Daniel LeBoeuf has seen his work published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Pilcrow and Dagger, On The Premises, and The Tampa Tribune. He makes his home in central Florida. His website is www.danielleboeuf.net.
TRACKING DAVID ADDLEY
In the six years I spent tracking David Addley, it never occurred to me that he didn't exist. I didn't cotton on to the situation until I lay exhausted next to Lori in a Hampton Inn in Orlando. I'm embarrassed that I didn't figure it out for myself, but that's what I get for letting the little head do the thinking.
It began simply enough. I was relaxing at the bar at Roscoe's enjoying a rum and Coke when a dynamite pair of legs slid into view next to me.
"Is this seat taken?" The woman's voice was a little hoarse.
I let my eyes travel from the legs, milky white and freckled, up the teal dress, over the scalloped neckline covering an amply endowed chest to land at a freckled face, large blue eyes, and wavy red hair. Well, it was more orange than red, but I've learned from experience not to call it orange. Oh no.
I also noticed that several other bar stools were empty, which meant the redhead was deliberately trying to sit next to me. I looked at her again. Her eyes were a little too close together, her nose a little too hooked, and her mouth a little larger than I prefer. She wasn't ugly, but she wasn't quite pretty either.
"No. Please sit down."
She arranged her skirt around those legs and climbed onto the seat. The bartender was immediately in front of her.
"Bloody Mary, please," she said in a voice I now characterized as husky rather than hoarse.
I tipped my glass at him and said, "And another of these for me." He nodded in reply and turned around to mix the drinks. It's a small bar at Roscoe's. You can get food there - it's attached to an upscale bistro - but it's twenty bucks for a small pizza and the toppings include figs and something called Mezzaluna Fontina cheese.
"You know that's a breakfast drink, don't you?" I asked her in my characteristic worst foot forward way.
"Not if you have it at dinner." She smiled, and the whiteness of her teeth made me forget about the blueness of her eyes. I nodded, wondering what to say next. She saved me the embarrassment of being myself again. "You don't remember me, do you?"
Of all the ways women have of making me feel foolish, that ranks right up there near the top. I won't go so far as to say I've been a player, but this wasn't the first time a woman thought I should know her and I had no clue to her identity.
I shrugged. "I'm sorry. I don't remember you at all."
She laughed. It was a good laugh. Mellifluous would not be too strong a word for it. She explored that laugh for all it was worth. When she settled down she said, "I'm sorry. You looked so embarrassed for a moment. It's totally the opposite of what I expected from you, that's all. You were always so cool and collected in high school, Andy Yeager."
Her recollection of me in high school was at odds with my own, but I decided to pass that up for now. She knew my name! And I still had no clue who she was. I racked my brain for it. I tried to shave off fifteen years, regress her back to high school, but I couldn't get a clear picture of her. I just stared.
"It's okay. I've changed a lot since then. Lori Merrow?"
Even then I had trouble placing her. "I'm sorry. I just don't remember you."
She looked stricken, just for a flicker of a moment, like I'd punched her in the shoulder rather than told her I didn't remember her. "I guess I didn't make much of an impression back then. We had World History together."
Ah yes. Sophomore year. I remember my sophomore year as one in which I tried to inhale all the weed in Polk County and bang every girl who would drop her pants for me. But that didn't explain why I didn't remember this woman sitting next to me. I guess my face showed my bewilderment.
"Like I said. I've changed a lot. I was a late bloomer. Besides, you only noticed Paige Garcia in that class. Her and Marcy Gunther."
Now those two I remembered. I'd hooked up with Paige several times that year, but I'd had to wait until my senior year before Marcy and I got together. She'd been worth the wait, though. "I'm really sorry. I was stoned a lot back then."
"Oh, believe me, we all knew that. So, what do you do now?"
When I told her I was a private investigator the conversation became more normal. We caught up on our lives, I shared some PI stories with her, she told me about how she came to own four hair salons, and things went well. I was on my fourth rum and Coke when the conversation turned toward the subject that would eventually culminate in that room at the Hampton Inn in Orlando.
"I had the biggest crush on you, did you know that?" she asked me, finishing her third Bloody Mary.
"No," I shook my head, "I didn't."
"Oh yeah. Typical awkward girl yearning for the cool jock story. But I really had it bad for you back then." She looked at me for a few seconds and I felt sized up. "But," she said finally, "that passed."
I have to admit, a little piece of me was sad about that.
We ended the evening pleasantly enough, with polite good byes and a firm handshake. I thought I'd seen the last of her, but I was wrong. She showed up at my office the next morning. This time she was wearing an eye-popping charcoal minidress with black pumps.
"I think I'd like to hire you."
I leaned back in my chair. "To do what?"
"I would like to find my real father."
I waved her to the chair in front of my desk and she sat, crossing her legs to expose a large expanse of one milky thigh. "Tell me about him."
She ran down what little she knew. She'd been the product of a one night stand. Her mother only remembered the name David Addley from the union and not much else. She'd kept Lori in the dark about even that until the cancer got so bad that she'd given one of those death-bed confessions that screw up so many lives. Her mother's husband had been devastated and Lori had been in therapy ever since the revelation.
"I mean, all this time I thought my dad was my father, and then this? I feel like I lost my mother and my father at the same time. My dad, step-dad I guess, is a wreck still, but I don't know which hurt him more, my mother's death or the affair."
"What are you going to do after you find your father? Do you think he knows you exist?"
"My mother swore he couldn't know, that she had no idea who he was or how to get in contact with him. But how do I believe her now? What if everything she told me was a lie?"
"That's not very likely, is it?"
"You sound like my therapist."
"Woman. I'm seeing a female therapist."
I shrugged. "Smart woman. Why do you think that everything else besides her confession is false? Did you think that the confession was false? That maybe she was putting you on, kind of a last, sick joke? Was she the kind of woman who would do something like that?"
Lori's face turned red, she leaned forward, her hands gripped the armrests, and she uncrossed her legs and tucked them underneath the chair like she was ready to spring forward and attack me. "My mother was a kind and gentle woman who never did an unkind thing to anybody. She said the only reason she told the truth was so she could have a clean slate when she went before her god."
And, I thought, left her husband and Lori to carry the burden of a truth they weren't prepared to handle. I said, "So you're convinced she told the truth."
She relaxed slightly, leaning back in her chair, but leaving her feet firmly planted on the floor. "Yes. I am."
"And you want me to find this father of yours."
"Yes, I do."
"And then what?"
"What?" She looked puzzled.
"And then what? What are you going to do once I find him?"
She slumped down and furrowed her brow. It was not an attractive look for her. "I've thought about that, and I don't know. I just know I have to find him. After that I'll figure out what to do."
I thought this sounded like a lunatic plan, but I had little else going at the moment, so I gave her my rates and got as much information as I could about David Addley. It wasn't much. An approximate date of conception and the motel where it happened that wasn't there any longer. Also the fact that her mother said Lori looked like her father.
Much of a PI's work is done on computers these days. There are mountains of data available to any business for a price. I expected to wrap up the father hunt in a couple of days, maybe a week. I started with LexisNexis and pulled up several hundred David Addleys. That was disheartening. I didn't have anything to use to knock any of the men out of contention - no approximate age, no height or weight. First I knocked out all those whose ages were younger than Lori's thirty-five. Then I knocked out all the non-white David Addleys, assuming that such a pale redhead would have two white parents. Not necessarily true, but I had to start somewhere. That left me with eighty-seven.
I then worked on finding photographs of the David Addleys I'd found, thinking that I could weed some of them out based on appearance. It was an imperfect approach but I didn't have much to go on. I was hoping to find a man with his eyes a little too close together, his nose a little too hooked, and his mouth a little larger than the norm. If he also had red hair that would help.
Lori surprised me by stopping by every day. Normally I don't like my clients to drop in like that. At first, though, I felt like it was my duty to pay attention to her after snubbing her in high school. I've sometimes felt guilty for the way I treated people when I was younger, and Lori brought that out in me. But, as time went on, I started to look forward to her visits for their own sake, even though I had precious little to report.
Then I started feeling guilty all over again. I was taking this woman's money and producing almost nothing to show for it. Yes, I was whittling down the list of potential fathers a little bit every day, but for every David Addley I eliminated I had to keep three potentials. It was getting to the point where I was going to have to put some real effort into the search. I was going to have to go out and interview these men. Before I started racking up all these expenses, though, I thought it best to talk to Lori.
When she came by the office next I was ready for her, but she caught me off guard with a yellow sundress that looked like it was glowing with its own internal light. It was so bright, and fit her so well, that I forgot for a minute what I was going to say. When she suggested that we go to lunch to talk over just what kind of work was involved in interviewing these men, I found myself saying yes.
Lunch was wonderful, and she greenlighted me flying wherever I needed to fly to try and find her father.
"Money's not a problem for me. My mother left me a huge insurance policy and I can't think of a better way to spend it. Plus, I make a decent living with the salons. So, go ahead. Do what you need to do. Maybe I could even go with you? You know, in case you find the man?"
"I'm not sure that's the best idea."
She pooched her lips out in a pout. "I'm spending the money. Don't I get to call the shots a little bit? Besides, I wouldn't be breathing down your neck. I like to travel. I could see the sites wherever we go and if you find my father I'd be right there and available if he wanted to see me."
"You mean you'd give him the choice?"
She nodded. "I wasn't going to, at first. I thought I'd just swoop in and surprise him. But you got me thinking about screwing up people's lives like Mom did, and I thought it would be unfair to screw his up if he didn't want to meet with me. I mean, it'll be hard enough finding out he's got a daughter he didn't know about without having her confront him right away."
"That makes sense. Hell, it's your money. If you want to go with me, then that's fine. I kind of like having you around."
She smiled. "I like being with you, too."
Our first trip was to Akron. I thought this David Addley was the most promising. He had the nose, at least. I was concentrating first on those David Addleys for whom I had photos. I reported to Lori over dinner that night.
"He claims he's never had a one night stand."
"Did you believe him?"
"I did. He seemed pissed off at the idea, actually. Yeah, I believed him."
"Well, I guess that's good enough. Guess what I did today."
"I have no idea. I mean, what is there to do in Akron?"
"I went to Dr. Bob's house."
"Dr. Bob. It's where Alcoholics Anonymous was founded." She told me all about her visit there. I'd never seen her this excited.
After dinner, she talked me into going to a club with her. I didn't want to. Frankly, it took a lot out of me to walk up to a total stranger and inquire whether he had a one night stand 35 years ago. This David Addley was none too pleasant about the idea, either. I think I was lucky to escape without him calling the cops.
That night Lori and I slept together. Now, before you condemn me, let me explain. I was drunk. Between the wine at dinner and the overpriced margaritas at the club, I was hammered. So, when Lori dragged me into her hotel room and started making out with me, I willingly followed her lead. I'm not proud of it. It broke every rule I have about not only dating clients but sleeping with them.
But something odd happened. The next morning I didn't feel bad about it at all. I didn't feel like I'd taken advantage of her. I didn't feel like I'd made a mistake. What I felt was a warm woman next to me who kissed me awake with her mouth that was not quite too large for my liking any longer. I stared into those eyes that may have been a skosh too close together, but were all the more appealing because of it. And I said the words that I never had said to a woman before and meant them.
"I think I love you."
Well, of course I had to fire her as a client after that. But we had a new agreement, forging a relationship based on trust, mutual admiration, and electrifying sex. The hunt for her father had to take a back seat while I tended to paying clients, obviously, but I pursued it whenever I could. Lori joined me on almost all of those trips. We racked up lots of frequent flier miles. We earned massive points for our stays in the Hilton portfolio. We even got engaged.
Six years I tracked David Addleys across the US. We flew to Toronto, Windsor, and Edmonton to talk to others. I found myself visiting Paris, Rome, and little towns all over England. I even had to fly to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In all, I tracked down and talked to seventy-five David Addleys worldwide. And it was all for nothing.
It was in Orlando, like I said, that I started asking myself if I'd ever find the one David Addley I was looking for. I brought it up to Lori.
"Should we even continue this search? It's been six years. Do you still want to find this father of yours? I mean, I'm willing if you want to keep going, but it seems to me like we're starting to look into the least likely candidates for your fatherhood that we can find. I really think he's either dead or was one of the ones we've interviewed already. Or maybe he didn't turn up in my searches at all."
She looked crestfallen and uncomfortable. I continued to look at her. She looked at the floor. Something was wrong.
"I just wanted you to notice me. Just once." Her voice was barely above a whisper.
I was confused. "What are you telling me?"
Her lips moved. I concentrated on her so I could hear the words, but still I couldn't make them out.
She lifted her head with what I recognized as her defiant look. "I made it up. The whole damn thing. I made it up."
At first the words came out clearly, evenly, but as she continued they vomited out in a rush, like she couldn't wait to get everything said, like it had been pent up inside of her for too long. "I made everything up. The name, my mother's affair, everything. When I ran into you I felt everything I'd ever felt for you and more. I was heartbroken in high school when you ignored me. I started cutting myself because of it. That's how much I loved you back then. And when I saw you again, it all came rushing back. But so did the humiliation, and when I saw you judging me, well it pissed me off. So I decided to play you, to send you off on a wild goose chase. I was truthful when I said I have more money than I know what to do with, and getting even with you seemed worth every penny. That first night after I saw you, after we talked, I went home and thought about it. How much you'd hurt me in high school. How much I wanted to hurt you back. And this plan just came to me. Something to make you dance to my tune for a change.
"And you did. You fell for the whole thing, and it was so easy. So, so easy. I loved watching you work so hard for no reason. And I loved teasing you. I know I'm not great looking, but I know what I have and how to use it. And you were all over it. Like I said, so, so easy. Everything came together and I loved every minute of it. Until I didn't. I never meant for it to go on this long."
I slumped down, feeling like she'd punched me in the gut. I shook my head. "So why did you let it?"
"Because I fell in love with you again," she shouted, then, in a calmer voice, she continued, "but not a schoolgirl crush kind of love. I saw beyond the misogynistic pig and got to know the kind, hard-working, dedicated man that you really are. I've seen you take a hopeless case and turn it into a crusade. You didn't want to let me down, but most of all you didn't want to fail. I admire that. And I've seen you fall in love with me honestly and without reservation. I didn't want that to end."
"And now? What does all this mean for us? How am I supposed to trust you now?" I shook my head, trying to clear it.
We sat there looking at each other.
She broke the silence. "Because I said I'd marry you. Doesn't that mean something? You can trust me, Andy. Really, you can."
"You've been lying to me for six years!" I was surprised to hear my voice crack.
"You love me. I love you. Isn't that enough? Something good came out of that lie."
"But it was a lie!"
I got up, threw on my shorts, and stormed out of the room. I needed some space, some air, and some time. The hell of it was, she was right. Something good had happened because of that spiteful lie. I really did love her, and I believed with all my heart that she loved me. All I had to do was get over the one hurdle of a big, monstrous lie that had consumed six years of hard work.
Was she psycho? I mean, the question had to be asked. What kind of lunatic does this to another person? If it had been just a few weeks she'd let me squirm, that would have been understandable. But six years? The more I thought about it, the more angry I got. I walked around the hotel. I sat at the pool. I got up and walked around the hotel again. So many thoughts tumbling around in my head. I needed to let things settle before I figured out what to do. I needed some distance.
I made my way back to our room, determined to get my clothes and leave. Tell her off, maybe, but definitely leave and get that space I needed to sort out what my next move should be. I opened the door to find her sprawled on the bed, face down, shoulders heaving. I looked at her, and noticed she had dynamite legs. I flashed back to that bar stool at Roscoe's and sighed.