This story is based on a composite of several real situations I have known, friends and acquaintances of mine; most of the content is fictional, but there are some almost verbatim transcripts of a few key circumstances.
It all began on a pleasant April morning.
It was a gorgeous Saturday. The windows were open, in deference to the unusually mild temperatures. The birds were singing, the air was fresh and clean-smelling, and Norman Rockwell was going to town.
I went into the kitchen to begin breakfast. I normally drink coffee, but occasionally I go on a tea binge, sometimes lasting for a couple of weeks. I filled my favorite teapot, one left to me by my grandmother, put it on the stove, and readied the bags for the telltale whistle.
As soon as the kettle began to sing, I placed the bags in the water, killed the gas, hit the timer on the microwave, and said, in as pompous and English a voice as I could, "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot." I laughed silently at my cleverness.
Yeah, I'm a wit.
I'd just squeezed the last drops out of the bags and replaced the top on the kettle, when the doorbell announced a visitor.
I opened the door. To my surprise, it was not a JW or a Girl Scout or some solicitor.
It was Trudy, wife of my best friend Brad.
Now, Brad and I had known one another since middle school; we'd attended separate colleges, but we'd been in one another's orbits for most of the time since we'd met. He'd married Trudy three years earlier; she'd known my wife Audrey, at least well enough to mourn her passing six months later.
Trudy and I had never clicked, not as such. We were both very attached to Brad, and there was no underlying hostility to work through. It was just a matter of not connecting. Hard to explain.
Anyway, there she stood, looking very unhappy. I stood aside; she entered.
"Would you care for some tea?" I asked, trying to play the good host.
She sniffed the air tentatively. "Earl Grey?" she asked.
I chuckled. "Good nose," I quipped. "Yep, that's what's on the menu. Just finished brewing."
She smiled thinly. "Yeah, that'd be nice."
I ushered her into the kitchen. She sat the small table in the breakfast nook. I placed cups and saucers on the table, poured the tea, inquired after her sugar and milk preferences (none and none), and I sat.
She was silent, savoring the tea, looking vaguely like she was going to cry. "Could I talk to you about something?" she asked abruptly.
Was that an alarm bell? "Sure," I said, more calmly than I felt.
"I mean, this is strictly you and me stuff. I need to know I can count on you not to talk to Brad about it," she said, her voice strained.
Okay, that was definitely an alarm bell. Still, I reasoned, for her to come to me had to mean it was serious. I looked her in the eye and said, "You have my word."
She was silent for another moment; then, "I think, I'm pretty certain, Brad is having an affair."
That knocked the emotional wind right out of me. I couldn't believe it. Brad had seen how my first wife's cheating had hurt me. I was unable to believe he'd turn around and inflict it on his own wife.
"Do you have actual evidence?" I asked. "Or, is this just a suspicion?"
She collected her thoughts for another moment. "Text messages on his cell, hang-ups on the house phone, and ... this is so embarrassing, he hardly touches me at all."
"Brad?" I blurted. "Mr Horndog?" I froze as I realized what I'd said. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that, but, I mean, Trudy, he really enjoys," I faded; this was not going well. "I'm sorry, what I meant was..."
She cut me off. "I know he's told you we have a good sex life. He told me that himself. He also swore he was never very explicit about it."
I nodded. "I know he finds your, uh, feminine charms to be more than adequate."
She smiled thinly, tiredly. We both sat in silence for a moment.
At length, I said, "Okay, so what exactly can I do to help? What do you want me to do?"
She sighed. "I don't know," she said. "I'm still so upset, I haven't thought it through. Perhaps this was a mistake."
"No," I said in a firm voice. "If Brad is doing something like this, I should be the one to turn him around."
"If he's been cheating," she said softly, "there will be no turning him around. You're right about one thing. He told me a little about your first marriage, what you went through. If he could do it to me, after what he saw ... well, I'd never trust him again. The marriage would be over."
That hit me again, hard. I realized I had two options. On the one hand, I could alert Brad and, if he was stepping out, he could either call a halt to it, or, more likely, take it further undercover. On the other hand, I could snoop around, find out whether he was stepping out.
So I had to choose between enabling him, allowing him to do to Trudy what Noreen had done to me; and exposing him for the cheater Trudy feared he was, which would cost us a friendship.
Suddenly, I realized I was jumping the gun. I hadn't even considered the possibility he might be innocent; she might be imagining things, maybe she'd watched too many installments of Maury, or any of several alternatives were reasonable.
My confusion must have been plainly visible, as Trudy said, "I guess I've stirred things up."
I reached over and took her hand. "It's a lot to think about. I'll keep your confidence. I just, well, never did any sleuthing. Give me some time to make a plan. I will help you."
A tear escaped each eye. "Thank you, Jeff. You're a good friend."
We stood as one, embraced briefly, and I walked her to the door.
After she left, I sat on the couch. One perfectly fine April morning, shot to shit.
My sister married a fellow named Chuck, who has a brother named Frank. Frank is an investigator with a nationally prominent firm. I'd met him a few times, and he seemed pleasant enough. I asked Chuck to ask Frank to contact me, if he was willing, to advise me in the matter at hand.
Frank called me the next evening. I went way out of my way to explain I was not trying to be Dick Tracy or Mike Hammer, and then gave him a brief rundown of what Trudy told me.
When I finished I paused, and said, "So what do you think?"
There was a silence, so long I thought he'd disconnected. Just before I was going to ask if he was still there, he said, "Okay, let's do this. I can't run an off-book investigation. I have loyalty to my company. I don't think that's what you're asking, but I have to make that clear.'
"I understand," I said, "and thanks for whatever you might be able to do."
"Okay," he repeated, slowly, "she came to you, I'm thinking, because you can get close to him. That says you can get into his car, truck, whatever, and plant a little GPS bug. I can point you in the right direction in your area. Then, you just follow it around. If it's on the move, you just wait until it stops and cruise by. For God's sake, whatever you do, don't try to act like a tail.
"Then, when and if you find him someplace he doesn't especially belong, and the more times, the better the indicator, you don't, repeat, don't bust in like Dirty Harry. You tell the wife to hire a PI for a day or so, and let them gather the dirt."
"No cops?" I asked.
"Where's the crime?" he asked, a tad briskly, I thought. "Sure, it's sleazy, but the cops don't give a damn. Just find out the basics, and if there's fire where the smoke is, you turn it over to the smokejumpers."
Well, it all made sense to me.
We talked for a few more minutes. I thanked him profusely; he apologized for biting my head off, and then explained most amateurs don't understand the legal dynamic behind marital infidelity. "Marriage was invented for two reasons," he opined, "making kids legitimate, and giving PIs and lawyers a constant stream of income."
I thought that cynical, but held my peace; then I thanked him, and we rang off.
At least I had a germ of a plan.
I picked up some of the items Frank had mentioned, over the next weeks. I was moving glacially, but I wanted to be right.
Without belaboring the day-to-day of what I was doing, I found reasons to ride with Brad in both his car and his SUV, and planted GPS bugs in each without raising suspicion.
I briefed Trudy, frequently and surreptitiously, on my progress. During one of our discussion, I asked how things were.
"Worse," she said, great sadness coating the word and lining her face. "He hasn't, well, touched me since before I came to see you. He got really snippy last weekend, and at one point I thought he was going to hit me." She lost a few tears at the memory.
Was this the man I had known for so long? It was hard to see how.
I reassured her I was getting some good data, and all would be over soon.
I'd tailed Brad a few times, despite Frank's warnings, and found he would occasionally stop by a certain house on a certain street on certain days. Further, he'd leave work to go to the house, enter the garage by remote, it seemed, close the garage door, and emerge in reverse almost precisely thirty-five minutes later.
And always around lunchtime.
The bastard was having nooners. A perfectly good wife at home, pining for his touch, and he's fucking some other guy's wife.
I took down the address, and after some inquiries, I learned the name of the owner of record a Dennis Roberts, married to Denise Roberts. Dennis, I found, after some more discreet inquiries, worked as -- I had to laugh -- a divorce lawyer.
One day, as Brad's car disappeared behind the garage door, I picked up my cell, and called Dennis Roberts' office. I was met by the usual he's-not-in bullshit; I told the receptionist, in loud terms, it was about his wife.
There was a brief pause; then, "Dennis Roberts speaking. What's this about my wife?"
"She's having sex with another man. Right now. You need to hurry home and take care of business." I had used a fake accent and spoken in an asthmatic voice; I snapped the phone closed and sat back to watch the fireworks.
Fifteen minutes later, a car I assumed (rightly) was driven by Dennis Roberts screeched around the corner and pulled up in the drive. Roberts slammed the car door, entered the house without an ounce of subtlety, and within moments, Brad came flying out the front door, sheet wrapped around him, desperately punching what I assumed (again, rightly) was 911 into his cell phone.
He screamed into the phone, and as Roberts came out the front door, Brad yelled into the phone, "He's going to kill me!" and held the phone in Roberts' direction. That slowed the lawyer; he knew he'd be in deep shit if he injured the guy, no matter the cause.
The cops roared up three minutes later; and as they tried to sort everything out I stepped from behind the bush that had provided some meager (and unnecessary) camouflage.
Brad saw me; we locked eyes, and his face contorted into a hateful mask.
He knew I had set him up.
I walked back to my car, a block away, got in, and sat and cried for a minute. I composed myself, and drove home.
When I could tell Brad had returned home, via GPS, I called Trudy on her cell and told her I was coming over, and why. I believe I heard a sob as I hung up.
I arrived a few minutes later -- it wasn't far, just twenty blocks or so -- and Trudy opened the door.
I stood on the front stoop for a moment; then Brad pushed Trudy aside, and began to scream at me. "You motherfucker!" he bellowed.
I wasn't sure what he'd told Trudy, so I played it cool. I calmly replied, "What are you talking about, Brad?"
He was breathing hard. I allowed him to collect himself while I said, "Anything to do with Denise Roberts?" He turned several shades of red.
I turned to Trudy and said, "I saw him being chased out of a house today, with an angry husband not far behind. Sonofabitch didn't learn from what Noreen did to me."
Brad screeched and swung for me. I was ready; I maced the bastard, to which he responded with all manner of obscenity.
As a parting shot, I said, "Trudy, I'll be a witness at any legal action you take. You were right."
I drove away in turmoil.
The divorce went fairly smoothly, as I heard it. Being caught red-handed, by an officer of the court no less, left Brad with no bargaining chips. He was toast. I was never called to testify to what I had seen or done.
Trudy threw him out, of course. He moved to an apartment in another corner of the city, and changed jobs. He found something in the same field, but could not have continued to work with the firm that had employed him. Well, good, I thought; I hate to see anyone suffer, no matter why.
I mourned the loss of a friend, and allowed life to continue on.
It was a Saturday evening, about eight months after the whole nasty business had started. I'd head nothing from Brad, not surprisingly, and nothing from Trudy. I was contemplating that fact when the doorbell rang.
There stood Trudy.
I smiled at the sight of her. "Come on in," I said. "I was just thinking of you."
She returned my smile with one of her own, wan though it was.
We walked into the living room and sat. "Care for some tea?" I asked.
She shook her head. "No, but if you have something a little stronger... ?"
"Ah," I said, "coffee."
She laughed, for the first time in my presence in many months. "No, I mean something with kick."
I grinned. "I knew what you meant. Johnnie Black?"
Her eyes widened. "Sounds good," she said, smiling more like she really meant it. "Neat for me," she added.
I got the bottle of Johnnie from my stash and a couple of glasses, poured a shot apiece, and said, "You make the toast."
She pondered for a second. "To what should have been, and what is to come."
"Hear, hear," I replied. We clinked and drank.
We sat on the sofa and talked. To my surprise, that drink became a second, and that a third. I was starting to get worried Trudy might be too inebriated to drive home. Her eyes were still clear, her words unslurred, and I decided to put the bottle away. She made no objection.
We had been making chitchat of the smallest kind; with no glass for a prop, her guard down, she began to open up a little.