie a rundown of the mornings events and, whilst I was doing so, the bus driver called for the passengers to get back on board. I'm not sure how it happened but I discovered that Annie lived about twenty miles from my house, so I offered to drop her off home. I'm going to be honest; I needed someone I could talk to, and besides that if she didn't live where she'd claimed the night before, I would soon find out.
I forced myself to eat a rather unappetising meal as we talked and then we got back on the road again. Annie didn't say much during the journey, but she made a very good listener.
It was five thirty when I pulled onto the forecourt of her filling station. I filled the car's fuel tank whilst I was there, just as a kind of thank you for Annie's company. She introduced me to her son and daughter, both of whom gave me the kind of protective looks I would have expected, from children worried about their recently widowed mother. And I listened as Annie told them that her overdraft had been approved for the next six months.
Then, after drinking a cup of coffee with them, I left for the drive home.
Yep, I wasn't going to get away easily. I knew that when I pulled into my drive. Florette's car was parked in her usual spot and there were lights on in the house. I sat there for a few minutes contemplating how to handle this meeting, but then an idea struck me and I called Ricky on the mobile.
"You home, mate?" I asked when Ricky answered his mobile.
"Yeah, been home an hour or so."
"Did you get a chance to look at those DVD's that Shirley dropped off?"
"Unfortunately, yes, Ian, and they are bad news. Well, good news for your divorce case but bad news for Florette. Nothing more than a little kissing and cuddling but add that to the way they are dressed and no bloody judge is going to believe he was just comforting her after a bad experience. It's in the bag as far as you are concerned. Oh, I'm looking into an alienation of affection case against Sheldon, not a very common case to bring nowadays, but if you're as pissed off as you sounded this morning, you might like to give it a try."
"Go for it if you think it will stitch him up. That bastard was supposed to be my friend."
"I think he's going to be surprised how many folks he's upset by what he's done. It'll be funny if he tries to turn up for golf on Sunday."
"Well, his regular golfing four includes my partner Larry. He's already told the guys that if Sheldon plays he won't. Oh, don't worry; he didn't tell them why. But Sheldon is going to be out of the club completely in a week or so anyway. You know he's up before the committee for that argument he had with that visiting player at the tournament the other week. Well, he's charged with ungentlemanly conduct and, as Larry's on the committee, well, bugger, as Larry put it, what's more bloody ungentlemanly than seducing another member's wife."
I smiled to myself as the call ended. Sheldon getting thrown out of the golf club was only going to be the first of the repercussions he was going to suffer. What the hell was his wife going to say when the shit hits the fan on this debacle. No, I had no intention of calling Sheldon's wife. I liked the girl; she would find out soon enough what had been going on.
Inside the house, I found Florette sitting in the kitchen crying. Well, apparently so; for all I bloody knew, she could have been acting.
"What are you doing here, Florette?" I asked in as hard a tone as I could muster. Look this woman had been and still was the love of my life and, when she cried, I cried inside as well.
"I live here and I need to talk to you."
"You do not live here any longer but, if you wish to talk, I'll give you ten minutes and then I'll pick you up and throw you out."
Suddenly Florette was not crying anymore. The look she gave me was one of shock.
"Florette, have I ever lied to you?"
She sat even more upright as she understood that I meant what I said.
"But I'm your wife. You can't throw me out like that."
"You were my wife until I discovered you've been playing patter cake with Sheldon." Funny how I couldn't bring myself to say shagging or fucking.
"But I love you! You can't throw me out. You love me."
"Did love you, you mean. I'm not going to love any woman who takes me for a bloody fool. How long have you two been... fucking each other?" It was one hell of a strain to say that.
"We haven't... !"
"Bollocks, Florette. What are you going to claim you were doing in that hotel room with Sheldon, playing fucking Monopoly? And from what I've heard, the two of you were all over each other in that ambulance."
Florette switched the tears back on. But I ignored them and filled the kettle. Bollocks to it, I fancied a cup of tea. Once Florette realised I was ignoring her, I think she began to understand that I wasn't playing games.
"I'm sorry, Ian. It was the first time, honestly."
"It was honestly."
"I don't believe you, Florette, and by tomorrow I'll have all the proof I need. I'll have some more of these and I'll know all about every time you've shagged Sheldon and whoever else he's shagged in the Railway as well."
Florette looked up at me again and I think the penny really dropped when she saw the DVD's I was holding. I think she suddenly remembered that I'd got a nice commission cheque when I'd sold the surveillance system to the Railway hotel. I didn't have to worry about the fire. The computers themselves were in a water-and-fireproof cabinet in the basement. I knew that we'd soon be going through them, to check whether there was any evidence that the fire had been arson. Standard procedure nowadays, the insurance companies gave the clients discounts when our systems were installed.
"Okay, but it was only the second time."
"Only! The second time! The first bleeding time was enough for you to be out that bleeding door."
"But it was only sex, Ian. Sheldon doesn't mean anything to me. Why should you get so upset if I do something you've always done."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Well, you mess about with women when you're out of town. I never got all uppity with you about it."
"I don't know where you've got that bleeding idea from, but I've done nothing I'm ashamed of when I've been away. And I've never jumped into any strange woman's bed. Christ, besides dishonouring you, God knows what a guy could pick up. There's AIDS and all kinds of things out there, you know."
"But Sheldon said..."
"Fucking hell, girl, just how bloody thick are you? Christ, I thought I knew you, but it seems like I never have. Tell me something. I know Sheldon always held a torch for you. Well, let's say I've always had the feeling he'd like to get into your draws. How long has the bastard been trying to chat you up?"
"Well, he always has been really. Its just I thought he was only being friendly."
"So Sheldon tells you that I've had a one night stand or something and you jump into bed with him. You couldn't wait to ask me about it. You just couldn't wait to fuck the bugger first."
"No, Ian it wasn't like that. Sheldon told me a long time ago about you and some girl you slept with when you were in London last year."
"And how the hell would Sheldon know what I did or didn't do in London?"
"You told him, when you were out together one night."
"Bollocks, Florette. Sheldon lied to you, probably so he could get into your pants and you, you silly bitch, fell for it. Look, I'll show you how I spend the nights when I'm away and this was a good evening for me."
I put my laptop computer on the table and fired it up. Putting one of the DVD's from the hotel in the drive, I loaded the surveillance program and started hunting for the scenes I wanted.