Easy Money by Susmita Ramani

I always have my classical guitar case; it’s more than a container for me -- it’s a lifestyle choice. My primary goal is to repel people, and it does. I like to think it also makes me look serious. I try to give off a Yehudi Menuhin vibe to help that along. 

If that’s not sufficient, the guitar case comes in even handier. It’s one of a line that came out -- in my circles -- after a certain movie featured something like it, and people said, why didn’t we think of that before? There’s a realistic false guitar top, under which there’s a roomy compartment. Mine contains a high-tech surveillance system and array of weapons (guns, daggers, a Ninja star -- which I try not to have to use). I routinely listen in on surveillance devices I’ve planted far and wide -- everywhere from the principal’s office at a local high school to -- score! -- under a police sergeant’s desk. 

I’m a private investigator. I live in a large city. I’m college-student-age, but I find my current line of work lucrative enough that I’m putting off college. 

My goal is to get my target talking for a few minutes. I usually travel light, but for today, I’m conjuring a particular tableau: college co-ed heading home for the holidays, but -- boo hoo! -- she just found out her parents are snowed in across the country, so she starts bawling and must be calmed down by a reasonable passerby. To commit to the character, I’ve lugged over two suitcases and a ginormous fancy white leather bucket bag with tassels (only from my car in a wheeled cart, but still). I’m wearing brown suede mules with jeans -- you can’t get more collegiate than that. 

The target’s name is Mark. He’ll be on this train. His girlfriend Audra, who goes to prep school with him in the city, thinks he’s cheating on her. He hasn’t invited her home for the winter holidays, and she thinks he still has something going on in his hometown that he doesn’t want her to know about and vice versa. I should tell her to have a heart to heart with the guy, but hey -- a gig’s a gig. 

When we were setting it up, I glanced up from my notebook -- I keep meticulous notes -- and asked Audra, “Is it okay if I befriend the mark? I mean, Mark?” 

Audra dabbed at her eyes. “Sure. I’ll text you his pic. Befriend away. I’ve seen my mom go through men like cheap gym socks, and want to spare myself any unnecessary heartache.” 

I nodded. “Understood. Thanks for the cash deposit. Let me get you a receipt. You can pay me the balance later, when I debrief you.” 

I’m basically a glorified errand girl for rich brats. But there’s good money in it, the work isn’t terribly boring, and on occasion, it even calls upon my otherwise latent theatrical skills. 

A green train slowly pulls into the station, then grinds to a halt. Slouching and crossing my ankles, I get into character, mentally summoning the energy crackling in the air. 

The doors open, and there’s Mark, in a dark green sweater. He’s one of only a few, so he’s easy to spot. He has dimples, slate-blue eyes, and dark hair, like in the picture. I have to grudgingly admit, he’s more handsome in person. 

My goals are several-fold: to befriend Mark, flirt a bit to feel out Mark’s nature, figure out whether he has a girlfriend in town, and go wherever the winds (and conversation) take us. 

When Mark’s in view, I burst into tears. I really throw myself into it, howling. 

Though he doesn’t know me from any other guitar case wielding weirdo, his mouth twists with concern. “You okay?” 

I gulp, hiccup, and convincingly tell him I’m a stranded student. I get him talking. We duck into the train station’s cafe. I stick tiny microphones onto his luggage tags when he’s off getting sugar. 

I flirt with him a little. He says he’d ask me out, but he already has a girlfriend at his school in the city. I could fall over! I’m thrilled for Audra. I feign some disappointment and say, “Lucky girl!” 

I throw my luggage back into the car. 

Following his Uber from a distance in my own car, I stake out Mark’s house for a few hours, and again do so periodically over the next few days. I also listen to the microphones, which continue working all weekend. There seem to be no young women visiting. Mark stays put in his house. 

The day Mark’s due to return to school, I arrange to bump into him at the train station again. After a few pleasantries, I feel compelled to ask: “Why not bring your girlfriend home for the holidays?” 

The suspense is killing me. 

His face falls. “My Mom has health issues. She has to use a walker. I’m not embarrassed of her. I just want to...prepare my girlfriend -- her name is Audra -- before they meet. Audra’s so pretty and perfect.” 

I smile. “I’m sure your Mom’s amazing, too. Don’t wait too long!” 

The next day, Audra comes by to pay her balance, which I happily collect. 

I say, “Audra, you’ve got a keeper. I’ll let him tell you why he hasn’t invited you yet, but it’s not a big deal. And...not to put myself out of business, but I wonder why you didn’t just communicate...before, you know, calling in the big guitar case.” 

“I know.” Audra sighs. “I guess all I’ve ever seen are bad relationships. My parents hired private investigators to spy on each other over the years. Since I can afford it, I guess that’s my go-to thought process. I should discuss this in therapy tomorrow.” 

“Yeah.” I smile. “But you know what? You might also mention you had good instincts with this guy you’re seeing, Mark.” 

Audra nods, grinning. “Thanks. I will.” 

Published in Issue #18

No comments:

Post a Comment