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Spring Betrayal

By Sally Jo Pitts

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CHAPTER ONE

“Yoo hoo, Mr. Grey.” Mrs. Dillingham’s singsong call grated on Private Investigator Robert Grey like the blast of an air horn at a football game. He stood under the oncology center’s exit sign. His foot inches from the threshold.
Could he feign lack of hearing and keep going? Slip out of the sterile atmosphere and into the comfort of diesel-burning trucks in Mobile, Alabama traffic? His plan had been to stay home, brood, and talk to no one. Home. If he could go home, he’d make it through this day.
“Robert,” Jane called out, “Mrs. Dillingham is trying to get your attention.”
Jane, his PI intern, had called for a ride to the cancer support group for family members and was giving him unwanted assistance.
Mrs. Dillingham panted and grabbed Robert’s elbow. “I’m so glad I caught you.”
Eyeing Jane, Robert drew in a deep breath of his own.
Jane squirmed and glanced at her watch. “My goodness, look at the time. We are supposed to be back at the office by eight.”
“It’s twenty ’til,” Mrs. Dillingham, who most people called Mrs. D said. “You’re only five minutes from your office. Shall we talk here or outside?”
Foiled. But Jane’s time-limit might improve Mrs. D’s longwindedness. Robert returned a weak smile. “Let’s talk outside.”
Stepping into the brisk air, Robert zipped his jacket, and Jane pulled on her sweater. Mrs. D, in a short-sleeved dress covering her full-figure, seemed unfazed by the cold.
Robert motioned to a bench. Jane sat beside Mrs. D and he remained standing. “How may I help you?”
“Jill, my forty-year-old daughter, soon be forty-one. She has a birthday next month … well, that’s not important. It’s her husband, Bill—Bill and Jill, so cute—but I’m not so sure right now. He’s forty-seven and apparently wants to revert to his teen years. Not cute. I’ve heard of mid-life crisis, but it shouldn’t hit ’til fifty. Maybe fifty-five. Right? Oh, whatever.”
Robert kept his eyes from crossing.
Mrs. D waved her hand and pressed on.
“He manages a big fancy hotel on Jeffers Island south of here. A girl, I’m guessing in her twenties, checked into a suite. She has some sort of chaperones with her who stay across the hall. Bill has been giving her all kinds of attention at all hours.”
Robert creased his brows. “Sometimes hotel guests require additional services from hotel management—”
“Humph. That’s what I want to know. Exactly what special services is he providing? The situation stinks, and if that scoundrel is up to something,” she pointed her index finger, “I know you will find out.”
Great. A cheating spouse case. Not something he enjoyed. Give him the challenge of a murder or a kidnap investigation any day. He dreaded domestic cases. But Jane liked to tackle these assignments, and he’d oblige.
He nodded. “Jane will meet with you tomorrow. In the meantime, gather recent photos of Bill. Give me his full name, address, phone numbers, social—”
Mrs. D flipped her hands up. “Whoa. I have to make a list.”
“No problem.” Jane pulled a notepad from her purse. “I’ll write. What else besides the basic demographics?”
“His work schedule. Vehicles he drives—colors, models, tag numbers. His interests. Office and home locations. Places he might frequent. Anything you can think of to facilitate surveillance. I charge seventy-five dollars per hour plus expenses.”
A car door slammed. Dr. Goldberg. A painful tightness squeezed Robert’s throat. His deceased wife’s oncologist hurried toward the medical center entrance—a familiar sight from two-and-a-half years ago. Today was the twenty-seventh, his monthly reminder of the day Lori died.
“Let’s go. Jane, decide on the time and place you two will meet. I’ll be in the truck.”
~
Robert wasn’t kidding when he said he’d be poor company tonight. Jane hadn’t missed the flash of irritation he had given her when she’d let him know Mrs. Dillingham wanted to talk to him. She shouldn’t have urged him to go to the support group.
He’d been preoccupied and cheerless all evening. If there was anything she should know, he’d tell her, wouldn’t he?
Maybe she wasn’t pulling her weight at the agency. He had taken pity on her jobless state after leaving her teaching job to care for her mother before she died. She could type and spell when it came to report writing, but knowledge of the law, taking statements, understanding client needs were all on him. She’d like to contribute more. At least he trusted her enough to get the preliminary information for this case.
Sitting next to him in his truck, Jane used the drive time to her mother’s house to make a question list for her meeting with Mrs. D in the morning.
Robert pulled into Jane’s drive and stepped out to open her door. She pulled the house key from her purse, took his hand, and slid from the seat.
“How is your brother since his kidney transplant?” he asked.
“Recovering well. Thank you for asking.” Focusing on anything apart from the oncology center might relieve what bothered him.
“When you learned you weren’t a good kidney match, you were pretty disappointed.”
“I was. I’m thankful a donor was located, and I appreciate your understanding when I was a bundle of nerves.”
Making their way up the walk, silence filled the space between them. The damp earth scent beneath the oak trees left by an afternoon shower niggled her senses. She had been self-absorbed over personal family concerns. Was she Robert’s problem? If Robert believed she wasn’t doing her fair share, he should tell her.
At the front door, Robert took her key and opened the door. His demeanor had softened. “Are you okay with gathering the information from Mrs. Dillingham?”
“Of course, if you think I’m capable. I work for you.” If she did a good job collecting initial information for this domestic case, maybe his smiling dimples could be coaxed to appear. “How about I brew a pot of coffee and you give me my final instructions?”
Robert glanced at his watch. “I should go back to balancing my checkbook. Something is off.”
“Why don’t you let me look at it? Sometimes fresh eyes can spot errors.”
“Nope. Mrs. Dillingham is more your speed, and here’s a new rule. In a surveillance case, gather every shred of information you can on the subject.”
“Kind of like number three: use your gift of gab to glean information?”
“Yes, your strength.”
“Thanks ... I think.”
He returned to his truck, opened the door, and turned back to her. “Write down anything to help us identify the subject and where he might go when he leaves the resort—places he frequents, normal times of work, where his office is located in the complex.”
“Got it.”
“Our goal is to stay with him before, during and after work, to put the client’s mind at rest.” He slid into the truck and started the engine. “And my mind won’t be at rest until I reconcile my checkbook. Report in after you see Mrs. D and I’ll make plans on how to work the case.”
She nodded and swallowed her insecurities. After she closed and locked the door, his headlights swept across the living room windows. She peered through the curtains and watched until his taillights became tiny red dots, then disappeared.
He would make plans, and Mrs. Dillingham was her speed. And just what speed was that? Inconsequential? Second-rate? Meaningless? Negligible? Trivial? He’d turned down her offer to balance his account. A task where she was competent. Was chit chat and collecting facts all he thought she was good for?
What was she expecting anyhow? Be honest, Jane. She bungled her first big case with Robert and had to be rescued, and in the Christmas case, she was way too wrapped in her own troubles to be of much use to Robert. Even though she’d be returning to her teaching job in the fall, she wanted to become a meaningful part of Grey Investigations.
She pulled the list of rules Robert had been teaching her from her purse. Number nine was the last one: Take in more information than you give out. No. Actually, the last one was number sixty-four: Never stick your tongue out at a fellow investigator. Totally out of order. And being a teacher, out of order bothered her. She’d make this new rule number ten.
She went to her mother’s secretary in the living room, sat down and wrote rule number ten: Collect every possible shred of information on a surveillance subject.
“Okay, Mr. Robert Grey, who has relegated my investigative speed to information gathering, you shall receive every little tidbit I can extract from Mrs. D.”
He’d been patient with her, but was his patience wearing thin after six months of working together?

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