Story by Lee Su Min
Jack and Jill
Jack and I often discuss the best way to die. The cause of death ranges from, for unnatural death, accident, execution, homicide, misadventure, suicide, terrorism, war and abortion. For death by natural causes I was told that old age is not a scientifically recognized cause of death.
So, if you find that your wife is sleeping with another man and you kill her, it is classified as “unnatural death” in the coroner’s inquiry. And if your ninety-nine-old mother went to bed before midnight and you woke up in the morning and found that she has stopped breathing you can’t say that it is natural.
Jack and I are colleagues. We work at this private investigation agency. I shall not reveal the name because I am going to tell you this story. This story belongs to me. It is my own story and I am glad that I am still alive to tell this.
During lunch, Jack and I talk about many things. One time he even go so far as to tell me, “When I stand in front of the washing machine and I turn it on, it works, when I stand in front of the microwave oven, it works; but when I stand in front of my wife sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, I don’t know why.” Jack is often exasperated with his wife.
I first come to know of this agency through the “Classified Ads”. I want to work there at the agency because I think the scope of the job would be very interesting. Imagine being a private eye, you are being paid to spy on other people. So, I tell my husband, who is reading the newspapers at the time, that I want this job badly.
I am a housewife and he doesn’t really want me to work. I ring for an interview. Two men interview me. Jack isn’t one of them. The fact that there is a mannequin in the conference room where I am interviewed says nothing about the company except to give me a creepy feeling.
I am not too sure why I am eventually picked for the job, but I know that my looks matters t a lot. I mean, not that I was pretty or what. It is that I look very ordinary. To be a private eye you must have a nondescript face, a kind of face where people look at you and would not want to take a look at you a second time.
When Mr. Singham come into the conference room to interview me the first thing he says to me is, “This you?” showing me my picture in the resume, which I have submitted.
I know that this isn’t the end of the selection. Mr. Singham has two other candidates waiting for him outside the conference room to be interviewed. The application is open until 9 April and today is only the 7th. They may decide to wait until after the 9th to make the final decision.
But Mr. Singham’s decision is based on Mr. Wong’s choice as I am told after I am given the job. At the interview I promise both Mr. Singham and Mr. Wong seven days a week and twenty-four hours a day. To this end I also give them my phone number so that is how I got the job.
“You work eight hours a day, forty-four hours a week.”
“We begin at 8:30 a.m. and we end at 5:00 p.m., lunch is from 12:30 p.m. and we start again at 1:30 p.m. You may be required to work at night because of the nature of the job. However, you will be given double your hourly rate when you report to work at night.”
I ask Mr. Wong if I could wear jeans during weekdays and he nods his head approvingly, “You are supposed to wear jeans,” he says,
“As a PI you must look as casual as possible but not too casual,” he adds,
“but you shouldn’t be wearing slippers, high-heeled sandals are alright.”
I am told before that if you can’t finish your tasks during office hours you are a lousy worker.
“How long am I supposed to take for each assignment?” I ask. “It could be weeks, or even months, so long as you procure the evidence.”
“Do I need to buy my own camera?” I ask.
“No, you sit in the office and wait for the instruction.”
“What kind of instruction?” I ask again.
“You’ll see,” and with that he ends the conversation. I gather that if I want the job I had better keep quiet.
I am a night person. In the mornings I have to drop by the coffee house at the ground floor for a cup of coffee before I start the day.
Once I get the phone call from Miss. Suzie, I know that I am in. “See you on the 10th of April,” she tells me over the phone. I am elated. After I put the phone down, I immediately go into action.
I organize all my clothes the ones for rainy days I keep them all in a basket and as I throw open the wardrobe, I decide on the black Gucci bag as it has many pockets and is more functional. I find my Jack and Jill sunglasses from the drawer and I put it on to see if the frame still fits nicely. To be a private eye a pair of sunglasses is a necessary tool for the trade.
Whereas Mr. Wong has a pair of sheepish eyes, Mr. Lee has a strong physique. By that I mean that you see that he is tough and you conclude that he can withstand cold weather and long walks. Not surprisingly both of them choose their profession in the private investigation industry.
On the first day I start work I pack my handphone, my purse, my house keys, my pouch, and a notebook with a pen, and I carry a denim jacket with my bag. My bag is the Gucci that I picked. I wear a dress and then after looking into the full-length mirror I take it off and change into a pair of black pants and a black silk blouse. I am glad that I could still fit into them.
I am told to be there on 10 April. I arrive at 8:15 a.m. sharp and I make sure that the security guard at the ground floor lobby sees me. I try to tell him that I am a new staff to one of the tenants here in the building but he ignores me completely. Then I give the agency fifteen minutes to open. It is officially open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
I don’t want to be late on my first day at work. First impressions always count. So far, I have given the employers the idea that I am a hard worker. And two days ago, I bought two silk blouses and they cost one hundred and fifty dollars each. I am hoping that my salary can cover the capital outlay soon.
The first person I meet on the fifth floor is Jack. I am not introduced to him yet, so I just smile at him. He merely says Hi and he promptly go inside the conference room leaving me standing by the reception. My first impression of Jack is that he is about thirty and married with at least one kid. He looks a family man to me.
Another guy was sitting at the reception and I am glad that he does not seemed to be interested in me. Later I find out that his name is Bobby. It seems that the agency take no notice that I am reporting in today.
Three minutes later Jack comes out and he tells me to go into the conference room and sit down next to him. I merely sit there watching him type. When I become restless, I stand up and ask him whether I could have a cup of coffee.
“You can use the guests cup today, but tomorrow please bring your own.”
I am annoyed with myself that I haven’t prepared a mug to bring in today. As Jack takes one from a set of six, he orders, “Don’t break it,” before he promptly leave me standing in the kitchen.
The coffee percolator is brewing the powder and I can smell the flavour of the Arabian coffee. “Is it the Arabian brew?” I ask.
No reply come so I stand there and wait until the coffee is ready. I pour the brown liquid into the cup and find that I need milk as well but this time I dare not disturb Jack again.
I simply open the fridge to look for fresh milk. There is none. So, I bring the coffee back to my seat and starts sipping the black coffee at regular intervals until it is time for lunch. It is bitter and for the first time in my life I don’t like coffee.
I am completely ignored for the first half of the day and I don’t know when I could have my lunch. During the morning I find out that the wall clock is slow by ten minutes and that Jack is following the hour on his PC. He gets up from his chair at twelve twenty by the time on the wall and then goes to the back to see Miss Suzie.
I could hear them talking but I couldn’t decipher the content of the conversation. After a while Jack comes back and asks me to follow him out for lunch. I leave my handphone on the table and forget to bring it out with me. The handphone is the latest iPhone 5S series and very expensive. “Never mind, next time I call you on the handphone to go out for lunch, so you won’t forget.” Jack is kind.
After four days I realize that my work is just typing the reports, which does not involve any field jobs. I am still not properly acquainted with the other colleague by the name of Bobby who comes in to change the clothes on the mannequin every day after lunch. Work becomes boring so I ask to be given field jobs.
During this time, I learn that a “subject” would be the person whom we are engaged to spy on, and the “suspect” would be the person who is related to the “subject” usually by way of having an affair. The number of people having an affair when I start counting the number of files that I am been given shocks me. Clients need not give their real names.
The firm has recently taken on the case of Paul. Paul our client suspects that his wife Monica is having an affair with another man and before he files for divorce, he wants clear evidence of adultery. By that he means that he wants direct evidence and not circumstantial evidence. So far Bobby has only been able to produce pictures of his wife Monica having coffee with a man at the Cluny Hotel in the mornings.
The man is usually reading the newspapers and you can’t really see his face hidden behind the pages in the pictures. The firm has spent a substantial amount of money on getting Bobby to arrive at the hotel to have breakfast at the same time. Each time the subject Monica would pay for the bill and walk to the concierge to hand over the keys at the counter leaving the man still sitting at the table with the newspapers.
We try to find out the room number but are unable to do so. We even took a picture of Monica holding the key card and tried to zoom in on the number on the magnetic access card, but the image is blurred.
What we need is the information on a meeting between the lovers for us to prepare ourselves at the scene to do some video-taping, or at least a camera shot of the two going into a hotel room. So far, the evidence we gathered is nothing more than a spouse’s unfounded suspicion. We need a continuous link to provide the chain of causation to prove that the two of them, Monica and the man reading the newspapers, actually went up into the service apartment for sex.
The fact that a man and a woman are having breakfast together does not imply that they slept together the night before. You could only infer that they might be having breakfast together again tomorrow.
As usual Jack has lunch with me today.
Out of the blue Jack asks me, “Do you know why Mr. Singham has this mannequin in the conference room?”
“No,” I say, waiting for him to tell me.
“Mr. Singham’s wife ran away with another man.”
“What?” I am very shocked.
“Yeah, that was why he has this mannequin in the room, to replace her.” Jack elaborates.
“Was Mr. Singham very heart broken?” I am curious. And actually, I am beginning to find Mr. Singham a little funny.
“Obviously,” “How did he find out?” I wanted more gossip. But Jack stops short and continue with his food.
I don't know that Jack is in love with me until we are at night together doing one of the field trips. He tells me that he has been feeling this way for me for a long time now. I am flabbergasted, as I do not expect this to come. He knows very well that I am married, what is he expecting to get out of me? I want to ask him. Jack is thirty-four whereas I am forty-three. All along I have thought Jack a safe male companion because of the age gap.
Now that this has happened, either I accept Jack’s advances, or I resign. This job is getting interesting. But the trouble is that I am also infatuated with Jack, something I myself have not want to face. So, I do not turn Jack away at once. I merely tell him to put his feelings on hold. I want to see what happens to my own marriage. I have always been very frustrated with my husband’s sullen character. He does nothing but reads the newspapers whenever I am around.
My husband does not know that I have been going out at night. To work on this Paul file, we have to station ourselves at the vicinity of the Cluny Hotel early enough before the subject and the suspect arrive, so that we could follow them from then on. This is called “Project Planning”. Once Jack or I spot either one of them we are supposed to go up to the concierge to try and check into one of the rooms on the same floor.
If we succeed, we might be able to take a snapshot of the lovers coming out from the same room. This is still circumstantial, but it is better than nothing. Bobby has seen the layout of the premises by pretending that he wants to book a room there for three months. By now Bobby is closely acquainted with the concierge manager. The convenient thing is that the Cluny Hotel is just two blocks away from our firm.
Bobby is good at these things. In his case, Jack tells me, he slept with his bosses’ secretary while he was still married, and after three years his wife divorced him. The funny thing is that his wife just left their matrimonial home one night and never returned. He couldn’t careless as he already has this other woman. Subsequently, his wife suddenly reappeared with her lawyer’s letter and filed for divorce on the ground of a three-year separation.
This morning as I come in, I found that the conference room door is shut. It is usually left ajar so that we could go in to look for either Mr. Singham or Mr. Wong if they are inside. I am not sure if it meant that a client is inside, so I go closer and then I hear a voice say,
“Are you sure?” this seems to be Mr. Singham’s voice.
Then the sound of a chair being pulled to one side, “Sit down, I heard Mr. Singham again.
Before I could walk away, Mr. Wong comes out of the room and he orders me to go to the kitchen to get a drink for the guest.
“How could this happen?” as I am walking away, I hear Mr. Singham asking.
I want to stay behind to listen to the full story, but I have to fetch the drink for Mr. Wong’s guest. I quickly go into action so that I could come back and follow up. I take out one cup from the set of six. The pattern has some cherries on it, but I was in no mood to admire it. And then I pour coffee that has already been brewed for drinking. I add some coffee mate, which Jack teaches me to get from inside the cabinet.
As I bring the beverage back to the conference room, I knock on the door.
“Come in,” is Mr. Singham.
I am shocked to find someone sitting on a chaise lounge, just beside the mannequin. The mannequin doesn’t look so eerie this time maybe because Bobby has changed her sarong into a cheongsam. I place the cup and saucer on the table in front of the man, careful not to spill the liquid. “Meet our client Mr. Paul”, Mr. Wong tries to introduce us.
Evidence of the night’s stay with the man and Monica as his guest has been procured. Bobby has befriended one of the concierge managers and with a significant sum the concierge manager gave him a copy of the hotel bill with the man’s name on it and the signature of Monica on the use of the access card. Nothing could be clearer than that. Nobody knows why the subject signed with her full name “Monica”.
When I see the name on the hotel bill I am shocked beyond belief. It has the name “Simon Wong and guest”. It turns out that the man is my husband the suspect behind the newspapers. With the NRIC number S6899232C I know beyond reasonable doubt that Simon Wong is not married to Monica because he is married to me.
In the conference room Miss. Suzie was busy taking down notes. I find my chair and quickly sit down to join in that part of the conversation that I have missed. I almost tip over Jack’s mug, wondering what brings Paul here.
So, my husband is having an affair with another woman. All this while when I am working with Jack he is sleeping with another woman. And all along I have thought that Simon does not mind my working after midnight. The conclusion is that Simon leaves the house after I have left for overtime work to have a rendezvous with Monica.
Luckily, I have told Jack to give me time to think over our relationship. Shall I continue to stay on in the marriage? Shall I forgive my husband? Or shall I simply file for divorce? If I were divorced would Jack divorce his wife too?
I know that I have been sneaking out of the house at midnight coming into the office to work. But I myself have not committed adultery so my conscious is clear. But I have no idea if my husband knows about Jack and I. Have I been neglecting him? The clock on the wall is still slow and I am wondering if I have to sit here longer to torture myself.
As Jack is typing away, I could see that it is already 12:30 p.m. on his PC. Then I see Jack picks up his handphone and tap on it. My handphone rings. I excuse myself and get up from my chair. Jack is turning off his PC. As I am leaving the conference room, I hear Paul asking Miss. Suzie.
“Where are they going?”
“Jack and Jill are going out for lunch.” Comes Suzie’s reply.
At lunch I know that Jack will complain to me about his wife again, and then I am wondering if he knows that my husband is the suspect in this entire Paul file. Should I tell him about it? I feel very sorry for myself now that I may be forced to make a decision. I have been procrastinating my relationship with Jack for a long time. If my husband is unfaithful, I must make a clean break at once.
I turn to Jack and ask him a hypothetical question.
“What happens if your spouse is sleeping with another person?” I asked.
“Depends. The man with another woman or the woman with another man?”
“Both,” I said.
“If I were you, I would file for divorce,” comes Jack’s reply.
“You mean you know that this man is my husband?” I ask Jack.
Jack walks a little faster so that I would need to catch up with him if I want to pursue the topic. My heart is still unsure as I am wondering what to make of the situation that has been presented to me so far. I am used to being married to Simon and I like the status of being married.
To divorce Simon all I need do is use the same materials gathered on the Paul file and produce it at the Family Court. But then I could never see myself as a third party in Jack’s marriage. I am still reluctant to have an affair with Jack. Even if I were divorced, I should not be another man’s mistress. As I walk my thoughts are racing.
Once I catch up with Jack, he holds my hand. And as he grabs me tight, he leads me into the Cluny Hotel. With efficacy he produces his passport at the concierge and gives the man at the counter the number of guests as “one”. I am hypnotized as I follow Jack blindly. Then I see him take his ring out and put it into his breast pocket.
“I have never been married, I have been lying to you all along, and I tried to pretend that I was married because I did not want to fall in love again. Until I found you, Jill.”
My mission now is not to determine whether my clients have committed adultery, but rather to determine whether Jack was telling me the truth when he said that he wasn’t married before. Do I have time to find out the truth before I walked into the Cluny Hotel with him?
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