Grounds for Divorce
Warren Paul Glover
The lock of the door of the Penelope Feathers’ Detective Agency turned with a click, and into the darkness stepped a tall, elegant figure. The figure walked confidently and knowingly towards a filing cabinet, the stiletto heels breaking the silence on the polished wooden floor. The top drawer of the cabinet rolled open and, with a clink, a drink was poured and the dark contents of the crystal goblet drained with the celebration of a satisfied sigh.
The assured gait then carried the figure towards a chair behind a large, old leather-topped desk. The desk drawer slid open and the chair creaked as its well-worn frame welcomed the familiar contours of the woman’s body. She leaned forward and switched on a table lamp. From the open drawer she retrieved a tape recorder, checked the apparatus and began to speak. She had a RP-type voice, but if anyone had been there to listen they would, if they had listened closely enough, found a hint of an accent; hidden, but easily retrievable if needed. It was a voice which was versatile, an actor’s voice. And in her line of work, any asset which allowed for a disguise was a positive advantage.
“Penelope Feathers, case number A71, 4 June 2018.”
A pause, while she cleared her throat.
“I have just closed the lid on an extraordinary and very special case. It began in early March, just one week after I had fallen in love.”
Another pause as Penelope, for it was she of the eponymously named Detective Agency, stopped to consider whether this confession was appropriate for her case notes. She smiled warmly and continued.
“It was the beginning of spring, when the leaves were reappearing on the trees and the flowers were again beginning to bloom – when the romance of the season had well and truly arrived on my door-step. I was happier than I’d been for a long, long time. I was revelling in the sunshine that my new-found friend and lover had brought into my life. To celebrate this new and welcome turn in my fortunes, I was contemplating sprucing up the office. I had gotten no further than to decide to paint the office yellow – it must have been the influence of the daffodils! – when the telephone rang.”
Penelope pressed the pause button on the tape recorder and went over to the filing cabinet to pour herself another drink before continuing.
“It was a man’s voice. At first his request seemed routine, similar to the dozens of cases I have had before. He wanted me to follow his wife, whom he suspected of having an affair. He suggested we meet in a small bar, which was discreetly tucked away from prying eyes. I knew the bar well and agreed. My only doubt lay in reflection on my own situation. My client’s wife was having an affair; my own lover was married. Still, I’m not in the business of moral judgement, I told myself, and besides, my client had a voice deep with seduction and intrigue and I was interested.”
Penelope swallowed a large gulp from the goblet.
“I arrived at the bar five minutes early. I wore my long, distinctive green overcoat and, under that, my new Karen Millen dress. I had my Oliver Peoples’ sunglasses on. I wanted to look good. If not dressed-to-kill then certainly dressed to impress. It was several minutes before he made himself known to me. By instinct, I knew he had been watching me, scrutinising me to try to see if my ability and competence were somehow writ large over my exterior physical appearance. Either that or he was admiring my beauty! I sensed a strange attraction to him, not one of lust or desire or anything like that, Lord no! But a bond which I couldn’t explain. I knew this case would be special even before the man opened his mouth to speak.
“When he ordered me a drink without bothering to consult me, I knew, without comprehending at the time, how events were going to unfold. He ordered Manhattans, but how did he know it was my favourite cocktail? Was it a coincidence?
‘My wife likes Manhattans,’ he said, in answer to my look of surprise at his
presumptuousness, breaking the ice between us.
‘Small world,’ I thought, ‘so does my lover.’
‘I want you to follow my wife,’ he said, getting down to business.
He slipped me her photograph and I nearly choked as he announced, ‘Her name is Monica. I believe she is having an affair. I want proof. I want grounds for divorce.’
I composed myself, but with some difficulty I have to confess.
‘What makes you think Monica…I mean, your wife, is having an affair?’ I asked tentatively.
There was a pause before he answered as he quizzically studied my face. Then he blurted it out.
‘We don’t have sex any more.’
Luckily, he gulped at his drink as he said that, giving me time to get over the shock of the stark admission. Trying to offer some comfort I began to say something.
‘But that doesn’t mean…’
He interrupted me. ‘I know what you’re going to say but…she must be having an affair. I mean, I’m not an unattractive man…’
I must have shown my disdain for his arrogance because he continued with an apology.
‘Sorry, that’s not fair. That’s putting you on the spot. What I mean to say is that before, well, we had good sex. Now we don’t have any, at all. I’ve tried to talk to her, to get her to explain why, but she doesn’t want to know. She’s even taken to sleeping in the spare room. I…I can’t stand by and let her have an affair, let her humiliate me like that. Find out who he is. Get me evidence, and then I can divorce the bitch.’
After a long silence, I decided to take the case and, as a plan was forming in my mind, I assured him that he would, indeed, get his divorce.
“Over the following weeks, I spent my time trailing my suspect and compiling a catalogue of misdemeanours and clandestine meetings that were indeed adulterous. I followed my suspect’s car from a discreet distance, changing my wigs and clothes at least three times a day, and was constantly slipping in and out of doorways and restaurants and the shadows of trees, parked cars, street lights and every other object that could afford me secret shelter. All the time my camera’s shutter clicked away, recording the events that would later be used as evidence.”
Penelope turned off her tape recorder while she allowed herself to laugh in recollection. A couple of minutes passed before she composed herself enough to continue. She turned the tape recorder back on again.
“I was called upon to exercise my most creative resources, like the time I had to bribe a maid to steal me into a hotel room where I recorded, in graphic detail, everything that occurred that night from my hiding place underneath that cheating bed. My powers of stamina proved as great as those of my suspect, though how I managed to remain silent and still all those hours I shall never know.
“I was obliged to report, at regular intervals, the progress of the case to my client, but I decided to play it cautiously, patiently holding out for one final coup de grace that I could boldly record and which would, without doubt, succeed in securing the desired divorce papers.
‘Yes sir,’ I would report, ‘your wife is seeing someone else, but it looks innocent. Their kisses, in public at least, are just pecks on the cheek, like old friends. The evidence yet just isn’t firm enough.’
“By this stage, perhaps not surprisingly, my client was becoming impatient but I managed to convince him that the best course of action lay in a lengthy compilation of events, with exact recordings of dates, times and places. My client argued that three months were lengthy enough, and I do believe he was on the verge of sacking me when, to avoid that disaster, I was forced to promise to have the case all wrapped up within the month. And to secure his flagging confidence in me I invited him out to dinner, briefing him with titbits; delicate but delicious little morsels to keep his interest and, of course, his custom, and announcing that I had suspended all work on my other cases to complete, with total success, this one. Once over his nervousness, he was grudgingly impressed with my devotion, and I even convinced him that this little sacrifice of mine should be met with an increased fee.
“After over three months of meticulous attention to detail, I had a ledger that was lengthy and damning. I spent the whole of my final day in his employ debating my approach to him. It had to be right. I remember having one long glass of the hard stuff – champagne, what else? – to stiffen my resolve before I set off to meet with him and hand over my file.
“He was waiting for me in the same bar that we had initiated our contract. He flashed me a confident smile as I walked in, and beckoned me to sit down while ordering me a drink. I remained standing. This obviously surprised him as his expression took on an alarmed look and his lips gave voice to that concern.
‘Well?’ He swallowed hard. ‘Have you got me what I want? Do I have my grounds for divorce?’
I smiled and, with what I hope was a wicked glint in my eye and placing my dossier on the table, I said, simply, ‘Yes’.
“It was an effort to turn away because I would dearly have loved to have seen his face. It was only when I was already at the door that I had the courage to turn around and say, to an ashen faced adulterer, ‘Don’t worry. I have two copies’, before I fled in a wild excitement into the safety of the anonymous night.”
At that moment, there was a knock at the office door. Ms Feathers, of the Penelope Feathers’ Detective Agency, got up from her comfortable leather chair and strode over to the door. She opened it and was immediately presented with a bottle of her favourite champagne.
“Monica, darling!” she exclaimed as the two lovers embraced. “I take it this means a celebration?”
“Get ready to start a new life, Pen,” Monica responded. “I’m a free woman and we’ve got the house.”
The two lovers collapsed into giggles as they planned how to spend Monica’s divorce settlement.
Warren Paul Glover is a British-Australian writer and actor, living in Sydney. Warren writes poetry, short fiction, screen- and stage plays. His work has been published, performed or screened in Australia, Britain, the United States, Mexico and Dubai.