The woman sitting in my office was not young — closer to seventy than sixty, I guessed — she had wrinkles and her well coiffeured hair was gray, but she was neatly dressed and somehow attractive. Of course, my ex-wife said I found every woman attractive and she may have been right — if you excepted her.
“My name is Penelope Fiedler, Mr. Tuff, and my problem is …well, it’s …I think my husband …Damon …is …cheating.”
I wanted to help, but I told her regretfully that I didn’t do divorce cases. As a geriatric detective, I try to avoid any situation with the potential for violence and an errant husband, when discovered, could become like a cornered tiger: angry and physically dangerous.
Her “Oh” was replete with disappointment and she began to weep quietly. I made a mental note that I must keep a box of Kleenex in my desk. She opened her purse and removed a small handkerchief and a photo.
“That’s Damon.” He was a handsome man, about seventy, and short and thin, smaller than I am. Maybe, if I were careful — no, that way madness lies. But I asked: “why do you suspect him of infidelity?” I knew this question was the first step on the slippery slope to taking the case. Immediately the tears ceased.
I remembered my first associate — a critic he was called then — when I was a student teacher. After school, while I waited for my assignments for the next day, he reprimanded a girl who had misbehaved in class. She burst into tears. Afterwards he growled: “Bah! Tears, a woman’s favourite weapon.” He was not as unromantic as he sounded, though, because I learned that a few months before, he, a forty-five-year-old bachelor, had married a new secretary, half his age, who worked in his office.
“He’s been spending a lot of time away from the house in the afternoons and he gets calls. Once I heard him say, ‘Please don’t call me here. I’ll see you this afternoon.'”
“Do you know where he goes?”
“I presume he’s retired.”
“Yes, for several years. He was the manger of a hardware store, a successful one. We’ve been married for forty-five years, Mr. Tuff, and we were happy, at least I thought we were …until this started.”
I couldn’t understand why Damon would cheat on Penelope, unless Miss Canada had developed a passion for retired septuagenarian store managers and that seemed unlikely.
I collected the necessary information and told Mrs. Fiedler that I would call her as soon as I had learned anything. She left, and I mentally kicked myself for violating my own rule. Rock Tuff, P. I. — perfect idiot!
The next afternoon I parked near the Fiedlers’ house. I recognized Damon from his picture when he came out and began to walk towards downtown Blandsville. It is difficult to follow a pedestrian in a car because you can’t drive at three or four miles per hour, so I locked mine and trailed him on foot.