“Is that what you’re going to wear?” Topher asks, handing me a cup of brewed coffee when I enter the kitchen.
I take the cup and raise an eyebrow at him. “What’s wrong with my clothes?” I blow the rim of the cup to cool the black liquid before it touches my lip.
“Nothing, I guess,” He shrugs. “If you were planning on spring cleaning the warehouse today” He closes the laptop and sits taller “Really Elita, jeans and a t-shirt. Hardy date material”
“I’m not going on a date.”
“You’re hoping she’s gonna have sex with you, right? That’s a date.”
“Wrong. I’m paying her to have sex with me.” I reach over the counter and pinch one of his toast. “She can shove it if she doesn’t like my clothes,” I give him a wide smile, then take a bite of his toast.
“Mm.” With my mouth still full, I ask, “Did you make this bread?”
He grins. “You likey?”
I nod, Topher loves to cook and bake, it makes him happy and it makes me happy to eat the fruits of his labour.
“You know what?” Topher crosses his arms. “You shouldn’t be going alone.”
Here we go. He has already told me his concerns, but I have taken every precaution I can. This is my first solo case, so completing the objective is my number one priority. Even if I am not one hundred percent on board with Tony’s plan.
“I’ll be fine. I’m meeting her at a café on Rundle street, with plenty of people around.” Saturdays are always busy on Rundle street with cafes and bars lining the entire strip.
“It’s crazy she agreed to meet a stranger about this, over lunch.”. He says what I am already thinking.
I shrug. “No idea, I’ve never hired a sex worker before.” and it’s not something I want to do again. With the recorder in my bag and the money filled envelop ready to work, I’m set to tackle this case, whether I agree with this approach. “We have to get her pushing or using drugs for the custody hearing, plus the fact she works illegally as a prostitute.”
I was quite happy with my backstory; she seemed to buy it when I told her my husband wanted to add another person into the bedroom. She bought it when I said I was nervous someone else would interfere in our relationship. It was her to suggest we even meet beforehand. Just for me to be more comfortable.
I look down at the ten-dollar wedding ring I picked up at the discount store which, had it been the real deal, would have hit my imaginary husband’s pocket hard. With everything set, I’m ready to go. This needs to go well; I need to prove to Tony I can handle myself.
“I want to come with you,” Topher announces.
“Nope.” I shake my head as I place the now empty cup on the counter, “Your assignment due and it’s worth half your grade.”
“I don’t want you to go by yourself. What if her pimp rocks up?
“How do you know she has a pimp?” Topher argues.
He shrugs. “Don’t all of them have pimps? Surely some form of protection?”
“Even if her pimp is there, your seventeen. Not to sound like a bitch, but if a big gust of wind comes, pretty sure you’d blow away.” I tease and dart away as before he grabs me.
I love Topher and his protectiveness over me, but I know that if it involved him, I would be more worried about him and not be able to
He throws his other piece of toast at me. It falls on the counter face up.
“You shouldn’t throw food. There are starving people out there.” I pick it up and eat the rest of his breakfast.
“You are a bitch, but how am I supposed to get any work done when all I’m going to think about is you getting drugged and then trafficked overseas?”
What? My mouth drops open. “Are you serious?” That’s a stretch, even for Topher’s imagination.
“Very! I was chatting with cygog59 and he said there’s a huge market for it on the dark web.”
“Ahh, ok.” I nod when I realise he is referring to one of his computer buddies. “Whatever. You know he’s a big conspiracy theorist. Even if that is true, which sadly it is. I’ll park on the main street and make sure I’m not followed when I leave, ok?”
His worried eyes look back at me. I can’t take it when he gives me those eyes. “Don’t.” I snap at him, but that only makes him pout more.
“I’ll stay in the car.” He promises as he drops his bottom lip.
I screw up my face.? Is he really going to stoop this low? “Listen, if I try to write my assignment now. I will probably stuff it up, then I’d have to pull an all-nighter this weekend to fix it,” He pulls the laptop closer to him. With one hand he rubs the back of his neck and winces in pain, “My neck is already getting stiff?”
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, get in the bloody car.” I concede, like he knew I would.
What a surprise, his pain disappears as he seizes the piece of toast right from my hand, as he runs to the front door.
“Don’t even think about eating in my new car,” I yell out after him.
It’s a good thing we left early because we had to circle the block ten times before someone pulled out of a parking space across from the café. I glance back at the car and spot Topher with his camera. He insisted he wanted to record the interaction for my safety. I agreed, only because it worried me that the audio evidence might not be admissible in court. The problem is, Topher is too excited about joining me on my assignment. He keeps bugging me to ask Tony for a job.
I love my job, I’m good at it, and I felt like it’s what I was meant to do. School was never for me, I was such an introvert, I had trouble making friends and never wanted to be there. Maybe it was because my mother ran out on me when I was a child, that I had a general disdain and mistrust of most people most of my life. Being a Private Investigator is a perfect fit. My job specifically requires me to not be seen or discovered. It’s my perfect place to hide.
But Topher is so incredibly smart. He is a whiz with computers. It blew me away that when he first came to live with me at fourteen, he could take apart and upgrade my hunky old computer, turning it into a usable device.
He has too much talent to not pursue a career in technology or medicine or whatever he sets his heart on. He deserves better than a job that before today is me, sitting in a car watching a door. Today is my first real undercover case. I’ve only got three months before Topher graduates. That is plenty of time to convince him that University is the right choice.
“Sarah?” A scratchy voice from behind me pulls me out of my musings. I turn and look up at the woman who calls herself Ruby, recognising her from her online profile. Bright red hair pulled in a tight ponytail. She wears her short, and I mean real short leopard print skirt well. It almost takes my eye away from her black V-neck blouse that dips down to her navel. Here we go.
“Yes, I’m Sarah” I smile thinking she isn’t the only one with a fake name today. “You must be Ruby?” I ask, letting some nervous energy seep into my voice.
“The one and only.” She returns my smile and pulls out the chair opposite. I chose the table furthest away from the other patrons. It just so happens it’s also close to the road and I’m hoping Topher has a clear shot of us from where he hunkers down in the back seat of my new car.
“Thank you for meeting me.” My voice is quiet, awkward. I’m biding my time before I reel her in. I’ve got her, Suzanne aka Ruby, popping her gum in my face and Tony barking out instructions in my head. But he isn’t here. It’s just me, and I have to pull this off if I want him to give me the big jobs.
“No problem.” She looks down at the empty table, “No drinks?”
She just sat down. Did she expect me to read her mind and have her favourite drink waiting for her? I bite down my thoughts hampering my initial usual response. “Would you like a drink?” I ask and smile sweetly.
“Yeah, sounds good.” She picks up the drinks menu and I watch as she studies the cocktail list. Tony better give me back the money I’m spending on her.
She catches a server’s eye; and beckons her over. The entitlement oozes from her pours.
“How are you, ladies?” The bubbly server asks as she pulls out her notepad. “What can I get for you, girls?”
“Mmm…” Ruby mulls over the menu. It gives me time to appreciate her makeup, heavy-handed but perfect except for the red rim around her nose. If I were to guess, it’s from the white powder she allegedly sells. “I think I’ll try a Eucalyptus Martini.”
I snatch up the other menu from the table. Right there, listed under the cocktails, a twenty-dollar Eucalyptus Martini. Bile rises as I envision drinking what Franziska makes me diffuse when I’m sick. Maybe the red nose isn’t because of the drugs after all. Maybe she just has a cold.
I gently place down the menu. “I will just have sparkling water.”
She writes our order, then disappears back into the restaurant.
“So, tell me about your husband.” Ruby takes her sunglasses off her head and starts putting them in her case as she waits for me to respond.
My husband. Ok. “Ah, he is a very busy He works extremely hard.”
She looks me up and down. My makeup consists of just foundation, a pinch of eyeliner and mascara. My hair is down, hanging loose down my back, and as her judgy eyes roam over me now, I’m re-thinking what Topher said about changing. That is until her eyes land on my fake diamond ring and she sits up straighter and leans more into the table. I can see the dollar signs spin in her eyes. Poor Ruby, she has no idea.
I wonder where her three-year-old daughter is while she is meeting me. Hopefully in day-care instead of the foyer of her work, like the statement the father had given.
“So, you want to give him a little present, huh?” She winks. “Good on you. for knowing how you keep your man happy and not being a prude.”
To each their own, I guess.
I nod. Not having anything more to add. “He takes care of me, so why not? Not gonna lie I am a little nervous, though.”
“No need to be nervous. Is this an ongoing thing, or just a one-off fuck fest?”
Don’t react, don’t react, don’t react, I chant in my head. Instead, I just stare at the menu and will my face not to move. Thank God I did not let Topher sit at the next table next to me like he begged.
“I’m not sure.” I say when I make eye contact with her again. My blood starts to boil as she sits there all smug and smiles down at me. She likes how she feels when she thinks she makes me feel insecure when put on the spot. She thrives on it. Of the power she thinks she wields with it. I can see the glint in her eyes. Not only is she a horrible mother, if what her ex-husband says is true, but she is a horrible person as well. Trust me, I know all about horrible mothers. And it is with that loathsome thought that any shred of guilt I felt before coming here, vanishes. It. Is. On!
The server comes back with our drinks and we both take a large gulp. Ruby beats me though, as she downs all of hers it all in one go. She’s dreaming if she thinks I’m going to buy her another one.
“I’m nervous. I have never done anything like this before.” It is time to force my mind back on track. I play up the image she has of me. The shy, timid wife. I want her to assume I’m vulnerable and in need of pharmaceutical help, but she needs to feel as though she can coax me into a deal. “Like I said over messages, I thought I would look into this instead of trying online to find someone.”
“Don’t go online. Trust me. Once a man gets inside another woman, it gets complicated unless it’s paid for. This way, feelings won’t get involved and we all can have a little fun.”
With that sentence, I am one hundred percent convinced I could not do this in real life. The thought of my husband inside another woman makes me mad, even though my husband is imaginary. I already want to chop off his wiener.
She’s not afraid at all to talk. The information I’m getting is good but still isn’t quite a true confession.
I look around, feeling a little uncomfortable. No one seems to pay attention to us. I fiddle with my hair as she giggles to herself, sipping her cocktail.
I am well past pissed off now.
Granted, it doesn’t take much, but where is her professionalism. Who laughs at a potential customer? Fake or not.
“Oh honey, lighten up.” She does a shimmy in her seat. “Maybe this is just what your marriage needs. No offence, but you seem a little uptight. It’s probably why he wants to spice it up.”
I want to throw this drink in her face. Instead, I smile. “You’re right,” and sigh. “This is just not how I was raised.” I give her a small, sad, pathetic smile. “I’m just scared I don’t freeze up when we are… you know.” my eyes drop down, I act shy.
“You’ll be fine. I’m the best at what I do. Plus,” she leans forward. “I might have something that can help you with that.”
Hook. Line and sinker.
“Really?” I lean forward. “Like homework?”
She laughs out loud.
Keep laughing at me sweetheart, you wait for the review I am going to leave you. What am I talking about, where am I meant to review her services?
“Oh, my god,” she takes a deep breath. “Aren’t you precious? No, I don’t mean homework, although that might not be a bad idea for you. I mean something to take the edge off.”
I bite my lip to portray this conversation makes me a little nervous but intrigued.
“Did you bring the money?” she asks.
I nod. “Yes, you said $500 right. Half now and half after?” If you ask me, that is steep.
“Look, I can get you something to help you with that money and you fix me up on the night for my services.”
I lean forward and whisper, “you mean like drugs?”
This makes her look around and hiss, “shh.” Her demeanour changes. “Keep it quiet, would you?”
“Sorry,” I add quickly.
“Yes, ok. Did you still want this for next Saturday night?”
“So, are we all good? Should I book you in?” She pushes.
“Yes. For both, I think.” I lean forward again. “For the sex and the drugs,” I say just above a whisper. This I need on tape.
Her eyes are wide.
I pretend to be nervous again.
“Fine, deal,” she says. She sits back and then extends her open hand out to me.
Ok, she wants that money now I take it. Leaning to the side, I pick up my backpack. Whilst I look for the envelope Tony game me with the money, I double-check that my recorder is working. The red flashing light blinks back at me and confirms it.
I pull out the envelop and hand it over to her.
With a whopping smile, she takes it out of my hand.
As soon as it hits her grip, all hell breaks loose.
“Don’t move,” a loud, deep male’s voice booms over the scraping of chairs. Out of nowhere, two large men appear, flashing badges as they run towards the table.
Ruby bolts, the chair flies to the floor as she tries to flee down the footpath. A rough hand pulls me up and out of my chair.
“What the fuck?” I yell as I feel cold metal slap over my wrist.
“Don’t move, you’re under arrest for solicitation.”
My mouth drops open. “This is a mistake.” I try to plea, but it just makes the cuffs cinch tighter when I resist. Then my eyes land on Ruby as I watch her run through traffic, cars having to stop as they tackle her to the ground right in front of my car.
Planted in the car window, I see Topher’s horrified face and his damn camera.
I am going to kill Tony for this.