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I smelled the blood before I had a chance to look for it, the tangy, dense scent landing on the back of my tongue. Forcing the familiar taste to the back of my mind, I opened the office door and studied the man sitting in the chair opposite my desk. He was clean, dressed smartly in a white dress shirt and dark blue pants. He didn't get up as I approached the desk, walking around the chipped wooden edges I had unsuccessfully tried to hide with walnut oil.
"Ms. Desjardin." Harry Cloches bobbed his head up and down as I sat down in the old oaken chair. "Sorry for being early, but I wanted to get the information I requested as soon as possible." He waved at the door. "Your front door was open when I arrived, so I thought I'd come into your office and wait in here." Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. "I hope you don't mind."
My nose twitched as I rocked back, urging a creak from the worn old wood. A small box rested on the left side of the desk. It hadn't been there when I had gone upstairs last night after locking the doors and checking the windows. The brown paper wrapper encased the palm-sized box fully, but moisture was already beginning to fight through the paper.
I picked up the file folder from the top of the small pile to my right and opened it up, spreading the black and white photographs across the desk in a half-circle display. Cloches leaned forward, his pink tongue darting out across dry lips as he squinted to see the images.
"Your wife is not cheating on you." My finger tapped the image of the brunette exiting a coffee shop, latte in hand. "She's actually working a second job."
His forehead furrowed. "A second job?"
"Your ten-year anniversary is coming up in a few months. She's saving up for a cruise." I could smell the nervous sweat on him, mixed with the scent of another woman. It took a concentrated effort to stop my nose from twitching.
"Oh." He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his face dry. "I just thought "
I sighed, trying not to show my disgust with the man. "She's not having an affair, Mr. Cloches. Your fears were unfounded and your marriage is secure." At least on her end.
I pulled the typed invoice out from the bottom of the file and pushed it across the table. He stared at it while as I gathered up the photographs and closed the folder. "This is my bill. Please send the balance due within thirty days."
The bald man mopped his face again, the damp fabric barely able to contain the moisture now. It stank of fear. I spied a small trace of lipstick just below his right ear. "It was It looked like " He shook his head, trying to grasp the reality I had tossed in his face.
I got to my feet and motioned toward the door, urging the overweight man out of his chair. He staggered to his feet, staring at my bill as if I'd tossed a live cobra into his hands. "She's not having an affair, which is what you contracted me to investigate. If you wish to engage my services for another matter we'll have to discuss it later." I glanced at my watch. "I'm sorry, but I have another client due any minute." My cloying smile accompanied him into the hallway toward the front door. "You understand, privacy issues and all that."
Cloches nodded, tucking the damp cloth back into his pocket. One hand tugged at the tie threatening to strangle him, pulling it loose. "It just seemed like " The fingers waggled in the air as if he were trying to summon fairies to carry him away from this existence. He glanced down at the page in his hand, his eyes widening as they hit the bottom line. "Oh my." The pink tongue flicked out again. "I didn't know it would cost so much."