I swore to tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” nervously because I remembered Pilate’s brief but profound query, “What is truth?”
Immediately, we encountered a legal hurdle: my name. Was I Elmer Petty (my real name) or, because I was testifying in my role as a private investigator, was I Rock Tuff? The judge deiced that for legal purposes I was Elmer Petty. For a person who did not exist, Rock Tuff had contributed generously to my income since I retired.
Questioned by the plaintiff’s lawyer, I explained that my client, Wanda Devorse, suspected her husband Ivan of cheating and had hired me to provide evidence. Most PI’s hate divorce investigations, including me, but I had no other cases, so I took this one.
Checking on Devorse was not easy because he was the owner and manager of a women’s clothing store – or boutique as it was called – so that I couldn’t spend too much time there without arousing suspicions that I was a voyeur or some kind of pervert. I hesitated to ask my friend Amanda to go shopping with me after our last adventure during which she had ended up naked in a helicopter with an escaped criminal.
I did discover that Devorse spent a lot of time in bars and restaurants near his boutique. Perhaps he was having an affair with one of the waitresses, or maybe he was a secret alcoholic. Then I learned the truth from one of the women in a pub he frequented: he collected coasters.
“Coasters?” asked the judge.
“Yes, sir. Those circular or square objects one puts under a drink in case the ice causes moisture to form on the glass and run down the side. Some people collect stamps, some people collect coins, Mr. Devorse collects coasters.”
The judge shook his head.
“I know it sounds unusual, but people can collect anything: bits of string, pencil stubs, expired coupons.”
I went on to say that after a week I had found no evidence of infidelity, alcoholism, or any culpability.
“But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any?” asked Mrs. Devorse’s lawyer. Was he questioning my investigative abilities?
“Of course,” I admitted. “Don’t philosophers say that it is difficult or impossible to prove a negative?”
Ivan Devorse’s lawyer then questioned me. I gave the usual useless information: When Mrs. Devorse had hired me, how I had investigated, and how many times I had reported, and when and where. “Three times. At her home. I really had nothing to tell her." I suppose I was trying to look as if I were earning my fee.
“Do you remember anything unusual about the visits?”
“Well, each time, although it was in the middle of the day, Mrs. Devorse was wearing a bathrobe. Maybe she sleeps very late or does her housework and then shower.” I did not mention that she did not seem to me to be the diligent-housework-doing type because I knew the judge would probably rule my comment to be conjecture and irrelevant.
“Anything else unusual?”
“Yes. Each time there was a car parked near the Devorses’ house.”
“A parked car is not unusual, especially in a residential area,” said the judge.
“No,” I agreed, “but this one was: it was lemon yellow with royal purple polka dots. The third time, I took the license number and checked the owner.”
“How did you do that?” asked the judge.
“We PI’s have our ways,” I said evasively, not wanting to get the clerk at the license bureau, a former student whom I had bribed, into trouble. Besides, I might need to use him again.
“Who did it belong to?”
I winced at the grammatical error, but said: “Caz Anova. He lives here in Blandsville.”
“I know him,” Ivan Devorse blurted out. “He’s an old boyfriend of my wife!”
“Quiet, Mr. Devorse,” ordered the judge.
Mrs. Devorse looked uncomfortable. “You should have telephoned your reports,” she yelled at me. “I won’t be paying you a cent!”
“Quiet, Mrs. Devorse,” the judge ordered again. I suspected that the divorce would be granted.
When I left, unpaid, the Devorses and their lawyers were arguing over the division of property and the amount of alimony, if any. I hoped that Mr. Devorse would get to keep his collection of coasters. I also vowed that in the future I would take no more divorce cases.