When I was a kid, I knew I could fly. I cut a cape from Mama’s blue silk dress and rocketed up the apple tree in our backyard. Sophie wouldn’t fly with me. My chicken-shit sister hated getting dirty.
I teetered on the highest branch and threw apples at my sister. Mama ran outside screaming. “Caterina! No!”
“Jump! Jump!” Sophie sang. “I’m flying! I’m—”
Okay. I was wrong about that.
That was the day I learned two terrible truths about my life. I can’t fly.
And my sister Sophie was switched at birth.
I still climb trees and scale balconies. I peer into hotel windows and snag photos for my 8×10 glossies. Mostly I love my job. I’ve dodged a few bullets. And I’ve taken some pies in the face. I prefer chocolate.
My name is Cat DeLuca, PI. I own the Pants On Fire Detective Agency. Right now I own Bernie Martini’s sorry, dumb ass. I peered over my glass at the couple in the next booth. She was a bleach-bottle blond in a cherry red sweater that stretched tight in all the right places. Bernie was a turtleneck and sports coat guy. His fingers rubbed the tan line where his wedding band should be. The ring would be in his pocket.
I know this because I was married to a man whose ring dropped into his pocket like his finger was coated with WD-40. The cheater at the next table could be my ex. Except Johnnie Rizzo was much hotter. He was smokin’ hot. He was also a lying sack of shit.
Okay, so here’s the thing. My marriage to Johnnie Rizzo may have been a bust. But it taught me the low-down, sneaky ways of cheaters. And every sly, devious way to catch them.
The blond torpedoed her knockers into his chest and kissed Bernie hard. When he came up for air, his glasses dangled off his nose.
Bernie is married to my client, Olivia Martini. Yesterday, Olivia found condoms in Bernie’s pocket. Two left in a four- pack. Today she’s emptying their savings account and buying a condo. Tonight she’ll serve up my 8×10 glossies for supper.
My flower-print purse is a camouflaged camera. I adjusted the angle to snag a shot of blondie’s nimble hands beneath the table. The candy apple red finger nail polish would be a striking contrast to Bernie’s khakis for the photo extravaganza.
The server delivered appetizers and drinks to the lovers’ table and a lunch menu to mine. She wore gold hoops in her ears and one in her nose. She had frank, clear eyes and a decade on me. The four-leafed-clover nametag read Katie.
She rolled her eyes at Bernie and Blondie. “Ain’t love grand.
You know what they say.” “What? Get a room?”
Katie laughed and lowered her voice to a whisper. “Romeo is a regular. But the chick is new. I think the guy has a revolving door on his zipper, if you know what I mean. He probably has a wife with four kids trapped at home. ”
I shot the love-birds a sidelong glance. Bernie hand-fed the blond a plump, buttery shrimp appetizer. When he was finished, she sucked his fingers. Eeeeuw.
“You think he’s married?”
“Girl, I got thirteen years in this bar. I can spot the hitched ones.”
I smiled. “I never would have guessed.”
The pub door opened and a blast of cold air blew in a half- dozen longshoremen. They were beefy, loud, and tanked. Tierney’s Irish Pub was not their first stop.
A shit-faced guy howled from the door. “Whiskey for me and my friends.” His red, unfocused eyes swept the bar and settled on me. “And I’ll have her.”
“Seriously?” I said.
Katie sighed. “I should have gone to college.”
She left a menu with me. “I like your flowered bag,” she said over her shoulder. “It looks roomy.”
I smiled. “It holds a multitude of sins.”
I cut my eyes to the lovebirds playing footsie under the table. The blond laughed easily and was more fun. Bernie’s perpetual dour, Eeyore-ish look had etched deep lines on his face. He resembled a Shar Pei.
Another blast of brisk air blew Santa into the bar. He was chubby and plump in his red suit, even without the stuffing. Blue eyes danced above the fluffy, white beard.
“Ho ho ho,” he said.
“Hey, Nick,” Shit-face shouted over the crowd. “You’re uh… way early, man. What’s wrong? The old lady kick ya out?”
Santa ho-ho-ho’ed his way over to the bar and spoke to a couple of guys there. The bartender checked his watch and jerked his thumb to the door that read “For Employees and Leprechauns Only.” Santa nodded and disappeared through it. I checked out the menu. Even though I was hungry, I was reluctant to order more than a light appetizer while stalking. It’s the high cost of surveillance. I have to be able to leave when my mark does. Ditching an untouched meal is risky. It may as well be a neon sign for a wary cheater. An abandoned half-empty drink and some appetizers are far less suspicious.
Shouts and a loud ruckus erupted from the back of the bar. SLAM! A door hit the wall and the menu flew from my hands. Santa charged through the leprechaun door, black boots pounding the floor. Two muscled gangster trolls were hot on his tail.
They had guns in their coats. One waved Santa’s beard in his hand.
I gazed into Santa’s beardless face and Billy Bonham grinned back at me. He tweeked a thumb and pinky to his ear. “Call me.” I didn’t think. I shot out a leg. The posse went tumbling over my Uggs. In a sputtering nosedive, they crashed and burned onto the backs of the tanked-up longshoremen. A drunken howl sliced the air. Chaos exploded. The fight was on. Santa made a clean escape though the door.
I drained my glass, dropped a wad of cash on the table, and slung the camera/purse over my shoulder before scooting out the door behind Santa.
And that’s how I saved Christmas.