The Case of the Absentee Husband: a Michelle Hammer Mystery

by Vernon Welles

Copyright© 2011 by Vernon Welles

Mystery Story: Michelle takes on what appears to be a routine case involving a philandering husband, but it evolves into a more sinister situation than she ever realized.

Tags: Ma/Fa   Mystery   Violent  

Hammer's the name, Michelle Hammer, I'm a P.I. Being an ex-cop I know official procedure in dealing with crimes, but more often than not I'm riding the ragged edge between legality and what it takes to get the job done.

My office is above McGinty's Tavern in the circa 1930 Sanborn Building which is convenient for both of us since he's my landlord and his corned beef on rye with mustard sandwiches are first rate.

I was having a beer and a sandwich and shooting the breeze with McGinty, a couple of uniforms on lunch break, Ginny the waitress and Hal who runs the gun shop across the street.

Then the boys got a 10-31 and rolled their eyes. Cops hate domestics. You can't win on one of those and half the time you wind up booking everybody when they all turn on you. Cops have died answering domestics. This one was about ten blocks from where we were sitting. They took off with lights and siren and I wished 'em well. Been there, done that.

Then I saw a young woman come out of the back room tying on a waitress' apron. She looked in her late twenties, pretty with brown hair in a bun, wearing jeans and one of McGinty's green t-shirts. He called her over and introduced us.

Her name was Stephanie; she was new in town having moved with her husband from Indiana when he got a new job in one of the local factories. She'd had experience waitressing, so when she came in looking for work McGinty decided Ginny needed some help with the folks that came in to watch sports on his jumbo screen TV, so he hired her.

She seemed cheerful enough, but something in her eyes told me she'd had it rough sometime during her young life. A crowd of home team fans came in about then to watch the game, so Stephanie and Ginny went to see to them and I went back upstairs to my office.

A month later I was in my office paying bills on-line when someone rapped lightly on the door. I slid my desk drawer open so my 9MM Glock was handy and said "C'mon in."

It was Stephanie; she appeared to have been crying.

"Ms. Hammer, I need your help. I think my husband's cheating on me."

I waved her to a seat and said "What makes you think so?"

"He comes home late from work and always has an excuse. He says he's working overtime, but his paycheck stays the same. Other times he says he's going out to meet some friends and comes in very late. I found a pair of women's' panties in his sock drawer, they weren't mine."

"Sounds like he may be stepping out on you, alright, what would you like me to do?"

"Follow him when he goes out, see where he goes, who he meets. I love Jimmy Ms. Hammer; I don't want to lose him. I don't have a lot of money but I'll pay you what I can, I just need to know."

I felt sorry for her, said we'd work something out on my fee and asked if she had a picture, she did, several in fact. He wasn't a bad looking guy, average height, average build, just average, a face in the crowd you might say.

They lived in an apartment a few blocks away, he worked as a machinist in a tool and die plant across town and drove a white Honda Civic; nondescript, like him. She told me what his work hours were and I said I'd take it from there. It all sounded routine, like so many other cases of this kind I've worked. I told her I'd start that night.

Sure enough, Jimmy was bar hopping, chatting up women, buying them drinks, but then he'd go home. He did this two or three nights a week, but never hooked up with anyone. I guess he liked having a bit of fun and that's was it. I figured Stephanie was worrying over nothing, but I told her I'd keep at it, so I did.

The next time I went downstairs to McGinty's, the two uniforms from last time were having lunch. I asked them how that domestic went last week.

"That turned out to be a rape," the one called Dan said. "The neighbors heard screaming, thought it was a fight and called it in. When we got there the woman who lived in the apartment was a mess; clothes torn off, cuts and bruises, she could hardly talk but told us what happened, a nasty business."

"Any leads?"

"I don't know, the detectives took over and we went back on patrol. Whoever did it was a vicious bastard, I'll say that."

I kept on Jimmys' trail for a few more days and nothing happened, then one evening I was watching him schmoozing the girls in a bar when a drunk started hitting on me. I sent him packing, turned back and Jimmy was gone. Damn! His car was still in the lot. Where was he?

I waited an hour, then two and he never returned to his car. I gave up and drove off cursing for being so careless. He was at work the next morning as always, so I figured maybe he'd slipped out for a quickie on lovers' lane in some chick's car. I'd be more careful in the future.

I don't usually read the papers; it's a lot of stuff that doesn't concern me but someone had left the morning edition in the diner where I usually have breakfast and the headline caught my eye 'RAGING RAPIST STRIKES AGAIN'. It went on to describe the vicious rape of a middle aged housewife who was in Mercy Hospitals' ICU, but was expected to recover.

I called downtown to one of my old friends in the department and he said the case was still under investigation, but there were no clues so far. I'd like to get my hands on that son of a bitch.

A couple of other cases kept me busy for a while, so I checked with Steph to see if Jimmy was being a good boy and surprisingly he was. No more staying out at night and he was being affectionate again. She offered to pay my fee, but I said forget it, I was glad to help.

Three weeks later the rapist went after a teenage girl walking home from a party. This time he tried it with the wrong woman. She had learned self defense techniques at school and used them effectively. The guy ran away, or as well as he could run after being kneed in the family jewels, plus she'd scratched his face. The cops were trying to run a DNA test on his skin under her fingernails, but so far the tests were inconclusive.

The papers were having a field day running screaming headlines about the 'Raging Rapist' and scaring the crap out of every woman in town. The TV news was interviewing people on the streets and running scare stories too. There was a run on guard dogs, pistols, pepper spray, whistles, deadbolts and the department was taking a lot of heat for not having a clue about who the guy was.

I was having dinner at McGinty's when Steph comes in with her hubby to introduce him to everyone. He was a nice enough guy, friendly, buying rounds and joking with the other patrons. I knew he wouldn't recognize me so I went over to say hello. When he shook my hand I noticed he had an unusual ring on his index finger in the shape of a skull with ruby eyes. I commented on it and he said he'd bought it in a pawn shop where they used to live. I noticed something else a bit unusual, he was wearing foundation makeup. He didn't strike me as the Metro sexual type, but who knows with people nowadays. For all I knew he had Stephs' panties and nylons on under his jeans.

A couple weeks later, Steph met me in the parking lot as I was getting out of the Z. Jimmy was going out again and this time she was sure he was two timing her. She'd found another pair of panties, this time in the back pocket of his work trousers. Maybe he was fooling around on her at work.

I told her I was busy on some other cases, but I'd check him out in a few days. This was beginning to get old, but she was genuinely upset again so I figured what the hell.

I bluffed my way into the Personnel Department at the factory saying I was from a bank that was considering giving him a loan and needed information on his work history to make sure he was reliable. His record was clean except for a few unexcused absences that had earned him a reprimand. Over all he was considered a good employee. If he was fooling around at work no one caught him at it and no one complained. Maybe he was stealing panties from clotheslines. Sniffers are weird, but not a real threat to anyone.

The 'Raging Rapist had claimed yet another victim and the media were in full cry. They'd camped out at the cop shop and were pestering everyone from the Chief on down. The local politicos were harrumphing and demanding something be done and soon. I felt for the guys' downtown, if there were any leads on this perp they weren't talking and with good reason, so they had to sit there and take it.

Jimmy was up to his bar hopping tricks again; flirting with the women, buying drinks, being the life of the party. In the last place I tailed him to; he went to the john and never returned. He'd slipped out on me again. Now I was getting pissed. He sure hadn't recognized me, not the way I was fixed up, so who was he trying to sneak out on?

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