I was staking out the LeGrande Hotel on Asher and sucking the creamy filling out of a cannoli. My fingers absently drummed out a beat on the steering wheel while I kept an eye on a brunette in the hotel parking lot. Her name is Cookie Allen. Cookie’s married to Jerry, a wiry man with a birdlike face and a wild nest of yellow hair. Jerry’s an inquisitive kind of guy. He wants to know why his wife reeks of Brut Cologne.
It’s not exactly rocket science. Cookie Allen has a lover. She left telltale signs and a big trail of cookie crumbs. A dumbass could figure it out. But not Jerry. He’s hired me to spell it out for him.
I’m a great speller.
My name is Cat DeLuca and I’m a Private Dick—though I prefer Jane. I don’t investigate for insurance companies or work for ambulance-chasers. I won’t find your high school sweetheart. But if you’re in Chicagoland and you suspect your partner is stepping out, call me. I kick ass at catching cheaters.
Last week Jerry showed up at my office, his brain in deep freeze. His wife’s betrayal was slapping him in the face, but he was swimming in denial. It happens in this business. You know your relationship is in the toilet but you’re not ready to go there. So your mind creates an alternative scenario as a coping mechanism. It’s a temporary state of insanity.
That’s where I come in.
“What do you think is happening with your wife, Jerry?”
His small, birdlike chin quivered. “What do you mean?”
“I dunno. The late nights, unexplained absences. A sudden disinterest in sex and all things you.”
“I think it’s the change. I hear it affects women that way.” “Your wife is twenty-six years old.”
“It’s not the change.”
Jerry scrunched his face, searching for an explanation other than the obvious. I stopped him before he could decide his wife had a part-time job moonlighting for Brut.
“The Brut Factory is in Texas,” I said. “What does that have to do with anything?” “Just sayin’.”
Jerry sighed and gnawed on beakish lips. “I don’t wanna make no trouble.”
“So what will you do?” “I’m gonna shadow her.”
His eyes flashed alarm. “If Cookie thinks I don’t trust her…” “She won’t know I was there. It’s what I do”.
He dragged out a roll of antacids, popped a handful in his mouth, and chewed furiously.
“Here’s the plan. I’ll be in the hospital parking lot when your wife’s shift ends on Sunday. I’ll tail her—”
His eyes widened.
“Not to worry. I’m the queen of discretion. I’ll keep a diary of her movements. Make a note of anyone she has contact with.”
He nodded staring through me, his brain still on ice.
I wanted to shake him, but I put a hand on his arm and flashed an encouraging smile.
“I got this, Jerry. You’re going to be OK. I’m armed with spy-eye binoculars and my super, high-powered camera. I’ll snag some steamy 8 by 10 glossies and when I deliver them to you your brain will thaw.”
He nodded and then his head did a double take. “Huh?” “Exactly.”
# # #
A horn blared from the street in front of the hotel. Cookie was too busy fidgeting with her hair to notice. She was primping for Brut Boy. I popped the newest Pink album into the CD player, stretched my legs, and waited.
Cookie Allen works as an X-ray tech at Mercy Hospital and I was waiting when her shift ended at 2:30. At 2:31 she bolted out the door and barreled to her car. She gave her face a five-minute touch up and perked up the girls before pulling the red Mazda Miata out of her parking spot. I was on her like sauce on spaghetti. She headed down Twenty-sixth and hit the Dan Ryan toward the west end, hell and gone from her house in Bridgeport. Her first stop was a dry cleaner’s on South Ashland. Cookie dropped off a small bag of clothes, then took a quick spin by Lovers Package. Next stop was Walgreen’s for a Snickers bar, some mints, and a copy of Soap Opera Digest. And like a cherry on top, a can of whipping cream. I didn’t have to be a top-notch detective to know one thing. Some Mama’s son was gonna get lucky tonight.
The G in the neon LeGrande Hotel sign sputtered, making it quiver almost hypnotically. I mentally slapped myself and opened my surveillance cooler. It was stocked with Tino’s pizza, sausages, and Mama’s Mediterranean chicken. As well as her unrivaled cannoli. It will drop you to your knees.
I tossed a sausage to the beagle in the backseat. Inga is my partner at the Pants on Fire Detective Agency. She has soulful brown eyes and an ever-joyful tail. She’s fiercely loyal and better company than most people I know.
I poured a cup of coffee and let the steam warm my face. I get what Jerry’s going through. My brief marriage to Johnnie Rizzo was a crash course in infidelity. It was like a knife to the gut. Johnnie was a serial cheater, scoring like an Olympic athlete. But then, love can be brutal.
Sometimes you gotta get up, brush yourself off, and take your life back. You go out with your friends and exorcize your lying ex with shameless quantities of tequila and chocolate. You listen to the voice inside you that says you’ll create a better life than you ever imagined. Even if it’s the tequila talking.
A cool late autumn breeze blew off the lake. I hunched down in my silver Honda Accord and tugged my coat tighter around me. I didn’t want to fire up my engine and draw attention to myself. I figured this gig wouldn’t last long. The LeGrande is known for renting rooms by the hour. I doubt the sheets change as often as the guests.
Inga kissed my cheek and jumped into the passenger seat to negotiate for more sausages. A beat up blue construction van pulled into the hotel parking lot. Cookie leapt from the car, feet dancing, before Brut Boy killed the engine. Her husband, Jerry, may look like a bird. But her lover was a big burly bear of a guy with dark curly hair exploding from his neckline. Cookie seemed to be exploring a wide spectrum of the animal kingdom. They ran into each other’s arms and held tight for a long time. When they pulled back, they gazed deep in each other’s eyes and laughed.
I’ve been in this business a long time. And I’ve found people are driven to cheat for a variety of reasons: for the thrill, revenge, self-undoing, conquest, boredom, emptiness, or a sense of loss. Sometimes, it’s just for a lack of good sense. Some people cheat because they think they won’t get caught. Others just wanna get busted.
I’d probably never know how the affair between Cookie and her bear of a lover began. But I believed she was here today because they were in love. I aimed my camera, knowing I’d hate passing the pics on to Jerry. Cookie’s lover wore a wedding ring. I knew Cookie and Jerry didn’t have kids. It would be too much to hope her lover’s marriage would dissolve so cleanly.
She put an arm around his waist and they drifted my way. I buried my face in the latest O! Magazine. The lovers ambled past me and into the hotel, his hand resting on her bum.
I tossed another sausage into the backseat. “Back in a flash, Inga. This won’t take long.”
I grabbed my flower print handbag with the hidden camcorder and strode to the heavy oak and glass doors. I was locked, loaded, and ready for love.
Or at least ready to expose it on 8 by 10 color glossies.
I paused a moment beneath the quivering neon G and taking a deep, heady breath of Brut, tromped into the hotel behind them.