I hit the garage door opener and started to pull my car into the stall. Damn, there was a metal lawn chair in the way. I got out of the car to move it. This puzzled me for I knew I hadn't put it there. Then I saw what looked like the heel to a woman's shoe under it. It was a high heel with some glitter on it. This gave me pause and I stood there looking at it before picking it up and turning it over in my hand. Where in hell had that come from and why was the chair where it was.
My garage was a three car and except where I parked mine, it was full of stuff I stored for my parents. Some had been there as long as five years since they had moved out of the area. I moved the chair and slipped the broken heel into my jacket pocket. Pulling my car in, I sat there thinking. I came up with the idea that someone had been or was using my garage to hide in. It had to be a woman. A woman that wore expensive shoes. Then why would this be a person that had to hide? Running from the law, maybe?
It came to me then something I had seen on the late night news last night. A woman was missing from her home and had been for three days. The home she was missing from was about a mile away from mine. Blood had been found and foul play was suspected. This was reported by a step-brother and he was greatly concerned for her well-being. The woman was twenty-two-years-old and had led a sheltered life according to reports. A picture had flashed during the newscast. She was a nice looking woman and would be noticed even in a crowd.
The only reason I had taken note was because the address was so close to my own. The small door of my garage wasn't locked so anyone could have gained entry. Thinking all of this time, I slid out of the car and closed the garage door. I suspected that the woman was still in the garage behind some of the furniture. I locked the small door this time and went into the house. Should I report this to the authorities? I should. That would be the sensible thing to do.
If the woman were still there, she would be hungry and thirsty. I flipped a burger into a skillet and got a yogurt and a bottle of water out of the fridge. When the burger was done, I put it into a bun with catsup. Carrying everything back to the garage, I put it onto the righted chair and speaking out loud, I said, "I left you some food and water. I'll leave the door unlocked to both the garage and my kitchen. When it gets dark you can come in and maybe you can tell me your story. I'm not going to call anyone and report your presence until tomorrow. I might not even do that if you convince me there is no need." I turned and left.
An hour later and just barely dark, this woman stood in the doorway. "What do I have to do to keep you from telling anyone where I am?"
She wasn't what you would say glamorous, especially as she had been hiding out. That was today and it wasn't the best for her. She could be attractive otherwise. She certainly had the shape for it, being fairly tall and thin. She had what made you know she was a woman though. "All I ask is for you to tell me your story. You do that and then I'll decide what I think is best for you. I'm not going to be harboring a fugitive."
"I ran away, but there is nothing that I can be charged with. I've done nothing wrong."
"So tell me. I'm not inclined to cause a person trouble."
"Okay, but first I want to thank you for the food and water. I was going to have to go out looking for some if you hadn't brought it to me. It was delicious."
"I'm waiting. Why don't we go into the living room where we can be more comfortable? The shades are closed and no one can see you. I don't expect any company tonight, so you will be safe enough." I watched as she hobbled in after I had sat down. "Give me your broken shoe. I'll repair it as you are telling me about yourself." I went back into the kitchen and got the heel and some tools. I pulled up the innersole of the shoe and after putting a liberal amount of glue on both the shoe and the heel, I pounded a sizeable nail down into the heel. I countersunk the head and then put the innersole back over it. I handed it back to the woman.
"There, Miss Thomas. That should keep you from having to hobble. You might want to wait for the glue to set up before walking on it. It will be dry before morning."
"I thought you were helping and you did that so I wouldn't run away from you, didn't you?"
"It might look that way, but I told you earlier that I wouldn't tell anyone you were here until tomorrow morning. If you don't trust me, you should start running now. The shoe should hold you for a little way."
I was being stared at as we got away from shoes and running. "How did you know my name?"
"Your image has been all over the television. It described how you were dressed. By the way, where did the blood they talked about come from?"
She held up her left hand. "I cut my finger paring an apple. When I saw all of the blood, I decided I would cause my stepbrother some grief. I went out through a side door leaving blood everywhere I could. When I got out to the cars though, I couldn't find a key for any of them so I started walking. I have been in your garage since about three hours after I left home."
"I guess I can believe that. But that doesn't explain why you felt you had to run away."
"It is a power thing and concerns what was my father's business. Both my parents are dead. My mother died first and Dad married a woman named Phyllis Bronson. My stepmother isn't too bad, but my stepbrother, Henry, wants control of the business. Dad died a few months ago and left the majority of the shares to me on my twenty-third birthday. Since that time Henry has tried every way he could to get me to turn the business over to him. At first he tried sweet talking me. That didn't work so lately he has been making threats." When Cindy said this she didn't look at me. I would remember this later.
"Who actually owns the business?"
"I do just as soon as it goes through probate. It is coming to me anyway with full control as soon as I reach the age of twenty-three. Dad thought he would live that long even though he hasn't been well. He died suddenly which has left everything up in the air."
"Your stepmother doesn't inherit?"
"No there was a prenuptial agreement..."
"How old is your stepbrother?"
"He is twenty-eight. The reason he feels he has some rights is because he was vice president under my father. Dad did trust him in the months before he died, but he left the business to me."
"What kind of business is it?"
"It is a wholesale electronics business. It was started by my grandfather. Just as soon as Henry has control, he plans to parcel it out and sell off all of the assets. That includes the inventory, the rolling stock and the real estate. It would make him well-to-do. He has no idea of continuing the business." Agai I felt she was holdings something back.
"If you sold it, then wouldn't you be a rich woman, the same as him?"
"Yes of course, but what about the people that work there? They would lose their jobs. Some have worked there since my grandfather's time."
"So this is a nostalgic decision you are making."
"You could say that I suppose, but it is more than that. It is my whole heritage."
"Is it profitable?"
"It was up until my father died anyway. I haven't been able to see the books since right after he passed away."
"You ran away. You must have some plan. What was it?"
"Are you going to call the authorities? I'm not telling you anything if you are?"
"Let's see, you are hiding out in a stranger's garage. You were hungry and thirsty and the stranger fed you and repaired your shoe so you could continue on your way if you so wish. He said he wouldn't call anyone for another twelve hours or so. You haven't convinced him yet that he should help you or at the very least keep quiet about where you are. You have less than one chance in ten of escaping very far without being caught. My question doesn't seem unreasonable to me."
"Put that way, I guess it doesn't. Okay, I have about seventeen thousand dollars in my bag out in the garage. This is money I have been hiding since my Dad died. I'll pay you to take me some place I won't be recognized. Four months from now I will show up and claim my inheritance. It is as simple as that."
"Wow, sounds like a good plan, but it has some holes in it. What happens if Henry sells off the business in the next four months?"
"That is why I left the way I did, making the authorities think there was a crime and I was abducted or killed. They'll be investigating off and on for a time. That should stop Henry or at least slow him down. That reminds me, could I have a clean bandage for my finger?"
I stared at this person that had come into my life so unexpectedly. Maybe she did have a workable plan. It just needed the small details worked out. As--how to keep her hidden for four months. Maybe I should delve a little deeper. "Do you have anything to back up what you are telling me?"
"Yes, I have some conversations and some threats that were taped. They are hidden as well. If you would get me to some place safe, I will tell you where they are and you can listen to them. Don't think you can take them and go over to my stepbrother either for they are just copies."
"What is in it for me if I help you? Seventeen thousand doesn't seem like very much."
"Oh, mercenary are we? I don't think I trust you now. I think I better leave and take my chances out on the street."
"Don't you think you better know my name before you run off? Yours is Cindy if I remember correctly."
"I know your name. I found it in a box of papers out in the garage. It is Randy Harper."
"You left out the C. I always use that. It is always Randy C Harper. Did you learn anything more about me? What I do for work, for instance?" A worried look came over her face as she shook her head.
"Okay, don't worry. Seventeen thousand isn't that much if I baby sit you for four months. I would charge more than that usually. You see Cindy, I'm Randy C Harper, private investigator. I insist people call me Randy C. I've most likely used products that you have sold to different outlets. Honestly, just so you know, I'm looking for work at the minute. What would you pay me to help you get your father's business into your hands and away from your stepbrother? How about a percentage or maybe just take it on a contingency basis.
"I'm going to make coffee. While I'm gone, Google my business over there on the computer if you wish. There are some endorsements listed. Call a couple if you are worried about my integrity. Two are even policemen. I will tell you this, if you hire me to help you, you are totally in my hands and have to do everything I tell you to do."
There was silence. "No!"
"Hey remember who is helping who here?"
"I said no because who is paying who here? But what I meant was, we'll discuss it and then I'll probably do everything you tell me to do." I felt that we were going to get along just fine. There were three bedrooms on the second floor and two baths. I put Cindy in the back and nicest one and told her to use the bath that went with it. She acted now as if it were her due. Being employed by her--would that give her the right to feel this way? Maybe?
Cindy hid out during the day and had dinner on the table when I came home from my office. That was nice, but she ran more to fish and salads than fried red meat and there had been both in the freezer. The pie of canned apples she baked made up for that loss so maybe I could get used to it. Her next command though didn't sit too well. "You better restock your fridge and the freezer if I'm cooking for you."
I had some news I had to break to her and I didn't know how she was going to take it. "Cindy, I have a date with a woman tonight. I'm taking her out to a club."
"That's nice. This is happening after working hours. I'll just sit here and watch TV."
"Umm, maybe I'll ask you to stay in your bedroom and be very quiet. I think my date will be coming back here to spend the night. You see she is an old friend and it wouldn't be right if she knew you were here you being a fugitive and all."
"I take it she is a friend that provides benefits?"
"You could say that."
"Okay this time. I assume this date that was planned before I came on the scene and you couldn't get out of it. However in the future if it happens again, don't you think that is a little disrespectful to me?"
"I suppose. What am I supposed to do--be celibate?"
"No, of course not, but think how I'm going to feel with you banging on the bed next door to me and I'm in the next room listening to you?"
"I can think of only one way to resolve my dilemma--yours too."
"Ha! No way, no how, never happen!"
"Cindy, I was pulling your chain. This will be the last time I have a guest while you are here, I promise. I'll make sure I am as quiet as can be." Being quiet was something that I knew was a lie. My date could be very vocal at times.
"Oh, have a good time. I was pulling your chain just a bit as well."
My date was with Diane for drinks and dancing. At one time I had been hired by her to investigate her husband when she suspected him of cheating. I had an agenda and this was project number eight for me. The husband was cheating and eventually Diane and I became friends and over time a little more. I had just resolved all the issues between them and had concluded what I was hired to do. She was coming over tonight just to thank me. Diane was more than fifteen years older than I was, but the age difference didn't stop us from enjoying each other.
My date was out to enjoy herself and I wasn't going to change just because there was a fugitive staying in my house. Drinks flowed and the music was loud which set us up for a fine evening out. When we were going up the walk to the house I saw the drapes flutter so I knew Cindy was at least curious. Was she a voyeur? Must be to some extent for when we were making out in the living room before going upstairs, I caught Cindy peeking down the stairs at us.
It must have been a long night for Cindy. There was a joint shower to take which wasn't hurried and of course that led to what Diane was really here for. Breakfast was a leisurely meal and the good-bye took awhile before I was able to drive Diane home.
Cindy was steamed when I returned. "Christ, Randy C, you are an animal. I can see the evening loving and I can see the extended good-bye, but sex at five-thirty in the morning? The way the woman screamed brought me right up out of a sound sleep."
"I told you I would be as quiet as possible. You didn't hear me did you?" I got a disgusted look. "Now, what would you like for breakfast?"
"Not what you had, that's for sure. Let's change the subject. What are you going to do to protect me?"
"I'm going to take you home to Mama. I called her and she is expecting you. Mom and Pop live about sixty miles away. When we get there we'll make some changes in your appearance and if you don't go out too much, you should be safe enough."
"Won't their friends wonder about a strange woman living with them?"
"No, we'll put the word out that you are my second cousin."
"Do you have any second cousins?"
"No, but I always wanted one. You know a cousin close enough to love but not close enough to prevent us kissing if we are attracted to each other."
"I knew you were an animal. Christ, Randy C, you had sex less than two hours ago and here you are hitting on a different woman. You keep away from me. I don't want anything to do with you."
"Am I fired?"
Cindy was silent while she thought this over. "No you are not. I think you are a professional in that respect. While I am paying you, I don't think I will have to worry." I didn't answer her.
The house was picked up and I cleaned up the bedroom and washed down the shower. When there was no more evidence of my bacchanalia, I asked Cindy if she was ready to leave. She was.
"Okay, I'm going to make some temporary changes in your appearance so you can ride in the front seat with me. Pin up your hair as tight as can be and I'll find a wig for you to put on. Before you do that, here is some make-up. Tint your facial skin and your arms to a nice tan. I have sunglasses for you to put on, but if you don't want to wear them, I have an eye patch. All of this is to detract from what you really look like."
"So all you are going to do is to hide me for four months? That still may not be enough to stop Henry?"
"Oh, I have another plan to shut him down. Would he spend any money to find you?"
"He might. What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking I will try to get hired by him. Then I can work from the inside. You will have to help me though. Give me all the locations of the desks, the safes and any other place paperwork is kept. I'm going to need to find out if he is defrauding your company or if there is any other crookedness going on." Cindy looked at me with new eyes. Maybe there was more to me than what she had heard me doing last night. There was a worried look there too. Maybe she had stretched the truth and didn't want me digging to deep.
Wouldn't you know after Cindy got herself all made up, she was still recognizable by the clothes she was wearing when she arrived here. They were pretty rumpled, but they were distinctive and anyone that had seen her on the news, would remember her. "Wait here. Mom left some clothes in the garage."
Even I had to laugh at the results. Mom was a big woman and Cindy nowhere filled these old sweat clothes of my mother's. Hopefully no one would see Cindy when we left the house. It wasn't to be. A friend of mine, Pete, came up the walk. He looked at me and then at Cindy and started laughing. Cindy got mad, but didn't dare say anything. When Pete finally stopped laughing, he said. "Come on Randy C, I know you are into all sorts of oddball and older women. Christ that Diane you hooked up with is almost old enough to be your mother. This one is too much."
"Pete, stop it. This is a homeless person I hired to clean my house. She came in rags and I found some old things of my mother's. Peggy you go set in the car and I will take you back to the shelter in a few minutes." Cindy glared at Pete and stomped to my car. Pete and I talked for a few minutes. He was trying to set up a fishing date, but I told him I had just been hired to do a job.
As Pete left he made the comment, "You know that Peggy might not be too bad. She has a cute butt. How old is she anyway?"
"I have no idea. Get out of here, I have some work to do." When I got in the car I observed, "I think your disguise is working."
"That son of a bitch. When I get this straighten out, I'm getting even. Who does he think he is?"
"He said you had a cute butt. Why are you mad at him for saying that?"
"He had no right, that's why." I let it go, knowing it was an argument I couldn't win. "Why are you smiling?"
"Because he was right, you do have a cute butt." I got glared at and she turned away from me. The anger seemed to have disappeared from her features though, the next time she looked at me.
"Okay, tell me a little more about your life. It will take a couple of hours to get to my folks place."
"Not much to tell. Let's see. I have a cute butt, but we already know that. Other than that, I am an only child--except for my stepbrother of course. My Mom died when I was sixteen and I was especially close to my Dad until he remarried when I was nineteen. Pop was looking for someone to take over the business and thought Henry was just the one. What a suck-up he is.
"Henry thought I came with the business and came onto me pretty strong. I went to Pop a year ago and told him all about it. I guess he tackled Henry about it and since that time he has hated me. Pop promised that the business would be mine and made sure I owned a big enough percentage to have full control. Henry is trying to get it from me."
"So basically this is two people fighting over an inheritance with neither one wanting to give in to the other. This is just an observation. You know you may fight so hard over it, it will destroy everything. You might think about that. Of course I don't know anything yet."
"You know what I have told you. That's the truth."
"Damn it, don't you 'umm' me. I told you how it is and I hired you and you have to believe me."
"You haven't paid me anything yet. Show me the money."
Cindy screamed, "Stop, stop. Randy C, we have to go back. I forgot my handbag and the money is in it."
I kept driving. "Randy C, please. Is the garage locked? The money is all I have to pay you with."
"Relax, Cindy, your bag is in the trunk. I got it when I was getting the car out. Whether there is any money in it, I couldn't say."
"Randy C Harper, please let me get my bag." I stopped when there was a good place to pull off the highway. I got a smile when the bag was handed to my passenger. She sat there and counted the money. When she finished she stuffed the glove compartment full of bills. "There is fifteen thousand dollars in there. I kept twenty-one hundred and a little bit out. Satisfied now?"
"Put it back in your bag. We'll make it more formal with a receipt when we get to my mother's." This woman, I decided would never be able to run a business, let alone a kool-ade stand. What was her stepbrother like? He might be just what the business needed and Cindy couldn't see it. She was too flighty and disorganized. She was hiring me, so I would do everything I could to further her interests. For most of our journey, Cindy filled me in on the business she was trying to wrest from her stepbrother. hr I wheeled into a small convenience store. There was a small clear-water lake just to the west and there were camping spots and a few small cabins scattered among the trees. "Why are we stopping here?"
"This is home. Mom and Pop own the store and the campground. I think you can hide out here without being spotted by anyone, especially if you wear shades. That will help a lot. Besides you have that cute butt to distract from the rest of your appearance."
"You must like my cute butt. You talk about it all the time."
We were entering the living quarters as I said, "I'll never tell." Mom came and hugged me.
"Hi C, it is good to see you for whatever reason. Is this the young lady you were telling me is your newest project?" She looked Cindy over. "My God, what has he done to you? He went overboard on your disguise. It is probably his twisted sense of humor." I stood there grinning. Cindy knew she had been had.
"In my defense, it was a good thing I made her up like this. Pete Wilkins was coming to see me just as I was leaving. He wouldn't remember what she looked like if asked." I didn't mention her butt although I think Cindy expected me to.
Mom poured us coffee and gave us a sweet bun to eat. "Mom, Cindy has some money to put in the safe. Also she is giving me a thousand dollar retainer. That should be enough to get me started. Give her a receipt for it. Let's decide for sure how the best way to disguise her features. I really think she should cut her hair. We'll change the color of that. Also when she washes off that temporary toner I gave her, maybe we can give her some heavy freckles. That stuff lasts a long time even swimming or bathing.
"She is kind of small breasted, so maybe we can enhance that portion of her both with her swimsuit and her clothes."
Cindy broke in. "What about my butt? Is that okay?"
"That, I don't want to change. I think that it is perfect."
"I know you do." I grinned at Mom when she looked at me.
"Can you do all of this? She doesn't have any clothes as you can tell. Well, those she ran away in are in the trunk of the car. You might clean them up. If she comes out of hiding she can wear them again. Is there anything else you can think of?"
"How about painting her finger and toe nails some odd-ball shade. If she doesn't wear lip gloss that will stand out as incongruous and be that much more effective."
"Good. Cindy, the next time I see you I don't want to recognize you."
"You're leaving so soon?"
"Yeah, I'm off to begin earning my money. Times a-wasting and all that stuff."
"Randy C, will you be seeing that Diane tonight?"
Was it jealousy or something else that brought up Diane again? I played it straight. "No and I won't be with her again. Last night was the final time for us. She is getting serious about someone her own age, so I'm out. I have never had a steady girl and have had to depend on my friends to fulfill my needs. There I've shared something with you that no one else knows. Sad isn't it?"
"Yes it is, but I know how you feel." There was light in Cindy's eyes that I hadn't seen there before.
Driving back toward home I was puzzled over Cindy's last remark. Why hadn't I asked her to clarify. Was she sad because she didn't have a steady man or was she sad that I had to get my sex from my friends? Or maybe she felt we were both sad and unfulfilled. I had known her for only forty-eight hours. I bet I could give her what she wanted. I know she could give me what I wanted. Life's a bitch. I didn't see how it was ever going to happen in this lifetime. hr "Hey Hiram, who is in charge of the investigation of the disappearance of the woman I saw on TV the other night?"
"Bill Grover. I know he is a friend of yours, but I doubt he'll ever find out what happened."
"Well he is kind of laid back, but so far he hasn't screwed up anywhere."
"That's because the chief assigns him the easy investigations. Bill is just waiting to find the body of the missing woman and then the case will probably go into the cold case file. Mark my words,"
"Want to put a bet on that?"
"No but only because I don't want to take your money."
"Thanks Hiram for watching my back. I'll see Bill. Maybe I can get him to introduce me to the man that reported the woman missing."
"Christ, are you that bad off Harper? That's as bad as chasing ambulances." I didn't care what he thought.
Most people thought Bill and I went to university together and took crime investigation and procedures. I was a much different sort of person than most people knew and often went unnoticed for months at a time. Bill went onto the police force and I went to work for a PI agency. I had solved a couple of spectacular cases and when the owner wanted to retire after three years, I purchased the agency. Was it a good move? I don't know. It didn't seem as if it was when I had to go home to Mom to get my belly full of food.
Right now my bank account showed quite a surplus, but I knew that wouldn't last. I felt manna from heaven came in the form of a fugitive named Cindy. She might refill my coffers to overflowing and I could see other benefits as well.
"Sure I will introduce you to this Henry character. Honest Harper, I can't see him as being guilty of anything. He certainly doesn't appear physically anyway. He admits he and his stepsister never have seen eye to eye. I'm at a standstill. The city doesn't have the money for a prolonged investigation. I've gone through all the motions and I'm not even sure there is a crime."
"Why is that?"
"Well for one thing where we found the blood. It started in the kitchen, and then there were drops here and there as if she wandered around the house. There were three cars in the yard and all the driver's doors had blood smears on them. What mystifies me was she trying to escape from an attacker or just getting away from the house? If I knew the answer to that question I would know what happened."
"What's Henry like?"
"He is a little pot-bellied man, under thirty and I can't see him hurting a fly. He appears truly concerned about his stepsister. He calls the precinct at least two times a day. Maybe that's just cover, but it doesn't seem like it. I will gladly introduce you. Maybe you can work out a deal."
I liked Henry Bronson. He was so sincere and he did hire me to find Cindy Thomas.
After we had agreed on terms, I asked if I could spend my days with him at the warehouse. He thought that would be an excellent idea. How about at his and Cindy's home? Sure, I could spend some time with his mother, the widow. After three days a different picture of Cindy was emerging. I went through Cindy's room looking for clues about her life. Not everyone has the chance to poke into some individual's life and find out about them the way I poked into hers.
I admit I was quite attracted to Cindy, but there was that little niggling doubt that bothered my subconscious? I didn't neglect to find out all I could about the business as Cindy had hired me to do. Subtle as I could be, I questioned Henry about his relationship with his stepfather.
"He was a great old guy. Married late to his first wife and of course you know how old my Mom is. Cindy was born when he was in his late forty's. She was his little princess and he spoiled her rotten. She was nice to me up until he died, but then she wanted the business in her name. I have balked because I don't think she is smart enough to run the business--and it isn't settled yet. Some time down the road there is going to be a new board chairman. I'm afraid that if who she wants in, gets in, I'm out of a job.
"Cindy owns forty-six percent and I own twenty-five percent of the shares, but if I'm not running the business they are almost worthless."
"Who owns the other twenty-nine percent?"
"My mother owns fifteen percent and the chairman owns five. I don't know who owns the other nine. Somewhere there is a record of the owners, but I haven't been able to discover it since the old man died. There never have been dividends declared so that doesn't help. The thing is when the chairman retires, the shares will go back to the business and he will be compensated according to the value determined by what the company is worth at the time."
"So let me get this straight, if Cindy gets five more shares in her name then she will own controlling interest. Is that correct?"
"When is the chairman due to retire?"
"In about four months." That answered my question about the time frame that Cindy was working with.
I was in a quandary. I felt that Henry was honest, but I would keep checking. Cindy--I wasn't sure about her anymore. I went back to the widow Thomas and went over everything that Phyllis Bronson Thomas could tell me about her husband. I was trying to get a handle on who he might have assigned the other shares to. Phyllis didn't help me when I questioned her about it. Later I went up to Cindy's room and poked around. I was thinking that Cindy was pretty devious. I wondered how smart she was, but smart or not she had Henry tied up in a knot.
I searched Cindy's room for a hiding place where she might keep some of her father's papers hidden, but I didn't find anything. I heard Mrs. Thomas coming up the stairs, so I passed on looking closer until another time. She came in and sat on the love seat that was against the wall and started speaking. "Cindy is a troubled person in some ways. Most of the time she is normal, but where her father and her were concerned she might be considered a little off.
"Henry has put up with a lot and she has been difficult. The thing is, he loves her with a passion. She returned his love for awhile, but then seemed to go against everything he has tried to do. I don't understand it. Now tell me Mr. Harper, what kind of an arrangement do you have with my son?"
"First it is Randal C Harper. Back to your question., this is just a straight forward job looking for Cindy. I conceded to him that if I didn't find Cindy in four months, I would walk away with nothing. If I did find her, then he would pay me five thousand a month for every month it took. Right now I don't have another job so I am devoting full time to the quest."
She startled me when she asked, "And how much is Cindy willing to pay to get the business under her control and away from Henry?"
I studied her, which was an admission in itself. "She has seventeen thousand in cash. I am on a thousand dollar retainer and have been promised five times that if I am successful. Cindy claims that Henry isn't honest, but I believe he is just from talking to him this morning." It came to me and I startled her with a question of my own. "You are the owner of the other nine shares, aren't you?"
"No I don't own them, but I do have the proxy vote and they do come to me when the pensioners that own them die. My husband set it up that way. They are no good if Cindy gets the five shares from the chairman. He is a sad old fool and thinks almost as much of Cindy as her father did. She has him wrapped around her finger."
"So you need two of the five shares and Henry's to be in control and Cindy needs all five. What is the chairman's name?"
"It is Sydney Johnson. Have you ever heard of him?"
"No, I don't think so. I know some Johnsons, but not that one. He is too old to be in my circle anyway."
"I'm not surprised. He is a holdover from Cindy's grandfather. Now we've talked long enough. Let me make you a tea or brew a cup of coffee for you. I enjoy talking with you, but I think we should find something besides business to discuss. Are you married?"
I looked again at this woman and did some figuring in my head. Henry was twenty-eight. If this woman married at, say twenty, she would be short of fifty. She apparently had led a life of ease and yet she was pretty trim. Must be she goes to a gym or works out. She watched me appraising her.
She flashed me a brilliant smile. "How old are you Randy C? Odd isn't it? A woman can ask a man how old he is but he can't ask the same of a woman."
I didn't answer her. I stepped toward her and took her in my arms and kissed her and then stepped back thinking out loud. "I don't know. Cindy retained me to do one thing. Your son retained me to do another. If I continue on this path with you, tell me where that puts me?"
"It might be with just an enjoyable couple of hours. Does it have to go beyond that?"
"No, but it probably will. Tell me, do you ever go out in the evening? Do you ever stay overnight at a friend's house or anything?"
"Are you asking what I think you are? To answer you, I do stay at my friends' sometimes. I can let Henry know and he won't think anything of it."
"Umm, I live alone and I'm a pretty decent cook. Would you join me for dinner?"
"I'd love to. I had better drive my own car. What is your address?"
On the way to the store for tonight's dinner ingredients, I thought I was being a bit foolish. But then this Phyllis looked as if she could handle me pretty well. She might be a bit rusty, but it would be fun to oil her up and put her back in good working order.
Later--much later, as I lay recuperating, I thought to myself, it is no wonder that Cindy's father passed away. Phyllis certainly had the weapons to kill most any man, old or not. Wheels started turning in my head.
"Christ Randy C, can I keep you around for awhile? That was the most enjoyable night I can remember." (It was for me too.)
"I don't see it going very far and certainly nothing permanent. We are like two balls bouncing around in the universe. We might every once in awhile might bounce close enough to touch. How would that be?"
"If that's all you can give me, I'll take that much and enjoy every bit of it. Do you have any more thoughts on how to resolve this dilemma with Henry and Cindy?"
"Give me a day or two. I'll be thinking about it. Question: do you enjoy being loved in the morning?"
I put in a call to Cindy before noon, just after Phyllis left. Mom answered. "C, I made all the changes in your girl's appearance. No one will recognize her. She has filled me in on her life. You know if her stepbrother was a little stronger and showed a little more manliness toward her she would think a lot more of him. He comes on as kind of a wimp. What he needs to do is take command. Instead of begging her to do something, he should tell her.
"She abhors his soft little physique. She says if he started going to a gym and tightened up and got rid of his pot belly, he might stand a chance with her. How are you making out with him? Did he hire you to find Cindy?"
"Yes. I kind of like the guy. He does have Cindy's interests at heart."
"Have you met the widow, Cindy's step-mom? What is she like?"
"Yes we have met. Cindy and Henry's interests are her first priority. I think between the two of us we can help them along."
"Is she paying you too?"
"You could say that."
Mom was sharp. " C, you didn't?"
"Don't want to talk about it, at least of all with you, Mom. Find Cindy and let me talk to her."
"Cindy, I met your step-mom and your stepbrother. Let me ask you. Do you hate your stepbrother as much as you say you do? He didn't seem to think you do and he certainly has been real worried about where you are. Enough so he has hired me to find you for him. I think he is a little in love with you."
"I know that. He has always been more than the little bit in love you just mentioned. He is just such a little person and so soft. I admit he has done well in Papa's business, but I want someone that I can be proud of."
"Do you have anyone in mind?"
"Well I have had a couple of dates with a guy by the name of Wayne Brooks. He is about the same age as Henry is and he is tall and good looking."
"What does he do?"
"He works for an electronics store as a salesman. We would make a great couple if I owned Papa's business and he managed it." I thought (dumb ass) as I let her ramble on.
"Cindy, would you like to have me check this Wayne Brooks out for you? You can't know that much about him. You are paying me already so it won't cost you anymore."
"Do women do that?"
"It's half my business. Honest."
"Now tell me how you are getting along with my Mom and Pop."
"Great. I love them. They act a lot like my father and mother did before Mom died."
"It sounds as if your problem started as far back as that. You lost your mother and your father married another woman. She brought Henry with her and he supplanted some of the affections your Dad had for you. You think about that and I'll call you tomorrow. Look up to my mother just as if she were your own."
"What about you? I like your mother. This would be nice if we got together. Is there any chance for me?"
"Nope, I'm just a guy who thinks you have a cute butt. Bye now." I hung up. I guess I had better drive up there tomorrow to see how much Mom had changed the looks of Cindy.