Prompt: You sit in the dark, parked car, waiting for your subject to exit his home. You’ve been stuck on this P.I. job for days and there’s been no sign of this guy having an affair, as his wife claims. But wait – he’s coming out. You begin to follow him, and what you find out will be unlike anything you ever expected.
I watched the guy, Peter, come out of his house and hurry to his car. I’d watched him do the same thing for the last five days in a row and then followed him, and so far nothing had panned out. He just went to the grocery store or to the gym. Once I followed him back to the office after hours, and I actually got excited about that one. I thought he would meet some tart in a conference room for a little action. But that was a bust too. He just sat in his office for an hour, looked at some stuff on his computer (and, no, it wasn’t porn; I checked,) and then came home.
Still, his wife, Mandy, had hired me for three weeks, so I would follow him for three weeks. Somehow, though, when he left tonight I got the feeling he would really lead me to something. Call it a hunch. In my business hunches count for a lot.
I did the drill: keeping the distance, circling the block when he turned into a parking garage, and made a note of the place he headed before coming back to it myself. I saw the hotel across the street and figured maybe tonight was his night for a little rendezvous. Maybe he had a girlfriend coming from out of town.
But he didn’t go to the hotel. He followed the sidewalk down from the parking garage and toward another building. And all of a sudden I realized he was headed to the hospital next to the garage.
The hospital? What was the deal? Did he knock up some girl and want to check on her?
I kept my distance but managed to see what floor he pressed on the panel of the elevator bank. I figured that if he’d pressed the twelfth floor he would stay up there, so I decided to hang out in the lobby and wait for him.
I had to wait a long time, let me tell you, and I could have used a trip to the restroom. But when they say patience is a virtue, that really applies in my line of work. So I waited and promised to take a leak the first chance I got.
Finally, about an hour later, Peter came out of the elevator. He looked really upset. It wasn’t the kind of upset that happens when a mistress blows a guy off; I’ve seen that kind of upset and it’s just as much about being angry as it is about hurt (although most guys won’t admit that last part of it.) No, this kind of upset was something else, and suddenly my hunch started poking at my brain. Go after him, it said. You’ll probably find out what’s going on.
I sped up but didn’t want to look like I was rushing the guy, so I tried to keep my pace pretty even. When I got within earshot, I called out, “Peter Martin?”
He turned around, and I could see it in his eyes: honesty. Integrity. This guy wasn’t cheating on anyone. Yeah, he had a secret, but it wasn’t being unfaithful to his wife.
“Do I know you?” he asked mildly.
I put my hand out. “Kenny Wilson. I’m a private investigator.”
I inhaled slowly. This was always the hard part, when the guy didn’t know that his wife had put me up to this. I’ve followed a few female clients in all my years working, but most of the time it’s guys.
“Your wife hired me. She’s been concerned about your behavior lately, and she asked me to keep an eye on you for a little while.”
“Really?” he scoffed. “Why, does she think I’m cheating on her?”
I shrugged, but his expression changed.
“Does she really think that?” he asked incredulously, shock overriding everything else in his face.
“Can we talk? In the coffee shop, maybe?”
He looked stunned, and I think he followed me to the hospital coffee shop because he didn’t know quite what else to do. We found a table away from other people. I asked him if he wanted anything, but he shook his head.
“Look, it’s obvious to me that you’re not unfaithful to your wife, but something is definitely going on. Care to share with me what it is?”
He shook his head, and then he put it in his hands. Finally he looked up at me, and I saw something else in his eyes: pain.
“It’s my mom,” he said quietly. “She’s got cancer. Stage 4. The doctors say a few weeks, maybe a month.”
I barely kept my jaw from dropping. I’m supposed to stay neutral when I confront the follows—the people I keep tabs on—but this was a first for me. I folded my hands on the table to detract from my shock.
“If you’re just visiting your mom, why don’t you tell Mrs. Martin?”
He sighed. “She and my wife had a major falling out years ago, and they haven’t spoken since. I don’t think my wife would understand.”
“Well, this is your mother,” I said, spreading my palms outward. “I think Mrs. Martin would—”
“You don’t understand,” he said softly. “We had a child a long time ago. One day our daughter got a major headache and then fell asleep. My wife got worried, and even though she and my mom were on rocky ground she called Mom for help. My mother…thought Mandy was just…being melodramatic.”
I got a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach but had to ask.
“Our daughter had a brain aneurysm, and no one found it until it was too late. Ever since then Mandy hasn’t spoken to my mom. But now…now my mother is dying too. And I don’t know what to do, where to go.”
His last words came out in a whisper. For once I had no answer.