It would be a cliche to say that I hated myself in the morning but, unfortunately, it was true. Susan had left around 3 a.m. in a taxi – actually, a limousine – that she had made previous arrangements with and had telephoned her departure time during one of our short living-room-to-bedroom breaks. The Mercedes-man would be paying for the limo too, I expected.
I had given my reluctant goodbyes at the door, then resisted the temptation to go out and kick the tires on my new-to-me BMW. Instead, I had one more drink, then went directly to bed. I slept fitfully, with dreams about being passed at high speed by a big red Mercedes. So much for the subtleties and innuendoes of the subconscious.
I woke up in a cold sweat at 7:15. I decided that my psyche had been cleansed enough for one night, thank you, so I crawled out of bed and went through a full morning ritual in hopes that a shave, shower and breakfast would cheer me up. The eggs stared back at me in mocking contention, and I could, I swear, hear them snickering whenever I turned to pour coffee. The little voice in me was scolding me unmercifully about being an absolute fool the night before, while the big voice who had driven me to it was conspicuous in its absence. Evidently, the big voice only came out late at night, under the prodding of alcohol, sexual and emotional desire. That was good to know, although I wondered if I ever actually learned anything from this kind of experience.
After breakfast I sat at my desk and rummaged through a short but growing stack of unpaid bills, then shoved them aside. The previous weekend I had finished my only current job – a domestic surveillance – which I had wrapped up when the suspect-husband had, in fact, done his shuffling around town. One flash-drive full of shots through my digital camera’s long lens and the assignment was done. Now, nothing. I sat quietly for a few moments then glanced over at my answering machine.
I was surprised to see that the red light was blinking – there was a call on it.
I punched the buttons and listened. It was Elmer Woodruff, the high muck of Trans-Continental Airlines. He had called the night before, some time between the Saint-Emilion and the Amaretto, after I had shut off my phone’s ringer. He wanted me to call him this morning at his office, any time after eight. It was 8:06, so I dialed his number. Two rings later, Woodruff himself answered. I was impressed.
It was short and sweet. Woodruff told me that he might be needing a private investigator who understood the piloting side of the airline business. If I was interested I should immediately haul my ass out to his office for a face-time discussion – although, to his credit, he did explain that last part in slightly more dignified terms. Deciding that playing hard to get might not be the best tactic at that particular point, I told him that I'd be on the way before he heard the telephone click. He said that would be okay.
But then I dallied by dialing one other number. "Max," I said, not needing to identify myself to the powerhouse that I played tennis with at least twice a week, "I need you to sell my car."
"Yes. Put it on your lot, give me whatever you think I should have out of it after it sells." Apart from being a decent-yet-muscle-bound tennis player, Max had the ultimate persona of a double-dealing used car salesman. But for his close friends, he suspended his normal behavior patterns and became totally and scrupulously honest. To those who knew him, his occasional bouts of honesty were a display of affection that could bring tears to our eyes.
"That Ford ain't worth much. I'll do my best. You gonna be needing another car?"
"No. Susan was here last night, she gave me back the BMW."
"Yes, no fooling." I was getting restless, Elmer Woodruff was waiting. I probably should have called Max from my car on the cell phone, but I wanted to get this BMW-Ford-Mercedes stuff out of my mind as soon as possible. "I need you to pick the Ford up at my place, the keys will be under the front mat. I'll sign the paperwork at the tennis courts tonight."
"Okay. But then you gotta tell me how you got the BMW back from Susan."
"Sure," I answered. I hung up, wondering what in hell I could say to make the BMW deal sound a little more palatable to my macho friends. I shrugged, then headed outside.
It was a cloudless sky and still a bit chilly. The forecast for today was clear and breezy with a high in the seventies. It was the kind of weather where people in the north think they've died and gone to heaven, while Florida residents whine and snivel at how crummy Mother Nature is treating them of late. Position, as they say, determines perspective.
I slid a key under the old Ford's front mat, then turned to the BMW. The white four-door Beemer sat gleaming in the morning sun; Susan had even had the car washed and waxed for me. For a moment I wondered if her Mercedes friend had helped her. Not his style; his chauffeur probably did it while he and Susan sipped aperitifs on the veranda.
I unlocked the door to the BMW and slid inside. On the center console were three new sets of compact discs: the operas Rigoletto and Carmen, and Tchaikovsky Symphonies numbers Four, Five and Six. Attached to them was a note from Susan which read, "Listen to these CDs on the way to jobs! Get inspired! Work hard! Be successful!" Okay, fair enough. I unwrapped the Tchaikovsky set of CDs first, wrestling with the bubble-plastic it was wrapped in for an annoying amount of time until I finally got the discs out. To my mind, a man would be rich enough when he could hire someone else to fight his battles with modern packaging. Finally, I started the BMW, slipped the CD into the player, and took off towards Miami International Airport.
The Coconut Grove section of Miami had been a strange blend of extremes, rich and poor, historic and modern. Not too long ago, the east end of the Grove was artsy-craftsy and expensive as hell while the west end was dirt poor and black. Now, nearly all of it was high-class, or trying to be. The townhouse Susan and I had bought was geographically halfway, a place we had gotten at a steal back when the real estate market had first collapsed. I wheeled around the tight streets in the BMW to the accompaniment of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky's first movement of the Fourth Symphony. The single theme that dominated the Fourth Symphony was stated quickly by the horns and trumpets, and the BMW's marvelous custom sound system – a powerful amplifier coupled to seven speakers – picked up all the nuances. Thank you, Susan, I managed to say to myself, in spite of the thoughts about what she might be doing on the veranda with the Mercedes-man. Compared to the equipment I had in the Ford, this sound system was the difference between a casual stroll and a four minute mile.