Ad Libitum

yet another metaphor!


The day started innocently enough with all mundane tasks elegantly achieved. She woke up on time, without the need of an alarm and eased into the shower without having suffered indignities or chilliness. Usually, by this time there has been some annoyance or some incident that would cause a quiet sigh or dramatic eye roll. When she finished her shower and bundled up in her robe, she realized that everything was within her rather narrow anguish tolerance. Her make up went on easily, the coffee was ready and she headed out the door with nothing to complain about, at least not yet.

As she drove towards her office, the radio was playing one of her favorite songs and she seemed to be hitting all the green lights. She arrived at work five minutes early with no particular insights for her luck and she wisely decided to leave the analysis for another time. She unlocked her impressive door, with a larger and more bold "Catherine B. Jones, Private Investigations" painted on the door than what was at the old office and walked in to greet the day. Her business had been growing steadily since she struck out on her own and she reluctantly brought in two associates as well as an administrative assistant. She was not the most hard-working person in the world but she knew when she in need of several more sets of hands.

Even with three new people in the company, she was usually the first one in the office because she was under no child-related or relationship obligations. This freedom allowed her to move around with a complete and unstructured agenda. The idea of things unknown, unsupervised office equipment and solvable mysteries always provided her with enough motivation to get out of the house and get into the day's mix. If she was in the middle of a case, Catherine had to force herself to get sleep and when she was between paying cases, she believed the quickest way to make money was to be there when the telephone rang.

The first several years of the agency had gone extremely well and her luck continued to play an instrumental role in many of the cases. Trained as a beat cop, she continued to show up on the scene and concentrate on the energies that were misplaced or lacking credence for being there. A sense of observation and a general positive attitude had brought her well-known success and she does not intend to change tactics now.

The coffeepot was cleaned and this morning's batch of coffee began chugging into the machine while Catherine started scanning the morning papers. She liked using bulletin boards as she looked at the news; she would be highlighting the articles she would cut out after lunch. There was an unwritten law that after lunch; the content of the paper would be cut into research articles, file fodder and general news for later review. Both past clients and potential future clients made her archives. She had liberated several cabinets from the local library when the system went digital. The old card catalogs made excellent lead and contact archives and the first thing she emphasized to her new associates is that everything was filed for later use. This meant clippings, old case notes, photo negatives, tape recordings and court documents were within everyone's reach. Investigation work was a series of events, mainly unrelated, but to the curious, patterns and tendencies usually became evident to the persistent and the lover of public information.

Catherine Bethesda Jones was highlighting a few real estate transactions when all three of her team walked in the door. All three were ex-police and ex-sheriff professionals within impressive internal contacts as well. Usually, people would come and go on their own schedule so this mass entrance was somewhat unexpected and unique.

"Good morning, boss," said Keith Cassidy. Keith was a recent retiree from the force with twenty years of police work. He took the same early retirement that Catherine did a few years back but only recently, came back to the job. He was moderately burned out when he left because of the mind-numbing administrative paperwork and time-consuming meetings. He liked being a cop and by all accounts, he was a good one. However, in worlds such as police work, the better you are as a cop means you will be promoted out of the role sooner than most people will. They had always gotten along, Catherine had always appreciated his solid, and consistent police work so when the pace at the old office became too much to handle, she gave him a call.

The other two members of the group were directly in step behind Keith were the married couple, Allen and Allyn Wallace. Allen was the long-time desk sergeant of Catherine's first precinct and Allyn was Catherine's first rookie partner in the policy academy. The couple was never referred to as "the Wallaces" but rather as the "Allens." Allen had seen everything at the front desk and over the fifteen years manning the day shift knew every reprobate and potential reprobate in the city. He had to deal with shady lawyers, frantic victims, hapless suckers and a wide collection of vengeful idiots. During his fifteen years, he had been shot at three times; hit twice, vomited on at least two dozen times and had seen five people shot dead in the lobby. He needed to get out and once he met Allyn, he knew there was a better life somewhere else.

Allyn was one of the first female cops on the force with Catherine and together they were bound together out of gender rarity and assumed allegiance. They got along without any issues but both bristled at the assumption that they were best friends because of their gender. Neither woman resented the assumption but became tired of it because of the faulty logic behind it. Once they graduated the academy, they were assigned different precincts and saw each other occasionally but still faced the persistent question on how the other was doing. Several of the black officers empathized because it was the same ignorant assumptions they were fighting.

"Don't worry," said one of the veteran black cops after sensing her frustration, "It goes away after about ten years."

"I like Catherine," said Allyn, "But I have no idea how she is on a daily basis. They must think we have some magic female radar."

"It is a lot like the black radar. I came up with Jimmy Wilcox twenty years and I still am asked how he is doing. I smile and just keep going."

"Jimmy? He is doing fine," said Allyn. "He is my commander and is thinking about retiring."

"Good," smiled the wise veteran.

Soon after Allyn and Allen met, they fell in love quickly. Being cops, they knew about the life and the pressures and gave each other as much room as possible. Once a cop came home, he or she did not want to talk about work and usually, the spouse would ask about their day. That usually would escalate over the years with cops spending more time with their fellow officers to decompress after a shift. A vast majority of cops got divorced due to the strain of the job but marrying a fellow cop seemed to neutralized the impact; a lot like when multiplying negative numbers resulted in a positive one.

After they fell in love, they married and soon Allyn was pregnant. This was about the time both Catherine and several truckloads of office supplies left the police force. Allyn envied Catherine's freedom and made a point of re-connecting with her. When the baby was born and Allyn returned to the force, her concentration had deteriorated enough to concern her. Allen was in a similar state, never venturing away from the safety of the front desk, concerned about the baby and Allyn out of patrol. One day, they confided in each other and realized it was time to do something new. Neither wanted to remain a cop and Catherine's success and recent hiring of Cassidy got them thinking to reach out to Catherine when the time was right.

The time got right very soon afterwards. Flush with success and capable of more business with adding Cassidy, Catherine contacted them one evening and asked to come over to discuss something that was on her mind. Surprised, the couple agreed to see her and once the telephone was cradled, they looked at each other with mutually dumb looks.

"Did you say anything?"

"Not a word, not one word."

"What do you think she wants?"

"I don't know but I know this is the right time to bounce the idea off her."

"Maybe she is reading our minds."

"Did you say anything?"

"Not a word, maybe she is just lucky."

A few minutes later, the doorbell rang and in walked Catherine Bethesda Jones, Private Investigator. She had a baby present in a shopping bag and handed it to Allen with a sincere hug.

"Congratulations on the kid. I didn't have time to wrap it."

"No problem, said Allyn. "It is nice to see you and I still get people asking me how you are doing."

"Me too," said Catherine. "In fact, that is why I am here."

"Really?" said the Allens.

"I was having dinner with Kevin Cassidy and a few of the guys from my old precinct came up to say hello. After about one minute, I got the question about you."

"I get it all the time," said Allyn.

"They told me that you guys just had a kid and that got me thinking."

"Thinking about what?"

"About everything. I have been very busy with the agency, Cassidy came on board a few months ago, and things are busier than before. We were discussing the need for more sets of hands when you both crossed our mind."

"And?"

"And I think it is time you both joined up. It is a safer job, you can make your own hours, and you can basically come and go as you please and I want you both to come. I will pay you what you are making now, plus pension and all that and we will figure it out any bonuses at the end of the year."

"Let's do it," said the Allens.

And two weeks later, they joined Catherine Bethesda Jones. The year went by quickly and things were going great. Their contacts and skills complimented Catherine's and Cassidy's well and business kept coming in.

Allen was the defacto bookkeeper and kept things moderately straight at the office. He continued to have little interest in hitting the streets but performed an invaluable role by maintaining irreplaceable contacts in the city. If Allen didn't know someone, the trail would usually be impossible to follow. He knew the names and contacts of a full spectrum of contacts; from Congressmen to pimps to custom officials to airline pilots. He ran the office like a command center and everyone appreciated it. There were many times that Catherine, Keith or Allyn would call Allen and ask for something impossible and he would deliver.

"Allen?"

"Yep."

"Do you know anyone on the docks?"

"Sure. Do you want a trustworthy Union person, a dirty Customs official, a guy on the take, a hooker, a sailor or a good place to eat?"

So, that morning, the group convened in the new offices around the large table that was originally liberated as one of Catherine's first acquisitions. Each morning they tried to meet as a group to bounce ideas off each other and to discuss their individual cases. They worked together, in some matter about half the time, and separately the other half. The group always started the day with a quick summary of what they were working on, what they were curious about and things that were on the horizon. This is the time that ideas were exchanged and the communal wisdom would focus on a particularly difficult puzzle if the person decided to ask for volunteers. If no one had an idea, the puzzle would at least be postponed with referring it the name and number of someone who could provide the investigator with the exact information sought.

The arrangement made with Catherine is that they all paid a percentage of the overhead and expenses and kept about two-thirds of the money for themselves. No one cared about the small details and each was responsible for collecting their own fees. This arrangement was fairly successful with Allen being the inside person with Allyn, Kevin and Catherine being the outside group. Allen generally did the paperwork, processed the billing and did the general administrative chores and everyone had the freedom to bill himself or herself out. The team had fallen into nicely prescribed roles and there was minimal to zero overlap.

The day at the office was like many of the earlier ones but the team was now in a nice rhythm. This morning, Catherine was in a good mood thanks to the ease of her morning and was curious to see what was on everyone's plates. She reached over to the new coffee machine, compliments of the unknowing procurement department at the City Works department, and put her feet on the desk and asked what was new.

"I got a cheating wife and younger man," said Allyn without looking up from her crossword puzzle. As surveillance professional, she had found numerous ways to concentrate on two things at the same time. Relying on crossword puzzles to get her through the long hours of stakeouts, she realized that she was now hooked on the things and couldn't stop doing them. The habit wasn't attention getting so the team let it slide because they knew her lack of attention was neither personal nor professional.

"I got insurance fraud and worker's comp man building an addition to his house," said Kevin. "He is a real beauty. He thinks that he can hide from the world with a five-foot high fence. I am going to wait until he completes the work before I bust him. The insurance guys are really happy with the pictures; I got him mixing and laying cement, hauling wood beams, shingling the roof and doing chin-ups on the trusses."

"He sounds like a beauty."

"He is. About every twenty minutes he looks around to see if anyone is watching him. He can't seem to understand that people will be taking pictures and videos. But he is in the middle of some extremely challenging physical activity and all of a sudden, like an epiphany, he looks around with that sneaky sideways look. "

"What does his file say?" asked Allen without looking up from his notebook.

"Lower back injury due to unspecified accident," said Kevin. "He was working in the backroom and all of a sudden, he screamed out and a bookshelf fell."

"Of course, no one saw the injury?" rhetorically questioned Catherine.

"Of course," said Kevin.

"Does anyone care what I am working on?" asked Catherine.

"Let me guess," said Allyn. "You got a case that is pretty squirrelly and you don't know where to go or what to do but you will…"

"Show up," interrupted Allen, "and see what…"

"Happens," said Kevin.

"That is about it," smiled Catherine.

"Well, since you asked, " said Catherine, "I am working on a fraud case myself. It seems that some idiot is threatening to sell some company secrets to another company."

"Sounds intriguing."

"Not really. The gal is so stupid because the alleged secrets aren't really secrets at all. The company he works for basically copied the ideas and concepts from the company this Einstein is trying to sell them to for money."

"Why is the Company calling you in?"

"Because they want to go after the company, not the gal, for taking their copyrighted works. They could care less about the woman, they want to at least embarrass the President of the bad company."

"Why?"

"Because the guy has always stolen other people's ideas and pawned them off as he own. It is a lot like the John Amos character in Coming to America, that was running 'McRonalds' and acting like he wasn't stealing his ideas from McDonald's."

"And?"

"He landed on a few boards of directors because of incessant lobbying and asked for copies of presentations and strategic plans for 'further review.' The next day, he would have one of his toadies make photocopies of the stuff for his own business. He had the gall to use the original copies of the stuff, with his name copied over the company's logo, and acted like it was his."

"Classy…"

"So, this gets back to the original company and they basically get rid of the jerk. They tell him that his time is up and shuts him out of all future meetings. In fact, they ask him for all the stuff he took in the past. Of course, he doesn't have it and swears that he had 'destroyed it' for confidentiality reasons. So, everything was dormant until the gal calls the first President offering to sell her company's supposed secrets. And the good President..."

"got pissed and called us."

"Absolutely," said Catherine, "and I am under instruction, in priority order, to really embarrass this guy or just embarrass him."

The morning meeting ended and the three headed for their cars with Allen staying behind to watch the place. He drew a large cup of coffee, put on a headset and started doing office work. Calls started coming in and he pre-screened them into future business potential, informant information or just general updates from the large network of friends of the firm.

He also called the daycare and checked in on his and Allyn's baby. Working for Catherine allowed them to place the child into a nice daycare and not worry about extending shift work or some extraordinary emergency to keep them away from their baby. When they were cops, they had to have numerous contingencies in place in case they were on a case. When thinking about why they left the force, the single biggest reason they liked working for Catherine was the comfort they could stop what they were doing, at anytime, and get the kid. She didn't care what they did as long as they were doing their job.

Kevin called in about two hours later; he was bored and was watching the house addition go up slowly. He wanted to bust the guy, with the insurance investigator, but the word was they wanted him to finish the whole thing first. They ran the risk of the guy actually getting injured on his own project but they wanted to accumulate more incriminating pictures and have the guy cash a few more disability checks. What this meant was Kevin had almost nothing to do except watch him work. He was learning a few things about home repair and basic carpentry but it was coming at a cost of his patience and ability to entertain himself. He had tried Allyn's advice to try crossword puzzles but he saw that as more clutter for his front seat but he kept trying. He had his tape recorder, parabolic microphone, camera with several long-distance lenses, notebooks, lunch and several cell phones. So, out of boredom, he would call into Allen just to break the monotony. They would chat briefly and Allen would tantalize him with potential future business while Kevin would curse his surveillance target unmercifully.

"What is he doing now?" asked Allen with no interest in the answer.

"Beats me," said Kevin. "I think he is laying electrical cable. What are we making on this job?"

"Three thousand a day plus expenses."

"It is good dough," said Kevin, "But I am going nuts."

"Let me ask the boss," said Allen. "I bet she will have no problem with you asking the insurance geeks to wrap this up."

"Great," said Kevin, "Now, what is a seven-letter word for wingless bird?"

"Apteryx."

"And a three-letter word for morsel of food?"

"Ort."

"Thanks" and he hung up.

Allyn called in from a bank where she was reviewing her client's bank accounts and credit card records. She was looking for receipt patterns and anything else that was incriminating to pin on her client's wife. She wanted to remind Allen to pick the kid up for her first dentist appointment and to swing by one of the several Chinese restaurants on the way home to get dinner.

"How is the fishing?" asked Allen.

"Just fine," said Allyn. "Her personal credit card is full of purchases that imply gold digger younger man."

"Like?"

"Like two thousand dollars at Barney's for a suit, another thousand at Saks for what looks like a tuxedo."

"A tuxedo?"

"Yes, and evidentially we don’t get out a lot because here is another five thousand for a Cartier tank watch. Men's of course."

"Of course. Want me to bill the client for this month?"

"Good idea," said Allyn, "Make it eighteen thousand dollars plus one thousand expenses. I will get you my timesheets tonight."

"Great, I will see you at home."

"No MSG sweetie," said Allyn as she hung up.

The rest of the morning went quickly and Allen finished that month's invoices. By his calculation, the move to Catherine B. Jones, Private Investigations, was a beautiful win/win for everyone. Everyone was making great money, completely free to do what needed to be done, the clients were ecstatic and the hours were great.

Catherine checked in for messages and after hearing the list of callers, thanked Allen and went back to work. She met with the President and notified him that the police were aware of the telephone calls and that the truth about the other President was guaranteed to make the papers as soon as this whole thing was played out. She instructed him to tell the gal anything she wanted to hear so she would fall into Catherine's trap without thinking too hard.

The call from the blackmailer came, as planned, at two o'clock and the President followed the script to the letter. He was amazed at the accuracy of Catherine's coaching, as the woman's dialogue was frighteningly close to what Catherine estimated. Since it was so close, Catherine assumed, meant that the woman was frightened and in need of money.

The President was speaking into a tapped telephone line and the police were just monitoring it as a favor to Catherine and the Allens. The level of the blackmail was negligible at best but it was legally a fraud that needed some degree of involvement. However, the intent was not to catch her with the goods, but rather catch her admitting that the material she was selling was the handiwork of her company's President. If they could get her to admit that the secrets were the property of the President, the trap would be set to embarrass him into a fair amount of public humiliation.

The President told her that he could not be involved but he would send an intermediary.

"Who is that?" asked the woman.

"My girlfriend," said the President as he looked up at Catherine and the police officer, listening in on the other lines.

"I thought you were married."

"I am," said the President while he looked at the two for some assistance. The policeman gave the hand gesture of just rolling with the conversation and the President continued.

"I am but I need someone…..someone who no one knows."

"Okay," said the woman. "Five thousand dollars and you get it all."

"Great"

They arranged a time later that day and Catherine was sitting at the agreed-upon location with the requested yellow and black canvas bag.

"Hello" said the woman.

"Hello" said Catherine. "Do you have the present for me?"

"I sure do," said the woman. "Do you have my payment?"

"Right here," said Catherine and she showed her an envelope with the cash.

They walked to a nearby bench for the exchange when Catherine gave a small hand gesture and up walked the policeman, in full uniform, and handcuffed the woman. She almost collapsed and started to cry.

"Stop crying," said Catherine. "I think I have a solution to your problem."

"What problem?"

"Well, I could show you the transcripts from your phone calls, the tracing of the calls, the statutes on fraud and interstate commerce and the estimated prison sentences for first-time offenses or we could look at your other options."

"Okay, but who are all these people?"

"Well, the policeman will be leaving, since we have an agreement. Is that correct?"

"Absolutely."

"And the rest of these people are a stenographer, a newspaper reporter and an attorney. Are you ready to talk?"

"Absolutely."

"Great, sign here" as she pushed a stack of documents in front of the woman.

Within fifteen minutes, the woman emptied her soul and detailed the amount and depth to the President's archive of purloined material. In fact, she informed Catherine, her President was planning to write a book with all these ideas cleansed enough to avoid direct discovery.

Catherine grabbed her cell phone and called her client. The potential book would be a great way to embarrass the guy but the chances of everything coming together was a long shot. By that time, all the original documents would be altered to make the connection of his plagiarism and dishonesty a bit too much of a stretch to prove.

"I would love to stop the book," agreed the good President, "but let's just air his dirty laundry."

"I agree."

The reporter was scribbling furiously and taking pictures of the woman. Evidentially, she had fallen on tough times and needed to make some money fast. The only asset she had to bargain with was an asset already stolen by her boss.

The good President instructed Catherine to see what kind of money she needed and asked her to arrange for it to get to her once the story broke. The woman was more than happy to comply. The good President reiterated his promise on not pressing charges so everyone seemed to be happy.

The next day would bring a huge headline showing the first President as egotistical and an intellectual lightweight. His decades of recycling other's ideas into his own would make him the laughing stock of the city. Catherine was happy as well: a large fee for the company, the bad guys losing and the good guys winning. She called Allen on her way home to report another success.

"I got it taken care of," said Catherine. "Bill them."

"You got it boss," said Allen as he hung up the telephone. Another day, another five hundred dollars.

Back to Short Stories