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Crime Beat

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Crime Cameos : Old Habits by Denise Cruse

Crime CameosCrime Beat continues with Crime Cameos, a series of short stories by local writers. This week’s story is ‘Old Habits’ by Denise Cruse, a student at UCT’s Centre for Creative Writing.

L. A. Norton – Private Investigator, 15 years experience.
Yes, that’s my Yellow Pages entry. Lorraine Angela Norton. Clients are surprised to find that I am a woman, but you don’t need testosterone to track people, you need patience. People soon realize that being female gives me a real edge. Destroyed wives look me in the eye, hand over their husband’s photo, tell me to get him. Male clients think that I have a hot wire to their wives’ brains, to wherever the next screw might be happening. I love the work – that pure moment as I zoom in and the shutter clicks. They have no idea the game’s over for them.
The last job? A sleepover at the Phoenix Hotel in Luton. We already had photos, but the wife wanted action shots. How did I set it up? I have contacts all over the country. One knew a chambermaid at the Phoenix, Charmaine, who was due a favour from the booking clerk. I met her on the fourth floor by the emergency exit.
Yes, I recall the conversation – I’m good with details.
“Hi – Charmaine?”
She smiled, foxy eyed, purple streaked black hair.
“That’s me. You’re in 401, right next to the lovebirds. And it gets better, there’s an interconnecting door – here’s the key.”
She dipped in the pocket of her pink overall, belted tight, top three buttons undone, handed over a Yale key.
“Hey, can I see the photos after?” She grinned and licked her lips, waiting. I handed her a folded fifty pound note.
“Not enough – the key’s extra.”
She didn’t ask again. People say I have a look that could freeze ethanol.
The next part was crazy. I’d had a couple of martinis in the bar, was waiting for the lift when I saw her, the girlfriend, walking across the lobby. We got in the lift together, just Sarah Larsen and me. Sexier close-up than in her photos – full lips, red silk scarf, hair shiny as an espresso bean. I faded next to her in the mirrored walls – greasy hair, creased beige dress, thin lips forming a question,
“You here for the weekend?”
“You here for the weekend or just overnight ?”
“Um, oh just a night, breaking a journey.”
The sweat on her upper lip gleamed in the corridor lights as she fumbled with the key to 400.
The next thing I recall? Checking my room the following morning. Egg and bacon congealing on the room service tray, bathroom misted up, tap dripping in the sink. I folded my towel.
He would have left his on the floor, not caring who picked it up.
Shower cap. I always forgot my damn shower cap, there must be a dozen left in hotels around the country. By the basin a flash of pink – my toothbrush. Two things left behind – I’m really going to have to watch myself in future!
But old habits die hard – even the evil ones.
Yes, those are my photos. Exhibit 1: candles guttering in the bathroom, oozing wax onto empty champagne bottles. Exhibit 2: them sleeping off the hangover, his watch glinting in the morning sun, a dark red stain creeping down the sheet towards her crimson scarf. Exhibit 3: his crumpled navy suit on the floor – the one I’d fetched from the cleaner last Saturday.
I didn’t wait to see my husband’s expression when he surfaced and saw her dead.
Did I stab her? Now that’s one detail I can’t remember.
But then again, old habits die hard.


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