Cruising for a Bruising
I swear, I'll never complain about my wife's new cat, Ginger ever again. For a six month old kitten she was already nearly larger than some dogs with a personality and appetite to match. She chewed and bit everything in the house (especially the hand that feeds her) and in a professional eating contest could probably out-do an entire pack of starving wolves. She loved to jump and climb everywhere and, still being relatively immature and uncoordinated (and absurdly fat for her young age) she could be counted upon knock over nearly everything in her pathway. Especially if it was chewable.
In this one particular instance in her eagerness to greet me, Ginger's clumsy leap and bull-rush across the contents of my wife's desk in our home office knocked her attaché case over onto the floor, spilling its usually locked and secure contents cross the carpet floor. Seeing movement (and possibly fresh prey), Ginger completed the job by leaping down onto the stack of fluttering paper and gave it a good pounce just to make certain. Left alone to her own normal carnivorous devices, she'd have given all of the papers a good chewing as well but I chased her off of the pile in the nick of time ... earning a bite on my index finger that nearly broke skin, and a half-hearted clawing that did scratch my wrist before Ginger scampered off to reinspect her food bowl.
I'd gotten home late tonight, well past eight-thirty, and was just dumping off my checkbook into my own desk, next to Calista's, when Ginger had come bounding in to greet me. A few months ago she was the smallest rescue kitten at the animal shelter, but with regular access now to food her size and weight had doubled nearly weekly ever since. She's a maniacal kitten, but she does like people ... unfortunately primarily as chewtoys! Calista, my wife of about sixteen years now, was undoubtedly off at one of our local HOA meetings. She's the head of the beautification committee of our homeowner's association and her group meets the week before and after the normal monthly public HOA meeting. Sometimes more often. They're responsible for the upkeep of the 'public' lawns, esplanades and gardens, and our two parks, and unofficially she raises hell with any homeowner that doesn't keep their own private lawns kept up to her particularly strict standards, which tend to severely exceed the actual written requirements of the HOA contract.
That's Calista for you. Hellraising at both work and home, wanting exactly everything her own way. To keep the peace, I'm usually the one that gives in when we disagree (which in increasingly often), but I have to admit that had gotten rather old and annoying with her always wanting to wear the pants in the family. I make very good money as a criminal defense attorney and Calista is a salaried executive at the corporate office of a prestigious retail chain, so we ought to be just rolling in the dough, but it just doesn't quite work out that way. Somehow money flows out just as fast as it comes in ... and somehow after a dozen (or several hundred) lectures about fiscal moderation, my darling wife can still spend it as fast as either of us can sock it away.
Things aren't too bad for us though, I've been making double house payments for quite a few years and our mortgage will be paid off in a few more. In just two years the private school fees for Justin (our son and only child) will be over and done with as well, and his college fund has already been established. That should leave us then ready to start saving for our retirements ... if Calista's tastes don't become even more extravagant!
Now, picking up her spilled papers, I could tell immediately at a glance that these were documents that she probably hadn't wanted me to see at all. She's always been of a secretive disposition, keeping her business and financial affairs private and sharing little in the way of details with me ... except to ask for a check (or two) each month to help subsidize her own personal expenses. Now I was getting a rare opportunity to see into her work files, which were normally kept locked shut at all times in her attaché case. Tonight, perhaps in her rush to drop off her work stuff before racing off to the HOA meeting, her case wasn't properly locked, or perhaps Ginger's knocking it down to the floor had sprung the latch loose. In any case, this was a nearly unique moment.
It was the stapled collection of documents right at the top of the pile that instantly got my attention. The first was an embossed business envelope from a travel agent containing a computer printout confirming the booking for a seven day cruise at the end of next month. Attached was a copy of the itinerary, with all of the scheduled ports of call. The next sheet of paper was hand-written by Calista, with a listing of possible plane flights from San Francisco (our home) to Miami, round trip covering the departure and arrival dates of the weeklong cruise, with a note that 'Mimi' could have the final tickets ready for pickup next Tuesday from the airline. (Note: this was back in the days before hardly anyone had heard of the internet and travel tickets were formally printed by mainframe computers). Last of the documents of interest, was a cash receipt from the downtown Hilton for the amount of over a thousand dollars, but there was no itemization as to what this expense was for.
You'll think it quite amusing that I didn't suddenly leap to any radical conclusions about these findings. No, I did not at once suspect my wife of having an affair. Actually, I'd figured from the get-go that Calista wanted to surprise me, that for the first time in years we'd be taking a 'family vacation' together. I'd tried for years to get us to take at least some of our vacation time together, but it had almost never worked out ... and never happily. Her idea of resting was to go shopping all afternoon long and 'do things' while I preferred to be lazy, so the idea of taking a cruise together had been laughable. I'd brought the idea up once, three or four years ago and she'd literally laughed in my face at the idea.
Actually, our habit of taking separate vacations together had probably actually saved our marriage. We were both serious hardcore workaholics who rarely saw each other much even at home during weekends. A full week spent in each other's company would probably drive one or the other of us quite mad. We'd been lovers at college together and had tied the knot nearly immediately after getting our sheepskins, but we'd been drifting apart gradually (or not so) ever since then. We were 'comfortable' with the status quo but honestly neither of us seemed to be particularly madly in love with each other anymore, and so we just coasted on.
In any case, I carefully put everything back into place and snapped the lock of the attaché case closed and placed it right back upon her desk where it had been before Ginger had knocked it over. Shutting the door to keep the crazy kitten out, I went down stairs and warmed up something for dinner and waited for my wife to get home from her meeting, which was late, just after ten p.m.
I'd kind of thought that Calista would be anxiously waiting to break the exciting news of our cruise together, but everything seemed as normal after she got home. She held the anticipated surprise all week long as well, even through the weekend. By then, a tiny little flickering of doubt was beginning to cross my mind and the lawyer for the defense had one or two burning questions that I was itching to put (very carefully) to the witness.
"Cali, what's on your schedule for next month? I'd had the Cordova trial inked on my calendar for the whole end of the month but I think we're going to work out a last minute plea deal instead. Can you take vacation then? How about a trip to New York? I'll stake you to a shopping trip to DKNY if you'll come with me to one of the Yankees/Red Sox games? Or someplace warmer if you'd like ... it has been a cold spring this year." That was a deal that normally she'd take, but if she did in fact have cruise tickets for this period she'd have to offer some sort of excuse ... and I wanted to hear what it was!
"Ummm, no... ," she muttered, eyes looking up at the kitchen ceiling in apparent thought, "I'm pretty sure that the end of May's the big national Indie Jewelry Show, and I'll need to go for work. I think it's in Miami this year." She helpfully offered, knowing that I pretty much hated Miami, or the thought of a week on any Florida beach. I'm very fair skinned and do not tan whatsoever, I go straight from fish belly white to severe third-degree sunburn with just an hour of exposure. No sunning on the sand for me, sadly.
"Oh." I commented, without much apparent additional interest. I still wanted her to just admit that she'd made alternative vacation plans for us and so I still wanted to press the issue a bit to get her to commit herself one way or the other. "So that's completely out then?"
"Yeah, I think so." You hated your trip to Florida that time a few years ago when you went down there to be a defense jury consultant and you'd be bored spitless in day, let alone a week."
"Ok, so I'll be on my own then for about a week then? Well, maybe then I'll just go fishing up at Forestville. I haven't been up to the cabin in awhile." I hadn't; one of my few personal frivolous expenses about ten years ago when my career started to take off was the acquisition of a nice cabin in the wilderness along the Russian River, near Forestville. Calista had gone with me just once shortly thereafter and was bored to tears in just a few hours and flew back home from the local county airport two days later, alone.
"You'll enjoy that!" She agreed, "I don't think you had time to go up there last year and you do enjoy trips up there. Go ahead and make plans to go!"
That was not what I had been expecting to hear! She was being unusually reasonable, which a suspicious person might have interpreted as relief ... that now my plans wouldn't at all interfere with hers. But I just nodded my head and waited for her to elaborate on her own possible travel arrangements, but she didn't and immediately changed the subject.
Now for the first time, I was having doubts about Calista's faithfulness. If the sales show she was attending was in Miami, then why was she taking a seven day cruise? Now my mind was beginning to wonder. I'm a defense attorney, and I'm conditioned by my personal nature and profession to trust people, to believe what they are telling me ... even if their story is likely a rather convoluted twisting of the facts and having zero relevance to reality. Still I will do my best for my clients. It is my absolutely sincerity when speaking before a jury, defending my client, that has won me at least as many cases as the use of clever legal tactics, or even a genuinely innocent client.
People in my book are innocent until proven guilty – the golden thread of English and American common law, and I wanted to believe Calista, but a growing kernel of doubt was planted within me now and I wasn't going to be fat, dumb and happy until I'd investigated all of the facts for myself.
As I've mentioned, Calista is a mid-level corporate executive who handles purchasing and marketing of jewelry for a very upscale and prominent department store chain. Their flagship store is right here in San Francisco, right on Market Street, but they have twelve other branches in the bigger cities of the west coast. Their merchandise tends to be very posh, limited edition or custom made items intended for the nuevo and old rich alike. Not the crap found in mall or chain stores. Good stuff ... and if you have to ask the price, then very likely you can't afford it.[Unknown A1]
Calista is one of three senior buyers and she does makes quite a few legitimate business trips, perhaps about one such a month, but usually only for a few days, gone three or four days at most at a time. For really big conventions and shows featuring independent designers, especially trips to the east coast or overseas ones, she'd sometimes be gone for up to a week, it was true ... and these sorts of bigger/longer shows now seemed to be occurring more frequently. She'd just returned from a large Los Angeles exhibition less than a month ago where she'd stayed for nearly a week and a half.
At her company Christmas party a few months ago, Calista's boss Irving had told me with a shit eating grin that I'd be seeing less of my wife this year, that she was 'indispensable' and being groomed for promotion. This would mean more travel ... and apparently for longer trips. This increase in responsibility certainly seemed fine with Calista and honestly I didn't bother to complain that we'd be now seeing each other at home now even less. I did however notice that she and her boss did dance a few times (fast ones) together, but I didn't detect any noticeable affection between them and didn't even think twice about it.[Unknown A2]
If they were having an affair, or if her dalliance was with another co-worker, then she'd done an admirable job (if admirable is indeed the right word) of keeping it covered up. I should have been able to forget this whole matter, but I couldn't ... and after awhile I figured out at least one little matter that was disturbing me.
Calista's company had its own internal travel department that handled in-house employee travel and other arrangements for select well-heeled customers that expected only the best of everything. If this trip was for 'official company business', then shouldn't she have coordinated this trip with them? Instead, for her cruise and airline tickets, my wife had engaged a private travel agent from an independent company a few blocks away from her work. Why?
This question bothered me for most of the next week until I had a sudden brainstorm and decided to pay that independent travel agent a private visit of my own.
"Hi, Ms. Fielder?" I enquired, squinting at the nameplate upon her desk inside the travel agency, "I've got a terrible problem and only you can save me!" I gushed helplessness and in moments I had the young (and rather pretty) travel agent (Mimi) pretty much eating out of my hands.
"My wonderful wife, bless her, came home last week with the news that she'd signed us up for a week long cruise and I've gone and already misplaced the reservation information already. Can you please print me up a spare set? On the hush-hush please! If she finds out I've almost ruined the trip she'll be furious ... and I'm looking forward to a lovely and quiet second honeymoon. Can you keep this our little secret?"
Hehe, yes ... she certainly could! In fact, she quite gushed herself about what a wonderful cabin my wife had selected, just perfect for rekindling a romance. It was one of the larger ocean side honeymoon suites, she elaborated, complete with an oversized bed and a private balcony. Everything first class (Premier Class, she called it) on one of the most elite ships afloat, catering to the cream of society. A glossy travel brochure the agent offered me (apparently a duplicate of the one she'd given my wife) confirmed that the Empress Madeleine could make an argument for being one of the most refined cruise ships on the Atlantic/Gulf circuit, with luxurious accommodations second to no other commercial liner, with world class chefs and patisseriers and even onboard shopping opportunities to rival the salons of Milan or Paris. We would be pampered and indulged and treated like European royalty (members of which did frequent this cruise line).
Suddenly it didn't seem at all likely that my wife was just going all alone by herself either!
Together, on a wondrous vacation like this, together we probably could have repaired our apparently rather fractured marriage. Now, with my heart already fracturing right there while in the travel agents office, I received one last final surprise.
"Oh, and since you're already here," the bubbly Ms. Fielder announced, "here's an extra copy of the plane tickets as well ... just in case, wink-wink and mum's the word!" It was really no surprise to find that these airline reservations (1st class as well) were for two passengers, a Mr. & Mrs. Parker.
A part of me kept trying to convince myself that my headstrong and sometimes rather insensitive wife was just trying to awkwardly keep this trip a secret, to spring upon me at literally the last moment ... but even my overly trusting gut wasn't quite buying it.
I tipped the exceedingly helpful agent Mimi $200 to help her 'forget' my visit and I stumbled back down Market Street to my law offices on Geary to think and brood. My company had a private investigation firm under retainer, and for a moderate additional payment (this was private non-company business) I engaged them that same afternoon to start investigating my wife ... but very much on the down-low.
Ralph and Rebecca Pye were probably the best PI's in the city but they didn't advertise much, except by word of mouth. They were the also the best husband wife team in the business, maybe any business, and they'd been partners and as tight as glue since the Summer of Love in 1967 as hippies in the glory days of the Haight-Ashbury. Over twenty years later, no one in the Bay Area was better at finding a lost runaway or a lost heiress or anything else lost, for that matter. They didn't do much divorce work, but give them a week and they could completely ferret out nearly anyone's hidden secrets. No one did surveillance any better, and I wasn't in any hurry. If Calista was having an affair, the Pyes would find out, and sooner rather than later.
"Take your time and do it nice and slow..." I asked, "I don't know what you'll find, but I just need to know one way or the other." Being sort of old friends, the agreed to handle the investigation themselves and not assign the job to any of their rather capable assistants and would try to have a preliminary report by the end of next week.
The results were back and convincingly conclusive by the next Friday afternoon. The photos alone were quite damning enough, both the ones taken of Calista and her boss Irving together at lunches and dinner, appearing very much as lovers, and of the private more intimate ones taken with a hidden camera inside their suite at the downtown Hilton. Rebecca had posed as a room service employee bearing a tray of champagne and chocolate strawberries complete with hotel uniform, and she had entered their room about half an hour after the lovers had entered. Her hidden camera caught the two naked, except for hastily donned bathrobes, and obviously just interrupting their amusement on the bed, as the covers were noticeably disarranged.
Apparently, Calista and her boss Irving managed nooner's here several lunchtimes a week, and also quite a few evenings ... and most Saturday early afternoons when Calista often claimed that she needed a few extra hours at work. They kept this room reserved on contract lease, allegedly for business meetings. My wife paid in cash monthly and then apparently filed an expense report with the company (approved by her boss Irving of course). Knowing of this regular and frequent schedule, the Pyes had time and the opportunity to secrete a small recording device into the room and then were able to get much more intimate and candid pictures of their infidelities.
Irving was married too and apparently his wife had no knowledge of her husband's affairs either.
The icing on the cake was the sound recordings from the hotel room, where the cheating lovers had discussed their anticipation of their upcoming cruise together; a week of sex in the sun where they wouldn't have to hide, but could flaunt their love together!
No ... not if I could help it!
Being a criminal defense attorney, my rolodex is chock-full of the names and phone numbers of some extremely dodgy and criminally suspect people. Thieves and murderers galore ... and rather a lot of villains to choose from. Most of them owed me a favor or even two and I was just angry enough now to be in the mood to possibly collect!
I thumbed through my listing of names carefully and thought twice before I began to dial the phone and within a minute I knew I was speaking with just the right sort of person who could make all of my problems disappear ... but perhaps at a cost. I didn't care – I was now pissed and didn't give a shit about the possible repercussions.
Giovanni Virzi had been a client of mine indirectly for several years. Friends or 'associates' of his would have certain minor legal problems that I could help him with more often than not, usually much to his satisfaction. In the 1930's and 40's, Virzi's father (along with the Italian mob) had run most of the San Francisco docks. Today, that's the Mad Turk's territory, and Giovanni instead controlled most of the port warehouse business. They're not quite friends but they're not competitors either. Business is good for everyone and they both want to keep things that way. Items of sometimes dubious ownership tended to get stuck to the fingers of his associates and sometimes my services were required to correct any misunderstandings that SFPD and the City Attorney's office might have.
I still have a lot of friends over there at city court house. I was a pretty good ADA, assistant district attorney, working for the city for my first few years out of law school and I enjoyed the work, but the pay was not up to Calista's rising expectations. It was quit or divorce - and I probably made the wrong decision, now that I think about it. My old boss is now the top ADA for the city (and handles all of the real work) and we do lunch a few times a year, swap old war stories and sometimes swap favors.
Mr. Virzi never got his own hands dirty and never talks business on the phone ... or any place where unfriendly ears might be listening. Last I'd heard, the feds had been trying to get someone with a wire on the inside of his organization for year, with no luck. As far as the DA's office was concerned, anything involving the Old Italian mob was just 'business as usual'. It was the younger organizations, some of the newer Chinese Tongs, bigger (and growing) Hispanic gangs or the new also rising Russian mob that scared most of concerned senior politicians. The Mad Turk and the Old Italian families kept their business private, and for the most part, non-violent.
I liked the old bastard but while I'm positive that neither of us could be close bosom friends he immediately remembered without the need for a hint or two on my part that he'd owed me a favor. I just enquired if I could solicit his wise advice, at my expense over dinner, and he agreed for a meeting the next day, early Saturday evening at a North Beach restaurant owned by his large extended family. As safe and private a place to discuss business as could be hoped for.
Calista, of course was at a business dinner at the Hilton that evening, naturally, involving her paramour. I found it amusing that a heavily armed bodyguard was checking me for heaters (or a recording device) at the very time my wife's lover was checking out her internal body cavities. The irony of the situation almost made me laugh.
One never interrupts Mr. Virzi's dinner, so we enjoyed the food together and talked a bit, indirectly for the most part, about old times and old cases. When the dessert wine and the cheesecake arrived, I could sense that the mood had changed and he was now ready to conduct business.
"I believe Mr. Parker, that I am still somewhat in your obligation for past services, and as an old business acquaintance I'd be pleased to offer any advice that I could, if it would be helpful." Polite and benign, and exactly the way the old crime boss handled his affairs.
"While our commercial affairs are quite in order, your last payment of fees being exact to our invoice, it is indeed your advice that I would solicit, for a personal matter ... a very personal and private problem."
Giovanni nodded and bent down his head a little bit closer to mine and gently touched his right arm to my shoulder. "I wasn't aware until just this afternoon," he whispered, "but since your call yesterday I had something of an immediate curiosity as to the nature of your private problem. Business seems to be good, your financial affairs are in order, there are no unfortunate or regrettable debts requiring urgent repayment. Nor is your son involved in any misconduct or potentially so with unfortunate friends and associates either. That left me to examine the possibility of misfortune with your home life. Would I not be correct?"
"Indeed so, Sir ... Mr. Virzi."
"We've done some past business together, happily resolved in every case, and we've shared bread and wine, so that makes you my friend ... call me Giovanni or just John. Since our call, I've had a friend making quiet inquiries and they at once informed me that the Pyes are already engaged in this matter, so I assume you have their report?"
"In full. And confirming my worst fears. Calista, my wife has been unfaithful to me with her boss. I'd think that I'd just be well to be quickly and simply rid of them, to just divorce her and go on ... but my heart has other wishes. Angry and unpleasant ones that I'm ashamed of. No, I'm not asking for that sort of favor ... but I would ask you John, as a proud father and family man yourself, how would you yourself regain your own honor, had this misfortune happened to you?"
Giovanni was silent for some time and we enjoyed our dessert and another glass of wine before he motioned to his pair of lurking assistants (or bodyguards) to take a moment of refreshment themselves, leaving the pair of us in considerable privacy.
"You are wiser, I see, to plan take your revenge when it is cooler and not to act in haste with anger. In truth, should such an event befall me, I'm not as certain that I could behave with similar forbearance and restraint. No ... such a crime would be unacceptable to my own honor and I suspect to yours as well. There must be punishment, severe but fitting, such that she must be forced to dwell upon her crimes in stern reflection. It must be appropriate ... a retribution swift but measured. Tell me all that you know and I will reflect and ponder ... and perhaps be able to make an suitable and fitting suggestion for her moderate chastisement."
For the next two hours we drove about town in John's large black limo while I related all of the details of Calista's affair with one of the mob boss' [Unknown A3] most senior assistants, who took copious notes. I handed over my copies of the cruise ship and airline reservations and explained to the best of my knowledge just what exactly my wife (and her boss Irving) did at their work.
At length Giovanni announced abruptly that they had enough material to work with for now and that his assistant (or someone else) would make contact with me later. We prepared the cover story of a new criminal defense case (a minor associate was indeed some slight trouble for being caught by the police with an unregistered gun). This made our conversations 'privileged' for the purposes of the law, so that even if I was brought in for police questioning later I could remain quiet and plead 'attorney/client privilege'.
I didn't hear back from Mr. Virzi's assistant for close to two weeks and my nerves were worn down to mental nubs worrying by the time he contacted me for a private meeting. There was just over a week left to go until Calista's cruise with her lover and I had no alternative plans for stopping her trip or punishing her somehow instead upon her return. When the caller (identity unknown) asked if I would be available for an appointment at a warehouse near the docks in SOMA to compile witness statements for the Whitfield case, Barry Whitfield being the unfortunate felon caught with the illegal firearm. I'd already talked to the DA's office and had worked out a pretty acceptable plea bargain for the case that was pretty much just a slap on the hand for the prior felon. Whitfield could provide some slight knowledge pertaining to recent Russian mob activity (in particular the assault upon several shop owners during protection shakedowns) and in return the dumb thug would be released for 'time already served' (and a stern warning).
Meeting that evening in the main office of the warehouse, I found that Mr. Virzi was in personal attendance, along with his assistant, but he wasn't planning on staying for long.
"My old friend, in the most unhappy affair of your disloyal wife, it has come quite to our attention that she and her 'friend' have perhaps been in fact been indulging themselves improperly with some company merchandise. Unfortunately, in an open court of law, that particular misbehavior would be unlikely to be appropriately punished. Their thefts have been small so far to date and well covered over in their account books and they would remain likely to be held above suspicion. Fortunately, with a little creative help, it would not be impossible that their crimes might yet be discovered and appropriately punished. Perhaps not the exact specific crimes that they're genuinely guilty of, but suitable and similar ones nevertheless. Would this suit your desire for a cooler but more lingering revenge?"
"I think, if such a revenge ... and irregular but legal, punishment could be arranged, then I would be most happily pleased and satisfied ... with your wise advice."
"Good. Let us have a bond of friendship between us then, that our debts and obligations are now clean ... but we might conduct more pleasant and profitable business together, as friends, in the future."
We shook on the agreement and the crime boss took his leave. He didn't need to stay to hear all of the details ... for he'd never been here in the first place.