The Man from Nantucket

by Fernando H. F. Sacchetto – sep. 2008

There are those days when you’re so pissed off – not for any particular reason, that’s hardly necessary, just pissed off – that you don’t have any business getting out of bed. You know the deal – you look like you’re always chewing down a sour lemon laced with glass, you don’t speak as much as snarl, everything you hear is an insult, everyone and everything – even your damn toaster – seems out to get you, and even cashing in a lotto jackpot feels like torture. That was one of those days – not for me, but for God, from the look of the shitty weather. Wind, rain, the sort that annoys you rather than get you wet, sky of a color that said “piss off”, the works.

A guy – who was probably wiser than all those theology doctors and priests – once said that the difference between the angry, vengeful, smite-happy God of the Old Testament and His more chilled-out, understanding, “just love thy neighbor, okay” self in the New Testament was that He got laid in the meantime. Well, it was one of those days when it sounded like He could use another round. Not me, though – rare as it may be these days, my mood couldn’t be further from the weather’s. And yes, a girl had something to do with it. But don’t they always?

This may sound awfully cliché – probably because it is obvious, in this sort of situation – but Corinne was the sweetest thing ever. I couldn’t help seeing her everywhere I looked. Yes, there was some sex involved, of course. Call me a pig, but it’s simply the truth – nothing makes a man care more about a girl than when she makes him come, and hard. And Corinne was kind enough to give me that opportunity, at a time when I sorely needed that release. But I’m getting ahead of myself – let me start over, from the beginning.

It all began, as it often does for me, at the racetrack. My horse did piss-poor, of course – I seem to have the same luck picking horses as I have picking ladies and cases, and yet I insist, bleeding money on the first two and not getting nearly enough to cover them from the last. That’s why I didn’t have the highest of hopes when a sweet-as-pie, fairylike young brunette noticed me after the race. She’d bet on the same lousy horse – Fleur-de-Lis or something French like that – and we exchanged some inane talk like “Not this time it wasn’t” and “Better luck next time”. Like it always happens those times, I couldn’t think of anything worth saying until she was well on her way. I didn’t give it much thought – after all, the parallel between the luck I have in love and in the Sport of Kings didn’t escape my attention – but she still stuck somewhere in the back of my mind, like that nickel you forgot was in your pocket, and touch sometimes when digging for your handkerchief.

I wouldn’t see her again for days, during which I was wasting my time with a dead-end case, looking for a mugger that didn’t leave any significant clues to tell him apart from the hundreds or thousands of other similar scum in town. It was the sort of gig I’d drop in five minutes if the customer wasn’t the kind of old dame that doesn’t take “no” for an answer. She wasn’t too keen on paying in advance either, which complicated my situation vis-à-vis the landlord even further. So, one of those days, after lingering around the track for a while and deciding I didn’t have anything worth betting, I decided to hit the nearest dive and meet the only friend that still bothered to listen to me, the one that goes by JD.

I was nursing my glass when I caught a glimpse of the girl, who had already seen me. Second time we met, and of course I had to look my worst. My attempt at a smile went remarkably well, all things considered, and met with her own. Since she looked like a good enough person, I decided she could live without my troubles, and didn’t do anything to talk to her – but the damn fool had to come sit at my table. Her choice, so, her problem.

Hey there,” she said. “We met at Suffolk Downs a few days back, didn’t we?”

Yeah,” I croaked. “I guess we have the same lousy taste for horses.”

Yeah, I guess… but maybe your next horse is gonna be the one. That’s the good side of the races, you can always try again.”

Really? And here I was thinkin’ that was the bad side.”

She laughed. “Good thinking. Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’m Corinne.”

Nice meeting you, Corinne. Name’s Mark.”

Glad to meet you, Mark. Say, I know it’s none of my business, but…” She vaguely nodded toward the scotch. “You’re not still hung up on that horse, are you?”

Good eye,” I said, with a bitter grin. “No, I’m not. It’s just that they’re making me run around in circles like a damn rat, and I’m not making any to pay the rent in the process. Say, how do you catch a crook with no name and face, in a city filled to the brim with ‘em?”

Her eyes went wide. “Oh, so you’re a policeman then? What’s that like?”

No, nothing like that. Don’t think I’d last a month in the Staties. Can’t see myself getting used to the routine. No, I’m a private dick. Sorry, detective.” She chuckled. “But I’m not gonna bore you with my cases.”

No, please, I’d love to hear about that!” Her face said that was very much true. Somehow I forgot the kind of heartbreak that comes with those I-love-detectives girls, when they find out this life is none of the excitement and mystery and all of the filth of the movies, and gave in. Who knows, maybe it’s just that I could use some admiration right then.

And so it went, and I spent the rest of the night spinning tall tales of the crooks I’ve caught. Maybe it was the whiskey, but I was talking a lot more than most people would care to listen, and even more than I should let on to a stranger. Anyway, she was drinking every word. I walked her home at the end of the night, and left without anything better than a kiss on the cheek; like a fool, I didn’t get her numbers, only a promise to “keep in touch”.

Of course, I’m not the worst gumshoe in town, so it wasn’t hard to keep track of her. I found out she liked to walk in Columbus Park weekend afternoons. I also found out that she had just come from the south of the state about three weeks back, and that she always brought apples home from work, but that’s neither here nor there. So, I just “happened” to be reading my paper on a bench there when she passed me by. We said “hi”, started walking together, chatting a good bunch, and sooner than you know we’re at the spring (which wasn’t running and had nobody around anyway, not with that sort of weather) kissing like we were teens. She looked down though, and started saying this was a mistake, even though she seemed to like it, so she took off much too soon for comfort. I managed to shut off my self-commiseration long enough to realize this wasn’t about me; no, there was some baggage there. Which, obviously, only made the whole thing more interesting. Not to mention the challenge, of course.

So, my next week hit off well, with that itch I’ve got inside when I get the sort of tough nut to crack that keeps me up at night going over evidence and suspects, not to mention this nut happened to be a dame, and a promising one at that. I guess that made me bold enough to win Fortune’s favor as the saying goes, since that got me to turn my life around, or so it seemed at the time anyway. The thing is, next Monday, after running around in circles like a fool for the last time, I finally got fed up. When that headstrong old bat came to give me hell that afternoon, I told her to get the fuck over it and go screw herself. I don’t like to do that – it’s bad for your reputation, dropping out that way – but damn, that was liberating. And necessary.

That left me torn between feeling all warm and fuzzy inside for sticking to my guns, and worrying about how the hell was I supposed to cover the rent, whose late bills were piling up way too high for comfort. And sure, forgetting it all to wonder about Corinne. All that was cut short next day’s evening. Like I said, Fortune and all. A concerned father walked way too cautiously and self-consciously into my office. Those are my all-time favorite customers; they’re every bit as dedicated – that means, willing to shell out dough – as crazy old ladies, but much easier to deal with. Call me sexist if you want to, but hey, that’s just fact – men have always been much more reasonable than women. Well, and less persistent, too.

To nobody’s surprise, the thing involved a sweet and innocent little daughter (the kind that’s never as innocent, or at any rate as virgin, as Daddy would like to believe) and some heartless, sweet-talking scum who took advantage of her (now those do tend to fit Dad’s expectations to a tee). Also unsurprisingly, there was money involved – which is precisely why I like those cases; there’s always more where that came from. The whole thing’s so bread-and-butter, I nearly had him fill out a form.

In any event, the man was some “Josh”, from Nantucket. Jim, the father, was kind enough to get the obvious joke out of the way and say there were no buckets involved. As it always goes, nobody remembered to get Josh’s last name, much less address or anything remotely useful, and he vanished into thin air, not before getting his grubby little hands into Jim’s secret jewelry stash. Those quirky old fools never learn there’s nothing wrong with banks, and at least those have got insurance. Well, at least that’s where I would put any theoretical spare money if I had it, so maybe I’m not one to talk about that.

I started out that same evening (Josh wouldn’t be any harder to find next day, during normal human hours, but Dad insisted) with the obvious – Nancy, the virginal young lady. She still clung to some shred of hope that it was all a big mistake – nobody likes to fall for something stupid like that, of course – but didn’t put up any trouble cooperating. As expected, she didn’t have anything on the way of hard facts, but there were a couple of places and acquaintances I could track Josh from. As for himself, he was one of those suave, artsy folks – probably lured her with fake sensitivity, hooked her with poetry and European movies, and reeled her in with bed tricks I wouldn’t mind getting a hang of, if I had a better source to ask.

By that point, of course, Josh had made himself scarce in the kind of places – around South End – that Nancy knew him from, but not without leaving a trail. So, when I went sniffing around next day, I managed to nab a “Latour” that went after the Josh in a packie he had to show some ID in (looked like a kid, the pisser), as well as a vague Charlestown reference. That wasn’t far from Corinne, so I thought I’d drop by her place on my way there. She was still at work though, even at seven, so I shrugged and moved on. Mr. Latour was of course nowhere to be found, either on any sort of public record or from anyone’s acquaintance in the more obvious places in Charlestown, so I called it a day.

Come Thursday, I decided daylife had yielded all it had for the moment, so I took the day off, tried and failed to sleep through the day (had a couple swigs from some stale old gin I had kicking around the back of my freezer, but it didn’t help) and hit the nightlife, looking for new leads. I hadn’t decided yet whether they were on Josh or Corinne, but the way it turned out, I wouldn’t have to. Because, when some ditzy chick in a jazz place coughed up some digits the guy had given her a couple Saturdays back, I was in for a surprise.

Yes?” A chill ran down my spine. That sounded exactly like her.

Hello, is Josh there?” I muffled my voice a bit, just in case.

Who is it?” Yes, no doubt it was Corinne. My curiosity was piqued.

It’s from the Las Palmas, he left some stuff here that he’s going to want to get back. Can I speak to him?”

I don’t know who you’re talking about.” The edge in her voice made it clear it was worth digging a bit more.

Are you sure? That’s Josh Latour, from Charlestown, he wrote the number himself. C’mon, put him on the line.”

No, I’m in North End, and I told you, I’ve never heard of any Josh!” She hung up on me.

This thing was definitely getting interesting. Neither of the two showed up that night, so next evening I hung out there again. I saw no sign of either Josh or Corinne that night either, but the barman said some kid turned up asking about Josh’s stuff. Didn’t leave a name or anything to track him by. Too bad, but at least they took the bait and let me know there was something about them. Next step was Corinne, and Saturday was coming up again.

The mere fact that she showed up at Columbus Park come Saturday, after the taste of drama we got the previous week, and without any incentive from the weather (we’re getting back to the point I was talking about early on), by itself, already spoke volumes. That she not only passed by the same spot where we met last time, but also made no mention to avoid me, only drove home that her reluctance wasn’t going to last that long. Welp, time to catch two fish with the same throw, I thought.

Good day there, lady!” Luckily, I never had a shortage of chutzpah.

Hi, Mark.” She at least had the decency to look embarrassed. “I didn’t… know if you’d be here today.”

Oh, so you were worried about that. Good sign.” My half-impressed, half-amused face came naturally.

Yeah, well, you know, we didn’t leave in the brightest of moods last week. I was just… you know how it goes. I hope.” She laughed uneasily.

Yes, I can see how we started off on the wrong foot last time. What say you we do a second take?” I stood up and extended my hand. “Hello there, my name is Mark. And what name could do justice to such a fair lady?”

C’mon, Mark, cut it out.” She was amused enough for the gag. “I told you, it’s not like that. It’s… complicated. You don’t want to get too close to me.”

Hey, now, you wouldn’t know the kind of messed-up ladies I’ve been with. I doubt you can top all that.” Not the smoothest thing to say, but, oh well. “And besides… you’re here, aren’t you? And don’t tell me it’s for the sun.”

Hey, I’m still allowed to hang out at my favorite park Saturday afternoons, right?” She looked up and around and smiled. “But you’re not buying that, are you?”

Nuh-huh. But let me tell you what I am buying – a pair of hoodsies, weather be damned. What’s your flavor?”

Are you sure you want to know the answer to that?” We both chuckled, and went our merry way. Things were warming up, if only figuratively.

We spent the rest of the afternoon spinning around like a couple of silly lovebirds, not unlike last time. Not that the conversation was all rosy either. I poked her some on the subject of men in her life – I still had a job to do, and it’s not like it didn’t concern me on the personal front – but she dodged all around that like a kung-fu monk on crack. There was definitely something worth hiding there, something that left her divided about seeing another man, though not really unwilling. Pimp? Abusive boyfriend/husband? Brother or other random relative? I didn’t press the matter harder than she’d let me, but let those run through my head as we talked. I was positively getting intrigued, and I’ll confess, even a bit aroused.

Maybe she sensed that, or in hindsight, maybe she was just trying to divert me. If that’s the case, I’d say she succeeded. In any event, the kissing had barely started when it evolved into passionate making out and quickly rolled into some heavy petting. By that point, we were already getting into a deserted wharf alley – that sly vixen, I hadn’t even noticed her leading me there during the conversation. Well, things went as they do, petting turned into grabbing, buttons started coming off, but before I could get anywhere good in terms of skin, my pants were already dropping to my knees, and she to hers. This girl knew her stuff, and quickly proceeded to prove that even further by working my unit. If I had time to reflect on it, I’d be surprised at how quickly it had gotten ready for action – then again, as I said, I’d been getting horny for a while already.

And then, it happened. Even after thinking on it for a while, I still find it difficult to put it in words, but here’s the long and short of it: she gave me a blowjob that was the best sexual experience in my life. That simple statement doesn’t do it justice, of course, but it’s the only way to say it. The thing is, I’ve always liked blowjobs, but I’ve always seen them as something fun, but not really that fulfilling. I mean, a pussy is a pussy. My dad likes to say that, if God ever made anything better than a nice, tight pussy, He kept it for Himself, and until that moment, that was just pure gospel to me – and blowjobs were a kind of fooling-around, something you get done for kicks, not real sex. Then, Corinne proved me wrong on that. When I think back on it, it’s like that deal with the five blind guys and the elephant – I get parts of what happened, but can’t get a clear picture of the whole. It wasn’t just the tongue, or just the lips, or just the gentle biting when it’s good (that’s so terribly easy to fuck up), or just her fingers running all over in ways I still can’t fully comprehend. It was a whole much greater than the sum of those parts, plus something else she did that I didn’t even register beneath all that pleasure. There had to be something else, some trick to it. Anyways, I just hope she passes that on, ‘cause I’d be willing to pay top dollar to any hooker who learns her arts.

We didn’t have much to say after that. I mean, I tried to do… something, anything to her, to repay her in kind so to speak, but she just tidied herself up and hurried off like our business was done. That left me feeling kinda dirty, and I swear the thought of how much I’d have to pay for that briefly crossed my mind – but of course, I shrugged it off and ran after her. She was all composed, like nothing ever happened – I, of course, was bumbling like a fool. She waited far too long to concede me a naughty grin that said both that it did happen, and that she wasn’t sorry for it. So, I walked her home, with very little coming from either of our mouths on the way. The promise to meet again went unspoken, but clear – though I was stupid enough to miss getting her number once more. I mean, I had it, but she didn’t know that, so I wasn’t about to blow my cover by using it unless she gave it to me. Not that I wasn’t tempted, though.

I just took the rest of the day off to think on it – just wasn’t in any frame of mind for work – and thought all that stuff about God and the weather. Like I said, nothing like a chick that makes you come good. I treated myself to some pizza and slept the sleep of kings, certain that things were definitely turning in my favor, and that the man from Nantucket was just across the corner. In fact, I even poked around some next day, even though it was Sunday. Well, I meant to ask around about Josh, but my research ended up being mostly on Corinne. I just couldn’t wait to see her again, but couldn’t just ring her up, so I tried to track her down and surprise her some. No such luck, though – both her and this Latour guy rather kept to themselves. Didn’t really dig anything on the personal front either, other than what I already had, on either of them. Sooner than I knew, my feet had brought me to Suffolk Downs, so I placed a pittance – would put more, I had a good feeling about it, but didn’t have much to spare – on some “Debussy”, and made second. The winnings weren’t exactly enough to remedy anything, so I just burned them on JD at the same bar where I met her the other week. Sat there the whole night, a minute away from laughing at my own hopes – and no, she didn’t show up.

Mr. Conscientious Dad showed up to give me some hell on Monday, and I tossed him a few crumbs, enough to talk him into advancing some cash for “investigative expenses”. He groaned like he was giving birth though, so I saw he wasn’t the sort of guy to sit around forever, well, if I wanted the greenbacks to keep coming anyway. I had to feed him some in a regular basis. Besides, this case was special – I could just keep bullshitting him about Josh, but there was still her, and she was somehow mixed up in this. Of course, this could somehow bring the whole affair to an abrupt end when I got my hands on the guy, but I just couldn’t live with the doubt.

I decided to steel myself and go asking around her place about any slick and sleazy dudes. Nobody matching Latour’s description came up recently, other than a guy asking around about rent about a month ago, who never showed up again. Corinne appeared to have no real friends or acquaintances – in fact, they said I was the only person they could really associate with her, which left me feeling all good inside, despite the uselessness of my inquiry. The thing is, she wasn’t going to surrender anything about herself – much less her man – without putting up some fight, so I decided to do something about that. She worked afternoons, so I got back next day to stake her out. No car was necessary, as she didn’t use any.

I posted myself by a hot-dog stand and tried to be as non-noticeable as possible. Normally, that would be a doozy, but she knew me, so it wasn’t enough to be just forgettable. I knew I was taking chances, especially if I got into the T together with her, but knowing which line she took would do some good already. She took all too long to leave the house (it was almost three), looking gorgeous in her light floral dress and packing a satchel, and made for the Green Line a few blocks away. I snuck up into the car next to hers, and managed to leap off when she did at Hynes, but lost her amid the shuffle. So, Back Bay it was.

My blood started to race as the whole picture was getting clearer. It was actually obvious, come to think of it, which didn’t make me any less intrigued and kicking to get to the bottom of it. She was in on the con. Maybe she scouted the area, got to know some rich girls, befriended the mark once she had a good one in sight, buttered her up for Josh. The whole thing was a lot more professional than it sounded at first – not just some sleazebag taking advantage of whatever opportunities presented themselves, but a planned-out and concerted effort. A jumble of emotions stampeded through me like a herd of angry bison. First off, I got the “that two-faced bitch” part out of the way at once. Then, the conclusion that their relationship was likely more professional than romantic brought that tingly feeling. The anxiety of losing her when the gig was up came next, followed by the anticipated pride of busting a high-quality scam like that. I realized with some disappointment that there was no way this was going anywhere even if I covered for her, and eventually settled into my good old curiosity to see the end of the case.

I did the usual scan around the area, not really holding high hopes for that. After all, I’d expect their hunting grounds to be places like South End, with Back Bay being the sort of neighborhood they went to when the hook was already firmly lodged into the victim’s cheek. This meant, of course, that she was working his next case. Those two certainly didn’t waste any time – by the timing, sounds like they were already working this mark even before closing that other girl’s file. Henry Ford-style shit, indeed.

Finding them at this point required a much more directed effort, so I decided to put myself in their shoes and hunt for families rich enough to be worth the effort, but not enough to be that tough to work, which had lonely and gullible daughters of the right age, around Hynes. I considered asking around the local college scene, but decided that might draw too much attention, so I started poking around local clubs, malls, the ICA, and so on. Of course, I was specifically looking for her, ostensibly because she’s the one I saw hanging around there, but really because I might as well have forgotten about Josh’s existence by this point. My mistake, sure, but that’s Mark for you.

Time went by like that, with my mix of elation and desperation gradually slipping into a more comfortable blend of frustration and boredom, when I was suddenly jerked back into the realm of the living by none other than my target staring me in the face. It was Thursday evening, and I was so frustrated looking for Corinne that I wasn’t prepared to actually find her, least of all somewhere I wasn’t actually looking.

Mark? Wow, hey, what are you doing here?”

What, can’t I stop at the local diner to grab a bite?” I smirked. “But that’s not what you’re asking, are you?”

Uh, no.” She chuckled, opening up a bit, but still startled. “Sorry. I meant, great seeing you here!”

Me too.” I gestured her to sit with me. “I’ve got work in the neighborhood, but it’s been slow lately. What about you? You’re not following me, are you?”

Of course not. I work here, silly.”

Really? Where? I’d love to pay you a visit someday, while I’m in the area.”

Nah. I don’t think they take kindly to dirty grown men hanging around a daycare center, you know.” Her laughter was only a tiny bit too loud to be natural. Almost without thinking, I checked my watch, and she amended: “But of course, I like to walk around some and soak in the ambiance here before going back to my lonely little apartment. Y’know, get a beer and some groceries. By the way, apple?”

I had no way to refuse the green fruit that was already flying my way. So those are the famous apples, I thought. “Hey”, I said between bites, “I’m done for today, so… your place doesn’t have to be all that lonely, don’tcha think? By the way, thanks for the dessert.”

I don’t think so, mister.” She took it relatively well. “We’re a long way from spring, so cleaning hasn’t been at the top of my priorities lately. No way.”

Oh, come on. You just called me a dirty old man, do you think I’d mind? You gotta come up with a better excuse, lady.”

Mark, don’t. Trust me, you don’t wanna do that.”

Hm. I see.” I raised my voice more than I’d like it to. “So, I guess that means your apartment might not be all that lonely, is that it?”

She sighed deeply. “Yeah. Who knows. Maybe that’s the case.”

Neither of us had anything else to say, so we parted ways without goodbyes after a few extremely painful minutes. I made a note of the name on her grocery bags, but didn’t quite have the energy to check it out that evening, or do anything else but drink and smoke myself into a semblance of sleep, which is what I did as soon as I got home. Sure, that took a lot longer than I’d like, and left me feeling like shit the next day (more from the smoke than from the gin), but you work with what you’ve got.

And that’s just what I decided to do. Propped up by a toxic amount of coffee, I hit Back Bay again next morning, while Corinne was home. I started from Nora’s Convenient Store, where she got her apples, and worked my way backwards, but the trail grew cold quicker than our affair. So that left me with a single option, one that I should’ve taken back when I still had the momentum. I tried to fool myself into thinking I could patiently while away the couple spare hours I had by walking nonchalantly along the bayside. Obviously, I was wrong, and had to content myself with smoking like a chimney between cups of black coffee that just kept coming. My head was just about to explode, which at least distracted me from thinking about her. I couldn’t bear to wait further than two o’clock and change, and decided to go cringe from my headache at Hynes.

It was over a quarter to four when she showed up, a lot less cheerful than Tuesday. That was the first time I saw her in jeans – with her thin figure and short hair, she might pass for a boy at first glance, the sort of kid you see in packs around mall food courts. She was more agitated than usual too, which left me wondering if I’d hit too hard last evening. Well, not like I fucking care anymore. Let’s just wrap this thing up and forget about her, I thought. Were it only so easy. I wouldn’t have to worry about her catching me much longer anyways, as I never got to track her past the Hynes at all. Lost her around the restrooms, swept the area for almost a half-hour to no avail, and called it a day, heading straight to the bar.

Next day was Saturday, and so, more out of habit than hope, I sat at Columbus Park. Showing herself to be wiser than me, she didn’t show up. Late afternoon, I had to laugh at my own stupidity. What was I expecting? That we’d just put everything behind us and roll in the grass like teens? The thing is, that most likely would indeed happen. But it still wouldn’t change anything. No, I was chasing a dead end, just as the Josh Latour case was starting to look like as well. Sunday I hit Suffolk Downs, but saw no sign either of her, or of my horse anywhere near the finish line.

The next week opened once again with Mr. Jim coming over to ride my ass, and that regularity got a bit on my nerves. I couldn’t exactly pull off the same shit I had at my previous case – and, in any event, I needed the money – but I still got real with him and made it clear that I wasn’t getting anywhere, not unless he helped me out some. I told him it looked like Josh was on a new case in Back Bay (didn’t mention anything about his associate, obviously), so he could just as well share some of the work by asking around his own social circle, because God knows that’d do a much better job than anything I could currently pull off. His enthusiastic reaction threw me off – I was buckling up to hear him tell me to go fuck myself, but he rolled with it like a pro. I gave him a couple pointers on how to basically do my job for me, and sent him on his merry way with a promise to call me if anything came up. The whole thing was bewildering, but it had the welcome effect of bringing the focus of the investigation back into Josh – if only because I couldn’t find a way to tell him about Corinne.

Jim certainly took his sweet damn time to produce any results. Sure, that wasn’t surprising, this sort of work doesn’t exactly get done overnight. However, I guess my patience for this whole shebang was already worn wicked thin by then, because there’s little work I managed to do other than hang aimlessly around Back Bay, mostly staring into Charles River while smoking like the devil. I managed to get a hold of an old acquaintance of mine in the City Hall and get him to look this Latour character up, but got little other than a half-hearted promise to “get in touch” if anything came up. Maybe it was just obvious that I wasn’t in any condition to reward him with anything better than an “attaboy”. I also dug up a couple more vague and ultimately useless references in South End and Back Bay, but still nothing around North End or Charlestown. It was like this guy materialized out of nowhere in his hunting grounds, because he positively didn’t sound like the sort of person who actually lived there. As for her, well, it’s not like I was getting anywhere further with her without going through him. I think that should’ve been obvious for a while, I just didn’t want to admit that.

It wasn’t until Thursday evening, near the end of one of the shittiest weeks of my life (and I’ve had more than my fair share of those), that I heard from my client-turned-collaborator. I actually had to keep reminding myself to not harp on him for slacking on the job, since it was actually, y’know, my job. Thing is, Jim heard from one of his town club buddies that a certain man with the same name and description as our target had been hovering around his own sweet little darling a little too much lately. I got the man’s phone and rang him up – some arrogant bastard named Hank. I explained as much of the situation as he needed to know to open up to me (mostly some smoke and mirrors about Josh’s evil ways), and got his permission to follow his kid, just until I found my man.

Cindy was in some arts undergrad thing at Suffolk U, which made it easier for me, being in an area both more familiar to me and conveniently surrounded by bustling city life, which allowed me to stake her out come Friday afternoon without raising any eyebrows. The girl was good-looking, I’ll give her that. Maybe it was the whole week I’d been fresh out of Corinne, but it was hard keeping enough blood in my brain, as opposed to my pecker, to focus on the mission. Whether or not that’s the reason why I ended up blowing it I’ll never know, but the thing is, she met Josh at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts and they took off on her Civic. I barely had time to get my cam out and take a couple rather fuzzy shots. I tried to follow them, but my good ol’ Buick was helpless, especially with the head start I gave them with my photographic stunts. No matter – at least I had what I was really looking for, which is, finally attaching a face to the name I had. He fit the descriptions I’d been getting – short, skinny, young-looking, especially with that stupid cap and loose jeans – but there was something I couldn’t put my finger on that ticked me about him. Maybe it was all I’d been building up in my head around and against him, maybe it was jealousy, or maybe he just looked like one of those snotty, annoying mall-rat kids. A scan around the streets and pubs in the area turned out flat, and, since the weather had been improving a lot, I went back to smoking by Charles River.

Next day, Hank was clearly annoyed by my asking about his daughter’s plans for the day, and at any rate she wasn’t saying anything more specific other than that she was going downtown. So I took my car and started wandering around, half-heartedly. Didn’t see hide nor hair of anyone – Corinne, Josh, Cindy, her car – downtown, not that I was looking particularly closely. So, when I got fed up around four, I decided to drive by Columbus Park just for kicks – not much hope of finding my girl there, not after the previous weekend – and, lo and behold, there was Cindy’s car parked on the driveway. I nearly crashed my car right there and then. I quickly found a spot to park and darted straight for the benches where I used to meet her. She wasn’t there, of course, but neither was Josh. After looking around the area for a while, I eventually found Cindy near the spring (which was running, since the weather had improved a lot), looking all stood-up. Walking by her to hear her talk on her cell, turns out Josh was telling her to meet him at her car. By the tone of the conversation, it was clear he was being mysterious about the whole thing, which of course meant only one thing – I got busted. That bastard, he knew my face before I got to know his. Or maybe Corinne was sounding the alarm – but, for some reason, I hardly paused to give that possibility any thought. Probably because I knew I could pick her out in a crowd in a second, so I was just sure she wasn’t there.

However, he did tell her to meet him at her car, which meant he didn’t think I’d catch them there. I cut through the trees and walked around the park to creep up behind the car, but Cindy got there before me. To hell with it, I thought, and just straight ran up to the passenger’s side. Luckily, the guy didn’t see me, since he was turned her way. But, when they took off, he turned back and our eyes met, for just a split-second, and it all clicked together. I could do nothing but stand there, staring dumbfounded at the rapidly moving Honda. I couldn’t believe it, but there was no fooling myself. It all made sense now. Everything, the whole story started running through my head like a flash flood, it all fit now. All this time, I thought, I was looking for this guy… and he was right in front of me.

Obviously, I had no heart to do or even think anything the whole day. It was all I could do to walk back to my car, and then sit there for a good couple hours. I couldn’t for the life of me decide how I felt. Disappointed, befuddled, hurt, fooled, astonished. Betrayed, to be sure. But also largely confused. I didn’t know what to think about her, about him, about myself. Then, I decided I’d been had, like a fool, tricked and betrayed. Nothing that happened was real. It just couldn’t be. It was all a big con, a setup, an illusion designed to trap me, make a stooge out of me. With that, I managed to drive home, not that I was in any better of a shape once I got there. I stuffed my face with gin, not as much out of regret or sorrow, as to just knock myself out and get that hell of a day over with. I just wanted everything that was going through my head to stop.

When I woke up next morning, feeling the worst I remember ever being in my life, I decided to just give her one more chance to talk. Not to explain herself – she couldn’t ever, and I wouldn’t want her to. I just wanted a chance to end this gracefully. But of course, this whole thing was too awkward to simply set up a meeting, so I never called her. I just went to Suffolk Downs. Much to my chagrin, it worked, and there was the person I knew as Corinne, looking as gorgeous as she ever could. She avoided me, but not quite enough to shut me off – it was obviously almost as awkward for her as for me. As for me, I couldn’t find it in me to just walk up to her and talk, there in the middle of the crowd, so I went on with my business.

After the race – in which she burned off a good chunk of cash, not seeming to care much about that – she just walked off to Belle Isle Marsh, and I took the hint and followed. The sun had brought school groups and families to see the little animals at the reservation, so there were kids all over the place. Took her some walking to find a more or less quiet grove, where it took us several torturous minutes of pretending we were ignoring each other until we could finally come face to face.

So.” I summoned a considerable amount of will and broke the ice after a while. “Mr. Josh Latour, I presume.”

I’m… I’m sorry, Mark.” It was all he could mumble, still keeping his Corinne voice, after some hesitation.

Too late for that, boy.” I strained, trying to keep some cool while I looked for words. Eventually I settled on: “Why?”

There’s no why, Mark. It just happened, alright?” He was welling up already.

Bullshit. It doesn’t just happen like that. Especially in the circumstances.”

Why not?! Can’t you accept that we just had something going on? Something good, something innocent?”

Yeah, right.” I gave an exaggerated chuckle, and started pacing around. “Sure, you just happened to get something going on with the guy who was investigating you.”

I didn’t know it, Mark! I never got to know anything about any of that, not before, before, I don’t know… when you met me near Hynes, I guess, around that time. Christ, I didn’t even know you were a detective until you told me!”

Cut out the bullshit excuses! I don’t give a fuck.” He was bawling by that time. “I don’t care about you or what you think. Just… how could you do something like that to me? Why me? Can’t you see what you did to me?”

I loved you, that’s what I did! Can’t you accept that you could simply fall in love with a –”

SHUT UP!” I had to restrain myself from beating him. No, I wouldn’t give him that taste. “Enough! I don’t want to hear any more of your bullshit!” I composed myself. “I’m turning you in and collecting my paycheck.”

Mark, listen to me… it doesn’t have to be like that!”

Yes, it does. Sorry… Josh.” I almost slipped and said Corinne. “There are just… things that a man doesn’t do.”

I left the inconsolate, sobbing, pleading wretch behind, and walked away, my own eyes burning. That wasn’t a good ending, and it was even a long way away from being a satisfactory one, but it was as good as it got. There was no graceful way to end this. After walking around for a while, I briefly closed my eyes and tried to go back to that pleasant moment. I tried to go back to Corinne and Columbus Park, but it was useless. All I had was the man from Nantucket, and tears in Belle Isle Marsh.