“DON’T HANG UP,” HE BLURTED WHEN SHE ANSWERED. “I can explain everything.”
I doubt that, thought Nattie. She was mad. It had been two weeks since she had heard from Nathan. Two weeks ago she would have said they were on track to get back together. He had been there for her through one of the most challenging cases of her career. He had been there for her even to the point of neglecting his own business. Then, when the case was all over and she found herself back in the hospital, he was by her side through that, too. Then, when she was ready to trust him again, he disappeared. They were supposed to have lunch with Kevin and Knox, but he didn’t show. It was a tossup as to what she was angrier about: his disappearance or getting her hopes up before he did it.
He continued, “I know you’re upset.”
“Upset! Upset doesn’t begin to describe what I am.” Her voice was crisp and edgy.
“I was trying to protect you from what was happening to me,” he pleaded.
It’s always about you, isn’t it?
“They took the bar, but that’s okay,” he continued. “I just didn’t want you to have to worry about that. And now . . .”
“Wait a minute,” she interrupted him. “What do you mean, ‘They took the bar’? Who took the bar?”
“The bank did, but it’s okay. Really, Nattie, it’s okay. I never should have tried to own a bar. You were right. An alcoholic owning a bar,” he snorted. “What was I thinking?”
“Banks don’t just take businesses, Nathan.”
“Banks foreclose on businesses all the time,” he said, raising his voice. “Just look around.”
“Nathan,” she said sternly, “how long have you been in trouble with the bank?” She knew they most likely warned him several times before seizing his assets. She knew it was Citizens Bank that held the note. Citizens was locally owned and operated. They did not want to own a bar, and they didn’t want to have to sell it either. They would have worked with him, even to the point of giving business advice. All he had to do was cooperate with them. But she knew him, too. When the going got tough he’d shut down, and if it got worse he’d disappear. This was all too familiar.
He laughed. “I’m not in trouble anymore. The bar is gone, and so are all the headaches that went with it.”
“So where have you been for the last two weeks?”
“I told you I was going away for a while,” he said defensively. “No,” she said firmly, “you didn’t.”
“I had to get my head together, you know, retreat . . . regroup . . .
plan out my next move.”
She knew he had sidestepped her question and lied about having
told her. Why else would you begin with “Don’t hang up” and “I can explain”? “So did you?”
“Did I what?”
“Did you get your head together?”
“I did. Wait until you hear what I’ve got going on.”
“I’m not interested, Nathan.”
“Are you serious? I’ve been through hell here, and now that I’m past it all, the only thing I want to do is share it with you. I just wanted to be in a place where you could be proud of me. I’m always thinking about you. I love you, don’t you know that?”
“Look, Nathan, I do believe that you thought about me. I believe that you love me, but when couples who are together go through tough times, they go through them together. You may have wanted me to be proud of you, but what I wanted was to be able to count on you.”
“You can,” he said urgently. “You can count on me now. Just listen to me, please; give me five minutes and you’ll see. I’ve landed on my feet. Well, I’ve almost landed on my feet. It’s a perfect job for me. For us, really. Let me tell you about it.”
“Us? There is no ‘us,’ Nathan.”
“Nattie, I don’t blame you. You have every right to feel that way. But we are an ‘us,’ Nattie, and I will spend the rest of my life proving it to you if I need to.”
She stayed quiet.
“You remember that insurance company I used to call on? The one out of Chicago?”
“Yeah, them. Well, they have investigators to look into suspicious claims.”
“And they hired you?” asked Nattie without trying to hide her surprise. He was a licensed private investigator at one point, but his license was revoked due to a second DUI. There was almost no chance he would ever be licensed again.
“Not exactly. When they close those cases internally, they open them up to independent contractors.”
“So you’re not on their payroll.”
“No, but I don’t want to be either.”
Of course, who’d want a regular paycheck and benefits?
“I’m on their independent contractor list,” he continued, “and that means I’ll have access to their files like an employee, but I’d be working for a percentage of what we recover. The cases will be a little tougher, but the payoffs will be so much better.”
“Yeah, we. Come on, Nattie, you know we could make a great team. I’ll do all the networking to get the cases. And I’ll do all the ini- tial work. You don’t have to get involved until I get stuck, and even then you don’t have to get involved unless you think it’s worth your time. For you it’s a no-investment, no-risk deal. I’ll cover all my expenses, and I’ll split all the profit with you for any case you get involved in.”
What’s the catch? she wondered.
“No risk, no investment,” he repeated.
“What do you need me for then?”
“I’m glad you asked. There are two reasons, and the first one is more important. I think we make a great team. You are clearly a better investigator than I am. But I am a better schmoozer than you are. I can get us jobs that you can’t get and you can finish jobs I can’t finish.”
“And the second reason?” she asked.
“I don’t need a PI license, but I do have to be affiliated with a licensed agency.”
“That means I’ll have to bond you, Nathan.”
“It means I’ll have to be bonded, but I can cover that expense. Like I said, I’ll cover all my expenses.”
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll think about it and let you know.”
“What’s to think about? There’s no risk.”
“Maybe not financially, but there are other issues for me to consider. Is there a reason to hurry?”
“Sort of,” he said. “I’m also going to need you bail me out of jail.”
She almost didn’t ask. “Why are you in jail, Nathan?”
She turned her phone off, wishing it was the old-fashioned kind ofphone, the kind that could be slammed.