We met at a doughnut shop where the coffee wouldn’t even change colour if you put it through a horse, and this old dame explained the curious goings-on in her apartment building, amounting to a conspiracy of Ludlumian proportion and involving a cast of neighbours straight from Fred Rogers’ personal Twilight Zone. She was clearly terrified, and trembling like Mel Tillis on a bender, so I loaned her an ear for an hour.
Apparently her superintendent had been in more bike gangs than Rita MacNeil has been in all-day buffets, and was the puppeteer to a coven so evil that it frightens even darkness itself. She shared her blood-bubbling accounts of seeing these black-drooled hellions in every corner of her modest existence, from the nail salon, to the Laundromat, to the toilet paper aisle in Dollarama.
It was clear they wanted her in a wooden kimono. Or, worse still, she might have to move.
She waffled for about half an hour, fading in and out of coherence until I started to feel like Charlie Brown listening to his teacher, when suddenly my ears perked up like the RCA Victor dog.
“…….which is why the other investigators…”
“The WHO?” I snapped.
Apparently I was flatfoot number 4 in this little drama, but the first to hear her blather this far. Like the Saturday morning visitor with “The Watchtower”, she wasn’t sure what to say next because she’d grown accustomed to kissing door-knockers after the first hello.
As a rule, I never take sloppy seconds from other PIs, because usually to clean up their messes is like hiring a 10 year old bed-wetter to put out the fire on the Hindenburg.
Finally she just stopped, mid-sentence, and crunched a mitful of Bordens into my fist. “Okay, you’re hired.” She insisted. “Surveillance starts tomorrow morning at 8am.”
”Surveillance? So who’m I tailing?”
So the next three days, I followed the old skirt, to the bank, the pharmacy, the beauty saloon, expecting every pedestrian to be the one to shuffle her into the next alley.
No one even looked her way.
The next day she asked me to follow her routine without her, and gave me an envelope of photos of all the serious nogoodniks. I was to eavesdrop on all their chatter, and report how many comments I heard about her absence. The youngest person on her list was 60, so it wasn’t long before the ear-stretching just to hear about the side-effects of a bouquet of pain meds became too agonising to continue. Not one mention of her name.
So it was true.
The old broad was terrified that her entire existence amounted to nothing, so she hired me to prove her wrong.
Problem was, she wasn’t.
Do I tell her that there is zero evidence to suggest people even recognise her name, much less are conspiring against her, or lie outrightly, confirm her suspicions, and tell her that her days on this planet are numbered, and maybe even down to the single digits?
She had mentioned earlier that she was rekindling her relationship with her daughter and grandkids, so I advised that, though nothing was conclusive, perhaps now might be an ideal time to bunk in there for a month until the waters settled here.
At least partially vindicated, she was packed and gone in less than an hour.
Somewhere in Etobicoke a family is very thankful for my selective dishonesty.
A family for whom her existence in fact means everything.
… the life of a flatfoot.