The partially bent left wiper pulled painfully across the windshield as the man in the Mustang tried, without success, to get a clear shot of the two women hovering in the doorway of the drugstore.
A casual observer would have laughed in bewilderment at how the big man had bent his large body, almost pretzel-like, in order to aim the camera at his subjects. With one foot hiked up on the dashboard, body half twisted around in the small space, he popped his head in and out of the window every few minutes, camera in hand, all the while trying to avoid getting drenched by the downpour. “Damn,” he muttered. A large delivery truck had pulled in front of him completely blocking his view.
The booming epithet carried with it the strong smell of old onions and stale cigars that spewed forth and filled the tiny car. The first was a result of a hotdog he’d had for lunch and the second caused by a habit he wasn’t even trying to kick.
“Of all the freaking times for a freaking rainstorm,” he kicked at a notebook on the passenger seat. As if on cue, a clap of thunder rattled the windows of the empty storefront to his left.
Completely out of sight, inside the filthy room of an abandoned building, a tiny figure peered curiously through the dirty glass at the car parked outside. Suddenly startled by the loud noise of thunder, she shuddered in fear and then relaxed.
The faded, weather-worn, ragtop Mustang had definitely seen better days. It was one of the few worthwhile possessions Dan had been able to salvage from his miserable marriage to his cheating ex-wife Sherry, or as he liked to call her, “Her Highness the Bitch from Hell.”
During their two-year long divorce, she had managed to screw him out of everything including, the money, the house, the Mercedes and the dog. “Jeez,” he thought, anger slowly rising in him for the billionth time that day, “Bitch even stole my boat.” All Dan had gotten from the entire misspent marriage was one year of great sex, two years of raging headaches, his sweet daughter, Carrie, alimony payments that would make a rock star wince and of course, the red Stang.
It wasn’t like he missed Sherry or anything. On the contrary, he was glad to be rid of the gold digging She-devil. Not only had she managed to make his life a living hell, she’d nearly bankrupted him by spending his money like she had her own personal Stimulus Plan. “Her Highness” was also responsible for the brutal death of one of the best friendships in his life – she hadn’t killed him – but she might as well have been the one who drove that car into the tree. As a result, she’d also killed the best dammed detective agency in Tampa, Florida. Now he was just Dan Cane, Private Eye. “How damn dramatic is that,” he thought.
Rain poured down like water from a busted balloon. The rough, rhythmic sound of the wipers scrapping back and forth almost lulled him into sleep. He decided the subjects, whom he had dubbed “Madame X and Madame Z”, would be standing in that doorway for quite sometime. So he dislodged his massive shoulders from the tiny window, pulled his hefty frame back inside the car and switched on the radio.
The song playing was an old favorite of his, by some rock band from the 1970’s whose name he couldn’t remember. Still, it took him back to better days, and he snapped his fingers to the sensuous beat as his mind drifted into the past.
Jake Musto, former football star and Dan’s best friend in college, had been the only truly happy person Dan had ever known. Some people were happy sometimes, but Jake was happy all of the time. It wasn’t unusual to find him whistling and smiling to himself, like he had found the secret to eternal peace, and was the sole person in the universe who knew what that secret was.
When Jake entered a room, the energy immediately spiked and everybody knew it was party time! Jake had led a charmed life; brought up by “Ozzie and Harriet” parents in a “Leave it to Beaver” suburb of Chicago. He sailed through high school as the BMOC, and then graduated from Southeastern University at the top of his class.
The climax was his immediate draft, as a first round pick by the Tampa Bay Pirates in Florida. After a stellar career as the leading running back in the nation, and with many millions of dollars in the bank, Jake had “retired” young to pursue other adventures.
Dan had watched with pride as Jake’s career took off. An injured knee and a broken foot during a pivotal game in college had effectively ended any hopes he might have had for a pro ball career, but he didn’t begrudge Jake his days in the sun. Over the years he had taken great satisfaction in telling anyone he met, that Jake Musto was his best friend in the world.
Dan had chosen to go to law school at Stetson University in Deland, Florida. Upon graduation he took a job in Tampa as an Assistant State’s Attorney under Harry Lee “Hang em’ High” Coe, and settled into the hectic life of an attractive, young, single ASA. Jake and Dan had stayed close after college, and the fact that they had both landed in Tampa brought them great joy. They frequented the strip and night clubs that dotted the Bay area, often picking up a few cuties and entertaining them at Jake’s mansion in the high-toned, gated community of Cheval, just north of the city.
Who would have believed that Jake would actually live in the same neighborhood as Tennis phenom Pete Sampras? But being a star athlete had its perks and Jake made sure that Dan, who could barely afford coffee on an ASA’s salary, lived the high life right by his side.
It was Dan who fell in love first. It could have been the cute little tattoo of a cherry happily sitting just above her breast. It could have been the easy way she laughed or the sparkle in her eyes when she thought something was really funny. It could have been her independent streak or even the way her forehead slightly wrinkled as she stared into the distance when she had something on her mind. It was all of those things. It was none of those things. But it was so much more.
And despite Jake’s dire warning that marrying a stripper, even if she was an ex-stripper, wasn’t the best idea he’d ever had, Dan wouldn’t listen. Couldn’t listen. The girl was beautiful. The sex was great. And he was wedding ring through the nose in love.