|The Nossiter Net
The net that shall enmesh them all
Edited, Written, and Published by Josh Nossiter
|The Morning Mendacity
Wednesday, May 18th, 2005
|The Nossiter Net is cast to snare some of the riper rascalities of the day. Comments? email@example.com|
|Some Chicago writer, borrowing a line from Carl Sandburg, once wrote of a Chicago-San Francisco football playoff game that it was a contest between “the city of broad shoulders and the city of swivel hips.” Yeah -- but which is which? Because in San Francisco, the fog doesn’t come on little cat feet. It whips through the streets, thick and damp, like the breath of a loudmouthed drunk. And it doesn’t waste time looking over anything on silent haunches. Our fog makes windows rattle, leaves rustle, litter take wing. Besides, San Francisco won the game.
The fog was billowing past my window that morning, a Wednesday, a nondescript kind of day. No Monday blues, no Friday joy, Wednesday just sits there, neither fish nor fowl. Bland. But not that Wednesday. I knew it was different the minute I caught the scent. Gardenias. It smelled expensive, and about as out of place in my dump of an office as a tuxedo in a trailer park. As was its accompaniment: about five foot nine, dark blond hair, a tight skirt too short to keep out drafts, half a mile of stockings, polished high heels, and a pair of gray-blue eyes suitable for cutting diamonds. I thought I recognized her from the society pages.
“You’re Smart” she said in a husky contralto. I told her I did my best, and wished I’d dusted the place that morning.
“Save the gags. I’m looking for a private eye named Smart, Christopher Smart. You’re him.”
“Guilty. Sit down and tell me what I can do for you.”
“It’s about my husband. He – I’m worried about him. He’s not himself. He – maybe I should tell you about it.”
The husband. It usually is, at least when it’s not the wife. I told her to shoot the works, while I sat back and watched the fog swirl by, listening. You get more if you don’t say much, I usually find.
She was Mrs. Rupert Preston-Jones, AKA Betty. Addresses: a town mansion on outer Broadway, a beach mansion in Santa Barbara, a golf mansion in Palm Springs – you get the idea. Married five years. Husband a big time financier, enough of whose start-ups were now giant corporations that the upkeep of half a dozen mansions came out of petty cash. She’d started as his personal trainer, and only became Mrs. Preston-Jones after Rupert chased her half-way around the world in his private jet to propose. That kind of thing is hard to resist, even when you had reservations. She’d had reservations all right, but everything was sunshine and rose petals, at least at first. Rupert doted, she basked, but she didn’t let it go to her head, and kept right on working as a personal trainer, over Rupert’s objections. The story emerged clearly, the husky contralto doing nothing to alter my favorable impression of Betty Preston-Jones. Then she seemed to run out of gas.
“So you’re the princess in a fairy tale with a happy ending. What’s the problem? Wicked stepmother? Bad fairy? Prince really a frog?”
Betty bit her lip and nodded. “I guess you live up to your name, Mr. Smart. Got it on only the third try. Rupe’s turning into a toad, right before my eyes. I knew he wasn’t strictly truthful from the start, but it was always little stuff – he’d say he was late because of a business call, but I knew he was playing golf, that kind of thing. Then he’d laugh when I caught him out.”
“Now he’s telling whoppers, and worse still, believing them. For instance, yesterday he told me to carry an umbrella because it was raining. And the bluest sky we’ve had in weeks was staring him right in the face through an open window. Then he called me to watch the sunset, and told me to look east. He points up and starts talking about the mole digging a tunnel in the garden. He left the room because the light was too bright, and it was in total darkness. Either I’m going nuts, or he is, and I came to you because Rupe would never see a doctor if I told him too. Can you help me, please?”
“Let’s see. A perfectly normal husband one day. The next, a guy who says shine is rain, west is east, up is down, dark is light. Right so far? Ok, now tell me one thing, Mrs. Preston-Jones: has your husband changed his political views recently?”
“Why yes, how did you know? He just joined the Republican Party.”
It was the fastest case I ever solved, and I couldn’t bring myself to charge her a nickel for it.
©Joshua C. Nossiter, 2005
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