Not Quite Cricket - a short story
Note from Rachael O'Halloran
In March 2013, Anne DiGeorge's short story "Not Quite Cricket" was published as part of an anthology of six short stories by Novelty Fiction and is available in paperback at this link on lulu.com
If you would like to read the other five stories as an ebook, it is free at this link on lulu.com
If you want to read only Anne DiGeorge's short story, continue reading.
Crowne Plaza Hotel
"I know this is our special weekend, Kev," Laura O'Toole told her husband on the phone, "but this is a good paying job."
She adjusted herself on the edge of the desk, balancing the phone on her shoulder, getting ready for what was sure to be a lengthy conversation with her husband.
"You know how many low paying cases I've had lately, Kev. This case was delivered by bonded messenger and has an advance of five hundred dollars in the letter!" She ruffled through the cash in her hand, enjoying the feel of it in her hands. As a private investigator, the money represented nearly a week's wages --- when she got paid, that is.
"But, honey, it's our fifth anniversary," Kevin cajoled. "I was hoping we could leave around three today and drive up the coast for an intimate candlelight dinner, maybe even stay the weekend there."
Although they had discussed spending the weekend together, they had made no definite plans. "Surely, you can start this job on Monday," Kevin contended. "Jeez, I worry about you in this line of work."
Laura knew Kevin didn't really mind her being a private investigator. Even though he worried about her, he had encouraged her to start her own business. He even sent a few cases her way from his law office to get her started, and she knew he assumed she would grow bored with the mundane work of investigating insurance fraud cases. But she didn't; in fact, she became darn good at it and got requests from other attorneys in Kevin's office. Laura was determined to make a go of her fledgling business, if only all the pieces would just fall into place. She thought this case might be her ticket to a more prestigious cases.
"Tell me more about the letter, Laura. What kind of case is it, anyway?" Kevin asked.
"Gee, I don't know much about it yet, Kev. A Mr. Arthur Drake sent me a letter to meet him at his offices in the Penthouse Suite at the Crowne Plaza Hotel to discuss an employee matter. My appointment is for five o'clock today. I want to make a few quick calls to check him out before I go over there." She tossed her shoulder length blonde hair over her shoulder and took a seat behind her desk.
"Sweetheart, can't you get Joey to go with you as an assistant or something? This doesn't sound too good to me. I don't like it."
Joey was Laura's kid brother. At age twenty-five, she "employed" him occasionally on long stakeouts or to help out in "iffy" situations. She didn't feel that this case rated as risky. Yet.
"Really, Kevin. I've been doing this for two years now. Surely you can trust me to check things out before I go." Laura thought a minute and then relented, "Okay, if it doesn't feel good after I make my calls, I'll call Joey."
"Good, that makes me feel better. If he can't go, call me. Unless you'd rather I go along with you...? I can leave work early...." The concern in Kevin's voice on the other end of the phone was evident.
"Kev, I don't know anything about this case, yet. Relax," she comforted. Laura began to feel a little regretful about their anniversary weekend.
"Sweetheart, we can go off together next weekend to celebrate, okay?" Laura suggested. "Besides, maybe by then, we'll have lots of money to paint the town red. How does that sound?"
"Okay," Kevin conceded. He paused. "I'm worried. Don't forget to take your cell phone with you and call me. I mean it, Laura, call me when you get there and.....just call me, okay?"
"Yes, okay, I'll call you," Laura smiled into the phone. "I love you, Kev."
"Love you, too, honey," he answered, "Be careful."
The letter intrigued her.
It was not the way she usually got a case. Most of her cases were referred from someone she already knew. But no one was breaking down the door lately for her services. Besides, she was kind of curious to see the Penthouse Suite at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Even on a good day, she and Kevin wouldn't be able to afford one night in the suite.
Laura picked up the letter. "Please accept the enclosed five hundred dollars cash payment as good faith in retaining your investigative services in regard to an employee matter. I would like to discuss this with you at my suite at five o'clock. If this is not acceptable to you, please call my administrative assistant, and we can arrange another time more convenient to you." Signed, Arthur Drake.
"Well, Mr. Drake," Laura said aloud, "let's see what we can find out about you." She picked up the phone on her desk and dialed the hotel. She thought she had better find out if a Mr. Drake was even registered before she got excited about this case.
"Hello, I'm calling to confirm an appointment with Mr. Drake for this afternoon," Laura told the desk clerk. "My name is Laura O'Toole. Could you tell me if he or his adminstrative assistant is available to speak to me?"
"Oh, yes, Ms. O'Toole, Mr. Drake said to confirm you for five o'clock today. Is that convenient?" the desk clerk asked.
"Well, yes, it is, but may I speak to his administrative assistant, please?" Laura's antennae were up.
"I'm sorry, I am told she went home sick this morning. A message was left here at the front desk if you called, to confirm Mr. Drake's appointment with you."
It sounded to Laura like this could have happened, but she was still not done with the desk clerk.
"To whom am I speaking, please?" Laura asked her, cordially.
"My name is Caroline Abrams, ma'am. I'm the front desk manager," she answered in a professional manner.
"I see. Well, I was wondering if you could tell me anything about Mr. Drake. You see, I am in a sort of dubious position here. This appointment with him was made by letter and I've never met him." Laura hoped the girl could see her way clear to understand her situation.
"Yes, ma'am. Well, Mr. Drake hasn't been in residence here all that long. He has his own staff to take care of his business matters, and I, myself, only know him by his voice on the phone," Caroline told her.
"I see," Laura pondered. "Confirm my appointment with him, then, and if there is any change in my plans, I will call back and leave a message."
"Yes, ma'am," Caroline answered, "I'll be on the desk when you come in. I'll be happy to assist you in any way I can."
"Thank you, Caroline." Laura hung up.
Calling Joey was starting to look good. She put in a call to him and asked him to be at the hotel lobby an hour before the appointment. Being a Friday night, this one was going to cost her.
Little brother Joey had a taste for the club scene and pretty girls. With the advance from Mr Drake, this time she would be able to pay Joey a little cash. He agreed to the job for fifty bucks and she made a few more calls of inquiry. No one knew anything about Mr. Drake.
Something was not quite cricket about this guy. Before she left the office, she called her husband's voicemail and told him Joey would be on the job too. She really liked the way he worried about her, but sometimes, it grated on her nerves.
Downtown traffic was starting to mount when Laura left her office at four o'clock for the half hour drive to her appointment. Being a Friday, everyone must have had the same idea to leave work and start their weekend early. She had hoped to have an extra half hour to look over her surroundings before going up the elevator. With all this traffic, it didn't look like that was going to pan out. She picked up her cellphone and with her thumb, dialed Joey's cellphone.
"Hi, Joey," Laura said a little louder than she normally would have, due to the traffic noises, "are you in the hotel yet?"
"Yeah, I'm here. This is a really posh place, Sis," Joey told her in a hushed voice. The kind of jobs she took on were nowhere near the calibre of this place.
"Have you seen anyone that looks like you? Anyone with a newspaper covering their face?" she chided. Laura loved to taunt him about his ploys of trying to blend in with the scenery.
"Really, Laura, this is not a newspaper kind of place," Joey told her. "You gotta see this place. Big bucks are spent here."
"Hmm," she said, thoughtfully, looking down at her navy blazer, skirt and white blouse. Although she looked professional, she hadn't given much thought to her attire. She opened the glove compartment and pulled out a cloth jewelry clutch. "So, what's your disguise, Joey?" she asked, as she pulled out a pair of pearl drop earrings and an elegant matching necklace.
"Well, you happened to catch me on a night I am taking Charlene out on a dinner date. So I am in a suit, tie, the works. I blend in real good, Sis."
"Good, Joey. Listen, traffic is really bad and I was hoping to get there a little early. Looks like I'm not, though. Please make sure this is okay. Kevin made me stop and think about this one. Check out the route to the Penthouse, watch the desk clerk, you know how to do it." Except he's never even seen a Penthouse floor, let alone a suite!
"Sure, Sis, no problem." He then added, "Do you think I can be done in time to pick Charlene up by seven, or should I call her and tell her I'm gonna be late?"
"Better call her, Joey. I'd like you to hang around until I come back downstairs after the meeting." She had a sudden thought. "Maybe, since you look so good, I should take you upstairs with me." Laura was beginning to like that idea. So was Joey.
"Wow, really?? I'll be a real pro, Laura. I promise. I'll watch my manners and everything."
Joey might be an asset, she thought.
"All right, yes, maybe it's a good idea, till I see what it is all about. But once he starts talking confidential stuff, you're gone, okay?"
"Sure, sure," Joey was very excited. "Hurry up and get here. I can't hang out here indefinitely without being noticed, you know."
"I'm on my way," Laura rang off. With her thumb, she dialed her husband's cellphone and he answered almost immediately.
"Laura, are you all right? Are you there yet?" Kevin's voice was clearly stressed.
"Moving slow in traffic, sweetie, but Joey is on the job and I think I'm going to take him up to the Penthouse with me." Laura made a turn onto the hotel's underground garage ramp.
"Oh, good, I'm glad. I feel better knowing he is there. I wish...." Kevin's voice faded out as their cellphones lost the cell when Laura entered the underground hotel garage.
Kevin's wish remained unsaid; they were used to losing cells in the downtown area. Laura pulled into a parking spot near the garage elevator.
She turned off the ignition, checked her hair in the sunvisor mirror, applied a little mauve lipstick and got out of the car. She locked the doors and activated the car alarm. She couldn't be too careful in this line of work and the car alarm was her peace of mind that her vehicle would be there for a fast retreat from any sticky situation.
Laura took the garage elevator to the Lobby and exited the elevator. Joey came into view almost immediately. He did look sharp in his suit, but looking around the lobby, he was clearly out of his league. Laura made eye contact with him, straightened her shoulders and walked over to the pay phone at the opposite end of the lobby. She picked up the phone, put in a quarter and dialed her office to check her messages by remote. In a moment, Joey followed her to the bank of phones and picked up the one next to her.
"Looks nice, hmm, Sis?" He smiled boyishly at her. "Get more jobs like this and I could get used to this."
"You look nice, Joey," Laura complimented him. "So what's the deal here? Find out anything?"
"Sure thing. I called the front desk from the pay phone here and asked to speak to Mr. Drake's assistant and was told she went home sick today," Joey said, proud of his information.
"Gosh, Joey," Laura exclaimed, "I knew that before I called you!"
She listened to the answering machine and heard only one message, from Kevin. "Be careful, sweetheart. Call me or get Joey to call me."
"Sorry, Sis," Joey apologized, "this is a closed-mouthed operation. Nobody gives out information here freely. This kind of place doesn't tell your business, if you know what I mean."
"Yes, I know what you mean. Okay, before we go to the desk and ask to be announced, let's go over the plan again. I'm going to introduce you as my associate...."
"Jeez, Laura!" Joey exclaimed, "Let's just do it, okay?"
"I just want to be sure, Joey. Kevin's got me a little spooked on this one," Laura admitted. "Something is not quite cricket here."
"Got the letter?" Joey asked, agitated.
"Yes," Laura pulled it from her purse, taking a breath. "Let's go see the elusive Mr. Drake."
They approached the desk clerk whose name tag read Caroline Abrams. Laura smiled as she introduced herself to her. She presented Joey as her associate and said he would be joining the meeting.
"Yes, Ms. O'Toole," Caroline smiled. "Mr. Drake called a few minutes ago to see if you had arrived yet. He said to tell you that he had to take an important phone call in the manager's office and to give you this key to the suite."
"Oh," Laura said, a little taken aback, "I see." She took the key from Caroline.
"Take the bank of elevators to your left, insert the key into the panel and the elevator will go express to the Penthouse," Caroline directed. "You will need the key again to access Penthouse Suite Two."
Joey straightened the lapels on his suit coat, very impressed with this whole adventure.
Laura said a silent prayer that this was a legit case.
They followed the short hallway to the elevator. Hotel guests and visitors milled out of the descending elevators so that Laura and Joey had to wait to get on. As a bellboy pushed a departing visitors' luggage rack out of the elevator, they entered and Laura put the key in above the Emergency Stop placard, pushing the "P" button at the top of the panel.
"I can't believe we are doing this," Joey said, excitedly. "I never in a million years thought I'd ever see the inside of a Penthouse suite!"
"Me, neither, Joey," Laura said, seriously. The elevator rose the twelve floors nonstop to the Penthouse.
Laura took the key out of the panel and the elevator doors opened. Exiting the elevator, the pair proceeded to the door of the suite.
Laura had a sudden change of heart and decided to knock on the door instead of using the key. After all, he could be in there, back from the manager's office, in the shower, or on the phone. Lots of images popped into her mind.
Suddenly she got an attack of cold feet.
"Change of plans, Joey," Laura said, abruptly, "this is creepy. We're outta here."
"Don't worry, Sis, I'm here with you," Joey reassured her, patting her arm. "Knock again. Just to make sure."
Laura knocked again and the door opened as if by magic. No one stood inside. Laura and Joey peered into the luxuriant sitting room to see its rich, cushiony beige carpeting.
The windows overlooking downtown were dressed in ceiling to floor mocha-colored draperies. They stepped a little further inside the sitting room to be confronted by another closed door.
"Hello, Mr. Drake?" Laura called. "It's Ms. O'Toole, for our appointment?" No answer.
"Must still be downstairs on the phone, Sis," Joey mused.
"Gee, Joey," Laura said, looking at him with wide eyes, "this is very spooky. I say we leave."
"Now, look here, Laura," Joey said with a determined look, "I didn't come all this way to get to a closed door. I want to see what a place like this looks like -- all of it."
"Okay, well, since he's not here, I guess we can take a look. But I want to leave right after we look. I'll leave a message at the desk that I got an important call on my cellphone and had to leave." Laura turned the knob to the second door.
Inside, the same décor continued into this room. A huge king-sized brass bed dominated the room. A low hum drew Laura's eyes to the far left of the room to a step down bubbling jacuzzi. Champagne was on ice in a stand next to the bed.
"That's it! I'm outta here, Joey. Let's go," Laura started to make her way to the door.
Joey started to chuckle, then laughed as Kevin came from behind the door in a thick white hotel towel wrapped around his waist.
"Happy anniversary, Sweetheart!" Kevin said to Laura's retreating back. She quickly did an about face.
"Oh, Kevin!" Laura exclaimed, "you! You did all this!" She threw her arms around his neck and was swept into his embrace.
"Not quite cricket, hmm, Sis?" Joey started out the door.
"Joey, old boy, thanks," Kevin laughed, handing him a fifty-dollar bill. "Couldn't have done this without your help!"
"No problem, Kev," Joey grinned, pocketing the money. "Happy anniversary, both of you!"
Joey quietly exited the room, putting the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the outer door as he locked it behind him.
© by September 1999, Anne DiGeorge
© 2011 awordlover