Most cases I get are local, right around the corner, or in my case in my backyard, the number one travel destination in the world, Walt Disney World. Now some are initiated from far away, a phone call or e-mail. One of the few cases that required me to travel started in Salina, Kansas. I am sure it is a fine town, but I met one of the ugliest persons I have ever met there. Not ugly on the outside, the old dame I am sure was fine looking for her age. But if ugly manifested on the outside as to what was inside Hollywood would not even hire her to scare people.
She had contacted me for a job, with a nice fat retainer in advance, so to Salina, Kansas I went, flying then driving in a cheap rental car and meeting with her at her office above a carpet store. The sign outside said largest carpet company in the tri state area. I was shown up a set of back stairs to the wondering which three states the sign was referring to, as Salina if not the dead center in the state it was pretty close.
The client in question was a Mrs. Wendy Nelson, after noticeably short pleasantries, in which she barely offered me coffee she got down to business. Her granddaughter was marrying a man she did not approve of for two reasons. The first he came from a competitor’s family, the largest tile floor company in the tri-state area. I was not able to ask my question, which three states, and the second was when Mrs. Nelson showed her ugly side, the groom in question was of Asian Indian descendent. Mrs. Nelson used some really disgusting terms when mentioning the man’s lineage.
Now I don’t like this type of person, they are mean and stupid. They are also the most terrible thing I can think of boring due to their closed mind. But since I had traveled, without a return ticket together and I had already spent her advance on silly things like rent, utilities and trying to catch up on my phone bill I had no choice but to accept the job from the old woman.
But I was not going to like it.
She explained that the couple had decided to get married at Walt Disney World, that is when she started scheming, she was going to have me drive the wedding party to Orlando in a big custom RV while along the way I was to investigate the groom for dirt. My report would be due on the day of the wedding.
“Can you drive a forty-five-foot motor home?”
Now I have driven a lot of vehicles over the years, but never anything that big or even close to that big, but one glance at the lady, then a quick check of my bank account, which had a lot of empty space in it I answered her question in the only sensible way I could. “Of course.”
“You understand your job, get in good with the groom and dig up some dirt that I can use to end the marriage before it happens.”
“No one knows that you are a private investigator, they just think you are hired to drive the bus and assist them with errands for the wedding when you get to that god awful place.”
The old lady had a few nasty racial slurs thrown in about the groom, but I am going to leave them out and just say that I accepted the job. She handed me a large envelope of cash, a credit card for gas along with the keys to a large RV which she said was parked out back near the loading dock. She also gave me an address to pick up the happy couple along with their friends at tomorrow morning.
The rest of the day I spent driving the RV around empty parking lots getting a handle on driving the big box around. I am very proud of my accomplishments with the vehicle I never had a ding or a mishap with the big old thing until I was a scant three miles from Walt Disney World, and then I only lost the passenger side mirror.
I was at the pickup spot the next morning with fifteen minutes to spare and a sizable dent in the credit card. When I looked at the final number on the pump I was glad the cash I was given was not to fill up the RV. The pickup spot was the groom’s family store with a huge banner declaring that this was the largest tile and floor covering company in the tri-state area. My hand started to rise up like we were taught in school, but there was not one around to answer the three-state question which had been vexing me. Soon there were multiple cars pulling in and I was greeting the bride, the groom along with wedding party and all the parents. Everyone seemed joyously happy about the whole thing. I saw the two-future father in laws kidding with each other and comparing golf swings. It was obvious to a trained observer like me that these two families really liked each other and got along great. The temperature dropped a few degrees when my client, the grandmother showed up, the laughing stopped, the kidding stopped, the old lady’s disdain was obvious. It was at this point that I was pulled aside by the groom’s uncle, Uncle Samuel.
“I understand you are a private eye hired by the old battle-axe.”
I just shrugged playing stupid, although some people say it is not an act.
“No one else knows who you are, the old broad’s secretary slips me a little info on the sly every once in a while.”
Again, with the stupid look on my face along with the shrug.
“I like a professional but let me tell you are not going to find anything on my nephew he is a good kid.”
I gave a slight no committal nod.
“But that nerd he wants to marry, she is no good for him and my stupid brother wants to go into business with that moron.” He said motioning over towards the two subdued men who if the hype were to be believed could solve all your floor covering needs with either carpet or tile in the tri-state area.
Not looking at the guy, I continued to observe at the gathering of the happy couple, their friends and families but talked to him in a low voice. “What if I am, what do you want?”
The guy caught what I was doing and looked casual as well. It has been my experience that the only people that can do that are people who practice deception on a regular basis, either for good or bad. “I need access to her laptop; she is the accountant for her father’s firm, and I need to prove to him that joining the businesses are a bad idea.”
“And you think she is going to take her computer on the trip, you want me to do what steal it?”
“Oh, she will take it with her, the kid’s a workaholic, loves the numbers.” The guy paused handing me some expensive whiskey, in its own box and everything, very fancy. “Inside the box is a thumb drive, just insert it in the computer when its turned on, leave it there for five minutes it will do the rest copying all the Excel files, I will have my own accountant go over the books and stop the merger.” He paused again. “There is a check in the box, dated after the wedding if the job is done.” He quoted a figure, which while not as big as the amount given by the bigoted grandmother but was a healthy number. I took the bottle then nodded. This was an interesting development.
After another 20 minutes of loading the bus, goodbyes and ‘see you in Florida’s’ I started up the bus and began the route programmed by the bubbly happy couple. First stop Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee. Six Hundred odd miles, me, a huge RV, a bride, and groom to be with six of their best friends.
The trip was a little dull from my point of view, I was expecting to have to clean up empty beer cans along with Code Vs from drunken kids, but this was much better, dull but better. I was driving interstates, while the kids in back played Trivial Pursuit (the Disney version, I chimed in when no one else knew a history question) then they settled in to watch some movies on the large screen tv.
We arrived in Memphis about 8 pm, the kids checked into the Radisson, paying for my room. They went out to see the night life of Memphis, I opted to stay in as I was beat from the drive.
Early the next day we all went to Graceland, The King’s Home. I love Elvis so it was a real treat for me, I joined them on my own dime. I even bought myself an Elvis beach blanket.
We were back on the road by noon, I would have loved to stay longer but I was on the clock. Eight hours to Panama City Beach, Florida, an overnight stay in another Radisson, the wedding party hit the beach. I took care of the needs of the RV.
I had learned a lot about the happy couple. They had met as at the Wald Disney World College Program; kids get some work experience while learning the fundamentals of how Disney does business. It was love at first sight, both were in Retail, her at Main Street Emporium, him at the Pirates of the Caribbean Gift shop. They met during orientation and dated the entire time of the program. Five months of forty plus hour workweeks, riding the bus back to their overcrowded dorms, then cramming as much fun on very little sleep in as possible, they both graduated from their respective schools the next year and he proposed soon afterwards.
They were a nice couple. I kind of felt unclean looking for dirt on both, but a job is a job. So, look, listen, and investigate I did. I talked to the bride about accounting, I talked to the groom and his buddies about old girlfriends, it was not the most conducive environment for covert questioning but I learned things, nothing I could report to my separate clients but I was building rapport. As for her laptop, she never left it unattended where I could access it, so I bided my time on that front.
As far as I could tell, he was devoted to her and her him. I watched him and I never saw him even look at another girl. She was a workaholic, while watching a movie going down the road, I could see in my rearview mirror that she was working on spread sheets. I did learn one thing while talking to her, she was not only working on the books for her family’s business but also for the groom’s family.
We arrived in my stomping grounds later that night. They were asking for someplace to eat before they checked in and since they knew I was from the area they asked for a non-chain place.
I knew just the place and drove just a few miles off our planned route and took them to my gal’s diner, Millie’s Place.
The kids loved the diner and I was glad to see Millie. I got a slice of pie and a kiss to go. It would have been a wonderful reunion if I had not hit a light post and lost the passenger side mirror while pulling out of the parking lot. So much for looking suave and debonair.
The kids stayed in two separate cabins at Fort Wilderness, I parked the RV at a nearby campsite.
The next day I helped the kids rent a van and started playing chauffeur taking them to the Disney Wedding planner and doing the thousand and one things needed before a wedding.
Now I love going to weddings, everyone is typically in a good mood, there is good food and drink usually paid for by someone else, but I think that arranging a wedding is a particularly nasty torture designed by an evil Disney villain like Cruella De Ville. Ten thousand decisions, what kind of cake, what color of; flowers, bridesmaids’ dresses, icing on the cake.
Disney is not above trying to cash in on someone else’s misery. One of the CEO’s of Disney decided to open another income stream for the parks, another way to cash in on a (hopefully) once in a lifetime experience. Thus, Disney Fairytale Weddings and Honeymoons came into being. Disney weddings officially started in 1991, but I knew there were ceremonies going on in the parks before that.
As an adult I have never even attempted to break any rule on property, but that was not always true as a youngster. I worked as an assistant to a Very Unofficial Wedding Coordinator, by the name of Clarisse, who carried off covert weddings all the place. I would run errands, be a lookout, and other little chores. The craziest nuptials were in the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. To facilitate this Clarisse had me I fake an injury on the steps leading up to the treehouse. This stopped all traffic going up and giving the wedding party enough time to state their vows. Unfortunately, I did my job a little too well and I had to hitchhike back to the park after taking an ambulance ride and then sneaking out of the ER. I made Clarisse fork over another twenty bucks for my trouble on that one.
These kids were troopers taking every hurdle, delay, difficulty, frayed nerve in stride with grace and style. I saw what I considered to be minor dust ups which were solved easily within a couple of hours. My investigation into the groom was coming up dry, he was a solid guy, treated everyone great, tipped well and one time I even saw him helping the cleaning staff at the cabin pick up trash from a ripped bag. I thought my only chance to get some dirt on this kid was at the bachelor party on Friday night.
I did overhear something from the bride one morning before starting our day of errands, she was talking to one of her bridesmaids, a cousin to the groom and she had her laptop out. She was asking her about payments to a glue company and they seemed to be more frequent and at strange intervals. The cousin who was only peripherally affiliated with the business was not sure but told her to not worry about it. I could tell by the look on her face before closing the laptop she was going to worry.
I was tasked with picking up the mothers and fathers from the airport. The Wicked Witch of Kansas carpeting, aka grandmother, was not due to arrive until the next day and I was not picking her up, she was not staying on Disney property but at a hotel off property. I listened to the future in-laws as I drove, learning nothing. It was not till I was helping the father of the groom unload his golf clubs that another piece of the puzzle fell into place. He took a call on his cell and heard him arguing with someone telling them, no more payments until the books were reviewed. Then I heard that name again, Thoroughbred Adhesives and Fixatives.
The group had dinner plans at Hollywood Studios, the package deal at the Brown Derby with VIP seating at Fantasmic. I completed one of my tasks that night, the bride left her laptop in the rented van and I slipped the thumb drive in, after the prescribed five minutes the light on the little device stopped glowing and I pocketed it.
After that bit of luck, I used the down time to run to my office and turn on my own computer for some research. I mulled my results while watering my spider plant that had a serious dry spell and throwing out some old Chinese food, I think it was growing into a new life form in my temperamental ice box.
I had sent out some e emails and hoped they would get back to me. I had only two days, till the wedding and maybe my hunch would pay off.
Another night of shows and dinner this time at Epcot and little old me was not invited except for chauffer duty, which was just as well as I had more work to do. One of my e-mails was responded to and it made me happy, not as happy as a certain unnamed Dwarf but at least as happy as a father getting a nap on a Disney vacation.
The final day before the wedding was organized chaos, but thanks to the Official Disney Wedding Coordinator everything was going to be ready and in place. I just had to survive the constant requests to run this person to a local pharmacy or that person to grab something from the supermarket. No problems, although I did almost run out of gas. I hung out in the parking lot while all important parties had their rehearsal and then their rehearsal dinner at Wilderness Lodge. Then I was tasked with taking the groom and his three buddies on a secret bachelor party that the Best Man would not tell me its location until they were all in the van. I had my covert camera all set up, no flash, highest resolution in dark settings so no matter what dark den of sin and depravity we ended up at I would be able to document it for my client.
Sometimes I hate my job.
But not that night, I drove the boys to an axe throwing place, then Machine Gun America where you can shoot honest to goodness automatic weapons without having to enlist in the armed services. I got some great pictures of all the activities. We finally ended the evening back at Millie’s Diner where the boys gave the groom an honest to goodness Darth Vader collectible lightsaber that they had pitched in and bought. These were good, morale Midwestern kids and the groom was the best among them and I was going to be happy telling that to the grandmother tomorrow morning.
Whether she would be happy I did not give a flying fig, and I had already been paid.
The next morning came way to early after the previous nights subdued debauchery. Luckily, the only people I had to run to the Wilderness Lodge where the ceremony was to take place were the groom and his buddies, the bride was getting a limousine. I ran errands for the family and then set up a meeting of my own.
I had called Uncle Samuel and asked him to meet me in the lobby of the Villas, the Vacation Club area of Wilderness Lodge, it is kind of secluded with all kinds of little nooks and crannies perfect for a covert meeting away from people.
Uncle Samuel was a little late in getting there which was fine, he was busy tying his tie when he entered the alcove where I was seated in the main area. I motioned for him to sit.
“Well did you do it, did you plug it into her laptop?”
“Oh yeah its done.” I said holding up the drive.
“Well hand it over, then you can go cash the check.”
I shook my head and palmed the drive. “The families seem pretty successful, I did some research, both your companies do tile and carpeting in fifty-seven school districts in the Midwest.”
“Yeah so.” He said eyeing me suspiciously.
“But you only own what five percent of the business, and if the merger goes thru your stake will go up eight percent you will be getting a bigger piece of the pie.”
“Yeah so.” I could see his wheels spinning.
“So why would you not want the sale to go through?”
“I told you, their carpet business is crap.”
“The numbers don’t lie, both businesses are rock solid, but you know what I learned about mergers?” I paused for effect and I could see the gears engaging in his head. “A review from top to bottom of all assets and labilities, including a review of accounts payable.” I saw the wheels grind to a halt then I watched the man deflate in front of me.
“You figured it out.”
“Not totally, but enough not to give you this drive. I am not going to help you cover up theft or should I say embezzlement.”
That was when the soon to be Fathers-In-Laws appeared from a small nearby room where they had been listening to the conversation thru my cell phone which was sitting on the table in a basket of pinecones.
When Uncle Samuel saw the look of disappoint on his brother’s face he started to sob. It all came out; Samuel was billing the company with a made-up corporation; he would pay off the invoices, but he swore he was going to pay it back. His make-believe business was called Thoroughbred due his losses on the ponies. I thought his joke was in particularly bad taste he billed the company for glue. They have not made glue out of horses in about a hundred years, but I still consider it bad form.
His brother said he would take care of my bill, as the check Uncle Samuel was paying me with probably worthless. It was agreed all around no need to get the cops involved in this family matter. I excused myself and found myself to the main lobby to meet my other client.
The wedding was scheduled for three pm at Storybook Dining, halfway between the lunch rush and dinner rush, it was where the Bride and Groom had first said I love you over appetizers. The only thing they could afford as College Program kids.
The grandmother was the last to arrive. She walked into the lobby and I swore some of the small woodland creatures carved out of wood in the support posts shrank back trying to hide. She barely looked around at the absolutely glorious lobby and saw me sitting down. She walked over and stood over me.
One word. No hello or how was your trip, so I obliged her. “Investigation complete, ran his credit cards, looked over his driver’s license and social media, made other inquires and watched him this past week. The kid is good and decent, a total boy scout, in fact he was an Eagle Scout, and you should be happy your granddaughter is marrying such an honorable man.”
She glared at me. “Anything else?”
“That is all I am going to say at this point, you wanted me to dig up dirt, no dirt to dig.” I smiled; she had already paid me. No need for me to stick around except to twist the knife a little more. “Wendy, I hope they have a long happy life together and they bless you with lots of great grandchildren.”
She put her hands on her hips fer face turning red and I could tell she was going to say some very nasty words, but her daughter unknowlingly came along in time to save me. I stood up and put the keys into her hand and walked away.
The job was over, Millie was waiting outside in her convertible and I even filled up her tank on the way to the beach that day. We even used my new Elvis beach blanket.
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