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Being a lady private eye isn’t always as glamorous as it sounds. Often, it’s more Dirk Gently than Emma Peel. How I wish I could get away with as much black PVC as Diana Rigg; wish I could keep up with my various assignations wearing those glorious platform kinky boots. But in reality, I think I would sprain my ankle at the first hurdle.
Not that there is much hurdle-jumping, either.
Not even much wall-jumping.
At precisely 11.28am, the ‘phone rings. I seem to have this sixth sense about when it is going to ring, so get it straight away. I can’t help but smirk slightly to myself. In an office full of female private investigators, trained to pick up on all of life’s subtleties, this doesn’t go unnoticed.
As I pick up the handset and say in my smoothest, lowest voice: ‘Hello, can I help?’ I see the girls in my peripheral vision, sinking back into their chairs, sighing and deflating. They have all been stuck on boring calls all morning, pooling the ones I want to avoid, watching the trackers we have on various vehicles throughout this fair land, taking it in turns to make our clients tea and simpering with sympathy.
There is a worrying silence on the other end of the ‘phone. Please, please, please don’t be a lead balloon. I can’t take the humiliation, the disappointment.
‘Hello?’ I say again. ‘How can I help you?’
‘Oh, yes,’ says a timid voice. A woman. Rather gravelly. Northern. I’d say Rotherham; a long-term smoker. ‘Harriet Bond?’
‘Yes, madam,’ I say, trying to convey professionalism and empathy in two measly words.
‘I want my husband following. When he takes the dog out. That’s how they meet, I think. He’s using our Flo as a decoy.’
‘Let me just get this straight, madam,’ I say, pulling my Post-It pad closer and clicking a pen into action. ‘You suspect your husband of conducting a secret liaison during dog walks?’
‘Couldn’t have put it better myself, love,’ she says, warming up a bit now. In the background I hear the flick of a cigarette lighter and her sharp intake of breath as she inhales the first drag.
‘Any ideas who this lady is?’ I ask.
‘Lady?’ My client says, in a voice suddenly clipped and alert. ‘Yes, I suppose it could be...’
There is a long pause, during which she draws in another lungful, and, I assume, a new train of thought.
I don’t know quite what to think, let alone say, so I skirt around for a couple of minutes by making general enquiries about where she lives and what type of dog she has got. I glance over at the girls and their faces are painted with confusion and horror as the conversation turns to the drawbacks of Red Setters.
‘I noticed that Flo was particularly friendly with Butch and Sundance the other day, as though, you know, they had been spending a lot of time together, if you know what I mean,’ the lady says thoughtfully, almost as though she is turning detective herself. I am tempted to offer her a job, if only to find something to say. ‘But,’ she continues, ‘I just didn’t think Bob Davis was really his type.’
‘What is his type?’ I venture.
‘Well-built but not podgy, you know. A smattering of tattoos but never facial, or those “Love-Hate” thingys on the knuckles. He’s not into the criminal classes, if you know what I mean.’
I am astounded at the attention to detail in her research.
‘Can I ask?’ I ask, ‘If you’ve known about these affairs for a while, why are you only just contacting us?’
‘I want to sell up, he doesn’t. I want to set off around Europe in a motor home but you need cash for that. D’you know how much those things cost?’
‘Right-o,’ I say, writing down her name and address. ‘I’ll get my walking boots on. Oh, and I’ll have to find a dog from somewhere...’