Despite the cold relationship with Bob Donnelly I decided to stay in town. It was the roaring twenties, and things were going well even in tis podunk town in the southwest of Mississippi. I put down a deposit on an apartment in town, over a deli owned by a crazy veteran of the war. He was probably the only Jewish guy in town, which was fine by me — my people were considered outcasts in a lot of places, too. After moving my few belongings from car to new apartment, I located Winston Cavanaugh, a man I served with in the war and considered a friend. He and his wife had me over for dinner, and Winston offered to arrange for me meet his boss for a job in the textile mill he was currently employed at.
I took the offer, got the job, but didn’t settle there.
In the war, and since, I’d made a living watching people. I wasn’t quite a Pinkerton, but there were always odd jobs involving some suspicion or another. Putting up a few flyers and talking myself into a small ad in the paper — half price with an offer of a percent of any job for the duration of the print run.
It didn’t take long. Old Woman Boatman (though I only refer to her as that in my notes) came by with suspicions of her husband having more than just a working relationship with his secretary — more like he was working her over his desk. Her suspicions were based on a sudden, how to put this, lack of marital interest from a man usually very interested. The secretary was young, the flirty type, and Mrs. Boatman suspected she might be a reefer addict.
“Well, my rate is ten dollars a day, plus expenses,” I said. “Expenses following your husband around shouldn’t be too much, unless he does something to cost me money.”
Worried or not, Mrs. Boatman was the negotiating type. “What about thirty dollars now, thirty dollars when you come to a conclusion — no expenses? This shouldn’t take someone with your experience long, Mr. Nass.”
“Thirty-five now, forty on conclusion of the job,” I countered.
We shook on it. If all the residents of this town were so fiesty, I was going to like it here.
Doctor Boatman was the town’s only current physician, though apparently there were talks of opening an honest to God hospital. He and Mrs. Boatman had three children — Boyd, Chester, and Albert, all spread out at different schools. The secretary in question was one Lois Kerrigan, a girl fresh out of high school. If Boatman had decided to sow his wild oats, he certainly picked a fresh field to do it in.
I’d worked out a deal with my manager to let me off for my side business in exchange for a small cut of the profits I was seeing. Talking fast and taking no prisoners often helped, especially when personal greed was their gain. Besides, I worked faster than everyone else he managed except Winston, and Winston was going to be moving up soon.
I saw the good doctor for my irritable stomach, having been sick enough times in Europe to know which symptoms to work into my fibs. Mostly, I wanted to get a gander at the secretary to see if it was even possible that Boatman was interested. His wife thought so, but for all I knew the girl was a four-eyed ogre with impossibly small teeth and comically big gums.
She wasn’t. Every bit of 5’6, with long, wavy blond hair that danced around her hips as she led me back to the examination room. It danced because her hips swayed, left to right and back again, imploring any man to try his best to get to stay them with his own hands. Her cute button nose scrunched up when I told a joke just off-color enough to get her to react but not so much as to totally turn her off the strange new guy in town. Her blue eyes danced as much as her hips; she clearly took in all the details of the world around her.
After meeting with the doctor, I wasn’t at all concerned about how I was going to fool him. It was his secretry and possible girlfriend that worried me. There were no doubts in my mind that if her body was available to him, the lecherous doctor would take his chances getting caught. It disgusted me almost as much as his bedside manner. He wasn’t worth near as much as he convinced himself he was. I’d almost knock off part of my fee just to take him down a notch.
Almost. Money makes the world go ’round, after all.
On my way out, Lois was having a smoke break outside. I walked right past her as she leaned against the building, and didn’t realize she was there until she spoke up.
“Your stomach is fine,” Lois said.
I turned on my heels. “What makes you say that? I’m in extreme discomfort.” Sure, I was, but it was a nagging ankle injury, not my stomach.
“Because I work here, and unlike Roger Boatman, I pay attention to the patients. You’re up to something, Kate Nass.”
“Sure am,” I said. “Why don’t we discuss it over dinner?”
She smiled and shook her head. “I don’t go out with patients.”
“But if I don’t have a stomach ailment, am I really a patient?”
The back and forth didn’t take long to wear her down, and she agreed to let me take her out to dinner — if she got to pick the place. I was new in town and had no objection to that. Leave it to the wily secretary to pick the most expensive steak joint in town and leave me too spellbound to ask her to go dutch.
There went a good portion of that thirty-five dollar advance. By the time I paid the newspaper man and the manager I’d be down to just the forty dollar second half. If I could prove that Boatman was or was not getting his seretary to say “Ah.”
That turned out to be as easy as asking her.
She laughed. Loudly. “Doctor Boatman would love nothing more, and I assure you he’s made his attempts, but the man is old enough to be my father, and downright rude to everyone but me. Not to mention his wife and sons. Or the fact the man is a clown.”
“Then you like younger, less clownish men?” I asked, hoping for an opening.
“Maybe on our next outing, I’ll let you know,” she said. But she was smiling.
The next morning, I made plans to meet with Mrs. Boatman. She met me in an out of the way park, watching Boyd play baseball with a few of his friends, in their heads playing the world series — and winning, of course.
“Your husband isn’t sleeping with his secretary,” I said, rather bluntly. “But he’s trying to. She is rebuffing him.”
“You’re wrong!” Mrs. Boatman said as loudly as she could and still be described as “saying.” “That young temptress is out to seduce my Roger, to get him to fall for her — to get our money!”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Boatman, but I just don’t believe that. The dame is young, and cute, sure, but she’s not –”
“She’s got you under her spell, too! Well you can forget your forty dollars! I’ll find a real detective to get the truth! A man with principles!”
Oh my, indeed. Now I knew that I was wrong about my first case. It wasn’t to investigate Roger Boatman, but rather what his wife had against a young, blond secretry who was no more interested in Roger Boatman than a turtle was interested in a necktie.
That would take a lot more digging, though, with no financial reward. But I had to know.