Chapter One (Part One)
“Ms. Trip, uh, Trip Wire?” The man holds his hand out, an uncertain smile edging his lips. It wavers even further when the slim, Asian woman stares hard at him but doesn’t take the proffered hand. “Um, I’m Fenwick Harrington. You may call me Fenwick.” He leaves his hand hanging for a beat longer before letting it fall limply to his side. He is a thin man though quite tall, and his clothes look as if he bought them off the bargain rack at Target. His dead-white skin, badly-cut brown hair, and the nervous tic in his left eye do nothing to inspire confidence. Only the Rolex on his left wrist hints at the wealth he is rumored to have. He’s one of those nouveau riche who’d rather look like a street bum than flaunt his wealth.
“Won’t you, uh, please, sit down?” Even though they are meeting at his office, he feels at a disadvantage. Since his business with her is delicate as it always is, he thought it would put him one-up to make her meet him at his office, but that is not the case. The Asian woman stares at him for a minute longer, her lithe body showing the benefits of religiously working out with her sculpted muscles on proud display beneath a black tank top and black jeans. Her long black hair is pulled back in a no-nonsense ponytail, and there isn’t a trace of makeup on her round face.
“Ms. Wire, please.” He ushers to the seat opposite his desk. He can’t sit until she does—it’s now a matter of honor. She glances around the office with the slightest sneer on her rather-full lips, then focuses on him, narrowing her eyes. She has not spoken to him in the five minutes she’s been in his office, and he’s already sweating. His eyes slide away from hers, unable to engage in this duel of wills. Satisfied, she sits down, crossing her legs. She is wearing black boots, of course—it’s only fitting. She wears no jewelry except for a red thread around her neck with a gold pendant on it. It has some kind of Asian character on it, but Fenwick Harrington has no idea what it represents. One look into those flat eyes of hers, and he knows he’ll never ask. Expelling a breath he hadn’t known he was holding, Fenwick Harrington sits as well.
“Well, Ms. Wire,” he says, trying out a smile on her. Her face might as well be carved from granite for all the emotions she is showing. “I’m sure you’re wondering—”
“How did you get my name?” The voice is husky and deep, without a hint of accent. There is a smokiness that sounds whiskey-induced. The woman implacably watches Fenwick, following his every movement with her eyes. Otherwise, she is completely still—something which unnerves Fenwick.
“I’m friends with Archibald Regan,” Fenwick explains, seeing a glimmer of recognition on her face. “He spoke highly of your talents.”
“Did he?” She quirks and eyebrow, then smiles unexpectedly; it is not a pleasant sight. Her teeth are a shade too white as they gleam. Fenwick is vaguely reminded of a wolf, though he’s not quite sure why. “You’re sure he’s a friend of yours?”
“Yes, we play racquetball twice a week at the club!” His voice gains firmness as he talks about his world. Some of the tenseness in his posture eases as he relaxes into his chair. “He’s good, but I’m better. I can beat him nine out of ten times.”
“Which club?” Trip asks, her eyes staring intently into his.
“Chez Henri,” Fenwick says stiffly, knowing how pretentious that sounded, but his wife had a fit when he said he’d rather just go to the local Y and work out there. Trip nods slightly, indicating for him to continue. “Um, well, we were talking about a problem of mine—” Here, his voice falters, just as many of Trip’s clients’ voices have faltered in the past. “Um, well, um, Ms. Wire,” he pauses in order to let her tell him that he can call her Trip. When she remains silent, he rushes on. “Archibald told me how cleverly you cleared up his little problem and recommended that I give you a call.” Clearly relieved to get that off his chest, he leans forward and beams at her. Now that he’s a little less nervous, it’s easier to see that he might appeal in that Bill Gates kind of way.
“What else did Archie tell you?” Trip asks, remaining alert.
“Archibald told me that you’re expensive and a bit difficult to work with, but I’m sure he’s exaggerating.” Fenwick picks up a pen and fiddles with it. As a man of means, he’s used to women catering to him even though he’s not good-looking or particularly charismatic. He doesn’t know what to make of this woman sitting in front of him with those basilisk eyes. They are so opaque, it’s as if they don’t exist at all. Archibald swore by her, though Fenwick is beginning to wonder if Archibald had just been trying to mess with him. There’s nothing funny about Fenwick’s problem, however, a thought that churns his stomach.
“What is your problem, Mr. Harrington?” Trip asks, her voice inflectionless. She is tired of dancing around the issue and wants to know why she’s here. She manages to convey her impatience without changing her tone. “Precisely.”
“I’m a married man, have been married to the same woman for twenty years.” Again, he pauses, this time as if to be congratulated. “I’ve never cheated on her in all that time.” What happened on his business trips outside of San Francisco didn’t count. “I’m a very moral man, Ms. Wire.” She doesn’t move, but she causes him to flinch, anyway, and to rush into further speech. “I believe that once you marry, it’s a commitment for life. Young people these days don’t understand that.” As he’s barely in his forties, it’s a condescending speech, and he realizes it. He simultaneously realizes that this woman across from him is in her early twenties if even that, so she’s effectively one of the ‘young people’ that he’s just been denigrating. He hurries on. “I love Fiona, my wife very dearly, Ms. Trip, you must believe me.”
“Mr. Harrington, skip the rah-rah speech. Get to the fucking point.” Trip spits out the words as if they’re bullets, and Mr. Harrington jumps as if she’s hit him.
“There’s no need to use language like that…” His protest dies out as Trip gets to her feet and starts for the door. “Hey, where are you going?”
“I don’t have time for bullshit,” Trip says over her shoulder, not breaking her stride. “I’m out.” Her back is rigid and uncompromising.
“I need you to get something for me,” Fenwick blurts out just as Trip reaches the door. “From a woman. My mistress.” Trip stops, her hand on the doorknob. There is an imperceptible sagging of her shoulders as she turns around and slowly returns to the chair she had just vacated. She sits back down and continues her staring, this time with an edge of contempt in her eyes.
“What am I to steal, Mr. Harrington,” Trip says deliberately. “Letters? Pictures? Jewelry?”
“Nothing like that,” Fenwick says, wiping his face with a handkerchief before stuffing it back in his pocket. “It’s a little more complicated.” Trip sighs audibly. “No, I swear! I’m not bullshitting you!” His voice has risen in panic, and he looks about ready to cry. Trip looks hard at him, but says nothing. “Please, let me tell you the whole story, OK?” She nods, folding her arms over her chest. “I met her at a party three months ago; my wife couldn’t attend because she had a migraine. This woman was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.” Seeing the look on Trip’s face, he continues so quickly, his words are falling over themselves. “She was with the caterer, if you can believe it. I struck up a conversation with her, and well, one thing led to another. You know how it is.” Trip’s mutinous glare indicates that she does not know how it is, but he doesn’t see that in his haste to tell his story.
“Guy like me, I know most women are only after me for my money,” Fenwick says, gesturing to himself. This time, he doesn’t even pause to give Trip a chance to respond. She shifts uncomfortably in her seat, devoutly hoping this isn’t going to turn into a therapy session. This is the part she hates most about her job—the talking. Most of her clients feel the need to divulge every dirty secret they harbor, much as if she is their psychologist. She is old-school in her belief that dirty laundry should not be aired in public and would prefer if her clients would just stick to the facts. “But this girl, she was something different.” He must have read something in Trip’s face because he feels compelled to defend himself. “Really, she was. When I first asked her out, she said no. I asked her three times during the evening.” It’s not hard to read the disdain on Trip’s face after that statement is uttered as she doesn’t bother trying to hide it. “Respectfully, of course.” Fenwick is a decent enough man, but he doesn’t understand how an ‘invitation’ for a date in that environment might be construed as pressure.
“At the end of the evening, she finally agreed to give me her number. I made myself wait three days before calling her—the three longest days of my life.” A faint smile flits across Fenwick’s lips. He looks out his window to where the sun is shining cheerlessly. “It took me half an hour to convince her to go out with me.” He pauses, checking his Rolex. What he sees causes him to hurry his recitation. “She really wasn’t after my money, you know. She refused most of the gifts I gave her. The only ones she kept were the jewelry, and even then, she said no to half the items I offered her.” He sighs, losing himself in thought. Trip shifts in her chair again, already impatient with this man. Hs isn’t the only one whose time was important, and she is itching to leave.
“Wrap it up in five,” she barks, breaking the melancholy air he’s developed around himself. It’s clear to see that this man figures himself as a Byronic type, dismal and romantic—the type Trip most loathes. “Or I’m out of here.”
“I fell in love, or at least I thought I did,” Fenwick corrects himself in a rare show of insight. “I saw her three to four times a week when I was supposed to be working late.” Seeing Trip’s lifted eyebrow, he adds, “I know! Not very original but since I worked late often, it was viable. I took her to the best restaurants in town, dressed her up, made her a princess.” His mouth hardens slightly before softening again. “After the first month, I began to realize that, um, we weren’t really compatible.” Without realizing he’s doing it, he glances at a picture of him, grinning, aboard a huge boat. His, presumably. “I enjoyed the opera and the orchestra, of course, and she, well, she preferred to go dancing or to the movies.” Fenwick’s lips tighten again until he forces them to relax. “Last week, I tried to break it off, and she did not take it very well.” He pauses again, glancing at his Rolex again. He is silent for so long, Trip is beginning to think he’ll never get to the damn point.
“What am I to steal?” Trip repeats the question harshly. She’s sick of the endless foreplay and is ready to get down to it. She feels the familiar tingle as she senses his ambivalence. Fenwick hesitates, not ready to divulge his shameful secret. Her face is impassive—like that of a menacing Buddha. She has learned that the hardest thing for her clients to do is to remain silent in the face of her implacability. It takes him ten seconds to cave.