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Authors: Hamilton Waymire

Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Hard-Boiled, #Short Stories (Single Author), #Short Stories, #General Fiction

Confidence Tricks

Confidence Tricks

By Hamilton Waymire

Copyright 2011 by Hamilton Waymire

Cover Copyright 2011 by Dara England and Untreed Reads Publishing

The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the publisher (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold, reproduced or transmitted by any means in any form or given away to other people without specific permission from the author and/or publisher. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to the living or dead is entirely coincidental.

 

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The Supervisor
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http://www.untreedreads.com

Confidence Tricks

By Hamilton Waymire

The rap on my office door was so soft I first mistook it for the summer breeze tugging at the blinds. After the third timid knock I realized someone might desire the services of
Benson Keirstad Investigations
.

“Door’s open,” I called.

When nobody entered, I figured it was either a prank or an exceedingly shy visitor. I sighed and went to open the door myself. A short, plain, middle-aged woman, wearing a simple black dress that failed to conceal her considerable girth, stood before me and bit her lip.

I bade her good morning and suggested she enter the office. The woman gave me a brief nod and a grimace that conveyed a mixture of gratitude and anxiety, and trod past me into the room.

“I’m Fran Drummond,” the visitor said after I’d introduced myself.

I waited a moment, expecting to hear about the reason for her call. When the silence threatened to turn from expectant to awkward, I said, “Ms. Drummond—”

“Mrs.”

“What?”

“It’s
Mrs.
Drummond.”

Okay
. “Well, Mrs. Drummond, what brings you here?”

She folded her hands in her lap and sat up straight, as if teacher had called upon her to recite a poem. “I understand you can…find out about people.” She looked at me as if it were my turn to speak.

“Depends on what you mean by ‘find out,’ but in principle, yes, that’s what I do.”

“I’d like you to find out about a woman named Cybil.”

I wrote that down. “Anything else you can tell me about this person? Last name, social security, address?”

Mrs. Drummond shook her head. “No, that’s what I need you for. But you can find her at the Moonstone Café in Downtown Disney around eleven a.m. on Thursdays.”

I made a note of that, too. “What does Cybil look like?”

Mrs. Drummond wrinkled her brow. “She’s between you and me in height. Blonde hair, worn long. Very shapely. Late twenties, I think.” She pressed her lips together. “Her style of dress is rather, um, casual.”

I dropped my pencil on the yellow pad and leaned back in my swivel chair. “What exactly would you like me to do, then?”

Mrs. Drummond turned her head to look out the window. She wrung her hands for a minute, then she said, “Let me tell you a story, Mr. Keirstad. When I’m done, maybe you’ll tell me what you can do for me, all right?”

“Please go ahead,” I said. “Mind if I smoke?”

“Smoke all you like. My late husband was a smoker. It doesn’t bother me at all.”

She waited until I’d lit my cigarette. At length she placed her hands on my desk, one on top of the other, and began.

“I was eighteen years old, a college freshman. I went to Heath Cliff.” She lifted her gaze from the ground. “That’s in Iowa.”

“I’ve heard of Heath Cliff,” I said. “It’s a Catholic school, right?”

“Very Catholic. Like my parents and the entire family.” Her gaze wandered back to the window, and her eyes acquired a melancholy look.

“I met a young man there. I thought he was the love of my life. Well, I was mistaken. Suddenly, there I was, pregnant, disgraced, and the child’s father refusing to marry me.”

Couldn’t have happened all
that
suddenly
, I thought.

“Abortion was out of the question, and so was single motherhood. My parents shipped me off to an aunt in Maine before I started to show. I gave birth to a little girl.”

Mrs. Drummond swallowed and took a moment before she continued. “It was arranged that my daughter should be passed off as another woman’s child. She was taken from me right after birth, and I never saw her again.”

“Are there any official records? A birth certificate with your name on it? Adoption papers?”

Mrs. Drummond shook her head. “I don’t think so. As I said, it was all hushed up. The only thing I know is the name her new family gave my child. The priest who helped arrange the deal told me.”

“Let me guess.”

She nodded. “Cybil, yes.”

“Not a run-of-the-mill name, I’ll grant you that, but still—it could easily be a coincidence.”

“But you should see her! The resemblance is most uncanny. She looks just like a female version of Tony.”

“That’s Cybil’s father, I presume?”

“Yes,” Mrs. Drummond said, but it came out as a croak. “I remember him well to this day, although I never saw him again after…what happened. Cybil is just like him—the face, the hands, the movements.”

I waited a minute, but she seemed to be done with her story.

“Where do I come in, Mrs. Drummond?” I tried not to sound impatient.

“Perhaps you could find out some things about this Cybil. Date of birth and such. And whether she’s a reputable person. You know, if her age fits, I’d like to approach her, talk with her, maybe ask her to have her DNA tested—but not without some reassurance about her background.”

“Seems prudent to me, Mrs. Drummond,” I said.

I looked over my notes. “Just how do you know she’ll be at this particular Moonstone at eleven on Thursday?”

Mrs. Drummond smiled for the first time. “I’m afraid I played detective myself for a little bit there. You see, I was visiting Disneyland with my little nephew, Steven. That’s my sister Edith’s boy. I moved in with Edith after Earl died last year. Anyway, we were strolling through Downtown Disney, and there she was, coming out of the coffee store. I was thunderstruck. I wanted to follow her right then, but with Steven in tow, that was hardly an option.”

She took a deep breath. “So then I basically set up camp at the Moonstone, hoping to see her again. Lo and behold, a week later—a Thursday—she shows up again, a little before eleven. My ears rang when she told the cashier her name. You know, for the order? The Thursday after, she was there again.”

“You’ve never tried to follow her, find out where she lives?”

“Oh, try I did,” Mrs. Drummond said, looking sheepish. “But my detective abilities don’t extend that far. I’m not a fast walker.” She sighed and touched her calf as if to illustrate. “Edema.”

* * *

I had hardly opened the apartment door when I heard Cathy call out my name.

“Benson!”

She flew toward me and wrapped her arms around my neck. I lifted her up from the floor. She was light as a helium balloon, but a lot shapelier.

Cathy held me very tight. I could feel her breasts pushing against my chest. There was something obsessive about the passionate display of affection.

“How was your day,” I wanted to say, but I didn’t get that far, because she closed my mouth with her lips. As we kissed, I noticed that her cheeks were damp.

I had to expend some effort to pry her off me. She met my gaze, her chin lifted in an attempt to appear brave and fierce. But the film over her eyes told a different story.

“What happened, honey?” I asked, holding both her hands. “Not your folks again, is it?”

She nodded. “I just hung up five minutes ago.” Her eyes welled up, and she looked aside.

Cathy was nineteen and a junior in college. That made me twice her age. An older man, with a disreputable job, wasn’t according to the liking of her parents, both Newport Beach doctors. Since Cathy had moved in with me three weeks ago, they’d been terrorizing her on an almost daily basis.

I took her in my arms and stroked her back. Most of the time I figured if two adults loved each other and wanted to live together, it was nobody else’s business. But every once in a while, I had second thoughts and wondered whether Cathy was really mature enough to make these kinds of decisions.

“You know, honey, if you want to reconsider the whole living together plan, I totally understand,” I said, but without much conviction. I had to admit it felt wonderful to have somebody to come home to.

Cathy pushed me away and stomped her feet. “But I want to live with you. It’s just so frustrating that they don’t understand.”

She yanked a tissue from the Kleenex box on the sideboard and blew her nose. “I’m sorry, Benson. I didn’t mean to make a scene or anything. I was just so happy to see you.”

We talked a lot, had some dinner, walked around the block, and made love. Lying in bed, sweating profusely, watching the ceiling fan whir at maximum speed, I lit a cigarette and said, “Wanna hear about my day?”

Cathy propped herself up on an elbow and kissed me. “Sure.”

I told her about Mrs. Drummond and Cybil.

Cathy took a long drag from my cigarette. Letting the smoke waft out of her nose and mouth, she said, “And you took the case, right?”

“How do you know?”

“Because you’re a sucker for melodrama,” she replied and stuck the cigarette back between my lips.

* * *

Downtown Disney is an outdoor retail and dining mall adjacent to the theme park. Despite the mid-July heat, the place bustled with tourists, many of them in business suits and wearing name tags. I figured there was a conference on at the Anaheim Convention Center, which was practically around the corner.

At ten-forty-five, I entered the Moonstone, got myself a large coffee and an
LA Times
and took up my post at a corner table. I didn’t have to wait long. Before my coffee was finished, a tall blonde in denim hot pants and a white tank top entered the store. Her pink bra glowed through the flimsy fabric of the shirt. Not exactly conservative dress, but in Orange County, nothing to write home about, either.

She was accompanied by one of those burnt-out surfer dudes. The guy was about forty-five and wore his dirty-yellow hair slicked back. He gave the woman a peck on the cheek, turned on his heel, and left the store.

Most of the woman’s face was hidden under humongous sunglasses. As she approached the counter, she pushed them up into her hair. Prominent cheekbones, the nose a little large for the face, but she was definitely pretty, if slightly cheap. Age tallied, too.

“Can I get a name for that order?”

“Cybil,” she told the cashier.

Bingo
.

I weighed my options while Cybil stirred sweetener into her nonfat latte. Plan A consisted of chatting her up and asking for her phone number. The risk was that she might blow me off, especially if Surfer Dude was more than a casual acquaintance, and then I would’ve lost the anonymity I needed if I was to follow her. I adopted plan B: wait and see.

Cybil chose a table at the far end of the room. She folded her smooth, golden-tanned legs and extracted a tattered paperback from her pink handbag. With some squinting, I could discern a bare-chested man on the cover.

Cybil seemed to find her romance novel more engrossing than I did the
LA Times
. After half an hour, I was bored stiff, no matter that my mark was easy on the eyes. Just as I was about to revert to plan A, I heard Cybil’s cell phone ring to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

She answered the call but didn’t say a word. After perhaps a minute, she shut the phone, stowed it and the book in her bag, and marched toward the exit. I could smell her perfume when she passed my table; she wore a lot of it, and the scent was too heavy for the season.

I left my paper on the table and followed Cybil. She made a beeline to Catalan, a Mexican restaurant known for its guacamole, not far from the coffeehouse. The outside sitting area was crowded, but a number of tables were available in the air-conditioned barroom.

At the center of the room sat a stout middle-aged businessman wearing one of those conference name tags. He was eating fajitas and sweating, despite the A/C. Cybil gave him a brief nod and a smile and sat at a neighboring table. I chose a seat at the bar close to the wall that allowed me to watch Cybil while staying largely out of sight.

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