Before I agreed to tail his wayward wife, I wanted to know Erroll Cunningham wasn’t the killing type. Actually, he was more the corporate type, smallish, forty-ish, and polite. He suspected his wife was cheating and he looked like the kind of guy you’d expect to be cheated on.
If you’re a private detective in Pittsburgh, you don’t get a lot of excitement. I mostly find people who skipped on a bond or had a fender bender three years ago. It’s a darn good living, but boring. I spend half my time on the computer and the rest making sure me and Uncle Sam get paid. So this was a treat, a chance to be a real gumshoe.
Mrs. Cunningham was a little younger than Erroll and fetching if not particularly pretty. Kind of chubby, sure, but in all the right places for a city full of old fashioned guys. She worked mornings at the gift shop at Carnegie Institute and spent the rest of her days either gardening or walking a hilariously ugly mutt around Schenley Park. I liked her.
I can’t say the same for hubby. When I emailed my invoice and reported that he had nothing to worry about, he was more than insistent. He was downright pissed. Hadn’t she been out of my sight sometimes in the park? What was going on in the museum? Maybe she had fallen for one of those dreadlocked art students or some macramé lesbian. As far as he was concerned, I had to try harder.
So I did. I was happy to bill the bastard and I was also afraid that if I didn’t reassure him, his wife might bear the brunt of his pointless suspicions. I borrowed my ex-partner’s dog and meandered around Schenley Park every afternoon. I struck up conversations at the museum shop and found her friendly but by no means flirtatious. In short, I wasted another week, and sent another bill and another detailed report.
I was expecting fireworks, but Erroll seemed coldly resigned. He listened impatiently to my summary of all I had done. He nodded dismissively when I assured him that his wife was faithful and he stiffened when I suggested counseling. Then he took an envelope from his pocket and slid it across my desk.
Inside were photos of me and Mrs. Cunningham, smiling as our dogs sniffed bottoms in the park, chatting across a counter, squeezing past each other in a narrow aisle. It seems Erroll had hired somebody to watch the watcher and he had been told exactly what he feared or maybe wanted to hear. Since I kept turning up with Erroll’s wife, I was the perfect guy to blame. I looked up into the barrel of a small automatic pistol.
Erroll had some choice words about honor and some creative descriptions for me. I listened, hoping he wouldn’t do any shooting until he had his say, but as he wound down, I played my trump.
“Mr. Cunningham, there is just one problem; I’m gay. I’ve been out for years. I am the past chair of the Southside Gay Issues Support Group.” I slowly and calmly opened a desk drawer. “Look at this brochure. Whose picture is on the back with the board members?”
Erroll just sort of deflated. I asked him, quite calmly, to pay me and get out. He wrote a check for what was due with trembling hands and departed.
I was expecting, or maybe wishing that he would go home to his ordinary and totally charming wife and appreciate his ordinary and totally satisfactory life. I was thinking, or maybe hoping that his suspicions had simply died of embarrassment.
The following day’s news led with the story of a corporate manager who shot a cut-rate PI in a downtown high rise and then leapt from the window to his own end. The blood smeared note he left on the scene made it clear he died satisfied he had finally, in spite of tricks and misdirection, found the man who was seducing his wife. Mrs. Cunningham could offer no explanation.