In this scene from "POOLSIDE WITH BRETT" (Brett Cornell Mystery #1), the supreme unscrupulous bastard himself gets a visit in his office from a female client, an event which (as expected) doesn't deter him from acting in his usual thoroughly outrageous manner -- and SHE STILL HIRES HIM ! ! !
It goes like this:
When I entered the office, remembering to change the charming smile into a smile of polite affability, I found myself standing face-to-face with a tall, angular-looking woman of about forty, not the kind of succulent dish you’d waste a second, closer look on or anything. I’d certainly cut her some slack if she were to actually beg me for it, you know? -- but that‘s about it. In a peculiar sort of way, though, she reminded me of those all-American housewives that used to be featured in those 1960s television commercials where the mom would be putting together the ingredients to bake a Betty Crock-o’-Shit layer cake or something, pretending like she really preferred slaving the whole afternoon in the kitchen instead of sitting in front of the tube and watching “As the Worm Turns” and such, for hours on end. The rather worn expression on my visitor’s face, however, told me that there was something seriously troubling her. See how a great detective can figure these things out before even a word is spoken?
“Mr. Cornell, how do you do?” she began, grasping my hand and shaking it briskly for a couple of seconds.
“Do what?” I asked, then let my face wrinkle up into a multitude of smiles. Then when I saw that she wasn’t exactly bowled over by my usually irresistible charm and humor, I erased all the smiles I had on and said soberly,” Just a little levity to help break the ice. No need to go frigid on me.” I was about to add a few more cutting remarks following the conclusion of that last comment of mine, but then I remembered that this woman was a potential source of business, i.e. money, so I let it go at that. Then I casually directed her to sit down in the chair in front of my desk while I moved around behind it and settled myself comfortably in my swivel-chair.
Holding herself erect when she got seated opposite me, she regarded me with cold blue eyes and said,
“Mr. Cornell, my name is Gina Johnson, and I --”
“No,” the woman replied to my initial question. “I really don’t know who Gina the contortionist is, but I can tell you that I am certainly not her.”
“No, I can see that,” I said. “The Gina I know can put that lithe, flexible body of hers in some really incredible positions you wouldn’t believe -- but enough of that, Gina.” Then I looked at her as if I were truly shocked over the possibility that I’d made a mistake. “You don’t mind if I call you Gina, do you? I mean, you seem like such a warm and friendly person, I feel as though we’ve been friends for ever so long. Don’t you?”
Sure, I was laying it on thick, but it was all deliberate, of course. Whenever tight-assed clients like this one showed up in my office, I had a hell of a good time watching them squirm, even if it was ever so slightly. I mean, why have a reputation as an unscrupulous bastard if you’re not going to put it to good use once in a while?
“The long and the short of it is this, Mr. Cornell,” the woman began, completely disregarding my generous offer of friendship. “My husband is missing, and I’d like to engage your services in attempting to locate him.”
“And his name?” I inquired, real business-like, and just to impress her with the fact that I ran a highly professional and classy outfit, I actually got out a piece of paper -- lined, not blank -- and picked up a pen -- not a pencil!
“His name is Max,” she replied, and then she leaned forward slightly when she saw me start to write on the paper in front of me. “Did you spell that correctly?” she then had the nerve to ask me, like I was some sort of illiterate.
“Yup,” I said, all jovial good spirits. “M-A-C-K-S! Got it!” And I looked down with smiling admiration at the little doodle I’d made on the paper.
Then I put my detective skills and professionalism to work by asking her if she’d gone to the police and reported him missing, and she replied that she hadn’t done that lest the police consider her to be over-dramatizing the situation.
“You’re right, better not to involve the police,” I told her, thinking in terms of money in my pocket instead of bothering our wonderful civil servants with minor petty affairs like tracing the whereabouts of missing persons -- you know, husbands who have disappeared because they’re shacking up with some hot-looking younger woman while the wives are at home agonizing over the thought that their men have had their throats slit or, even worse, their privates sliced off by all the unscrupulous bastards that were out there running loose in our fair city.
“Plus,” Gina Johnson continued,” I would so deplore the publicity that would inevitably result if the local authorities were to be informed of this matter -- especially if it should turn out that my husband had simply run out on me.”
“Run out on a beautiful woman like you?” I said, stunned to the very essence of my being!
“I know it seems hard to believe,” she said, completely ignoring me as she looked down at the floor and began fidgeting around in her chair like any minute now she was going to take a crap right there on my beautiful furniture. “But sometimes these things do happen -- and of course, whatever the case may be, I’m dreadfully worried about my husband, as you can surely understand.”
“To answer your question -- truthfully,” the woman stammered, casting her eyes about the office as her anxiety appeared to be on the increase,” I would have to say -- he’s been missing -- since last night.”
“Right,” I said, trying to clamp my lips tight for fear of bursting out laughing, and I scribbled something entirely illegible on the paper in front of me just to make it look like I was frantically taking notes on every idiotic thing she was telling me. Then I said,” If he’s only been missing since last night, I can understand your unwillingness to present this matter to the police, Mrs. Johnson. I mean, it’s not very becoming for a full-grown woman such as yourself to walk into police headquarters and --” Make a fool out of yourself, is what I was about to say, despite my being on such good behavior thus far in our conversation. But lucky for me, it was Gina Johnson herself who rescued me from making any inappropriate remarks, by suddenly interrupting me,
“Oh, I know how ridiculous it must sound to you. You probably consider it very premature of me to come here like this to you.”
“Premature?” I countered with a little innocuous grin. “Don’t you think maybe the word you’re looking for is -- immature?” and I winked at her, you know, just to show her it was all in good fun.
Maybe it’s because I’m not used to dealing with sensitive, seemingly high-classed women like Gina Johnson, or maybe it’s because I’m just basically nothing but an unscrupulous bastard at heart. At any rate, I couldn’t understand why the woman suddenly turned on me the way she did. I mean, just because her husband was missing and was probably lying dead in some gutter, she couldn’t even take an innocent little joke. Sheesh!
Rising to her feet in her indignation, she informed me that she had a mind to call in the Better Business Bureau along with a few other reputable organizations I’d never even heard of, let alone did business with. As if any of the fancy organizations she could think of could come down here and straighten me out!
However, I did manage to calm her down a bit by swiftly coming out of my seat and going over to her, brimming over with apologies intermingled with my assurances that I saw exactly how serious the situation was and that I would certainly see to it that I was able to locate her husband for her.
And then the nasty part came:
“For the right fee, of course.”
“Oh, of course,” Gina Johnson agreed, beginning to simmer down as she put her skinny butt back into her seat and apparently decided to stop making a ridiculous scene right in the middle of my respectable private office. “And believe me, Mr. Cornell,” she proceeded,” you may feel free to go to any expense to find him. All I want is for you to find him and bring him back home to me -- and I sincerely hope that when you do find him, he’ll be -- all in one piece.”
“Jeez, I hope so, too, Mrs. Johnson,” I replied easily. “I don’t think my stomach could take it if I were to find his brains in Woonsocket and his genitals somewhere in West Warwick.”
As soon as I said what I said, I thought for sure I was going to regret it, and she would head out that door, go home, and tell all her friends that she was going to hire a lawyer and have my sorry butt run out of town. But instead, she simply gazed at me through her tears, and the tears weren’t thick enough, I noticed, to conceal the real message those cold blue eyes of hers conveyed -- the message that said: We both know you’re nothing but an unscrupulous bastard through and through, Mr. Cornell; so, just find my husband for me and then get the hell out of my life forever!
In any event, during the subsequent minutes of her stay, the two of us explored the various possible whereabouts of her dear lost husband as well as itemizing all his friends, relatives, business associates, and the like until it came time for me to ask the dangerous question I had felt prompted to ask her from the very beginning.
“Any chance, Mrs. Johnson, that he could be holed up somewhere with -- an ex-girlfriend? Or something like that?”
Please note the extreme tact I exercised in phrasing my last question. And please bear in mind that, for unscrupulous bastards like me, tact is a very rare commodity -- one that should not be used indiscriminately if, indeed, it ought to be used at all.
“My husband doesn’t have any girlfriends,” she bitterly informed me as if to say that she was quite capable of satisfying all of her husband’s physical needs herself, thank you very much.
“Just trying to cover all the bases here,” I defended myself. “They don’t call me an ace detective for nothing, you know! Ha ha ha!”
On that awkward note, it just so happened that Linda decided to buzz me on the intercom to inform me that she had a Miss Spohr on the line and would I care to pick up the phone.
“I really don’t care one way or the other,” I quipped, cocking an eyebrow over at my client to see if she were taking note of how jovial and clever I could be if I put my mind to it,” but if you insist --”
So saying, even though it nearly killed me, I politely excused myself to Mrs. Johnson, then picked up the phone and said hello into the mouthpiece.
The next thing I knew, I found myself talking to good old Daphne, a.k.a. Miss Spohr.
“Oh, Miss Spohr, it’s so good to hear from you this morning,” I intoned, leaning back in my swivel-chair and throwing another benign smile onto my face.
“Why are you being so polite all of a sudden?” Daphne then had the nerve to ask me, and I countered by telling her that she must certainly have the wrong number because this particular Brett Cornell she had called on the phone was never anything less than polite and genuinely chivalrous with everyone he came in contact with.
“Oh, I understand,” the dark-haired babe from last night responded, changing her tone of voice. “You have a client there with you.”
“Brilliant deduction, Miss Spohr!” I exclaimed. “I must keep you in mind if I ever decide to hire an assistant.”
Daphne let that remark pass without commentary and said,
“Well, I’m sorry to bother you, darling. Just be sure and be here no later than two o’clock. Filming begins at three.”
“Well, I’ll look over my appointment book and get back to you later if there’s a change.”
“Splendid, darling! And do remember one thing.”
I had been about to hang up the phone before that last sentence of hers, but sensing that I ought to brace myself for whatever was coming next, I stayed on the line and said,
“Yeah? Now, what could that be?”
“Yup, sure thing!” I grinned into the phone. “Wouldn’t get too far without that, now, would we?” And I hung up. After doing so, without even glancing up from the telephone, I knew instinctively that the Johnson woman had those cold blue eyes trained on me at that very moment, so I strained to keep the grin on my face intact before lifting my face back in her direction and saying,” Sorry about that, Mrs. Johnson, but you being a woman of the world and all that, I’m sure you understand that some women -- such as the one who just phoned me -- won’t take no for an answer. I mean, one night of unbridled, passionate love, and they think they own you.”
“I wouldn’t know about that,” the woman responded quite coldly, and once more, the subtext of her statement jumped out at me: I’m not a slut like all the women you probably sleep with, Mr. Cornell!
“Well, of course not,” I agreed, my face wrinkled up in as many smiles as I could muster. “I’m sure that you’re nothing like some of these women I’ve met. Take Miss Spohr, for example -- “
And then, as if on cue, Linda buzzed me again, and when I turned the intercom on to receive her message, her voice rang out in extreme irritation, informing me that she had Miss Spohr on the line again and would I please handle all my girlfriends better than this from now on -- or words to that effect.
“Just as you say, Miss Thorpe,” I said into the intercom. “I will see to it that I handle Miss Spohr in such a way that she won’t be calling back anytime soon, and furthermore, just wait till I come out there and handle you!”
But my little threat went for nothing because Linda, clever little moron that she always was and always will be, had shut herself off, probably in anticipation of a threat being launched before I signed off. With a little sigh and another pleading look cast upon Mrs. Johnson for her patience, I picked up the phone once again and said hello in a kind of tight voice.
“Brett, I’m sorry about this,” my so-called girlfriend from last night began, trying to atone for her inconsideration by sounding really feminine and sexy over the phone. “It’s just that I forgot to ask you something very important.”
“The answer is an emphatic No!” I told her. “I don’t wear condoms!”
Then, when I sensed flames of wrath heading my way from where Mrs. Johnson was seated, I looked over at her, put my hand over the mouthpiece, smiled and said,” Little joke,” and then turned my attention back to Daphne.
“If one or two of the guys who act in my films happen to be here when you get here,” she said, knowing my character well enough to realize that she was really laying a big one on me with this information,” please try to act civilized. That’s all I ask.”
“Well, all I ask is that you make sure you get rid of them before I get there,” I said, no smiles on my face this time. “Otherwise, no deal.”
“Oh, Brett!” the woman whined, acting as though she’d never have another orgasm again for the rest of her life because of what I’d just said. “Eric warned me that you were going to be difficult -- “
“Difficult?” I laughed into the phone. “Baby, you ain’t seen nothing yet if you think this is being difficult.”
“But -- “
“Listen, baby, I’m calling the shots here, not you,” I said, figuring that now was as good a time as any to lay it all on the line.
“I really don’t think --”
“You were telling me,” Mrs. Johnson replied in her prim-and-proper tone of voice,” that I’m nothing like the women you go out with.”
“I said that?” came my foolish response.
And then Gina Johnson did a very unkind thing that really cut me to the quick. She got up from her chair, saying words that ran something like: My time is much too valuable for this kind of shit. (Words to that effect, let me reiterate.) Then she explained that she would leave a retainer with my secretary on her way out, and I explained to her that she could leave it with me instead.
“If you don’t mind.”
And so, a little civility with a good dose of fake smiles went a long way, I figured, as five minutes later, when I eased my weight back in my swivel-chair in the quiet confines of my inner sanctum, I found myself fondling a check for half a grand.
If the idea of Gina Johnson deciding to hire him at that point seems a bit hard-to-swallow, one must remember that when one (specifically: Brett Cornell) is blessed with superb Adonis-like features, just about ANYTHING is possible --
In Brett's world, that is!
Thanks for reading this!