The opening of A Faceful of Lies prompted many responses, most urging that I discontinue the detective novel forthwith. (If you have nothing better to do, you can read the beginning of Chapter I here.) However, it is a slow news day, the usual boring catastrophes, and I can summon up no thoughtful commentary. So my thought-free cyberzone once again runneth over.
Chapter I (continued)
Mrs. Cato (we'd known each other but 10 minutes and were already on a last-name basis) asked, "Can I get you a drink?" As I went through a mental Rolodex of possible answers, she continued:
"I know it's … " She glanced negligently at a wristwatch that was so petite and thin and tastefully unadorned that I knew it had cost at least two grand. "… 10:23 a.m., and besides being morning it's a day of mourning" (I could swear I heard her pronounce the u in her cultured voice) "and it's your office. So, what'll you have?" She glanced around the office. It was a cluttered, loathsome place. I'd never noticed before. "Or maybe I should ask, what do you have?"
Playing for time while trying to figure out what grand monkeyshines were in production, I said, "Let me check." I got up, went to the filing cabinet that held my case records for the last five years, and pulled open the drawer labeled A–Z. Bottles of varied shapes, sizes, and hues were revealed.
Well, I thought, if she wants to play the Duchess, I'm going to be the Country Squire. "Seeing as how this is such a solemn occasion, and life is short — uh, sorry — perhaps you will take a glass with me of Côtes de Fort Lee '99," I said. "Hard to find these days, you know, one of the best vintages of the 20th century. Rumor whispers that some of the vintners over in Jersey are holding back a lot of it for their old age. I paid over the odds, I'm afraid, but I'm sure you'll agree it's worth it."
"Quite," she answered. Were we now playing members of the English aristocracy?
I extracted the cork, sending up a prayer to Bacchus that the wine hadn't gone off in its two years of laying down in my file cabinet/wine rack. I'm just a private investigator, a stranger to society, but no one had to tell me that plastic Dixie cups were not on in this kind of situation. I rummaged in an unlabeled file drawer and found two glasses (not wine glasses; this was a working office, not a suite at the Plaza) that were almost entirely translucent. Unlike the windows, I thought, and suppressed a shudder.
After I'd poured us each a generous tot, we clinked glasses. "Let us drink to … " I stopped. To what? To having survived September 11? To having a new client, if she didn't turn out to be a stone loony? She was up to the task. "To detection," she finished.
"Detection," I agreed, as though that was a sacred ideal.
We sipped some more. Although apparently in no hurry, Anne-Lisa Cato was anything but casual. Her gaze was expressionless yet penetrating. Maybe she was weighing me in the balance. Maybe the joke was about up, and in another minute the door would be flung open and several of my best buddies would pop in, shouting and doubled over laughing. But I don't have any best buddies.
Perhaps it was time for me to look Mrs. Cato over in turn and try to get some sense of whom I was dealing with. Looking her over was well worth the effort. I've already mentioned the green eyes, emeralds come to life. Yes, she had gorgeous green eyes. Cracking. Once my eye-gazing lease was up, I checked out the rest of her that she had chosen to display. Skin properly pale as a widow's should be, framed by auburn hair smartly styled. Lips poised for a kiss or a cigarette: slightly puffy and naturally curved down a little on both sides, giving her a continuous hurt-but-bearing-up-bravely aura. The silk blouse hinted of anatomy worth detailed exploration.
I poured her another glass and refilled my own. She had taken her soundings of me and was ready to get on with business. "Thank you, Mr. Pflug … David. New Jersey can be proud of that wine, and you of your connoisseurship. Now, can we talk about finding the person who murdered my husband?"
"Your husband who was killed — murdered — in the North Tower, just before the terror strike."
She let out the briefest of sighs. "As I said, yes. Let's get started. What do I have to do, fill out a form or something?"
It occurred to me that she filled out her form extremely well, without even trying. But I smiled at her joke and said, "No, just answer some questions and put a farthing in the poor box as you leave. It's to the right of the door."
"Good." She was actually beginning to show signs of expression, a slight pleasure in her voice, even a slight relaxation of her body language. I thought, irrelevantly, of the '50s pop song "Teach Me Tonight." The Côtes de Fort Lee '99 had thinned the ice, if not broken it.
"Mr. … uh, David … go on. I'll tell you anything you want to know."
Mrs. Cato? Anne-Lisa? Formality or courage? I had to decide. So I didn't address her by any name at all. "I need to know a lot about your late husband," I said, the "late" making me feel like an obituary writer. "Did he have —"
"Any enemies. Anyone who would benefit from his death. Yes. Yes."
"I see. Well, I'm starting to get the picture. We're making progress already."
She smiled. Smiled! "That didn't take long … David. I had faith you wouldn't stay becalmed in the Horse Latitudes all day."
I returned the smile with interest and reached into the desk drawer to retrieve a note pad. Actually, I have total recall, visual and auditory, but clients feel reassured when I write things down. Unfortunately, along with the note pad I managed to dislodge a dog-eared copy of Seven Steps to Surveillance Excellence, which fell on the floor to the port side of the desk. She glanced idly at it.
"Oh, wonderful!" she said. "I'm a big fan of Wittgenstein myself."
But it was accompanied by another smile. They were coming thick and fast now.
"All right … " Mrs. Cato? Anne-Lisa? This was getting ridiculous. "Mrs. Cicero, I mean, Mrs. Cato, let's start with a list of your husband's enemies."
"That would be a long list. I don't want you to get writer's cramp this early in the game. You might need that hand for something sooner or later."
"Point taken," I said. Who had wired me up to a car battery and was turning a crank? "And those who benefit from your husband's death?"
"If you wrote out the names on a list, it wouldn't be long enough to make a skirt for a snake. One name. Olympia Fibonacci. That's all."
"And Olympia Fibonacci is … "
"I'll give you the résumé highlights. Mmmm, may I have another glass — thank you. Olympia Fibonacci. Objective: Assume a controlling interest in my husband's wealth. Present position: Executive secretary to my husband. Work history: Seducing gentlemen at steadily increasing levels of responsibility. Education: Paris-on-Hudson Finishing School for Tarts."
I laughed. It was a faux pas. She didn't laugh this time.
"Well, I'll need to know a lot more in good time, of course. But for now, where can Mrs. … Miss … Ms. … Fibonacci be located?"
Anne-Lisa's good humor settled in again. One corner of her lips descended another increment in wry amusement. "That, I am afraid, is for you to find out. You could ask my husband, but he's dead." My face must have registered a little shock, because she added softly, "Sorry, I don't mean to be crude. Just trying to keep the terrible reality at arm's length while I deal with it …
"But I'm serious: I don't know where she lives, or anything, really, about her personal life. Last seen impersonating a fashion victim, looking at jewelry in Tiffany's. The store's not up to her standard, just practice for a trip to Milan and Zurich. Which, I am afraid, will be financed by my husband's estate."
To be continued, maybe.